Small Business Saturday Blog

Three helpful ways your phone can reduce paperwork

Monday, June 12 at 10:56
Digital | Plan | Planning | Small Business | Small Business Saturday

Paperwork is the eternal enemy of the small business, stealing valuable desk, shelf and cupboard space throughout your office and offering little in return. For a business like ours, paperwork can quickly get out of hand, become disorganised and cause havoc when we need to find one particular document.The good news is that it doesn’t take a company-wide restructuring effort to seriously reduce your paperwork. Taking simple steps can drastically reduce the amount of paperwork you generate. Since we all carry a smartphone around with us, I thought I’d look at three easy ways you can use your phone to reduce your paperwork.
#1 Scan Receipts Go back to the mid ‘90s and a lot of small businesses would have had a similar expense filing methodology: Take your receipts, shove them in a drawer and hope you never need to find any specific receipt again. If your expense were ever queried, it was a mad scramble through boxes, cupboards and old storerooms in search of an elusive slip of paper that, in all likelihood, had been eaten by a mouse.Thankfully, things are a bit easier now.Filing is super easy in the digital era. If you use any new accounting software, there’s probably an option to snap a picture of your receipt on your phone and upload it to the service’s records. Alternatively, if you don’t have a subscription, you can snap pictures anyway and upload them to a free cloud storage service like Google Drive or Dropbox. It doesn’t have to stop at digitising purchase records, either. Get snap happy with your phone and scan invoices, payslips, utility bills and everything else for easy reference and peace of mind.
#2 Electronic signaturesIf you’re dealing with someone over a long distance, signing a document can be an absolute nightmare. You print it, sign it and fax it over. They then sign it and re-fax it to you. Suddenly, there’s three pieces of paper in the world when you only needed one.With electronic signatures, however, you can streamline the whole written agreement process, cutting down on both paperwork and wasted time. And with e-signatures set up on your phone, you can sign documents from anywhere in the world!
#3 Ditch your paper black bookA lot of businesses and business owners still swear by their black books and I’m not going to try and dissuade you if you use one. However, huge paper diaries stuffed with extra notes, letters and messages are a thing of the past and will almost certainly disintegrate or surprisingly disappear if you give it enough time.Digitising your black book and saving it to your phone provides substantially more flexibility and security, ensuring you have access to all of your contacts, notes and communication wherever in the world you are.About the Author - Gary Easton cut his teeth working at one of the Big Four auditors KPMG. However, a few years ago, Gary decided that SMEs deserves a better service and left to found Tax IQ, a specialist SME accountant based in Edinburgh.

Five Tips to Effectively Market your Business

Monday, January 09 at 10:50
Digital | Marketing | Small Business Saturday | Social Media

Has effective marketing ever been more important among all the noise of the digital world? With billions of websites at our fingertips it’s so easy to spend time scanning for the perfect solution, and those sites or services that aren’t up to scratch might be rejected for even the smallest reason – a stray tweet or a slightly slow website, for example. Here’s five ways to tighten up your product and promote yourself well in 2017. Create a modern websiteMost companies seem to have got the message that running a site that looks like it was built in 1998 isn’t a great first impression to any visitors. Whether you’re a florist, a van leasing company, a sports management firm or are offering a legal service, your site should be a clean, uncluttered and easy-to-use interface. There should be a call to action that shows clearly how, where and why to get the best offers. Above all, it should be easy to find your products, fast to load, and very easy to get in touch – just in case someone actually wants to pick up the phone.Set up a content calendarHave you ever thought to yourself “I wish I’d created a piece of content/organised this idea” to coincide with a big, relevant event? For example, it could be a blog or video to coincide with Halloween, or the final of GBBO, or Movember. Maybe you’ve done something, but if you’d thought about it earlier you might have done better…If you’d created a content calendar several months earlier, planning your blogs and social media and videos to be completed and to land on your sites at exactly the correct time, you would have been primed to take advantage. Start doing this now and reap the benefits of great, timely content. Utilise social mediaWhy would you not utilise a completely free method of promoting yourself? It’s a great way of responding to any complaints; an easy, instant way of informing people of your new products and sales using pictures and videos; a method of showing knowledge in your business sector by publicising any blogs, appearances or media that is relevant; and a way of communicating with like-minded people and businesses.If you’re just starting to use social media, you might be wondering which platform is best. Launching a craft business? Pinterest and Instagram are sensible options. Launching a B2B start-up? LinkedIn in your best bet. Launching any business whatsoever? Facebook and Twitter, and possibly Snapchat. Revamp your shop frontIf you’ve updated the landing page of your website, then why would you not do the same with your physical premises? After all, they’re really two sides of the same coin. A stark, dark frontage won’t really bring in potential custom, and neither will empty shelves, old signage and shabby looking stock. The actual tidying is not the hard part, it’s the preparation and organisation in your mind that’s the laborious task. If you don’t have physical premises, then consider revitalising your signage, print advertising (yes, people do still take notice of this) and Google Business listing.Create videoThe statistics are clear: according to Forbes, video used in conjunction with email boasts a 300% click-through rate. Thanks to mobile phones and free or cheap online editing, it’s possible to put together a professional looking promotional video, an FAQ, a slideshow or an interview in a very short period of time. It lends itself to social media, and might catch the eye of people who otherwise might not see your work.Blog contributed by Jessica Foreman. Jessica is a Durham University graduate specialising in business and lifestyle based writing. She has developed her skills on projects surrounding The British Broadcasting Company, and running a print and online based magazine whilst at university.

