As with any marketing, it needs to constantly reviewed, tried and tested and I tried to do that with my newsletter. And what a mistake I made! I tried to set up an RSS feed so that blog posts went out automatically to my subscribers and it failed miserably. It was a mess.
Social media automation that can do more harm than good
And it taught me a valuable lesson in trying to automate too much. This lesson reminded me of the article I wrote on ‘The pitfalls of social media automation’ and the damaging effect it can have on your audience.
Which brings me on to another area of automation that many small businesses do. The setting up of automated responses when you follow someone on Twitter. Do you hate these? I most certainly do. It is so obvious that they are automated and are so impersonal and sometimes can border on being offensive. Take the instance of a restaurant that I visit on a regular basis. I followed them and was chatting with the owner on Twitter when suddenly I received a direct message asking me if I ever visited North Devon and if I had ever visited the restaurant!
This had such a negative impact. For a start, just a simple bit of investigation would reveal I was from North Devon. But for a regular client who spends a lot of money with that business, if I wasn’t online with the owner and could tell him what had just happened, I would have been insulted to be messaged in such a way that made my custom feel wholly insignificant.
This is also the danger when outsourcing your social media to companies who don’t know your clientèle and don’t bother to do a few checks and balances before posting. So beware of too much social media automation or using a marketing company to do everything for you. There are some organisations who do get it right and do a great job for their clients. But there are also those that send out a bog standard message on behalf of all their clients and therefore if you follow more than one of their clients you get the same mundane message over and over again.
A refreshing moment in marketing
So it was very refreshing today that after I had tweeted about a certain subject, I received an email. The business who had read my tweet had taken the time to look at my bio, get my email address and then send me some really good and useful information. They didn’t try to sell to me but just started to build a relationship.
I replied and said thank you and then we got chatting. Yes, this personal approach takes far more time but I can guarantee you it will be far more effective in getting you loyal clients in the long term.
So beware before you think about social media automation for your business. Make sure you know what you are doing and still retain the personal touch.
Anyway, back to the drawing board for me and more manual labour!!
What are your thoughts on social media automation? Leave your comments in the box below.
Who has copyright ownership of works you commission?
How often do you outsource work or hire freelancers to do work for you? This could be anything from paying someone to design your website, create a logo for you or write some content for your website.
I suspect as a small business owner that the majority will have paid for some works to be done at some point. But when you agreed this work, did you get terms and conditions signed by both of you and if so, did you check these carefully? Did you ensure that those t’s and c’s transferred ownership of the work and the copyright to you and your business upon completion of payment?
And did these terms and conditions get signed in ink by both parties?
You may be in for a shock!
If not, you may be in for a shock.
As the law stands, and as I learnt from attending an event by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), even if you pay someone to do work for you that you will use in your business unless you have a written and signed agreement in place to transfer ownership, the person who created the piece of work for you will retain the ownership and copyright.
Therefore, if you decided to change your website designer but keep the same or similar layout, text etc, they could stop you or sue you if you go ahead!! Also have a read of the article ‘Do you really know who owns your website?‘ for more important information.
The only exception to this rule is if the work completed was carried out by an employee of your business as they would have deemed to have done the work in the course of employment.
There is a lot more information regarding copyright ownership on the Gov.Uk website.
The real danger of not having copyright ownership
What concerned me more than anything was learning that if a less than honourable person completed a piece of work for you without a signed agreement, they could if they decided to use the work that you had paid for and sell it on to other parties!
I thought in reality a problematic situation probably didn’t happen that often but since speaking to an IPO solicitor and also getting feedback from people on social media, it is a more common occurrence than I thought.
So this is something that every small business owner needs to be aware of and to be on the safe side, with any future work, always get a written agreement in place to transfer the copyright ownership to yourself and make sure both parties sign it. You have been warned!
N.B. If you are in the creative market and need a contract, a site that has been recommended to me (although I have not used myself so cannot say how good it is) is Own-It. The site has a range of fact sheets and articles along with both paid and free contracts for you to download.
