Friday, August 17, 2018

An Entrepreneur Who Knows Her Why - business serving a higher purpose


Kortney Olson , founder of the GRRRL  brand
Kortney Olson is carving out a niche space in the multi-billion dollar industry of women’s active / leisure wear. She is the founder and dynamic CEO of “GRRRL”, a brand that reflects a spirit of physicality, independence and authenticity.

Traditional sportswear brands tend to target women of “standard” sizes, whereas the GRRRL brand caters for women of all sizes and their marketing specifically features women of large plus sizing.

Like any entrepreneur, Kortney’s motivation and determination in establishing and growing her business is fuelled by a vision – but it is one that is deeply rooted in driving social change and female empowerment. The brand is associating itself with leading female ambassadors from sports that include weightlifting, martial arts and body-building. High profile brand ambassadors (such as Holly Holman, the UFC mixed martial arts champion) get on board because they share the same values of inspiring women to become more self-accepting of their body image.
"We want women to find the awesome and extraordinary within themselves”
The company’s tagline “It’s Time to Change the Game” speaks for what the business stands for. The website explains “…..Our clothes won’t change the world, but the women who wear them will….. We want women to find the awesome and extraordinary within themselves”

A brand that says to women - "Be true to who you are"
Since the establishment of the business in 2015, growth has been phenomenal - with over 30,000 customers spread across more than 20 countries. 

Kortney established the business as a means of generating funding for her “Kamp Konfidence”, a training and personal development program that aims to inspire teenage girls to develop stronger foundations of self-respect and self-love. 

The incidence of suicide and self-harm amongst teenage girls is alarming and Kortney believes this can be reduced through educating young people to develop their skills in resilience, assertiveness and self-esteem, so they are more capable of with-standing peer group pressures that exist around drugs, sexuality, bullying and body-image.

Kortney’s passion is encouraging women to stop looking for acceptance and approval outside of themselves and instead find it within. Her zeal is partly fuelled by her own early struggles with depression, drugs and rape. She readily admits that for several years she seriously lost her way and was barely surviving in a deeply dark place - but eventually regained a sense of direction, faith and clarity of purpose in her life.

Strong is the new pretty at GRRRL
Kortney is using these experiences to connect with young women who may be facing similar struggles and she seeks to inspire them with the confidence to follow their dreams. 

Kortney agreed to share some of the lessons, tips and insights she has gained so far as an entrepreneur who is building a successful business (which recently featured in Forbes magazine). However she explains it is a business whose higher goal is more than just making a profit .....I asked her 5 questions –
1   
      1. Running and growing a business takes a lot of stamina and inner fortitude. You were a professional athlete Kortney, and perhaps thereby possessed the benefit of bringing an ability to focus and persevere to your business. But what about other aspiring entrepreneurs, what advice would you offer them for getting through the difficult times?

That’s a great question Brian.  I believe my dogged attitude actually comes from something other than having an athletic background.  It comes from being a recovered drug addict/alcoholic!  Upon completing treatment, many of us still carry traits of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).  I realised a long time ago that I could turn that OCD into something incredibly powerful. 

Recovering alcoholics and addicts are often given labels by society – and a social stigma will often accompany this – however we don’t have to allow these to hold us back.  For me, it was about a flip of perspective – turning a weakness into a strength. 

An integral part of my growth as a business owner has been accompanied by my commitment to personal growth and self-development.  Something I found incredibly helpful back in early 2015, was taking the “natural gift assessment”.  As part of an intensive self-improvement program, I learned that we are all born with various inherent gifts and that I have 3 “primary” gifts ….. The gift of Encouragement (explains why people like and trust me); The gift of Evangelism (explains why if I have love or belief in something or someone, then the world is going to know about it), and the third (which apparently is rare to have as a primary gift) is The gift of Giving. 

The gift of giving means that when I see a problem in the world, it’ll keep me up at night until I see that it’s fixed.  I have come to believe that if we are able to understand what our primary natural born gifts are, then we can harness these powers to our benefit (and to the benefit of others around us) - and better understand the reason why we are programmed the way we are.

