Small Business Saturday Blog

Establishing a Small Business through Online Branding

Wednesday, August 16 at 15:06Branding | Getting Online | Small Business | Small Business Saturday | Social Media

Beating out the competition in the small business world takes more than just telling others on the street about what you have to offer. You have to create maximum exposure by being accessible on online platforms. By doing so, you better establish your business identity and brand.

Building an online brand is important for a number of reasons. It creates awareness for what your small business stands for. If consumers want to learn about the product you offer, they should be able to access information about it from anywhere. You can also gather a larger following by reaching out to the online community. Lastly, the process of establishing an online presence enables you to gain credibility. If consumers see your business online, they can navigate your site and infer that yours is a legitimate company.

The first step in establishing an online brand for your company is picking a domain name. Many companies underestimate the power of choosing a URL that differentiates them from the competition. A brandable domain name might directly reference aspects of your business, but it doesn’t have to specify what it entails. In the long term, the domain name can build brand value. You will want to check that a name is not already registered before you choose one. Make sure the domain name is user-friendly and short in that it is easy to spell and say. You will also want to make it unique and credible in order to set yourself apart from your competitors.

When establishing your brand online, It is important to have a clear understanding of your target audience. Prior to coming up with content strategies, utilize research tools to identify your audience. Google Analytics will help you figure out the demographic most interested in what you have to offer. Google also offers an acquisition feature which points out how users found your site. You will be able to see if they typed the URL directly into their browser or if they were connected to you through social media or a search engine. Knowing this information will allow you to determine which online marketing channel is most effective.

After identifying your audience, you can work on making your business stand out by creating a brand that consumers will remember. Having an eye-catching logo that can be used on all online platforms and marketing materials will mean customers will attach your small business with a visual. It should give consumers an idea of the product you represent. Also create a business slogan and tagline that stands out. A tagline is a phrase that lets your visitors know who you are right when they click on your site. You will want it to be placed on all your marketing materials. This builds recognition which is key in gaining customers for your small business.

When you build your company website, be personable and accessible by having a home page with an introduction. You’ll want to establish your online brand from the get-go by telling visitors about what you offer and how it will benefit them. Make sure you have a subscriber button on the homepage so users can immediately opt to learn more about your small business.

To directly help sales and marketing efforts, dedicate part of your website to reviews since they can have a significant impact on sales.. Allow customers to share their experience with your product. This content can then be shared on social media where others can see that your small business delivers on what is promised. Enabling customer reviews also positively affects search rankings in search engines. Reviews increase the amount of unique content your site offers giving you a better chance at moving up in ranking.

Social media is an online marketing platform that is free and gives you instant access to consumers. Make sure that you have social icons on each page of your website. All of your social media pages should consistently feature your brand. This will make your business more memorable in potential buyers’ minds. Consumers also like to see and hear about businesses. Posting podcasts or having segments featured on a YouTube channel can build a personal relationship with your target audience. This fosters trust and increases your credibility.

Another online tool you can utilize when trying to spread the word about your small business is blogging. This heightens your visibility. Your search engine rank will improve as you expand to posting content on blogging sites. It also works to help establish a direct relationship with customers in order to gain valuable feedback. Don’t be afraid to share content from experts in your industry. Online consumers will find you more trustworthy if they see you are up to speed on all aspects of your product.

Lastly, stay engaged with your consumers. This is key in building a strong presence online. Use tools such as HootSuite which will notify you when someone mentions your brand. You should respond to comments made about what your small business has to offer. This will show customers you are concerned with their needs and will help spread the word about your business.

Guest blog contributed by Sarah Elizabeth Saker

How Your Small Business Should Go Digital

Tuesday, March 29 at 18:30Digital | 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 Instagram

MBJ 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. 

Is your website doing what it should?

Monday, October 12 at 12:37Getting Online | Small Business | Small Business Saturday


Joel Calliste, co-founder of Small Biz 100 Smart Little Web gives five important tips for a successful small business website:

A website should be far more than just a tick in the box. It’s a chance to have your business showcased and explained perfectly to your target audience.

