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The Smashing Business Blog

The Blog from Smashingbusiness.co.uk. We're all about helping you run a "Smashing Business." Whatever your niche, we hope you find some inspiration or help here. If you'd like us to feature a particular topic just email us at hello@smashingbusiness.co.uk

Moving on in 2010

Ben Lumley - Monday, January 04, 2010
So here we are, the start of a new year and a new decade.

It's a perfect time to drive your online business on and take it to new heights. All you have to do is want it enough and put in the work every day. 

Many of us run online business as a second job, maybe to supplement income from another job while some of us are lucky enough to work on our passions full time. Whatever you do and how ever you work, 2010 is going to be the year for you. All you have to do is believe in your product.

2010 will be all about customer service. What will differentiate you from the rest of the online businesses in your niche, will be how you well you can communicate with your customers and how much you're willing to give them. 

With more and more online businesses popping up all over the web, the competition in your niche is hotting up and your customers now have a massive variety of businesses to go to fulfil their needs. You need to be their first choice - the way you do that is by having amazing customer services.

To get you all back in the mood for work (if you've taken a break over the holidays that is) here's an article from Sitepoint to help you get the most out of the start of 2010.

Get Back to Work: It’s Time to Shake Off the Holidays

Here's to a great 2010!

Do You Spend Everyday Trying To Keep Up With Your Competitors

Ben Lumley - Monday, December 14, 2009
It's all good trying to keep abreast of what your competitors are doing but if you just try to be them then what's the point in existing. 

If someone came to you and said they wanted to start a version of Amazon, you'd say they were mad and walk away.

But we all, from time to time, try to be like our competitors. The thing is you need to be really carefully because if you aim to be like them too much you'll never develop your own business model or pick up any new customers. 

Dilbert, as usual, sums this thought up perfectly. Enjoy


Dilbert.com


How to Promote Your Brand on the Biggest Social Network Around, Facebook

Ben Lumley - Monday, December 07, 2009
One of, if not THE biggest player in the Social Media / Web 2.0 world is Facebook. With over 350,000, 000 active users on the books and with over 50% of them accessing their accounts on a daily basis, Facebook is a platform that as a small business owner, you simply can’t ignore.

If you’re actively promoting your online business on somewhere like Twitter and you’re not doing a similar thing on Facebook then you’re potentially missing out on a massive market. I can’t stress how important Facebook can be to your website and business marketing strategy. 

As a person or as a Business? 

When trying to promote something through Facebook there are two ways that you can do it. Promote from your personal account as you or promote through a Fanpage? It’s a personal choice really and will depend on your business but here are a few things to remember. 

1. If you are going to promote your online business through your personal Facebook account (if you have one) then you have to consider how your existing friends, people you might have known for many years, will react to you promoting your business. Most may not mind but you don’t want to alienate an old school friend you’ve just reconnected with after 15 years by pushing your product on them. 

2. If you’re going to do it from your personal account you also need to consider your customers and how they will access the information you’re providing. Take a look at the Smashing Business account on Facebook for example. Because it’s not attached to my personal page anyone in the world with a Facebook account can access it, they don’t have to send me a friend request personally to follow us. Also if you go check out the Smashing Business page right now you will see stuff about us not my embarrassing holiday pictures from last summer.

3. If you are you’re brand and business e.g. davidsmith.com then promoting your products and services via your personal account might be a good thing. I have a friend who runs a site called The Infopreneur (I reviewed his site recently in our new series Great Sites That You Just Can't Put Down) and his personal Facebook page is his business. He makes a great success of it so it is possible to be able to promote your business off a personal account. 

My choice. 

My personal preference would be for a Fanpage however. 

My thinking for this is simple. It provides a more professional look and can allow anyone to follow your updates via Facebook. You can post photos, videos and links to your Fanpage just like you can on a personal profile, allowing you to spread the word about your business out to your community.

Here are some ideas for making the most of Facebook as a tool to promote your business. 

1. Link from your website.

At the bottom of this site is a link to our Facebook Fanpage and there’s also one at the bottom of each post. Over promotion? Well maybe but it does mean that there are regular reminders to readers of the this blog that they can follow us on Facebook and stay updated with all of the latest news and blog posts. 

By linking on your site you allow people to know that you have an area of Facebook that is your own and that they can access it. By advertising the fact you are part of one of the biggest social networks around you are more likely to add to your community, gain followers, and potentially convert followers into sales. 