Also let me add Brian, I have recently found myself being invited to speak at business conferences, and I have developed a keynote speech which I call “Goals Not Controls”.  In a nutshell, I share my experience that as entrepreneurs many of us often get TOO caught up in all of the details of what we think things are supposed to look like - right down to the very smallest detail.  Instead, as we learn to focus more on the overall end result, and less upon the means of achieving that result, we free ourselves up for the possibility that sometimes the Universe will have a different plan for how we will get there.

     2. What have you learned about surrounding yourself with the right team of people, in order to grow a successful business?

Yes, surrounding yourself with positive, uplifting people is CRUCIAL!  I believe we eventually become the sum of the 5 top people we most hang around with....

Since I’ve been in Singapore, I’ve been searching for mentors to help guide and direct me because I know how important this is.  I am convinced that the growth of my business is directly proportional to my on-going growth as a human being ….. and the people with whom I most regularly associate with will influence my learning and growth …..  

In my business (and my life), I want people around me who possess strengths and qualities that complement my own, people whom I can trust – and people who ultimately help to bring out the best in me.  

I recall reading once that Warren Buffet said that when he was hiring senior people to join his business, there were three qualities he particularly looked for – Intelligence, Drive and Integrity. But above all – he regarded integrity as the quality that he valued most.

     3The “GRRRL” brand is carving out a real niche in the women’s active/leisure wear industry. You have built a HUGE social media following …. What marketing advice would you offer to small business owners – who typically however are operating with a very limited marketing budget.

We’ve bootstrapped this brand to the moon and back.  It may surprise you that we spend very little on marketing - in fact, less than 5%. 

What people are drawn to, is authenticity……  I believe we’re at a tipping point where people are really starting to cut through the nonsense and wake up to who genuinely resonates with them and helps them see-through all of the “smoke and mirrors”.
For me, business is about showing up on a consistent basis.

With social media, it’s about putting myself out there in ALL states which has really spoken to my audience and enabled me to connect with them.  I don’t sugar coat anything.  I’ve posted pictures of myself crying in complete and utter frustration. …… Even though I once had a mentor tell me that leaders don’t show emotion and cry, I have made a conscious decision to always keep it real.  For me, authenticity is the way forward.

      4. What would you say has been one of the major hurdles you’ve had to overcome in your business journey so far – and what did you learn?

The biggest hurdle has been cash flow.  It’s probably a headache that many other owners of small and medium size businesses can relate to!

At this point in the growth of my business, ever cent is going back into inventory…… But- one thing I have learned is this – the power of prayer and trusting that the Universe has a plan……. I believe that as long as my business goals are such that others will gain benefit – as opposed to goals that are purely about self-benefit, then I believe that the Universe will provide me with the necessary means for achieving my goals. This faith has kept me showing up time and time again. 

When I say the word “prayer”, I’m not necessarily meaning in a religious context.  I know that it can be a loaded word, carrying connotations of some type of “God”. 

But even an atheist can simply look around and keep an open mind that there is SOMETHING else out there beyond this material world that we have access to if we ask for help.  Every entrepreneur should read the classic book Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill.  It’s here he talks about “the ether”.  It’s this ether that I refer to as “The Universe”. 

I do not wish to sound like a zealot. But at the end of the day, all I know is that for me, there is a God, and I am NOT it. 

If I show up on a daily basis, and ask this higher power (God, or whatever you want to call it) for guidance, and to show me how to serve humanity through my business, and not my selfish, self-centred ego -  then things always seem to have a way of eventually working out. 

It also takes some of the pressure off of me personally, as I believe there is a “higher power” that can help guide and inspire me in the way I run my business (and my life) which can enable me to better serve our planet.

      5. Kortney, so much of what you are doing with “GRRRL” and “Kamp Konfidence” is motivated by your passion for women’s empowerment….. Do you believe that an entrepreneur can succeed if their motivation is solely about making money by providing a “solution to a problem”, or does it need to be more than that?

