I am still at it!

Unbelievably it was four years ago, September 2013, when I returned from the Entrepreneurs Convention in Birmingham buzzing with ideas.

Helen Lacey, Red Berry Recruitment, and I had a very bouyant discussion on the way home in the car, and I was all inspired to give producing a newsletter for my clients and contacts a try.

48 editions later and, hopefully, I am still producing something worth reading!

So you may well ask “Why?”.

There are various reasons why I find writing this newsletter a great discipline to do each month.

Firstly, despite the joke about creative accountants, I do not have much opportunity to be creative in the day job. Producing a monthly newsletter helps me to feel I am a bit more creative than I would otherwise be.

Secondly, being forced to come up with new material each month flexs my ‘writing muscle’. This has been particularly helpful when I have wanted to write new published material – whether it is the free guides on my website or the three books I now have for sale on Amazon.

Getting started is always the most difficult part of any project so having to ‘get started’ each month on my newsletter is certainly a help.

I have lots of people I would like to keep in touch with and sending the newsletter to these people is one of the tools that allows me to do that.

Finally, I love having the opportunity to feature businesses I have come across, and want to promote, and people I would like to thank publicly.

I have been asked on several occasions why I print the newsletter and send it via snail mail, rather than emailing it.

Nigel Botterill at the Convention pointed out that if you do what everyone else is doing, you will be lost in the noise. I get lots of emailed newsletters and never have time to read them all, so I don’t read any. But I get hardly any mail.

Hopefully you like receiving this newsletter in the post and are more likely to read it because you do.

Fiona 🙂

Minding your Ps and Qs

Jenny and Michael thumbs up

Running your own business can be the biggest thrill you will achieve in your working life, or the most stressful and demoralising experience you can imagine. On some days it is both!

However, I have come to realise from my own experience, from talking to business owners, and from gurus such as Ron Baker, Peter Thompson and Steven Covey, that running a successful business is all about minding your Ps and Qs.

Given the stresses involved in running your own business it is vital you are passionate about your product or service. Let’s face it, it is much easier to engage with potential customers if you can show passion for what you do.

Once you know what you want to do, you need to have a robust plan. We business owners are often knowledgeable about our product or service but avoid those business areas we struggle with – often marketing, sales or finance. The process of creating a business plan forces us to review ALL the areas of our business which are crucial to our future success.

We need to present ourselves to the market. If, like me you run a service lead business, one of the best ways to do this is to network. People buy from people they trust so you need to be out there meeting, and getting to know, local business owners.

Consulting professionals to help in areas you are not expert in is wise. Very few of us are instinctive business people and there will be one or two areas we struggle with. Interesting it is often more cost effective to get an expert in to do an efficient job than to try and do it ourselves.

To me a key element of a quality service is communication – this means listening and responding to clients’ concerns. Even if you sell a product there is a service element to what you do and this will be your contact with your customer.

Effective communication will allow you to qualify a potential client’s needs and what they particularly value. Having established value it should be fairly easy to give them a price.

To close, your business will not be measured by the outside world on what it is but on what people perceive it to be. So keep your ear to the ground and ensure peoples’ perception matches your reality.

Fiona 🙂

Two’s company – or even three!

As a small business owner marketing can be hard work and expensive. Whether you are going down the networking route, doing presentations, or marketing yourself through more traditional methods, such as adverts, it takes time and money to do it right.

However, there are ways to reduce the costs, and the time you have to spend.

By teaming up with other business owners you can share the marketing time and expense.

An obvious collusion is to put together a presentation with a couple of likeminded businesses in complementary fields. For example, an employment lawyer could run a seminar with an HR expert and a payroll company.

The costs of the venue, refreshments, seminar marketing, handouts etc. could then be shared three ways. As an individual you also only have to prepare enough material for a third of the presentation time – thus saving you time and effort.

There are also hidden benefits of doing joint presentations. Each professional will get a better understanding of the others’ fields. This will make it easier for them to refer their clients in areas they are not, themselves, familiar.

Another way of colluding is having a common website, blog, or other social media presence. I am currently involved in helping put together a fantastic website to introduce business owners to management accountants in their area.

The benefit of such a scheme is that we can create a really great website, which is inexpensive for each accountant, because of the numbers of people who will be advertised on it.

So, why not have a think about which of your business contacts you can do a joint piece of marketing with and see where it takes you.

Fiona 🙂

It’s all about relationships!

image001One of the key ways small business owners in the service sector get business is through referrals – either from customers or from strategic introducers they know well.

But many of us are not very good at requesting referrals or managing the referral process. We often don’t even know the value of a good referral to our business.

In fact, how many of the referrals you get are of the type you want? Or do you end up meeting with prospects, which have been referred to you by a ‘good’ referral partner (by good I mean someone we feel knows our business needs), only to find that they are not the type of prospect you need at all?

Unless we take some level of control over the referral process it is unlikely we will get exactly the type of introductions we need.

