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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!

What do you charge for? Or do you give back to the community when you can?

Ben Lumley - Friday, December 11, 2009
What things do you charge for? What's your reaction when someone asks to do something a little bit different with your product or service? Are you receptive to something out of the ordinary or do you flatly refuse without a second thought?

We took our two daughters to see Santa this week at the local tourist attraction. Joining the queue I marvelled at all of the added extras that Santa was offering apart from having to pay for a 1 minute sitting with the big man himself. Not only did the man in red want me to pay for my daughters to see him but photos, rides on his sleigh, and drinks for parents were all added extras. Fair enough I get that. It was a local event run by local organisations so the pull of all that potential money must of been huge. I get that. I understand. I have no problem with paying for kids to see Santa and may even stretch to the odd added extra if I'm in a good mood.

My problem with today's little festive outing was that if I wanted to take a picture of my kids with the special man I couldn't, I had to let the (so called) professional photographer take the photo and then in order to take it away with me I had to pay for it. The reason given for this was child protection. By not allowing me to photograph my own children they were ensuring that my daughters were being protected. The real reason however wasn't protection but revenue generation. Someone from the organising committee had obviously twigged that it would be a nice little earner to charge for taking memories away from the event.

What has this got to do with running an online business? Well go back to the three questions I asked right at the start of this post. Do you charge for absolutely everything you can or are you more relaxed and give something away for free? If someone comes to you with a suggestion of how they could use your product or service a bit differently are you excited or do you flatly refuse?

Look at Twitter. They built a platform and then opened it up to the world of developers to allow them to create some amazing applications using the API. Rather than keeping things close to their chest they said "look we've got this great platform come and have a play and build something cool with it." Most importantly they did it for free.

Gone are days when you can run an effective business online, especially a small online business and not even consider giving something back to your community. If you charge for absolutely everything and give nothing back to the community that surrounds your products and services then your customers will find someone else who does.

So how can you do that?

1. Free trials
2. Discounts for renewing subscriptions
3. Seasonal offers and discounts
4. Offer free advice via a blog
5. Offer limited offers to email subscribers
6. Share relevant links via Twitter
7. Offer savings for bulk buys
8. Price match or price promise
9. Free gifts
10. Free consultation sessions
11. Freephone customer services number
12. 24/7 support

These are just some of things you can do to give back to your customers. Do you do any of these or do you see the benefit of charging for everything you can? Let us know in the comments

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.

Inspirational Video: Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech 2005

Ben Lumley - Monday, November 30, 2009

So we haven't had a inspiration video in a while so we thought, seeing as we could all do with some inspiration every now and then we drop this one, from Steve Jobs, in.

Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech 2005 was given to the young minds of the future but as an online business owner there is a lot from the 3 stories he tells that we can take on board and apply to our business.

Why not let us know what you think about Jobs speech in the comments

Be Brave Online

Ben Lumley - Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sometimes when we approach something new and different, we can shy away from it; fearing to do too much too soon. The same came be true for people starting their first online business. They fear to put themselves out there in case they dilute their message or face crictism. 

 The Internet can be a daunting place, even for the most tech savvy of business people. There's a lot to learn about running a business online and it's a topic that you can never stop learning about. But still many small businesses shy away from engaging online with their customers or from promoting their latest product. They slip back into the 'If I build it they will come' mentality. Frankly, nothing could be worse. 

 You need to be brave online. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there, give things away for free, be controversial, do things differently or simply be open and honest online. The braver you are, the more your customers will respect you.

Be Obsessed with your Business and Watch it Grow

Ben Lumley - Monday, November 16, 2009

Ever wondered why some entrepreneurs are so successful? Ever think about why these truly successful business owners can do so much and reap so many rewards?

Easy! They’re obsessed by what they do. They love it. They eat sleep and dream the business and their goals.

Want to start being as successful as them? Become obsessed. 

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. 

How do I make quick money from my blog or website when I first start out?

Ben Lumley - Thursday, November 12, 2009

I must see this question all over the internet all the time. So many people want to know how they can start their new online business off with a bang and be instantly making money. There are loads of options out there that look to offer some amazing results to first timers offering a massive financial return for very little work.

The easy answer is no! No you can’t make quick money from an online business. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes hard work and a great deal of patience, something of which many people entering the online business space don’t seem to have.

When they don’t get any revenue in the first few weeks from their products they begin covering every piece of html real estate with click though ads, affiliate links and adsense code. Expectantly they sit back and wait for the money to pour in. And guess what? None arrives.

Simply there are no quick money fixes on the internet. You need hard work and patience. With a lot of commitment and constant work you’ll begin to make money, maybe some serious money but you won’t get there with quick fixes. 

What Does Success Mean To You?

Ben Lumley - Monday, November 02, 2009

It’s often said that one man’s heaven is another man’s hell. When we look at the definition of success though we see that things are not black and white and that there are actually many subtle shades of grey.

 Success means different things to different people. Ask a young person what they understand of success and they’ll usually talk about money and fame because this is what they see in the media every day. They look at celebrities and want to be in the same position one day themselves. However if you ask the same question of someone who has been out in the world of work for a time what their idea of success is, they are less likely to talk about fame and financial reward but will bring up words like family, security and fulfilment.