Providing a solution to a problem is the fundamental premise of how business has been done for the last 100 years.  If you’ve watched the recent film “The Founder” about the McDonalds Brothers and Ray Kroc, I think it reveals a lot about the most basic principles of traditional business.  Value is in the eye of the customer; quality is about maintaining an expected standard consistently; and ensure the customer and accessibility is kept at the forefront of all product development decisions. In addition to these basic business principles, the film also displayed how the pursuit of profit could sometimes be ruthless – presenting Kroc as someone who eventually cared more about money than the relationship he had originally built with the brothers.

However I think we have seen some shifts in the business landscape over the past ten years …… There has been an emergence of brands like GRRRL – and also for example, Tesla and The Body Shop, which exist for a purpose greater than just solving a problem and turning a profit. ….. Whilst we are solving a problem, it’s a much higher level problem than just plugging a gap in the marketplace and meeting a consumer need. At its core, there is a cherished vision of a social benefit that is driving the business – which is one that I believe our customers, associates and staff can all genuinely become engaged with.  

Each of us must find our own way.... For me, building a business that is as much about serving a "Higher Purpose" as it is about being profitable, has provided me with a sense of meaning and personal fulfilment that I had been searching for in my life. 

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us Kortney.  You can find out more  about the GRRRL story at - https://www.grrrl.com/au/  More information about the self-empowerment workshops that Kortney Olson runs for teenage girls can be found at Kamp Konfidence on Facebook - enquiries from potential new corporate sponsors for the workshops are always welcome.

Other articles that might be of interest - The Inner Game of Business and also How To Flourish - lessons from positive psychology

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sales, Mindset and Focus – great tips to help your small business prosper


Sandy Colombo is a business coach
It's always interesting speaking with a business coach and getting their thoughts around what it takes to succeed in business. Sandy Colombo is the owner and founder of Colombo Consulting, based in Melbourne Australia. 

I had the pleasure of chatting with Sandy recently and she shared some great tips and advice relevant to both start-up entrepreneurs as well as experienced business owners (who can sometimes lose their way) .... 

  1. Sandy, for many years you’ve been running a consulting business – but you initially came from working in the corporate world. What do you recall were the early major challenges you faced starting up your own business?
Yes I managed a whole travel business which I took from $70k in the red to 15 million dollar sale. During this time I learnt a lot about business and yet it was still a different experience when I started my own business. Cultivating the right mindset can be one of the biggest challenges. in fact  I have coached many people around how to build and maintain a positive mindset - although having a clear sales strategy certainly helps to encourage this. Often sales is done on an inconsistent bases and this is why so many businesses end up failing. The reality is no sales, no business and no income.

  1. You’ve provided mentoring to many small business owners over the years in relation to improving their sales performance – what are three of the most common mistakes you see small business owners making in relation to sales? ....... and any additional tips for avoiding these mistakes
I would say the top three learnings in small business (mistakes are just feedback if we choose to learn from them) are

A: Being reactive and inactive, rather than proactive with sales
B: Not asking for the business
C: Keeping an accurate database and following up

Let me explain a bit more about the need to be proactive ……All good sales people know the difference between proactive task and inactive tasks. People good in sales know that the proactive task is going to get them the business. The inactive task is going to take time away from your selling.

Having clear goals and having them written down makes working out what task is proactive and what task is inactive much easier. Be focused on what you require. A useful reminder here is the 80/20 rule, to help you determine where your FOCUS should be. This time management principle essentially tells us that 80 percent of the value you generate in your business comes from 20 percent of your daily tasks and activities.

So therefore you should focus on those critical few tasks that add the greatest value – and ensure you are spending more time on these particular activities. If you have staff in your business, then delegate the other stuff to them, so you can play to your strengths and also use their skills and strengths.

Don't get me wrong however. winning the sale is not enough of itself ...... Obviously there can be many important tasks associated with subsequently consistently delivering a quality product in a reliable and efficient way - and keeping your promises. 