Imagine how often you realise you need a product or service and turn to Google for help. And what do you do when you take a look at a website it’s found for you?

If you’re anything like me, you quickly run through your internal criteria to match whether it’s right for what you’re looking for and leave the site quickly if it’s not.

Your small business website needs to focus on helping website visitors understand quickly that you’re relevant to them and encourage them to stay and browse. This should help lead to the all-important conversion from online visitor to an enquiry,  if not an actual customer.

First Thing’s First: Who are you and what do you do? 

It’s seriously this easy, yet so many websites don’t include these fundamental details on their homepage. Back this up with a supporting image that tells your business story for you and you already have a strong start.

Make it Easy to Navigate: and pick-up important information

Being clear and transparent about your business should be replicated on each page of your site. And guiding your visitors with easy navigation is a must. This means keeping it simple and straight-forward.

When it comes to setting out your navigation, imagine a blank piece of paper with the different parts of your business jotted down. Your history and today’s team, your products or services, your location and how to get in touch…. and in each section, in simple language, tell your story. These then become each page on your website. It doesn’t need a lot of words. In fact, the fewer the better!

Also think about joining up where two sections meet - if something on one page is relevant to another - then link the pages with an explanation eg. ‘if you want to know more take a look at…’

Make sure you refer to where you’re based, where your customers are based (if this differs), and who your customers tend to be. Help your visitors to understand that they fit into your box as much as you fit into theirs.

And most importantly, remember that a visitor might land on a specific page of your website and it could be the only page they read. Each page should convey who you are, what you are and how you do it in some way.

Be Transparent: encourage interest

It’s not just about simple messaging, but personality can really help with transparency too. We want to know who we might be doing business with. So think about bringing personality to your website - who are the key people in the team? What are they most passionate about? Include profile shots of individuals and also working if possible.

Help your visitors to easily piece together your story and get a good feel for the people behind the business.

Every small business website should also include a price page. Let’s be honest, we all want to know how much something will cost. Now, I know there are service businesses that can only provide a cost with a proposal but saying this on a price page is completely fine! At least your visitor will understand how you work. Do try to include a couple of ball-park figures where possible though.

And if you have a physical presence please make sure you include your address and a map on your site. Help your online visitor become an offline customer by encouraging them to visit you - and make it easy to do so.

Building Trust: add extra reassurance

Building trust is really important. And there are actually many ways you can achieve this. It helps a visitor to know who your customers are, or at least what they think of you. So testimonials are a great way to help with reassurance. But there are other ways to prove your credibility, especially if you’re a new business. Include the names and logos of partnerships, affiliations or perhaps even suppliers. This all helps to tell your wider business story.

Obviously, if you’re also lucky enough to have been nominated for an award - and definitely if you won - include it!

Call To Action: they’re interested - what should they do now? 

It’s not enough to have a telephone number or email address on your contact page. Yes, most of us know where to look if we want to get in touch. But having a clear Call to Action (CTA) not only helps the visitor with the next step, it can also guide them to do what you want them to do.

Want them to call you to book an appointment? Say it! Want them to sign-up to your newsletter? Do it! Think about the way you want them to get in touch with you and make it really obvious - on each page.

Smart Little Web are a next-generation website platform. The platform is tailored 100% to the needs of small businesses and focuses on guiding a small business on what to put on the website, not just how to build it. For more from Smart Little Web visit their website and blog.



Boosting Your Brand’s Online Presence: 5 Things to Consider

Friday, March 06 at 10:22Digital | Getting Online

Whether you’re a small start-up business or an established SME, in today’s digital-focused landscape there’s no escaping the importance of a successful online presence for your brand.

From responsive websites to consistent branding, we’ve listed the top 5 factors you should take into account when approaching your online presence. Some of them are simple and can be quickly implemented by yourself or your team, others are more complex and may require the expertise of a developer or creative designer. Either way, they’re vital steps in your brand’s online campaign and are definitely worth the initial investment if it means reaping the rewards later.