2. Ask your Facebook friends to join the party.

When I created the Smashing Business page on Facebook after the site launched the first thing I did was invited all of my friends on my personal account to become fans of the page. I instantly gained a few fans and the page has continued to slowly grow since then.

Every once in a while I send a update to our fans to thank them for following us on Facebook and I also ask them if they know of anyone who would find the page or the site useful to invite them on our behalf. You’ll never get anything if you don’t ask. 

3. Don’t use it like Twitter. Facebook is a different animal

With Twitter it’s more acceptable to repeatedly promote something by repeatedly posting the same tweets over a long period of time. The kind of people who use Twitter are desensitized to that, as long as it’s not overdone, and you can therefore promote things more often through that channel. Facebook is different. 

People who use Facebook don’t want to see the same Status Updates repeated 40 times over a 7day period from the same person trying to sell their business. Facebook is better used when you simply post something once and create an ongoing stream of content. Users want to see what you’re promoting just once not over and over again. Bear that in mind when you’re updating your Facebook status for your business.

Note: You can advertise on Facebook via your Fanpage but as it’s something that we don’t currently do here a Smashing Business, so I didn’t feel it was suitable for me to discuss how that works having no personal experience of it. I will though in time. If you have experience of advertising on Facebook why not lets us know in the comments. 

How do you promote your online business on Facebook?

5 Reasons why Apple Stores are Great Examples of How You Should Run Your Online Business

Ben Lumley - Thursday, December 03, 2009
I’m a geek and a proud geek at that. I love all things techy and gadgety and can think of nothing better than a Sunday afternoon of playing around with some gadget or building something cool and funky. For a real treat I love to go to an Apple store and stare at wonder at all of the shiny gadgets and gizmos. I’m assuming that my response in an Apple store is something to that of a child who gets to see Santa’s Toy Factory.

I’ve never been to an Apple store in the US but if it wouldn’t surprise me if they were the same as the ones we have here in the UK only much bigger. (So I apologise to anyone reading in the US but I only have experience of UK Apple stores.) 

There’s something amazing about going in to an Apple store if you’re a geek like me. Rows upon rows of neatly laid out shiny Apple products all begging to be touched and played with. Everything in an Apple store is exactly where you’d expect it to be and help for a cool looking dude in an Apple t-shirt is never too far away. 

Whenever I go into an Apple store, even if I don’t buy anything, I leave feeling inspired. Inspired to build a better Online Business. 

Here are my 5 reason why Apple Stores are great examples of how you should run your online business. 

1. Like Santa’s Toy Factory. 

Does your site make people jump up out of their seat when they see it like walking in to an Apple Store or does it leave your customers wanting more? Now I’m not trying to get into the whole Form over Functionality debate but I do think your site should look the business to really engage with your customers. If you’re not a designer then spend some money on a really nice template for your site that will give it the wow factor. If you are a designer then spend some time before you launch your site making it look good. 

But whoever you are and whatever you do make sure that you’ve got the content on your site to back up the design. There is truly nothing worse than a site that looks really good but is completely useless. Apples stores aren’t just pretty, they are also full of loads of really cool stuff, your online business should be the same. 

2. The “Oh now that’s cool” effect. 

When Apple release a new update or a new product they expect the “oh now that’s cool” response from the public. There’s always something they’ve done to make a product better that Apple know their customers will love. Does your online business make your customers say to themselves “oh now that’s cool” whenever you release a new product or service or update an existing one? Or does your business leave them feeling indifferent? 

Your customers should be impressed with what you offer whether it’s a product or a service. If they are they’ll keep coming back for more everything. 

3. Sensible help from cool looking people. 

I have never met an Apple Genius who didn’t know what they were talking about or demonstrate some personal experience in order to help you. When you ask for someone’s help and they talk from experience you nearly always take their advice, don’t you?

Do you offer that kind of personal customer service experience? Do you know your products and services inside out? You should do because then when a customer asks you a question you can give them the answer there and then. There is nothing more frustrating as a customer than a business owner whose stock response is always “I’ll get back to you on that.” Don’t be that person. 