However, some examples of inactive tasks that may be taking you away from your goal of increasing your sales might include -
·      - Checking email more than twice a day
·      -  Not being 100 per cent present when speaking with clients
·       --Handling paper more than once
·       - Procrastination and not being focused on addressing your priorities
·       - Making things harder than necessary and spending too much time on relatively trivial stuff

Examples of more proactive tasks are –
·       - Follow up quotations
·       - Contacting past clients
·       - - Developing a mail out or newsletter to your client base
·       - Networking 
·      -  Optimising your website so that it ranks higher in search engines, thereby more likely to generate enquiries

  1. You’re a big advocate of networking as a business growth strategy for helping to generate leads– and yet for many business owners, this doesn’t come easy. What are some tips you can offer?
Networking needs to be a core part of your sales strategy and then you need to look at it from a ROI point of view. Networking groups are vital for many small business owners and not just for referrals – but also for contact, professional development and feeling connected …… Isolation can be one of the biggest challenges and stressors in small business. Join a group like FRESH NETWORKING or join a business hub like WATERMAN - they offer different types of benefits although both offer social interaction (and possible referral marketing or lead generation through word of mouth)

  1. Mindset and mental outlook are such important factors that can influence a business owner’s level of success and also fulfilment ..... What can entrepreneurs do to help build and maintain the right mindset within themselves?
Absolutely a positive mindset is important. Many people have heard the old saying “if you think you can, or you think you can’t - you will be right”
My advice to your readers is to be willing to invest in yourself…… I see many business owners treat themselves poorly working ridiculously long hours, never having a break and not giving back to themselves. While there is certainly a “J curve” in business, I see many people never giving themselves a break and working 80 hour weeks. This can stop sales, as your unconscious mind is less likely to give you more clients or more work if you are not looking after yourself. Therefore quite often there are internal blocks within business owners themselves, which are standing in the way of being able to generate an increase in their sales.

When you are working like this, your thinking and your judgement can so easily become flawed, with your outlook becoming negative. The law of attraction kicks in and you get more negative stuff back - as it’s a reflection of what we put out there! …… When this happens, it can become a form of self sabotage – and we can end up creating unnecessary drama for ourselves.

  1. On this theme of mindset – passion is one thing, however as you have already said, some business owners can become quite obsessed with their business, becoming completely immersed in it. Have you seen that this can present any other risks or potential dangers?
Yes this can happen - we can become so passionate about our business that everything else takes a back seat. I have never gone to a funeral where the person who died wished they had spent more time at work..

In fact its quite the opposite. When we become obsessed with anything we are out of balance. An activity like “Wheel of life” is a good one to reassess where we are at and what is important to us. Evaluating how much of your time is allocated to the various dimensions of your life - business, versus family, friends, exercise, leisure, personal growth and social or community contributions.

Sometimes we forget about the need for balance when we get caught up in an emotion. Business can be fun and it’s great to be passionate about it. We just need to check-in and see that we are climbing the right ladder …… otherwise you can end up investing a lot of time and effort to discover you’re climbing the wrong ladder.

  1. Any final advice you’d like to offer to our readers who are working on starting or growing their home-based small business?
Invest in yourself and your business. Personal development is the key. Every time I did any form of Professional Development I found that my business boomed. ……I learnt to put in systems, check my ego and make business easy.
I always ask my clients - Do you want to be right or rich ? And by Rich, I mean richness. Richness in life to have the relationships we want, the time and freedom to invest in the activities we are passionate about and the money to do all of it. People who keep on insisting that their way is the "right" way can become stuck in their ways - they close themselves to the need for change - and fail to recognise the opportunities for learning and improving. 

Thank you to Sandy -  more information about her business coaching services can be found at - www.ColomboConsulting.com.au 

More information on Mindset and dealing with some of those "inside blocks" that can get in the way of enjoying business success can be found here - http://www.australia-small-business.com/2015/02/for-entrepreneurs-inner-game-of-business.html

Saturday, December 2, 2017

5 Simple Ways to Improve Cash Flow in Your Business

As a startup or even home-based business owner, it can be hard to establish a name for yourself. One of the early challenges is that you are initially relatively unknown to the market, with an accompanying challenge typically being that you don’t have enough resources and network connections to build the profile you need.

This is the reason why many startups often don’t blossom into a sustainable business. Aside from the early lack of financial resources, there is the harsh reality of ensuring that you have found a way to differentiate yourself from your competition.

Cash flow strain is another one of the most common difficulties for many small business owners. However here are a few simple tips that can help to increase cash flow for your small business .....