One way of taking control is to build really solid relationships with a few referral partners who are regularly updated on they type of business you need – and similarly keep you updated on the business they need. That way you are more likely to get the leads you need.

You can even take it further and include these guys as part of your team. I have this type of relationship with a marketing expert. If one of our clients needs what the other offers we introduce them in a joint meeting (which is free to the client). We discuss their needs, and offer a way forward for the client, after identifying the key areas they need to address.

This is a very powerful model because everyone benefits. The referrer benefits because they are seen as a problem solver who can find solutions beyond their area of expertise by their client; the referree benefits because they have a solid introduction to a potential new client; and the client obviously benefits because their problems are solved with the minimum of effort.

So, if you are looking to grow you business in a controlled manner, review how you get your referrals and work on how you can get a higher quality of introductions.

Fiona 🙂

Your world in your website!

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 13.32.49

Why do we have a website?

When I first started my business I felt I had to have a website. I never thought I would get business through the internet but understood that businesses that do not have a website often don’t ‘exist’. Now obviously they do in the real world but the business environment today is so internet orientated that businesses have to be virtual or prospective clients don’t believe they are ‘real’.

This is, of course, bonkers because anyone can pretend to be anything on the web. But there you are – it’s just the way it is.

Think about it – if you are going to have a meeting with someone, or are looking to buy a product/service, where is the first place you go? Even if you are not looking to the internet to make the initial connection with a business you will want to find out more about them by looking them up on line.

So I knew I should have a website but really just thought it would be a ‘brochure’ giving people and idea of what I do.

However, over the years I have come to think differently. I now look at my website as a way of promoting not just me and my business, but also those business people I have come to know and admire.

My website is now not just about what I do but also about the strategic partners I work with, links to my clients websites to raise their profile, space to provide free information, a place to promote events, a home for my blog …  In short it is a reflection of my whole business.

I now believe my website gives a true picture of what anyone will get when working with me – good or bad. This means that people who are not ‘my type of people’ will be deterred by what they see, whilst people who like what I have done will probably like the way I work.

I am very fortunate in that I have a husband who is very talented at translating what I want and how I want it. But I think we can all create something special with our websites these days as content management systems become more flexible and easy to use.

My latest tweak to the website is to have a link page to my book so hopefully anyone who is interested can get hold of a copy really easily.

But we are planning some bigger changes as following an excellent session by Graham Jones at this year’s MiP conference I have been inspired make it easier for potential customers to very quickly find the help they need. Whilst there is lots of information on my website it is perhaps now too big to be navigated efficiently. So this is the challenge for the summer!

I hope this inspires you to look at your own website. Try to see it from someone else’s point of view and ask yourself if it really shows your business in the best light.

Fiona 🙂

My business world on a page (or four!)

Following a conversation with one of my strategic partners I realised that I had not prepared any new marketing material for some time.

He wanted something, which would clearly show people what I can do for their businesses, so that when he comes across one of his connections struggling to master their business finances he could give them the leaflet.

I have to admit I have gone through fazes of being very lazy in marketing my business, because most of my work is regular monthly accounts and forecasts. However, of course, I am always hoping to help new businesses.

So I decided I must take his lead and come up with something great!

It was quite an enlightening exercise. I have a website I am very proud of and used the look and feel and summarised various pieces of information I had there into a four page A5 leaflet.

But I had to think clearly about what key pieces of information were needed. What would business people most be interested in? Should I include testimonials? Why would anyone read at at all?

It was important to me that it was visually good so I liberally splattered it with the pictures my hubby has so expertly done for my website and guides and I think it is not a bad job!!

If you are interested please do download –  any comments would be gratefully received!!

Mastering your business finances is the key to having a successful business LinkedIn

Fiona 🙂

A little help from my friends!

In my last blog I complained of being uninspired after a long winter.

Well things have moved on a bit since then and I am feeling much more positive now. One of the reasons for this is that I have had a little help from my friends!

At a small networking event I go to at the end of each month, where I meet up with several of my key strategic partners, I complained that I was uninspired and was looking for something new.

The response was ‘Why didn’t you say? You’ve been pretty busy over the last couple of years and we thought you were full – not looking for new clients/challenges!’

A great lead has since been given to me from this group, which I think will be the type of challenge I am looking for. The same introducer has other good leads to give me if I need further new work.

As a result of the same meeting I am having a 121 this afternoon with a couple of great business people I have known for a long time to see how we can refer and work together.

What an excellent outcome from just asking for a little help.

Sometimes I think we assume our strategic introducers and contacts know exactly where we are an what we are looking for. But how will they know unless we tell them!!

It’s been a good lesson for me to remind me that it is not good enough just to talk generally about our businesses at networking events. To get real results we have to be clearer about what we need and specific about how people can help us.

Coincidentally, a couple of leads have come from my website. One was not so hot, because he was attracted by the look and feel of the site, but on reading it he realised I did not offer what he needed. However, he still contacted me just in case! I was able to refer him onto someone who could definitely help.