4. The simple yet stylish factor. 

Apple stores are stylish, there’s no denying that. Beautifully laid out with everything just where you’d expect it to be. There aren’t packaging boxes everywhere blocking up the aisles or products slung here there and everywhere. Shelves and surfaces are uncluttered, enabling the products themselves to truly sell themselves. 

Your online business website should be the same. It should make sense to your customers so that they can find what they need when they need it. Your customers shouldn’t have to click on stupidly hidden links in order to find your products. Everything on your site should be clear and easy to find. 

5. Leaving with a shiny new product that does what it’s supposed to. 

When you buy something for an Apple store you always get that excited feeling of walking out with your new product. You get it home and it does exactly what it’s supposed to do, straight out of the box. 

Your online business should offer the exact same thing, every time. Your business will crash and burn within days if you ship dodgy products and you’ll end up with no customers if the service you provide doesn’t live up to what you originally offered. In online business you should always exceed your customer’s expectations and give them more that they were expecting. 

Does your online business run like an Apple store? Let us know in the comments.

3 ways to better sales and how they can impact not only your business but your customers

Ben Lumley - Friday, November 13, 2009

Getting your customers and users to pay attention to your business is harder than ever. People have an infinite number of choices compared to 2 or 3 years ago and a lot less time. By taking a different approach to selling and marketing you can begin to make more enquires and more sales.

For regular readers, you’ll have noticed that I’ve talked about marketing guru Seth Godin before (even reposting articles direct from his own blog). Seth attracts many followers for his insightful take on modern marketing and is not afraid to be a bit controversial. I highly recommend anyone to check out his blog or videos.

My 3 ways to better sales is inspired by some of Seth’s ideas that I really dig and think you guys will get a lot out of.

Be on the fringes

Many small businesses play safe when they’re approaching things. They follow the crowd when it comes to things like marketing, branding, sales and customer services. They do what they see others doing as they see it as being safe. But no one says you have to play it safe.

Do things differently to others. Approach your strategies from a different angle and make your customers sit up and take notice.

10 years ago in the era of mass marketing playing safe was the safe thing to do because everyone listened. Now people (your potential customers) don’t have to time to sit through the ads and listen. Now you have to be on fringes to be noticed.

Be Remarkable

You get on the fringes in business by being remarkable. By becoming something or someone that people want to make a remark about you can create a buzz around you and your business. When they have something to say about your product or service they tell someone else. They’ll want to share the story.

That doesn’t mean you have to come up with a new product or service that is out of this world, just that maybe you need to do something that is remarkable with what you have.

When Google announced Google Wave earlier in the year they did something that was remarkable with their marketing. They only opened it up to a handful of developers. If you didn’t get an invite first off, you desperately wanted one. The buzz about Wave and the fact it was a limited invite-only spread like wildfire to the point where now they haven’t even fully released it yet and people are trading invites on eBay for crazy sums of money.

By taking a remarkable approach you can get your future customers to sit up and take notice.

Sell to those who are listening

With a massive choice and not a lot of time, consumers don’t have to listen to everyone that tries to sell them something anymore but they’ll most certainly buy from someone they already listen to.

Why waste your time and effort (and maybe even money) trying to sell to the large percentage of people who aren’t listening or aren’t interested? What’s the point?

Apple doesn’t try to sell its stuff to the non-tech savvy customers. It aims the majority of its marketing to the geeks, the fashion conscious, the tech savvy, the trend-setters and to those who appreciate great design because they know that they’ll be the one’s listening.

Talk to the people who are listening and you’ll be able to sell to them far better than those who couldn’t care less. 

12 Characteristics of Successful Internet Entrepreneurs by Focus

Ben Lumley - Monday, October 26, 2009
Focus, a site for business makers and IT professionals, recently posted an article that any budding online enterprenuer should read entitled "12 Characteristics of Successful Internet Entrepreneurs". Its a really interesting and inspiring read for anyone who has dreams of making their living online.

The article covers the 12 main characteristics that make Internet Entrepreneurs successful, citing some well known online greats to offer as some examples.

The 12 characteristics include:

  1. Determination
  2. Innovation
  3. Frugality
  4. Experimentation
  5. Eccentricity
  6. Simplicity
  7. Consumer-focused
  8. Iconoclastic
  9. Ambition
  10. Focus
  11. Opportunism
  12. Flexibility

Jump over to the article 12 Characteristics of Successful Entreprenuers and have a read. It's a good one and it'll be well worth it.

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