1.   Accept different modes of payment.

Making the customer’s purchasing experience as hassle-free and efficient as possible will enable better cash flow. This includes sending out your invoices immediately and also accepting various modes of payment (whether through credit, PayPal or cash on delivery). This gives the customer more options to settle and they can choose which is the most convenient for them - making transactions with you easier and faster.

2.   Implement “pay on time” incentives.

One way to motivate your customers to pay right on time is to implement incentives whenever they do. This can be through small discounts or rebates whenever they pay on time (ie. before or on due date). Additionally, you might consider implementing penalties for customers who pay late.

3.   Affordable marketing .

Obviously improving sales will improve your cash flow. This can be achieved either by selling more to your existing customers - or by increasing your customer base. Winning more customers means thinking about how you market your business and how you will stand out from your competition, so as to be "front of mind" for your customers.

However, haphazard marketing and promotions can easily drain your business capital and expenses - but by using affordable and targeted strategies, you can maximize your sales return. 

One way is through content marketing, where you aim to inform and educate customers about your industry and establish yourself as an authority in that niche. This type of marketing is more affordable and it can give you high returns when it is done right. An increasing number of businesses are using social media marketing to communicate and engage with their customers more effectively.

4.   Keep track of your expenses.

If you have a hard time maintaining records of your cash flow and expenses, it is usually best to hire an accountant or book-keeper to take responsibility for that. Getting the right accounting program or app for tracking and reporting your finances will make your life easier – and make tax time less stressful.

It is important not just to accurately record your cash inflow and outflow – but also to monitor this regularly. This helps you measure your actual return on investment - and to determine whether your operating expenses and promotional tactics are in any way worth it.

It is also important to be able to separate your personal expenses from actual business expenses (which is usually mixed up when you run a small business).

5.   Cut costs - wisely.

You can improve cash flow by reducing operating expenses in your business. However be careful that in a frantic zeal to cut costs, you don’t strip away what could be important drivers of your business. Sometimes you’ve got to be willing to spend money to make money…….. For example, you can cut costs by no longer doing any advertising, sponsorship or promotions – but it’s likely your enquiries and leads will eventually start drying up……. So, it’s all about the wise pruning of expenses. 

Maybe you can look at negotiating better deals with your suppliers. See if you can get a better rate for example from your power company - otherwise consider changing suppliers. Even a home-based business can have significant power bills. 

Another idea to consider is getting shared office space at a lower cost – instead of leasing your own private office or premises. A novel idea is whether you might allow staff to sometimes work from home on certain days, which would help save on phone and power bills.

In closing, let me say that being a startup entrepreneur is not easy, especially if you lack experience in things like accounting, marketing or doing sales projections. But with the right preparation, a positive mindset and a desire to continue to learn and improve, then these challenges can be overcome.

Guest Author
Gemma Reeves is a seasoned writer who enjoys creating helpful articles and interesting stories. She is an entrepreneur who aims to assist other aspiring entrepreneurs in finding the best office space for their business.  You can check out her company here: -FindMyWorkspace

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Small Business Ideas - for the aspiring entrepreneur

The search for a business idea

small business ideas for starting a business
Looking for inspiration to find the right business?
So maybe you're sick of working the traditional nine-to-five, or sick of working for somebody else, or perhaps you're tired of spending so much of your time commuting to and from work - and you're thinking about starting your own business? Maybe even a home-based business? ...... But the big question you might be struggling with is this one - what sort of business should you start?

Tens of thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs around the world right now are thinking the same thing - not just here in Australia, but also in India, the U.K, Europe and the U.S  ...... Although less than half will end up actually doing something about it.  But time invested in thinking and careful planning should always come before doing anyhow ..... So exploring different ideas for your potential business can be an important early step in the process. As long as you also recognise when the time for bold action has arrived.

Let's just take a few moments and think about where different small business owners have commenced their journey from - and see if that might provide you with any potential inspiration or insight.
"... the nature of business is to solve a problem and somehow make life easier for a consumer"
There are some entrepreneurs who already have a clear vision for the service or product they intend to bring to market - they have recognised that a gap exists in the market-place and that there is a problem waiting to be solved. These entrepreneurs simply have to plan how best to commercialise their "solution" and launch as a business. 
".... from employee to becoming your own boss"
There are other entrepreneurs whose background is such that they have possessed specialist or technical skills - as an accountant, hairdresser, carpenter, plumber or mechanic - but have been working as an employee for someone else. Then one day they found themselves awakening to the idea that maybe they could be their own boss and offer their expertise direct to consumers. 

