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Personal branding is how you project yourself to the world, how you create and maintain your image and identity. Your brand is just as much about your profession, business and career as your background, what type of person you are, your interests and any interesting facts.

Personal branding is what you do, what you are and above all – what you can do for others. Having a meeting, making a phone call, sending an email are all activities where you get the opportunity to demonstrate your personal brand. Offline and online, you only get a few seconds to make a first impression, so you must get it right.

Do you need a personal brand?

You already have one. You need to make sure it projects what you want it to by staying consistent or – better still – continuous improvement. You must take control of your personal brand because it can help your business to get noticed. It will help you to be seen by current and prospective clients, business partners, employers and so forth. You want people to remember who you are and what you do.

People buy from people – not businesses. Unless you’re ordering a book online, you want to know the people behind the business. This is especially true in service and high-end sales environments, where customers only buy from credible sales people with strong brands. Blue chips are giving their managers personal branding training to turn them into better ambassadors for their employer. The trend is growing and personal branding will be part of everyone’s induction training one day.

Personal branding is extremely important to start-ups – possibly even more important. Customers buy from a few individuals – not really the business brand, which has to be developed over time anyway. Having people with strong personal brands working for a start-up basically means they lend their credibility to the business. Leveraging your employee’s personal brands is probably one of the most cost effective ways of marketing and promoting your business.

Where do you start?

If you want to boost your personal brand and get the maximum impact straight away, the Internet is the best place to start. It’s free and very simple to sign up for online networking sites, which are great tools for promoting your personal brand.

A typical professional will have a profile on Linkedin or Facebook, some will have lots of others. As long as you use and maintain your profile correctly, you’re on to a winner. Try Googling your name and see what happens. Prospective customers are likely to do this these days. Are you happy with what they will see? If you were a client, you would probably want to see a supplier with a professional profile on Linkedin and possibly other platforms.

If you can’t find yourself, you have a fair bit of work to do. You will also be cross-referenced on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, blogs and other sites to see that you are not simply putting on a ‘corporate act’. Make sure the brand you project is consistent and well positioned.

What are the ‘must-haves’?

Having a professional looking, well-written Linkedin profile will benefit many start-up owners. You should also have well-rehearsed elevator pitch that you can deliver at any time. I’d also recommend an online bio you can link to, as well as ‘clean’ and searchable profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Google Profiles.

And the ‘nice to haves’?

‘Nice to haves’ include a personal avatar for commenting, a personal blog or website, your own Linkedin Group, your own domain name, a forum you own or moderate and published articles or blog posts.

Make sure you’re consistent with everything you communicate to the world. This includes everywhere you have an online presence. Consider whether prospective customers will be surprised or even disappointed when they meet you for the first time. You must be one and the same across all channels, then you will stand a better chance of coming across as genuine and trustworthy.

Share information about yourself, tell stories and inspire others. Add some personality to your brand – we all know it’s easier to sell on emotions than facts. When you think you are finished, anyone should be able to locate you online and find out what you do and what makes you special. If this isn’t the case – you need to put some more work in.

Jörgen Sundberg, Personal Branding UK

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On the roller-coaster ride of running one’s own business, I used to think that having a fantastic product would be enough. As you know, this is far from the truth. This probably accounts for the 1% inspiration bit.

As I have discussed before, everyone expects you to be an expert in your business and in a small business, if you are on a shoe string and a one-man band, this means being an expert in everything. Is this the perspiration bit? The 24/7, never switching off, always being on task? Reading the paper on a Sunday looking for relevant articles, checking emails late at night when it’s quiet, cooking, etc..? I think the perspiration bit is also connected with the resilience of taking the failures as lessons to be learned, to stand up after falling, to get on with it and persevere when things may not be as rosy as one would wish for.

But we are in the 21st century and I would add another element. Yes, you had your 1% inspiration in your great idea and you are working really hard, which is your 99% perspiration. What about the communication bit? I think this changes the 1%+99% equation. Nowadays, entrepreneurs are required to twitter, to tell their story, to shout out their values and they are also allowed, and indeed expected, to drive their enterprises ethically. Green issues, fair trade, sustainability…

I think this is a great time to be an entrepreneur because it’s become the norm to have ideas and to communicate them effectively. I’m starting to learn how to communicate with people out there about what I’m trying to do – introduce new adventurous flavours of food that come from local growers and those who are far away, who share my passion for great food and respect for the environment and people. 21st century communication media – what a great opportunity to relate with possible customers and, hopefully, make a difference.

You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com

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If you are an organiser who has recently switched your event booking and payment process from offline to online, then you’ll know that sometimes it takes a little getting used to – both for you and for your attendees.

At first organisers can be a little tentative and reluctant to becoming exclusively online. And attendees? Well, they will continue to use the booking and payment methods that they have traditionally associated with the organiser, no matter how imperfect and unsatisfactory that process is – but only until they are otherwise instructed.

Yet for organisers it is vital to grasp the nettle sooner rather than later – the financial payback of online registration and payment demands it. And you’ll be surprised how quickly even your most traditional attendees will adapt to online registration.

Here’s 10 tips for getting your attendees onboard:

1. Go 100% online
Don’t give your attendees a choice. Stop offering alternative booking methods. When you are booking a flight online, airlines don’t also give you the option of booking your ticket via the phone. As a result we all book our flights online without a second thought.

2. Get your marketing focus right
To maximise your online registrations make your marketing emails short and punchy – a paragraph in length. See it as a short trailer for your whole event. Give a concise overview of the event highlights and make your ‘register now’ button very highly prominent. Make the button impossible to miss and ensure that when it is clicked that it links to the event registration website.

Your marketing email is about persuading your attendees to visit your registration website and not for displaying all your event information.

