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 and 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. 

Recent posts
How to increase profits in your small business
Five quick tips if thinking of starting a small business

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

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Does your small business website need a blog?

The best business blogs drive business growth

Almost every small business today has a website – but a common question that business owners ask is whether they should also have a blog. The best business blogs will help you to achieve two things – firstly, attract traffic to your business website and secondly, convert traffic to actual customers.
best business blogs Australia

A blog, like other forms of social media, allows you more opportunity to interact with both your customers and importantly, your potential customers through the “Comments” section of the blog. This interaction enables the beginnings of building a relationship and making a connection with visitors to your site. Through such interaction – and particularly if there is an opportunity for questions to be answered – then trust can be built. And people prefer to do business with those they trust.

The best business blogs in Australia not only gain traffic but retain visitors on the site for a reasonable period of time because they are offering quality content that readers find helpful and informative. Visitors will not only read one article but quite often look at other articles posted on your blog.  Google measures the amount of time visitors spend on your site. A longer period of time is interpreted by the search engine as signalling that you are providing “a good user experience”. This in turn will benefit how the search engine ranks your site for future search results.

A blog also offers you the chance to write content on emerging and current “hot topics” of the day - which of course, still need to have some relevance to the nature of your business.

Keep in mind the difference between your blog and the usual business website. Most business websites are a bit like a promotional brochure – they list the range of products and services offered, together with “About Us” and “Contact Us” pages. Of course your website must be able to grab and maintain attention; it has to be able to convince the reader that your business offers the best solution to their problem. It must show them that you offer something different and superior to other competitor sites. (Often a consumer will visit up to three sites before making a decision as to which business to contact).

So whereas your website has a sales and promotional focus to it, the best blogs tend to be seen as having much more of an educational and informative focus to them. A blog will usually have more of a human touch to it – with tips, stories and experiences being shared. Websites contain pages – and blogs have “posts”.

There is one other point to consider about where blogging might fit into a broader social media marketing strategy for your business. If you have a Facebook page, each post is usually short, no more than 100 words, with an image accompanying it. A blog post is generally written to convey much more information – from anything between 400 to 1,000 words for example. If the post is less than 400 words, chances are that Google may see it as lacking depth or substance and therefore not see it as worth indexing for any meaningful search ranking.

A blog can help improve the search ranking of your website

From a search engine optimisation point of view, it is generally recognised that Google and other search engines like Bing and Yahoo, love blogs. The reason is that typically, blogs provide fresh content. Mind you, it is also known that the content should be reasonably unique and original in form – you will be penalised for duplicating and copying mass content that comes from other sources. The idea that you write about does not necessarily have to be original, but how you describe and express it certainly needs to be.

By having regularly updated and fresh content your blog reflects that it is part of a site that is alive and growing, more likely to be relevant to “today’s” search enquiries and offer visitors new and current information. A site that fails to do this may be seen as a “dead” entity that has become old, stale and outdated. Your site will gain the benefit of search engine robots more likely dropping by to review the indexing of your site when it has regular updates and new information being added to it.  

The other important benefit is the more you are seen to publish good quality content on a particular topic, the more you will come to seen as an “authority” or expert in that field.

So how can you develop content for your business blog?

Remember, the best business blogs have been designed to drive traffic to the main website. So look for opportunities to link back from your blog articles to relevant pages on your business website.

For example, I run a corporate training consulting business called Performance Development . One of the training courses we offer to organisations is  “Leadership  Skills course”.  There is a page on my website describing this course – however in the blog attached to the website I will occasionally write a blog post on some aspect of how to effectively recruit, lead or motivate staff. The posts will be informative and contain ideas and tips, but I will then include a link back to the Leadership short course page in case readers are interested in attending training to improve their actual leadership skills.

The articles that you post to your blog do not have to be limited to the written word – they can also have audio, video or slides embedded in them. But basically, your article topics can be on anything that is likely to add value to your reader and be of interest to your target market. So if you were a plumber, you might have articles in your blog on topics like how to fix a leaky tap or how to seal a bathtub. If you were a handyman maybe topics like how to plaster a crack in the ceiling or how to change the lock on a door. Posts could be written using case studies, describing different types of issues you have resolved for various customers for example.

Another source of ideas for blog content can come from your customers themselves. Consider some of the common questions you have been asked - or simply ask them what are some topics they suggest you might write about.

Ideally, the article shouldn’t take you a lot of time to write. It’s a topic that will be simple for you to talk about because it's in your area of expertise. The key is to ensure it will be relevant to the interests of your readers and written in a language they can understand. In other words, don’t get too technical!

Blogging platforms

If your existing website has been built using a Wordpress platform, then adding a blogging capability is really SIMPLE with an easy plug in

Alternatively, Google itself has “Blogger” which is another easy, user-friendly platform that is free – unless you decide to add a customised domain to it.