The end of the financial year is here again and it is time to consolidate the accounts. Do you have an easy system in place for this or use small business accounting software or do you sit tearing your hair out and losing sleep over not being able to balance the books?
If the latter, what are your options? Personally I believe having an accountant is crucial to any business. Or should I say a good accountant. My accounts aren’t that difficult and I could quite easily do them myself but I have found that my accountant will always, without fail, find something that will save me money on my tax bill that I hadn’t thought of which pays for her fee instantly.
You can then look at getting a bookkeeper in to reconcile the accounts at the end of each month but this is where I think money can be better spent (sorry to any bookkeepers out there and do correct me if I am wrong!).
I believe in the power of automation to save time, money and stress. And this is where small business accounting software comes into its own. Yes, you can use software to replace your accountant but my personal preference is to use it in conjunction with my accountant to make their life easier (and their bill lower!).
There are some fantastic software options on the market today which will make balancing the books so simple and take literally minutes once you get to grips how to use them.
What can small business accounting software do for you?
These packages can take care of all the admin for you including expenses, payroll, and time tracking, to estimates and invoices.
They can help you keep track of your cash flow, see how much profit you are making, allow people to pay you online and send out automatic reminders to people who owe you money.
They will allow you to keep an eye on how much tax you owe and when it’s due. And some even file your returns including VAT, RTI and Self-Assessment directly to HMRC on your behalf if you are not using an accountant.
Many software options have a free service but these are usually only up to a very small number of clients and also do not include many of the more advanced features so the paid for versions are always better.
Try before you buy
Before you go down the route of using a paid for service, take up a free trial so you can have some time to play with the system and make sure it does everything you want it to and that you can navigate your way around easily and understand the system.
Don’t just go with the first option you come across but review a number of options by talking to other people, particularly those in your industry that may have some quirks that need addressing. Use online resources to read reviews and make sure you compare prices.
Below are a number of different financial software solutions for you to have a look at. There will many more out there but this is a small selection to consider.
FreeAgent Package prices start at £19.99 + vat PCM. Hearing lots of good things about this package and just about to switch to it myself.
Freshbooks A free option for just one client. Package prices start at $19.99 PCM
Kashflow Pricing starts from £5 + vat PCM for sole traders. Has add-on features such as CRM.
Quickbooks Pricing starts from £9 PCM. A simple calculator to see which package is best for your business.
Xero Pricing starts at £9 PCM for up to 5 invoices. Lots of add-on features
So have a look at some of these small business accounting software options and please give your own review on which you prefer and why in the comments box below or on The Small Business Kit Facebook page.
How often have you been in negotiations with a prospect who then thanks you for your time but decides not to make a purchase? Quite a few I suspect.
But what do you do in this situation? Do you just thank them and ask them to get in touch if they are interested in the future? If so, you may be wasting a valuable opportunity!
Apply this customer research technique to increase future sales
When a prospect declines to buy, ask them why. Now this doesn’t have to be confrontational so they feel as though they have offended you. It can be done in a very gentle customer research type of manner that makes the prospect feel valued and will give you a far greater insight into how to achieve future sales than anything else out there.
Simply ask the prospect what would have prompted them to buy from you today. Ask them what you could have done differently.
Some people may be too embarrassed to tell you the price is too high or the product not good enough so may say something like ‘I just can’t afford it at the moment’ or if you are a service industry, ‘I don’t have time at the moment’.
This is where you can then start to do some gentle drilling down to find out the real reason they haven’t bought from you and what you can do about it.
They can’t afford it
If they say they can’t afford it, ask them if they would buy if you gave a discount or offered flexible payment terms. If they still say no, you know that price isn’t the real reason they didn’t buy and something else is stopping them. Say to them something along the lines of ‘so price doesn’t seem to be the real issue and I feel something else is missing for you in what I am offering. If the price was right, what could I offer that would make you want to purchase today?’