Mind you, there are still a lot of business skills which have to be acquired. Just because you're a great plumber, doesn't mean you will be successful in running your own plumbing business. There's a lot to learn about marketing, book-keeping and finances for example.

But what if you're a plumber who's sick and tired of  that line of work - and maybe wanting to start up a business in a completely new space. Then you will be searching for a business idea. 
"Sometimes it's wiser to test the idea as a "side-line" before quitting your day job"
Before we look at business ideas - two quick tips. Firstly, before going down the path of going full-time with your business idea, see if you can do it part-time "on the side". In other words, you will keep your "day-job" and experiment with the idea to help evaluate whether there is sufficient demand for the product or service. 

"Testing the water" before jumping in can be a wise risk management strategy. This is something that I certainly did many years ago, before establishing my own management training business, Performance Development. 

A second quick tip is to consider what you are naturally interested in and passionate about. Maybe you love playing golf - AND you're also good at it. You've played it for 20 years. Maybe you think about promoting private golfing lessons at a small club that doesn't have their own "pro". Or maybe you promote a service of being a paid golfing partner, who also provides some in-game coaching as you go around with your partner on the greens. Just imagine if you could find a way to turn your hobby into a small stream of income!


40 business ideas that require minimal start-up capital

A home based business has less running costs 
Here's a range of different ideas for a possible business. Various categories and industries are represented - for example products or services relating to Health and wellness, Food and snacks, various Home and garden services. 

However, do keep in mind whether the idea is viable depends upon your ability to differentiate yourself from existing competition in that market .... Some ideas might require additional training or have certification requirements. However they all are relatively easy in terms of having the benefit of requiring minimal up-front start-up capital. And many of them can be home-based business ideas - avoiding the cost of leasing a premise. 

But at this point, the key is to open up your thinking to consider new possibilities ... 
  1. Website development or graphic design
  2. Car detailing
  3. House cleaning
  4. Garden maintenance or landscaping
  5. Home maintenance, handyman or house repairs
  6. Window cleaning
  7. Cafe, restaurant, coffee shop or catering business
  8. Teaching or tutoring in a field of your expertise (eg. music, language ....)
  9. House sitting
  10. Pet minding
  11. Dog walking or dog training
  12. Pet grooming
  13. Interior design / decorating or painting
  14. Special event planning (weddings, anniversaries, holidays ...)
  15. Life coaching
  16. Personal fitness training
  17. Photographer
  18. Gift basket service
  19. On-line art & craft supplies
  20. Furniture removal or small transport service
  21. Air-bnb host - or bed-and-breakfast
  22. Travel guide
  23. Freelance copywriter or editor
  24. Dress maker or clothing alterations
  25. Florist
  26. Gutter cleaning
  27. Rubbish removal
  28. Home stager
  29. Massage therapist
  30. Resume writer
  31. Soap or candle making
  32. Baking 
  33. Cake decorating
  34. Translation service provider
  35. Video producer
  36. Virtual assistant
  37. Social media consultancy
  38. Technology services such as app development 
  39. Writing e-books
  40. Online retail or eBay store - selling anything from hand-made birthday cards, niche cosmetics, skin care or hair care products, smart-phone accessories. This easily lends itself to starting up initially as a home based business, simply requiring a room set aside for storage of products and packaging.
In closing, once you find an idea that has appeal for you - then the real work begins. Undertaking a more detailed stage of market-research that involves assessing consumer demand,  identifying existing competition and whether you would be able to differentiate yourself in terms of price, service or ease of accessibility (eg. maybe promoting yourself as the "local" supplier").  

If this research suggests the idea seems feasible, then the next step is preparing a business plan. It's all an exciting journey - and I wish you well.