How to get your small business found

Friday, August 12 at 09:30
Digital | Marketing

Barney from Bluebell Digital shares some ideas on master Google to get your small business more visible
Getting to the top of Google search is a goal for many small businesses, but it can seem like an elusive target. What Google wants, and what savvy businesses can provide, is quality content that will rise up the search rankings on it's own merit.Search engine optimization or SEO has often in the past been seen as shrouded in technical jargon! Marketing your content effectively is the core way to get more traffic from Google and this is where small businesses should focus. The overall goal is to communicate with existing customers and reach new ones. It should always be remembered that SEO is only one tactic in this mission, not an end in itself.There are two sides to SEO - the technical aspect which concentrates on making titles, tags and meta descriptions optimised so your website content is as friendly as possible to Google’s Web ‘robots’. The more compelling aspect is creating the strategy and content that you will use as a destination for people who find your site via Google.Here are a few simple to follow steps for the content generation and marketing side of the SEO equation. There are also plenty of good guides for basic technical SEO on the Web.First take a step back from your commercial goals and think about how people are going to search for your product or service on Google. Don't just think in terms of company buzzwords, industry terms or product names. Think how real people actually search for your product. They don't always use the official name, they don't always know about your new product category and they will surprise you in how they go about finding things online.Tools like the AdWords Keyword Tool or Google Analytics can help you see how people search before they arrive at your site. Combine this real-world research with key phrases you have come up with yourself and arrive at a keyword list that represents the core keywords that are crucial to your business. Think 'which words or phrases is it essential that my company shows up for on Google when people search?'Once this list is compiled you need to find a baseline for where you are today. Plug the keyword list into one of the many SEO tracking tools available - SEMRush, Moz or Majestic SEO are a few paid tools you can use and there are some free options also. The tools will show you where you rank on Google now for the keywords in the list you have created. This is how you are going to track if your technical SEO and content marketing efforts are successful over the following weeks and months.You can also track if your organic Google traffic increases using Google Analytics. It is important to remember that pages rank on Google, not whole Websites, so it isn't a case of get my Website to the top of Google, you are trying to get a particular page higher for a specific keyword search. Here comes the strategy and planning - you want your very best pages to surface at the top, which means you have to create meaningful content around the core keyword topics that you have chosen and then incorporate that content on to your Website.Planning out a new set of pages, blog posts or even video content around your important content themes and keywords is the way to gain those higher positions on Google. Without a planned approach to generating this content plus a process to optimize it for SEO within your site, you will struggle to put the right content in front of your chosen audience and improve your visibility on Google. Your goal is always to make it as easy as possible for Google to see your best content and then show it to others for relevant keyword queries.One part of compiling your keyword list is seeing whether you already have content around the keywords that you wish to rank on Google. Most often you will be able to identify areas where you want to appear for certain searches, but you don’t yet have any great content relevant to those keywords. This is an opportunity to start filling those gaps with new posts or pages. Always remember to try to be interesting or useful (or ideally both) to your prospective audience, so you can engage them and encourage them to share and interact with your content. Success on social media can help boost your SEO and will in itself bring more visitors back to your Website. As a final thought, always focus on the customer: how can my content help them? What are they interested in? How can my company show thought-leadership or credibility? How can we talk about a relevant topic that really resonates with our target market? What do they need and what problems are they trying to solve? Keep it real and plan. Write clearly and simply. Think about your audience’s needs and interests. That way you will see your best work rise to the top.