Why is this? Well it’s really due to experience. When you are younger the idea of fame and fortune is very attractive but as you experience more of life you begin to realise that these things aren’t for everyone and that actually you crave other things. Some people do go on to achieve fame and insurmountable wealth but they don’t always bring happiness and as we all grow and mature many of us seek happiness.

Why it’s important to define success?

When you can define success into something that makes sense and is relevant to you, you have direction in which way to travel to achieve it, much like a map of a journey. Once you’ve defined your success you can move toward whatever you have to do to achieve it. It sets the goals and parameters by which you need to work.

Here are some ideas if you’re struggling to think about what success means to you.

  • Do you want to build something?
  • Do you want to be part of a team?
  • Do you want to win something?
  • Do you want to do something remarkable?
  • Do you want to do something less than remarkable but do it exceptionally well?
  • Do you want to be in position to be able to do anything you want?
  • Do you want to be able to provide for your family?
  • Do you want acknowledgment from your peers?
Once you’ve defined what success means to you, you can begin to move towards it.

Resources over Resourcefulness

Ben Lumley - Tuesday, October 27, 2009

We often make excuses for failures we experience in life, whether it be at home or at work and we try to proportion blame on to someone or something else. We often do this, not because we are low, callous individuals who constantly seek to hurt others, but because as a society we generally slip into the easy option of shifting responsibility away from ourselves. It takes a special person to fess up to their failures 100% of the time, right? Well no not really, it just means that you have to look on things in a different way.

Resources

In today’s fast paced, modern, online society we have a whole bank of resources at our disposal that we can use to creative truly amazing things. Gone are the days when people work outside their cave sharpening stones all day long, now we can achieve almost anything we put our minds to.

Time:

Now we live in a world where we have more time than ever, not due to increasing the amount of hours in the day but from the respect that people can work and create things at anytime of the day or night and in any place. That is something previous generation never had.

Money:

We have more money at our disposal than ever before as well with people earning more money in their own jobs, their companies earning bigger contracts and receiving greater amounts of funding. All of this leads to an increase in resources to get the job done.  

Technology:

There is now an abundance of technology that can allow us to create bigger, better, faster, more efficient products and services that can make billions on pounds and truly make a different in people’s lives.

Contacts:

People are able to network, create contacts and maintain those contacts like never before. You can now connect with someone on the other side of the world without ever meeting them and be able to keep up to date with what they are doing and where they are.

Experience:

With the ability to be able to do all of these amazing things comes experience. As a generation we are able to experience so much more that previous generations and can therefore learn more and at a faster rate.

But what do all these things have to do with running an online business? They can also be used as excuses when we fail to achieve something. Why? Because it’s easy. It’s easy to complain that the reason you couldn’t achieve is because you didn’t have the time. It’s easy to not start off a great idea because you just didn’t have the money, either personally or commercially to kick it off. How many times have you would to do something with your business and complained when you couldn’t because you didn’t have the technology or the experience? Probably more than you care to admit.

It’s easy to blame these resources when we fail to achieve because other people can sympathise as they’ve most likely been in a similar position themselves, in the past.

Resourcefulness

5 years ago in the traditional corporate world, it was more acceptable to make excuses about resources and be able to get away with it without it affecting your job or your business. However, in the online world that can’t happen. The moment people (customers) see that you repeatedly making excuses for not providing or achieving something, they’ll go somewhere else. The Internet is now full of people who offer the same or similar products or services as you and you can bet your yearly turnover on the fact that they’ll do it right if you don’t.

In order to succeed in anything, your business, your personal life, a music instrument or even playing cards; you need to be resourceful. Resourceful people always succeed no matter what they are trying to achieve because when you’re resourceful you never run out of resources and therefore you can’t ever find an excuse to fail.

Determination:

When you’re resourceful you have determination to succeed. You’re driven constantly to achieve and will let nothing stand in your way.

Creativity:

When you are resourceful you’re creative. It doesn’t matter if you’ve not got the money or the time, you find a way. If you are creative enough and playful enough you can get your idea or your business across to anyone, however uninterested they may seem initially.

Curiosity:

If you’re resourceful you have curiosity. You are interested and intrigued by want you what to achieve. You want to play with it, tinker with it, break it down and build it up again to see how it works. You want to know everything about it and you want to know about anything else that might add to it to help you achieve.

Passion:

When you are resourceful you have passion. You live and breathe what you do. You wake up in the morning and you instantly want to engage with your passion and what you want to achieve. Passion is a tough thing in people’s mind to find and you hear people all the time saying “I don’t know what my passion is.” Well to me it’s easy. Your passion is the thing that you’d do for free if you had to. Your passion is the thing you’re immersed in the all time.

Resolve:

When you have all these things you also develop resolve. You make a definite decision on what you’re going to achieve and you set your motive for action.

It’s easy to make excuses when you fail. It’s human nature seemingly to blame others when we don’t achieve. But the difference between people who fail and people who succeed is that successful people don’t see failures as failures; they see them as challenges and opportunities to overcome. Why? Because they are resourceful.

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