The second website lead could be a great in the future, but the business was not quite ready for the help the owner was considering – putting together a business plan to get bank funding. However, I was able to set him on the right path so he could make progress.

Was it that I had put out vibes into the cosmos and the cosmos has answered? I don’t think so. But I do think that we need to be open minded to receive good opportunties – and we are not always open to new challenges and situations because we are stuck in a rut.

So get out there and be positive.

Fiona 🙂

Minding your Ps and Qs

Running your own business can be the biggest thrill you will achieve in your working life, or the most stressful and demoralising experience you can imagine. On some days it is both!

 However, I have come to realise from my own experience, from talking to business owners, and from gurus such as Ron Baker, Peter Thompson and Steven Covey, that running a successful business is all about minding your Ps and Qs.

 Given the stresses involved in running your own business it is vital you are passionate about your product or service. Let’s face it, it is much easier to engage with potential customers if you can show passion for what you do.

 Once you know what you want to do, you need to have a robust plan. We business owners are often knowledgeable about our product or service but avoid those business areas we struggle with – often marketing, sales or finance. The process of creating a business plan forces us to review ALL the areas of our business which are crucial to our future success.

 We need to present ourselves to the market. If, like me you run a service lead business, one of the best ways to do this is to network. People buy from people they trust so you need to be out there meeting, and getting to know, local business owners.

 Consulting professionals to help in areas you are not expert in is wise. Very few of us are instinctive business people and there will be one or two areas we struggle with. Interesting it is often more cost effective to get an expert in to do an efficient job than to try and do it ourselves.

 To me a key element of a quality service is communication – this means listening and responding to clients’ concerns. Even if you sell a product there is a service element to what you do and this will be your contact with your customer.

 Effective communication will allow you to qualify a potential client’s needs and what they particularly value. Having established value it should be fairly easy to give them a price.

 To close, your business will not be measured by the outside world on what it is but on what people perceive it to be. So keep your ear to the ground and ensure peoples’ perception matches your reality.

Fiona 🙂

Effective Referring Rocks!

Last Friday I was invited to a Referral Institute pipeline class by one of my key referral partners. As all my business comes through referrals of one sort or another I felt it was high time I found out how to maximise the opportunities for cross referral with my strategic introducers.

I think many of us think of ourselves as being good referrers because we pass lots of referrals to people we trust – I certainly would fall into that category – but how many of us actually take the time to work out how effective our referrals are? Before Friday I had not spent any time really analysing how much a good referral is worth to my business, how many referrals I actually need, and had no proper strategy for achieving them.

I love networking and have made an effort over the years to use my networking time effectively. However, it is only recently that I have come to realise that you don’t need to have a large number of contacts – you just need a small number of really good ones. If you can have great strategic introducers in your team it is much more likely that you will get the types of referrals you want.

Now I have the makings of a clear strategy for working with one of my key referral partners, I think we can develop a great referral partnership. And that, for a person who hates ‘selling’ herself, is a great result!

If you want to learn more about becoming a great referrer why not visit the Referral Institute website www.referralinstituteBSBA.co.uk or contact Jill Green at jillgreen@referralinstitute.co.uk.

Fiona 🙂

LinkedIn? – Join a Group

I talk to many business owners who join LinkedIn, because they’ve been invited, but don’t know what to do next.

LinkedIn can be a great source for networking, marketing awareness and sharing ideas. One of the best ways of doing this is to join groups.

What types of groups are there?

If you do a LinkedIn “group search” you will find all types of forums out there. Be aware that the “groups search” functionality is not that great. Another way of finding a group is to look at a business associate or competitor’s profile and check out what groups they belong to.

Now I’ve joined a group, what do I do?

Being a member of on-line group is exactly the same as being a member of any group on the outside world. If you sit in the corner of the room you will be ignored. Get your name about by participating and using them.

What types a group should I join?

  • Industry specific – these are great groups to join to keep up to date with the marketplace, share ideas and gather information. You might even find out what your competitors are up to!
  • Geographical business groups – Great for finding out what the local buzz is in your area. Become the resident guru. Ask and respond to questions, which relate to your profession, for example if you are in the exhibition stand business you might wish to find out what events people are attending in the near future.
  • Business Networking Groups often have their own forums and there are special interest sites out there too.

What’s the etiquette?

Like any other club, anything rude and offensive will give you a bad reputation and get you kicked out. Some groups will post their own rules and regulations. Blatant advertising and self-promotion in the “discussions” section is a huge bug-bear of mine. Put this type of information in the “news”

What should I do now?

  • Join a couple of groups if you haven’t already – some are more active than others and you won’t know how good a group is until you become a member. You can always leave if it’s not for you.
  • Ask a couple of questions and see what happens
  • Respond to some questions already posted
  • Change your settings if you wish to – you can choose the frequency you receive emails from the group etc.

One last note: If you’re a SME in the South West then remember to join the “Bright Business Thoughts” group!