P.S  Could buying a franchise be another option for you?
Another option you might consider is whether a franchise opportunity could be right for you. Training, systems, marketing, business support and association with a known brand can be some of the advantages. Although care should always be taken with this, because of the limitations and obligations that some franchise contracts can place upon a franchisee - an article that could be of interest to you is in Kochie's Business Builders blog - Top Ten Australian Franchises

Relevant articles

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A digital marketing specialist shares some tips for driving growth in small business

Digital marketing is driving growth in this business
This article offers an inspiring insight into how a small business can achieve substantial growth through tapping into the power of digital marketing.

IntoBlinds was founded in Melbourne as a family owned business in 2009, with 5 employees. It has developed into what is now one of the leading suppliers of all ranges of blinds, curtains and shutters – employing over 60 staff. 

Although two showrooms help to generate some enquiries and sales for the business, the lions-share of leads and enquiries are produced through the company’s website and online presence. It is a careful combination and integration of various digital strategies that has been the key to their success – paid online advertising, achieving top organic search results for their website, targeted social media promotions and direct email marketing campaigns.

One of the keys to the steady growth of the business over the past few years in particular, was the creation of a full-time Digital Marketing Strategist position. David Simmons was appointed to this role.

David’s experience included having worked in the field of Sales & Marketing for almost twenty years – but for more than ten years he has specialised in online marketing and e-commerce. I had the opportunity of recently interviewing David and asking him about some of the digital marketing strategies that have contributed to the growth of the Into Blinds business. Although David made it clear he wasn’t going to reveal any trade secrets, he certainly shared some sound advice that small business owners and start-up entrepreneurs can benefit from …..
  1. David, tell us a little bit about the various digital marketing strategies that you feel have produced the best results for the IntoBlinds business, in terms of lead generation
Marketing strategies vary dramatically for different industries. The window furnishing industry has appeal to both the domestic and commercial market – therefore Facebook can play its part in our lead generation as the general population typically have an interest in our products and services.

I have found that Google is by far the best way to generate leads and enquiries through its paid advertising (AdWords) program - which is also referred to as "pay per click" advertising. Quite often a small business owner could achieve results with as little as a $20 daily advertising budget. It can be particularly suitable for a start-up business, because consumers are actively searching for products and services through this medium.

My advice to anyone starting a business is that they get familiar with the keywords their potential customers would use when typing their search enquiry into Google. These keywords then become the basis for how they will use Google AdWords. Furthermore, keyword ideas and suggestions can be obtained through Google AdWords itself 
  1. Most small business owners now-days monitor where the website of their business ranks in search engine results for the “key words” they are targeting. What are some of the steps that a business owner can take to help lift the ranking of their website?
My advice to anyone wanting to improve their organic rankings in Google is to follow the advice and use the resources that are available through reputable websites like moz.com and searchengineland.com. There is also Google’s own site, Webmaster Tools, These sites offer tools that allow you to track various elements of not only your own website’s performance, but just as importantly, the websites of your competition.

Sound decision making in business relies on having good quality data. These sites provide you with both historical as well as real time data that tell you where you rank for your selected keywords, who is linking to your website, what proportion of visitors to your site are coming via desktop or mobile searches, the demographic profile of your visitors – and plenty of other relevant metrics that can help you with your planning.

Initially paying for an Adwords campaign is an early way of grabbing Google’s attention. But thereafter, a business owner should start to examine how to generate free organic traffic, and this is where the science of “Search engine optimisation” comes into play. 

Ensuring that your website has been constructed to be mobile friendly, with good page loading speed, and with the correct metatags in the title and description and also that the on-page elements of your website have been optimised. This includes headings and the correct placement of keywords and their synonyms within the body of each page’s content. 