1. User Experience

Your website should be designed first and foremost with the needs of the user in mind. Will the journey around your site make sense to them? Will they find what they need quickly, without having to search too hard? These are the questions you need to be asking when reflecting on the efficiency of your site.

• Is your layout logical? Ensure routes around your site are clear. For example, after giving information, ensure advice/contact details are easy to find
• Think about all of your users. Your website should be easy to read. The best way to achieve this is to use larger fonts and ensure text is significantly darker than its background.
• User-test. If your sample are reporting things which are difficult to read/navigate, your customers will probably be having the same problems.
• Include social media icons. Make it easy for your users to share your content.
• Put your key message on your homepage – not your entire story. This will ensure users can get a quick overview without being swamped by text.


2. Mobile Responsiveness

For the first time, users on mobile devices are outnumbering desktop users, so a key aspect to bear in mind is whether your site will work on a small screen. You don’t want to alienate any potential customers with a design they can’t use when visiting your site from a mobile device.

We looked at a sample of ecommerce beauty retailers and found that between November 2013 and November 2014, their mobile traffic had increased by an average 81%. Similarly, there was a 552% rise in mobile traffic across our B2C property sector sample. Mobile responsiveness is now such an important factor that Google are labelling mobile-friendly sites in their results.


Google’s new mobile friendly indicator means that any users searching on mobile devices will be told before they even click-through to a site whether or not it’s mobile-friendly. So, businesses that appear in the search results with this label are likely to receive more traffic and conversions than those who don’t.

Your site needs to be responsive now more than ever. To assess how yours is doing, you can carry out Google’s mobile-friendly test, which will indicate the factors you need to change or improve for your site to be listed as mobile-friendly. You may need the help of a developer to instigate these changes, but it’s certainly worth the effort; you don’t want to let your potential customers scroll past your business.

3. Consistent branding 

Customers expect your brand to be consistent both online and offline. This doesn’t mean simply carrying the same logo across all platforms, it goes much further than that. Consistent use of colours, fonts, tone and brand behaviour also go a long way to creating a recognisable presence. You could take away the logo from a Coca Cola bottle and you’d still be able to identify the brand. You should aim for the same result with your branding too.

Any colours or distinctive visual style on your site should be carried through to other channels such as your social media accounts. Offline, you should feature these recognisable aspects on any business cards or display ads you create.

Don’t think of your business’ physical location and website as two separate entities, merge both so that they become recognisable branches of your brand whether your customer is online or off.

4. Home page copy

The copy on your home page is usually the first piece of information a customer will read, so it needs to completely sum up your brand’s unique style, voice and values. Keep content sharp and to-the-point, users will soon get bored of reading waffle. Use links within the copy to direct users to pages where they can find further information should they need it.

Consider the key words your brand should be targeting, and ensure variations of these are used throughout your content. Seek the advice of an SEO professional if you’re unsure about this though, as overusing keywords can be detrimental to your site’s rankings.

Meta descriptions and title tags are also important features, and can reap valuable click-throughs if actioned correctly. They let you to sum up important information about your business so that users can get an idea about your services before they visit your site.




Plug-ins such as Yoast (WordPress) are extremely helpful if your experience of technical SEO is limited. With Yoast you can devise meta-descriptions, write title-tags, and target any focus keywords easily.

5. Brand voice

Your brand should have a consistent, recognisable tone of voice across all platforms. Consider your target audience and the services your business offers when engaging with potential customers. If your business is a makeup line aimed at teenage girls, adopting a highly formal register probably won’t attract them to your business. Similarly, if you’re offering legal services for businesses, your target audience won’t appreciate an informal, colloquial tone.

Whatever the brand voice you decide on, make sure this is carried across every part of your website- from the copy on your product landing pages to any call-to-actions on site. It should also be evident across your social channels too.

Creating a recognisable brand voice can help to reassure your customers about your business’ reliability, core values and whether you’d be a good fit for the type of service they’re after. A strong brand voice can also help them to remember your business long after they’ve left your website.