Final words – you can always outsource it

Yes, blogging takes time. And time is money for anyone running their own business. However, keep in mind another option - there are copywriters available who can write or prepare draft blog posts for you. Their fees vary, but $50 an hour is an approximate guide. And maybe 3 – 4 hours for a 500 word post is another rough estimate – depending upon how much research they might need to do for your topic. 

Although there are business blogs that post something every couple of days, at a practical level if you can aim to publish a quality post every couple of weeks then you could be well on the way over time, to building a community of followers and becoming recognised as an authority figure in your field. 

Oh, and by the way, if your blog over time succeeds in building a significant following in a niche space, then you might even consider commercialising your blog and opening it up for other businesses to advertise on it (obviously not competitors, but businesses that offer services or products that complement your own range)

Other relevant posts -
How to write quality content for your blog

Sunday, September 17, 2017

How to increase profits in your small business

You can’t stay in business for long unless you’re making a healthy profit.

small business AustraliaAs an entrepreneur of course you want to pursue your dream and passion; but at the end of the day you’ve got to be making enough money to be paying all the bills ..... And let's not forget paying yourself a reasonable wage to make all the hard work and long hours worthwhile. But in building a truly profitable business, you gain the freedom to choose a lifestyle that you and your family want to live.

At its simplest, in order to increase profit you need to be able to either increase your revenue, or reduce your costs and expenses. Let’s explore these broad strategies a bit further and turn them into seven practical tips …..

  1. Increase sales by increasing your customer base. This could be done through local promotions, retail displays, targeted email marketing campaigns, or online Google advertising.  Encouraging referrals from satisfied customers – and using testimonials from satisfied customers in your marketing. Ensure staff have been properly trained and resourced so that when your promotions succeed in generating new enquiries, these will be converted to sales. When you focus upon expanding your customer base, take care that this is not achieved at the expense of compromising service quality to existing customers – repeat business from loyal customers is the lifeblood of any successful business. Also take care that you're not spending so much on advertising and marketing that it outweighs what you gain through acquiring new customers.
  2. Expand your line of products or services. In other words, you will be able to offer a wider range of solutions to existing customers. Increasing the opportunity for cross-selling and leveraging the relationships and goodwill you have established with your existing customer base to sell more items to them. Are there existing product lines that could be expanded with “accessories” for example? Selling belts and not just trousers, or selling pet food and not just pets.
  3. Reduce operating costs and expenses.
    Sometimes, this can be achieved through negotiating more effectively with existing suppliers – or investigating alternative suppliers that can offer you a better deal. It could be that if you have been with a particular supplier for a prolonged period of time that they may have become complacent in their pricing with you. You might explore with them whether you could obtain a better unit rate through increasing the volume of your order, or changing required delivery times for example. .Even simple savings through introducing energy efficiency initiatives in your business can contribute to reductions in power bills. And finally – ask your accountant if there is anything you can do to ensure you are claiming all possible tax deductions
  4. Consider increasing your prices. This can be a scary thought ….. Obviously care must be taken that you don’t price yourself out of the market – and you need to keep an eye on your competition. However if you are offering a strong value proposition to your customers, in terms of either a clear advantage in quality, delivery time, or service and support for example – then many customers are prepared to pay more.
  5. Prune your offerings – so you can focus your efforts on the more profitable items. It may well be that some of the products or services are not providing a reasonable margin for you – and its time to re-direct your energy and resources towards the items that are more important to the success of the business.
  6. Get better at credit management. In other words, be active in chasing up debts so that people or businesses who owe you money learn that they need to pay you on time. Setting tighter credit terms and shorter payment terms will help to improve your cash flow. Have a clear credit policy in place so that you automatically turn off supply to debtors once their debts go beyond a reasonable trigger-point. There are too many examples in the construction industry for example, where trade sub-contractors have ended up being owed tens of thousands of dollars because builders went out of business. They continued to offer generous credit terms and continued working in the vain hope they would eventually get paid by the builder. There were instances where these sub-contractors were lucky to be paid one in ten dollars by Receivers.
  7. Ensure your staff are productive. If your business employs staff, then wages are a significant expense. So take the time to hire the best people up-front; they will subsequently require less direction and supervision from you. And when you have quality staff that you treat well and actually engage them in your business – then they will contribute ideas and suggestions that will help to improve efficiency and enhance service delivery to your customers. Ensuring your staff are fairly rewarded for good work will reduce staff turnover and avoid expenses associated with hiring and training new staff. But even when you have good people working for you, there will still be instances where it will be more cost-efficient to outsource the performance of certain tasks rather than performing them “in-house”. Book-keeping might be one example of such a task within a small business - outsourcing it can allow you and your team to really focus on what you all do best.
In summary – a growth in profits  for your business will more likely be achieved through a combination of these strategies rather than one in isolation. Whatever changes you decide to make in the business – the key is always to carefully trial and then measure outcomes to check whether the change should become embedded in the practice of the business, or perhaps you discover that it's not an idea worth pursuing. Although over time you will find some ideas don't work, it is a healthy sign that that you continue to improve the business through innovation

Further posts & articles on this topic
Small business and how to boost sales ; 
Why small businesses fail to grow : the E-myth 
The entrepreneur and the inner game of business

Brian Carroll is the editor of Australia Small Business. He is the founder of Melbourne based Performance Development, a corporate training & HR consulting business that has been established for more than 25 years.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Five quick tips if you’re thinking about starting up your own business

starting up your own business
So you’re toying with the idea of starting up your own small business - but you’re still uncertain about either whether to do it or how to go about it. Of these two possible uncertainties, resolving the first issue will determine whether you need to worry at all about the second issue. 