Do not underestimate the power of the internet

Friday, May 27 at 17:33
Digital

My girlfriend and I went to Paris for a city break in May 2016. Since I was in charge of organising the whole trip, and wanted an easy life, I booked my train tickets on the trainline.com website. As I didn’t want to stay in a hotel I booked our 3 night stay in a flat which I carefully selected from airbnb.com after carefully reading reviews other holiday makers had posted online. The easiest way for us to travel around Paris was by taxi. My Uber app came to the rescue and within minutes drivers were waiting outside to whisk us off to our next sights. We decided to stay local when dinning out. Not knowing the area at all I simply searched for “restaurants nearby” using google maps where I could find a list of the best eateries within a mile radius.A new worldThis is the world most of us now live in which would have been inconceivable 20 years ago.The internet has shaped a new society with new behaviours and revolutionised the way we do business.  The speed at which these changes happened is unprecedented. While a lot of businesses have capitalised on the birth of the digital era most small businesses are lagging behind. But why?Education, education, educationThe key to success for you as a small, or local business owner, is through education. Understanding the true power of the internet as your most valuable marketing tool is paramount. To really realise how powerful it is however you must be familiar with, at least, basic concepts. Admittedly terms such as Keyword research, online reviews, Google My Business, Search engine optimisation and pay per click, only to mention a few, can be overwhelming at first for someone whose main activity is to sort out a leaking pipe within an hour or to blow dry their next customer’s mane.You do not have to become an online expert but It should, however, be at the core of your strategy if you are  considering to start a  business, no matter how small.  Thankfully numbers are easy to understand and that should be enough to convince anybody that not only online marketing is unavoidable if you want to achieve success but most of all your best friend. The proof is in the dataThe biggest shift in the digital world in recent years occurred in early  2014.  For the first time ever, time spent on mobile devices overtook time spent on desktops.  33% percent of internet users now view their mobile phone as the most important device for accessing the internet (source: Ofcom Media Use and attitudes 2015).  This has drastically changed the way people search online and purchase products and services.  According to a study conducted by Google in May 2014 called “Understanding Consumers’ Local Search Behavior” 50% of consumers who do an online local search visit a store within 24 hrs and 1 in 3 searches on a mobile is done right before consumers visit a store.
This should speak volume to anyone trying to increase their customer base and spark a real interest in understanding how to make the most of the internet.  Searches have become very specific too and search engines like google have become very sophisticated at understanding user intent. Typing “pizza delivery” in the google search box will mainly return local businesses on the results page these days. A local  pizza delivery business not showing up on the first result page of google  will now miss out on a vital stream of customers and could potentially die of a short death.  But the rise of local searches is not exclusive to take aways . Looking at the “Near me” queries in google trend only highlights this further. It is interesting to notice these types of searches really started to take off in 2014, just when the use of mobile phones overtook desktop use.
With the ever increasing growth of  mobile phone use, searches have become more localized than ever before  and there is no sign of this trend slowing down any time soon. If not careful, any small business overlooking their local online marketing strategy is likely to become a digital casualty in the year if not months to come, and nobody wants that, right? So get learning.
Luc Durand is the founder of RankingAcademy.co.uk a company that provides  a range of free video tutorials to help small businesses who want to improve their online visibility in local search results. 