By Claire Morris, copywriter for Fluid Creativity. UX insight and web design expertise provided by George Hill. 

How to promote your business on YouTube

Thursday, March 05 at 09:36Getting Online | Marketing | Social Media

There are many reasons why businesses might have video content they want to share. You may have had videos professionally produced by a production company and are keen to reach the widest possible audience; you might be creating your own steady stream of content that you want to use to build awareness of your brand; or you might simply want to share the expertise and knowledge of others within your industry. Whatever the source of your video content, it pays to use YouTube.

To get the most out of YouTube it’s worth understanding what is meant by a YouTube account and a YouTube channel. Since Google purchased YouTube in 2006 they have gradually increased the integration between YouTube and their other services so these days there is no such thing as a standalone YouTube user - instead you need to create a Google account and this gives you access to YouTube (as well as other Google sign-in services such as gmail etc.). A YouTube account lets you watch, like and share videos, but little else. All this activity is private, and your YouTube account has no ‘public presence'.

Create Your Channel
To unlock the full potential of YouTube you need to create your Channel. This is easily done by logging into YouTube and clicking on the ‘My Channel’ link under your profile picture in the top right, then following the instructions on screen. Once you’ve created your channel you have access to a multiple tools under the banner of ‘Creator Studio’. Not only can you upload videos, but you can perform corrections such as colour and lighting, add Instagram-style creative filters, add music and now you can even edit videos online using the YouTube video editor. And using the built in analytics tools you can you can analyse how many people are watching your videos - and for how long.

Much of this is done in private in the ‘back end’ of YouTube. But having a channel also gives you dedicated Channel page, which acts as the ‘public face’ of your YouTube account. Think of it like a Facebook page or a Twitter feed where you can share your own video content and that of others as well as build a list of followers (called ’subscribers’). And as long as your channel is linked to a Google+ page, you can set the channel name to the name of your business and this also appears in your Channel URL (for example: www.youtube.com/hyperfinemedia).

Customise Your Channel Page
Although it is not possible to remove the YouTube branding and sidebars, you can customise the Channel page with a banner graphic, logo and colour scheme to match your own branding, as well as add links to your website and social media channels. The first reason why you need a Channel page is to organise and display your own videos. You can set one of your videos to act as a ‘trailer’ (essentially an introductory video) which appears in a prominent position. You can set up playlists of your videos and are able to give these playlists titles and descriptions - giving your own videos an extra layer of optimisation (note that playlists can show up in Google search results as well as the individual videos in that playlist). We’d recommend splitting longer videos into shorter sections and having these in a single playlist - that way you have multiple opportunities to optimise the titles and descriptions and your viewers can easily find the sections of interest using the playlist interface.

Share
YouTube channels are not just about promoting your own content however. You can include other users' videos in your playlists - so for example you could share video reviews of your products uploaded by your customers. One quick tip to do this very easily is add the ‘Liked Videos’ playlist to your channel page and any videos you ‘Like’ after watching will automatically display on your channel.

Subscribe 
Any viewers who find your video content of interest can subscribe to your channel, and will be notified when new videos are uploaded. Likewise you can subscribe to other users' channels - and you can choose to display these on your own channel page. Again this is a quick and easy way for you to quickly build up a repository of industry related expertise - this will help you build a list of subscribers who in turn will have access to your future uploads. One piece of advice for building a list of subscribers is to focus on sharing content that is of practical use - such as ‘how to’ guides and ‘hints and tips’, which are more likely to win you subscriptions than sales-focused videos.

So whether you’re looking to share your own video content or just create an industry resource that wins you new subscribers, a YouTube channel is a must. Set up correctly it can almost act as a second home page for your business and increase the chances of potential customers discovering you and your services online.

By Garth Haley, Videographer, Producer and Animator and Director of Hyperfine Media.

A guide to small business broadband and the Government voucher scheme

Monday, February 16 at 09:31Getting Online | Start-Up Support

Internet access is absolutely vital to today’s businesses, and not just for firms that operate exclusively online. With everything from ordering stock to handling taxes now streamlined by online services it’s a major boon to companies of any size.