It’s not the right time
If they use the time excuse, ask them when they think the time will be right for them, how much time they think they need etc. Ask them the question ‘so if I call you in two months’ time will you be making a purchase then?’ If they say maybe or they will think about it at that point, again, time is not the real reason and you need to ask the same question as previously of ‘so time doesn’t seem to be the real issue and I feel something else is missing for you in what I am offering. If the timing was right, what could I offer that you would like to purchase today?’
Hopefully, you get my drift and you will find different questions and adapt them to your business and answers given. It can take practice to get this right but if you can do it, this valuable customer research will really help you find out so much more about people’s needs and wants and how your product or service can fulfil those. You can then change your offering to attract more sales in the future.
All through the questioning make sure you keep an easy conversational style rather than conducting an interrogation and make sure the prospect knows that there is no pressure to buy but that they will really be helping you with your future business offering. Maybe you would like to give them a small token of appreciation for co-operating such as a voucher for future use or a small gift or taster session.
Be brave. Give it a go. And let me know how you get on with this style of customer research in the comments box below or over on the Facebook page.
Are you unsure how to follow up prospective clients?
All too often I speak to small business owners who are not getting the sales they want. They have been giving out quotes and sending information to interested parties but then they hear nothing back. When I ask them if they have chased up these prospects, they tell me they haven’t as they are afraid of being pushy. They think that the prospect would have gotten in touch by now if they were interested.
First and foremost, if you do make the call, visit or email, you are probably not going to be seen as pushy. It is probably that day to day life took over and the prospect has simply forgotten to get back to you. Your prospect won’t have the same sense of urgency as you and they will have a million and one other things going on in their life.
So don’t take their lack of interaction personally. They are just busy. And if you don’t give them a gentle prompt, if you leave it too long, they must just forget all about you. In worst case scenario, your competition may make contact with them and they sign up with them so it is important that you set up a follow-up system with your prospects.
How to follow up prospective clients without seeming pushy
To avoid the problem of appearing pushy, quite simply set up a follow-up appointment at your first contact. All you need to say is something along the lines of ‘if I haven’t heard from you within a couple of days I will give you a call to see if you have any other questions/how you are getting on/what your thoughts are etc’.
If you can make a specific appointment time, that is even better. Don’t ask them when is best for them. Give them a couple of options so you keep control of the diary. Ask them which is better, 10am or 2pm on Thursday. This gives the prospect a level of ownership of booking a follow-up call with you and so they are more likely to be available and happy to take the call.
What if they aren’t available at follow-up time?
If you call or email on the scheduled date and time and the prospect doesn’t respond, don’t panic. Just re-set the follow-up appointment. Leave a message or drop an email to say that you called at the scheduled time and set another time to call back. Give another date and time and ask them to let you know if this is not convenient and to let you know when is best for them.
Do be careful not to come across as annoyed or accusatory that they were not available at the specified time. We all know ourselves that things happen and we get busy and have to prioritise and, therefore, drop some appointments. Be understanding that they are busy and they will be far more open to speaking to you again in the future.
The silence is deafening!
What happens if you get no response to your follow-up message or they are still not available at the second appointed time? Contact them again with a get out clause. Leave an answer phone message and follow-up with an email asking them if they would like you to stay in contact or whether they have reconsidered and decided you are no longer suitable for their needs or just plain too busy. Ask if the timing is just not right for them at the moment, if they would like you to call back in a few months.
You may feel scared to do this as you feel they will automatically use the get out clause, but if they do, they are not your ideal customer and you are just wasting time. Even if they do say they don’t want to do business with you, just thank them for their time and say that you will make contact in 6 months’ time to see how they are getting on and if circumstances have changed. You are then leaving the door open for future opportunities.
If you put a procedure in place and follow these simple steps, you will know how to follow up prospective clients whilst maintaining a relationship so they may then proceed to purchase when the time is right for them. These steps put you in control where you can be seen to be acting in a professional manner rather than coming across as pushy and desperate. Even if they don’t buy from you, they will remember you in good light and may refer you to others