A Beginners Guide to Corporate Wiki

Friday, May 20 at 17:17
Digital | Planning | Quick Guide | Top Tips

In the business world wikis have begun to boost performance and overall client satisfaction as they provide various functions and assist multiple goals. Maybe the Wiki concept you have in mind is associated with Wikipedia but it´s important to understand that it´s not the same thing starting from the fact that they pursue very different objectives.
In order to understand the concept, let's begin with a simple example which I´m sure is common to any type of organization: A project was recently started and team members began to search for past experiences and relevant information only to find that experiences had not been properly recorded and that information remained in the PCs and personal file servers of previous team members. Step by step set of instructions that explained: what to do, what you should have done and what needs to be avoided is not readily available for the team so they start from scratch and along the way they begin to encounter the very same roadblocks.
The above example is a common scenario for organizations that don't have a centralized place for information and experiences to be stored. What's worse is that resources are wasted as teams invest time doing things over and fail to reach consistency. Even client expectations are juggled as this sort of practice does not reinforce what your brand stands for. So what can be done about it? How can we avoid those angry reinventing the wheel moments and help teams incorporate best practices and important information?
Corporate wikis are a great place to start as they provide various functions in order for team members to store and co-create content together. In this sense it´s important to mention that the Wiki experience is different from having intranets as they are more dynamic and users are at the center of the strategy as they are responsible for curating and creating content across the company.
Wiki software also allows you to create FAQs, manuals and other form of vital information which can also prove to be extremely helpful in the service desk sector in order to assist client requirements. For example, ticket handling and calls can become stressful when customer agents have to attend the same requirements over and over again while clients are put on hold and have no early and proactive access to information. Wikis can centralize important product or service information so that clients can search for answers themselves which in turn helps create a better customer journey with little to none bottlenecks.
Wiki software comes in many forms and prices. Open source options are available but they have one basic problem: you need extra coding hours in order to customize it so that it suits your company´s identity and security patterns. You might also have existing software and programs, so having a Wiki that can integrate with them is a must in order to avoid multiple access points. Evaluating content reuse is also important so that you can have a clear idea of what information is valuable in terms of customer service and projects. This can also help you spot trends and insights regarding your customer´s behavior. So, being able to incorporate tools such as google analytics is great.
Existing SaaS companies like ProProfs, incorporate these functions and have the advantage of being cloud based which helps reduce costs associated to storage and maintenance.
From the above we can clearly perceive the benefits of having wikis as opposed to losing valuable information and not being able to reach out properly to customers.
These type of benefits are not just meant for big business, on the contrary if you start from day one when your company is small, meeting new challenges and growth won’t be a problem since everything will be properly centralized and structured. The challenge is bigger when companies start when they are already big as the amount of information and experiences to be handled will also be greater.
In this sense make the right decision and embed wikis in to your company´s culture from day one!
"David Miller is an educational researcher who has several years of experience in the field of teaching, online testing and training. He is associated with prestigious universities and many leading educational research organizations. Currently, he is pursuing research in online knowledge base software and is also a contributing author with ProProfs."

How Your Small Business Should Go Digital

Tuesday, March 29 at 18:30
Digital | Getting Online | Top Tips

Business in the UK is growing rapidly – with small businesses in the lead. In 2015, there were 5.4 million businesses recorded in the UK, according to a report by The House of Commons. The report also states that over 99% are SMEs that employ a range of 0-249 people. A large percentage (95%) were also micro-businesses, small enterprises that employ 0-9 employees totalled 5.1 million. While businesses in the UK continue to boom, it is increasingly important to have a well-designed and developed online presence, encompassing critical Search Engine Optimisation tactics. Here are some tips for small businesses that are thinking of taking the leap and finally going digital.Why do I need a modern and up-to-date website as a small business?In this day and age, chances are the majority of your potential consumers will learn about your business through some form of digital means. Regardless of how your consumer encounters your business for the first time, they will almost certainly use an online search engine to discover more about your business.  According to a recent survey by Weebly, 56% of consumers do not trust a business that lacks an online presence. Your website will serve as a showcase for the product(s) or service(s) you provide, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A key aspect of a website is having a sleek, user-friendly platform for your current and prospective customers alike to gain information about your business. For instance, aspects such as a “Contact Us” or “About Us” page are critical to providing your audience with the information they need. What is Search Engine Optimisation?Many small businesses make the mistake of ignoring the appropriate implementation of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) tactics. Performing proper SEO tactics will help your website to rank higher on some of the top search engines in the world. The implementation of the right SEO tactics and creating an SEO-friendly website are key to the placement of your business’ website on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).What should I do to improve my website’s Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)? At MBJ, we strive to implement white-hat SEO techniques, also known as ethical SEO which are defined as the best practices to follow in order to rank highly on SERPs whilst following the guidelines provided by Google.Below are a few of MBJ’s SEO tips & tricks to keep in mind:
  • Relevant Content Creation – Ensure that your content is relevant and flows smoothly with the theme or context of the overall website. Remember to provide valuable and useful content aimed at your target audience. Additionally, it is important to ensure your content includes correct spelling and grammar. 
  • Appropriate Keywords – Keywords are phrases that users will begin their online search with. For instance, a user looking for a hotel in London will search for “London UK hotels”. When keywords are integrated into your web page’s content then the search engine will pick up on the words and rank your site for the words that are relevant to your business. Implement the usage of keywords into your content and make sure they flow naturally with the context of the page. It is best to avoid keyword stuffing, as mentioning the same words over and over again have proven to be counterproductive. Google’s algorithms have recently been updated and designed to detect web content misconduct. 
  • On-Site Blogging – If you’re wondering where all the relevant content and keywords should go on your website, consider having an on-site blog. Not only does an internal blog assist with your SEO efforts but it also provides you with the opportunity to highlight your knowledge and expertise of the industry you operate in.
  • Concise URL Structure – A clear URL structure is especially helpful when listing the products or services your business provides. Creating a custom URL allows for custom keywords to be implemented into the URL, not just a mixture of gibberish letters and numbers. For instance, http://mbj.london/portfolio/ is a much clearer and easier to read URL than http://buff.ly/1PqYltn.
  • Social Media Integration – Select the social media channel(s) that best suits your company’s mission and vision. For example, businesses that are more visual in capacity tend to be better suited for platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. Search Engine Optimisation is typically interlinked with a website’s social media presence. 
Post by MBJ London, a London-based web and app development consulting company. Their mission is to help small businesses go digital and not loose out to their competitors who have. Find MBJ London on Twitter, Facebook and InstagramMBJ offers Website as a Service (WaaS), an innovative package that encompasses the design, development, maintenance, and technical aspects that are required to create a flawless web presence. It enables small businesses to have a dedicated IT department for a fraction of the cost. 