But despite its importance to modern life the UK’s broadband infrastructure lags behind many other parts of the world. There are numerous areas across the country where broadband speeds may struggle to exceed a few megabits, and rural locations in particular may be saddled with very poor connectivity.

But help is at hand thanks to the Broadband Voucher Scheme. This government funded project aims to improve connectivity for firms across the country by providing financial assistance toward broadband upgrades.

What is the broadband voucher scheme, and how can it benefit your business?

To encourage businesses to improve their broadband, the government is offering a grant worth between £100 and £3,000 toward the cost of an upgrade.

Businesses in qualifying areas that meet the terms of the voucher scheme can use this grant to help pay for the cost of setting up a faster broadband link. The scheme is not limited to a particular type of broadband; there are 650 registered suppliers involved in the voucher scheme so it can be used for all types of services including fibre optic, cable and leased lines.

It’s open to small and medium enterprises in 22 cities across the country, and there’s no such thing as too small - home businesses can get involved too.

To find out if you could take advantage visit the Connection Voucher web site and check the eligibility criteria. Provided you meet these terms you can get the process started right away.

What are the options for business broadband? 

Businesses have a wide choice of broadband services available. As well as using the same technology as home broadband they can also get access to other types of connections geared specifically toward professional use.

ADSL
Using standard phone lines, ADSL broadband can deliver speeds up to 17Mb down and around 1Mb up. It’s widely available and cheap, however the actual performance can vary depending on line quality and distance from the exchange so may be much slower, and even at its best it’s not really fast enough for many companies. Sole traders or small firms will manage, but the connection is quickly saturated by multiple users and the upload speed could be a hindrance.

There are some types of ADSL which are specifically meant for businesses. Annex-M is a variation of ADSL which trades download speed for upload speed, making large file transfers easier, and bonded DSL combines two lines into one faster connection.

Fibre optic
Offering much faster download and upload speeds than ADSL, fibre is excellent for both small and medium businesses, and availability is improving all the time. The fibre network provided by BT in the UK is widespread, and while the maximum speed of 76Mb is a far cry from the gigabit offered by ‘pure fibre’ networks (like the famous Google Fibre in the US), upgrades are ongoing and should shortly provide much better speeds.

There are other fibre providers apart from BT, such as Hyperoptic in London and Gigler in Bournemouth, but they presently cover a very small area. If available though your business could enjoy a blazing fast 1 gigabit link!

Cable broadband
Virgin Media cable broadband is on offer to around 60% of the population and although it’s best known for its consumer services, business broadband is also available. Virgin offers a product up to the same maximum download speed as its best consumer service (a rapid 152Mb), but they also provide very fast dedicated lines for businesses with heavier demands.

Wireless
Some providers offer a wireless internet service that avoids phone lines and delivers internet access with a wide area wireless signal to an externally mounted receiver. If your fixed line options are limited this can be a cost effective way of getting faster internet without the compromises of satellite or mobile broadband. The only catch is availability: such services are largely offered by smaller internet firms and tend to be fairly limited in reach.

Satellite broadband
Satellite internet can be used anywhere in the country so long as you can mount a dish, a huge advantage over every other service that relies on fixed lines or wireless transmission. It’s also not too expensive. But download speeds are limited to around 20Mb and - perhaps more concerning for businesses - upload speeds and latency are a major weak spot, which is a problem for sending large files or using applications like Skype.

Mobile broadband
It’s not hindered by the need for a telephone line so mobile broadband could be a very attractive proposition for businesses that are in an area underserved by fixed line providers, or for anyone who would like a portable broadband connection. But the speed of the connection can be highly variable and limited data caps mean heavy users will have to pay extra.

Leased lines
Internet leased lines are dedicated business connections aimed at firms which demand consistent and reliable connectivity. This can be very expensive, but you’ll get what you pay for and it comes with an uptime guarantee and a very high level of support for business-critical applications.

By Matt Powell, editor for Broadband Genie

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