Although there is definitely some merit in the old adage to "follow your dreams", there is still a need to ensure that there is as much"head" as there is "heart" in your decision making  . Yes, you want to be doing something that you're passionate about - but you need to be able to pay the bills as well.

So here’s five quick practical tips that might help you, if you're contemplating the entrepreneur's path … And by the way, you might like to also check out the link Small Business Resources
  1. .If you don’t have bucket-loads of grit and resilience in your character, then now’s not the right time for you to be looking at setting up a business.  It doesn’t matter how good your business idea is, the fact is that starting and running your own business will prove frustrating - and will inevitably challenge you to draw upon all of your inner resources. Yes, it can prove deeply fulfilling to build and create something from scratch – but there will be many periods of disappointment and stress. In the early days, there will likely be times of cash-flow strain, when you will be kept awake at night with the anxiety of worrying whether your monthly sales will exceed your monthly costs and expenses. It's a sobering statistic when you read that almost half of new businesses have "closed shop" within two years of opening…….. But if you are someone who is eager for the challenge of being your own boss, not easily discouraged, and if you are also  highly self-motivated - then read on ......
  2. Be conservative when projecting your sales versus costs  Once you decide that you want to stop just dreaming and start exploring the real viability of your business idea, then it's time to put your business plan together and take a serious look at the numbers, It is wise to be a little conservative when developing your business plan and projecting future sales – rather than being wildly optimistic about revenue and thereby possibly over-committing on your early expenditure because of  an unrealistic expectation of strong sales.
  3. Keep an eye on your competition. Who is already playing in your space … how will you differentiate yourself from them? …… Alternatively, maybe there are no current players and there really is a gap in the marketplace for your product or service. Perhaps nobody else has yet seen the problem for which you will be providing people with a solution ….. However, you still need to consider the potential cost or ease of entry for a new player in the future. In other words, were you to succeed with the commercialisation of your idea – even though at present there may be an absence of competition – chances are that others will eventually see your success and seek to copy what you do. So even after you’ve established your business, you’ve got to continue to learn, improve and innovate.
  4. Selecting & registering your business name.  This is one of the most critical early decisions that you will be making. There are two schools of thought on how to do this. One option is to choose a “quirky” name that is different and therefore memorable for your customers. Examples of this might be Google, Apple or Bing. …… The other option is to choose a name that clearly reflects the service or product that you offer. For example Anderson’s Landscaping Services. This might also reflect that it is a family business. However it can be very effective to add a “local” aspect to your business name if you are going to particularly target a local market. For example, Bayside Gardening Services or Eastern Suburbs Engineering. If possible, align the domain name of your website with your business name – although this is not essential it is generally preferable to have that consistency. Within Australia, ASIC is the government agency where you can  check business name availability. Even if you intend to set up your business as a sole trader, you will likely be required to apply for an ABN in order to register your business name, after you've established that it is available (the ABN  on-line application is free - although a tax agent would likely charge you a fee to do this on your behalf).  In 2017, the annual cost of registration of a business name is $35. For creating your business website and selection of a domain name, Wordpress is a very popular and affordable platform for those who want to save some money and do-it-yourself.
  5. Start small and test the market. You don’t necessarily have to quit your day job in order to test the viability of your business idea. Let’s say for example you intend to sell hand-crafted aromatic candles. Before taking out a long term lease on a store and setting up shop, you might first try selling them at local markets. Maybe you set up an affordable on-line e-commerce store and process your orders in the evenings after work. ……… Over time, if you discover that a steady demand for your product or service does exist and your sales clearly confirm the opportunity exists, then you might decide to commit to your business venture “full-time”. 

In closing, let me say from having started and run my own consulting business - Performance Development - for more than 25 years, it has been both a hugely rewarding yet at times extremely stressful experience. You might perhaps ask if I had my time over, would I do it again? ...... Absolutely ...... But whether it is the right path for you, will be your decision. By all means, consult with other people that you trust and respect - and consider their advice and suggestions. But ultimately it is going to be about what is right for you (and your family, if you are the main bread-winner)

Other relevant articles - "Mental toughness and running your own business" and "Avoiding seven common small business pitfalls"  AND here's a link to a great brochure that you can download from ASIC (the government agency that regulates companies in Australia) which offers good practical advice on starting up a new small business "Doing Business in Australia"