Use Visual Content to Power Up your Marketing

Monday, April 27 at 12:09
Digital | Marketing | Social Media

You’ve seen them everywhere! Visual content comes in many different formats: images, videos, Infographics, SlideShares, graphs, etc.The trend seemed to kick off in a huge way at the end of 2013/start of 2014 and is continuing its upward trajectory. Why are visuals crucial to marketing?Visual content conveys a message in a uniquely succinct way.  They immediately appeal to emotions and are hugely engaging.  Humans are essentially hard-wired to digest information visually, as HubSpot demonstrates in this (visual) graphic!
In addition to the above, we all love sharing photos or videos that make us laugh or smile, or pictures that evoke a memory, for instance.  If you create powerful images which resonate with your audience they will likely share it with their friends on Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, etc., and share your message at the same time.  What a way to spread your business message and increase your reach! Consider the surge in images and videos across Twitter.  Twitter now has its own native video platform and, in the last few months, apps like Meerkat and Periscope have exploded onto the market. In fact, Meerkat caused quite a stir at #SMMW15 in San Diego this year. Here’s the difference a tweet with an image makes to engagement levels compared with one without an image:
As a small business, you need to harness the power of visuals in your marketing strategy.  It’s a level playing field: you can use these resources as well as the big guns! Start off with imagesYou can easily create your own using my two favourite go-to apps: Canva and PicMonkey.  Both are entirely FREE to use but they also have extra features for which you can pay a small amount either per image or per month. If you’re just starting out as a small business, there are lots of websites which offer stock photos which are FREE to use (always double-check the licence terms before using for commercial purposes.  See below).  Don’t spend a fortune on purchasing expensive images; it will blow a hole in your budget very quickly!
Here are some great resources for stock photos:(1)Refe Rea Life Photos(2)Pixabay(3)Morgue File (Ensure you select the “Free Photos” tab)(4)Flickr free use photosMake the Image your Own➣  Don’t be tempted to upload images directly into your blog and hit “Publish”!  Add text overlays, including your business logo and URL, to give the image a more personal and branded look.   You can easily do this with Canva and PicMonkey.➣  Stick to your brand style, colours and fonts when adding overlays and don’t mix them up. ➣  Decide on 3 fonts to use for text: one for a heading, one for sub-headings and the other for quotations, for instance, and stick to them for a consistent, branded look. ➣  Outline the benefits your readers will receive to entice them to click through and read your content, like this great example from Anna Bennett, top Pinterest marketer.
➣  Each social media platform has its own unique image size dimensions so refer to Canva’s pre-formatted templates to ensure you get the optimum look.
If you’re at all stuck, need some further advice or just don’t have a creative bone in your body, don’t panic! By Nicky Pasquier, Founder of Virtuoso Assistant. Email me at any time and we can schedule a chat: hello@virtuosoassistant.co.uk

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