Online marketing involves understanding and connecting to the needs of two different stakeholders.  Firstly, you have to be aware of what Google is wanting to see in a website and secondly, you have to understand and appeal to the needs and motivations of your website visitors. Quality website content that is displayed in an enticing manner makes it more likely that visitors to your site will remain longer. Once you get these things right then you are well on the road to success.
  1. Generating increased numbers of leads and enquiries is only part of the success equation – the other essential capability is to then convert enquiries into sales. What are some of the mistakes you see some small businesses make in failing to convert leads into sales?
Consumers now-days want an instant response to their questions.
Let’s face it, we live in the digital era where we can and do get the fastest response times in history. The smart phone has increased our expectations to the highest levels. My advice is to reply to an inquiry as fast as humanly possible or your prospective customer will lose trust and faith in your service.
  1. For business owners who are thinking about adding an e-commerce functionality to their website and engaging in on-line sales, what can be some of the issues to consider, drawing upon your experience with IntoBlinds?
Ensuring the effective functionality of the e-commerce platform itself is absolutely crucial.

Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Imagine spending time researching a product and eventually finding a website that sells it. Then they go through the process of spending more time selecting product type, colour and size, completing the shipping and credit card details - and then find themselves being directed to an error page.(these types of problems are what creates negative customer feedback and reviews) ….. So the key is to keep your shopping cart simple and fast.
  1. What do you see as some of the emerging trends in digital marketing and search engine optimisation? And maybe if you can also comment upon the influence of “customer reviews”.
One of the biggest changes in SEO has been the emphasis that Google places upon signals which measure the “user experience”. What I mean by this is, Google gathers data about how the consumer engages and interacts with your site. They collect data that indicates whether visitors to your site have converted to an email or phone enquiry - or ultimately, a sale.

Google constantly tests and measures this interaction to find the best possible websites to be placed at the top of their search results. Imagine if Google displayed websites that weren’t very appealing or not relevant to your enquiry, then we as consumers wouldn’t trust or use Google anymore.

Consumer reviews are becoming the most important part of your online business. Consumers do their research very quickly and make their decision about who they will purchase from. Feedback from trusted social media forums plays an important role in the decision-making of the majority of today’s consumers. Consider your own experience – if you are planning a holiday, do you refer to sites like TripAdvisor?

I have seen many websites that might achieve a high ranking in Google search results, but if their reviews are terrible, then I know as a consumer myself that I don’t buy. So, including authentic, genuine positive customer reviews in your marketing can help to  "clinch the deal" and make a sale.
  1. Is there any final advice you would offer to small business owners who are usually facing the challenge of how to get the biggest bang from an often limited marketing budget?
This subject can be very lengthy, as different industries require a different approach to marketing. However some general advice would be-
1.   Your Website must reflect clearly your goods or services so consumers don’t have to guess what your message is. This applies to both how your landing page is actually presented and the brief description you use in your description metatag. However the description must be able to grab attention in a compelling way for those using Google search to decide to click on your URL. So pay attention to the description metatag at the "back-end" of your website, because this is the snippet that Google displays in their organic search results.
2.   Contact details should be highlighted and easy to find on your website. Phone number and Email in large font and well positioned at beginning and end of each page.
3.   Images are critical, the latest studies show we can process an image 50,000 times faster than text. Make sure your images are a professional reflection of your products or services.
4.   Do your homework by visiting other websites in your industry. More often than not, the websites listed at the top of Google search results will likely have all the website basics you require for your website.
5.   Start advertising, open a Google AdWords account, do your keyword research, create a campaign and start advertising. In as little as 15 minutes you can find that you have started generating visitors to your website. Even if you are a brand new business consumers will still contact you, if they can find you. However don’t waste your advertising budget making consumers wait – ensure their call or their email enquiry is answered promptly.

A tip for using Google AdWords, try finding keyword phrases with 3 or more keywords, example: you are selling “boots” online, look for specific keywords like “women's boots online” or “women's boots sale” these key phrases usually have a much higher conversion to sale rate. Direct the ad to the page that lists and says those words and boots. Keywords like “boots” are very broad and can drain your advertising budget very fast.  The keyword “Boots” has a search volume of approximately 18,100 per month in Australia where as “women's boots online” has a search volume of 320/month. When consumers use words like “online”, ”sale”, ”cheapest” or “discount” they are closer to buying than consumers who search “boots” and who are more than likely just looking.

I hope these tips help your readers with their online small business ventures. Good luck and be sure to let me know of your success.

Thanks to David Simmons for sharing some practical tips on digital marketing that small business owners can implement. 

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Editor - Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development, a consulting business that offers leadership training courses in Melbourne.