3. Always be linked in
Always include the URL link of your registration website in your emails. Always send several emails to potential attendees for each event and include the link in every one.

Always include your URL link clearly and prominently on your corporate website. Include the link in emails about your event to your social networking groups such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. Talk about your event and include the link on online forums or on Twitter or on your Facebook updates.

Make the link a clear ‘call to action’ for the attendee such as ‘register now’ or ‘register here’ or ‘to register for the event click here’.

4. Create incentives for online bookings
Offering online registration discounts encourages early attendee adoption, so make the ticket price more expensive for offline bookings. Charge a processing fee for manual or paper registrations. Make it clearly financially beneficial to book online. It is, after all, generally accepted that you get better deals via the internet no matter what product you are buying. You need to tap into that mindset.

Similarly, consider offering discounts for early online registration.

5. Refuse phone bookings
If potential attendees phone in to book manually then explain that registration and ticket payment are now exclusively online. Let them know that you will send an immediate email that will include the link for them to go straight to the registration page.

Have the email ready to go and explain the benefits for the attendee of using online registration and payment.

6. Give prior warning
Prepare your potential attendees for the switch. Give then good warning. Send them an email in advance that will explain that your next event will only accept online bookings and payment.

Let them know what to expect and how the process will work.

7. You’ll love it
Let your attendees know how they will benefit from your online registration system, such as ease of use, convenient and quick, more secure, self service, better communication.

Get them on board either with an email or a link to a page on your corporate website.

8. Make it official
Add a message to your voicemail system announcing the newer and more convenient online registration option along with the URL of your registration website for your next events.

Promote your online registration by placing your URL address in all printed materials, e-newsletters, email communications, handouts, signage etc for each event. Or if you run many events devote a page to your events on your corporate website with clear links to the registration website for each event beside each event description.

9. Educate them
Include a short frequently asked questions section or page on your corporate website.

Provide easy to follow numbered steps on how to register for your event. Put it on your corporate website or in your emails to give attendees confidence. Make it along the lines of ‘it’s easy to register and pay – here’s how’.

Offer attendees an online demonstration of how registration works.

10. Get your staff on board
Make sure that your staff are familiar with the online registration process and comfortable explaining it all to potential attendees.

Enrol your staff participants in one of our free, online registration training sessions to answer all their questions and build their confidence.

Alan Anderson, Blue Tube Design

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Like every area of business these days, there’s lots of red tape and ecommerce has its own rules and regulations. Just remember, though, it’s up to you to comply with the law. Here are my tips to help you ensure your online store meets UK regulations.

1 VAT
If your annual revenue exceeds £68,000 you must be VAT registered. If you’re below this threshold, you don’t have to worry about charging VAT and it would actually be against the law to do so. There are some finer points to be aware of, too. For instance, if your products are a mixture of those requiring VAT to be charged, and those exempt from VAT, VAT charged on shipping should be in proportion. Make sure your ecommerce solution can handle all of the tax rules.

2 US import rules
The UK is part of the EU, obviously, so we’re bound by its rules. It’s not the same when handling US orders. The individual US states might want to charge tax on sales into their area, but it’s their responsibility to levy this tax. You don’t have to charge this “use tax”, which is between the buyer and the state where they live. As a UK business, you can sell into the US tax free – but you should make your customers aware that they may be charged tax on the goods when they’re imported.

3 EU Distance Selling Directive
Under this Directive, you must provide full contact details – including an address, phone number, email and company and VAT registration numbers – where applicable. Do it anyway – it helps to build trust.

The same Directive dictates that you must accept return of any items purchased within seven working days and failing to inform buyers of their rights has penalties. But why not make this a selling point?

4 Data Protection
You must register with the Information Commissioner’s Office if you hold data on people (eg customers). Registering takes some time and effort, but is inexpensive and fairly straight forward.

5 Email opt-in
If you want to email newsletters or offers to prospective customers, you must gain their consent in the form of a statement that the customers agree to receive communications. You must also give them an option to decline.

Emails involved in fulfilling orders or answering specific sales enquiries do not need this provision. When you send marketing messages there must be a free method of opting out each time you send an email. This itself can be by email. The regulations apply to communications with individuals, not businesses.

6 Disability legislation
Since 2004, by law, businesses have had to take “reasonable” steps to provide access to people with disabilities – and this includes your website. Ensure all images have alternate text tags, so visually impaired people can still navigate your site.

7 Libel on social media
Libel laws also apply to blogs, Twitter, Faceback, etc. Remember also that your words remain on record forever – so think before you type that competitor put-down.

8 PCI DSS
Protecting payment card data is crucial and the banks require compliance under the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Compliance is compulsory for anyone who accepts and stores debit/credit card details either on computer or on paper.
More information on PCI DSS can be found at https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org.

You can meet PCI DSS in one of two ways:

  • Use a payment service provider (PSP) such as PayPal, WorldPay or Actinic Payments (if you use my company’s shopping cart). Your customers and employees only ever enter card details into the site of the PSP. That way, the PSP does most of the worrying about compliance and you are left with some straight forward actions. This is the best option for small retailers.
  • Make your own infrastructure fully compliant. This is a difficult route and for the majority of smaller businesses, achieving proper compliance will probably not be practical or cost-effective. The total one-off cost is likely to exceed £45,000 plus ongoing fees.

9 3D Secure
3D Secure – known as “Verified by Visa” and “Mastercard SecureCode” – is a sort of online chip and PIN system. Online buyers are prompted to enter a password whenever they use their card. The password is sent directly to Visa or Mastercard and they approve the transaction (or decline). This is gradually becoming compulsory and you should consult your bank and PSP on how to comply.

10 Let the world know
Finally, assuming you are legal and decent, let the world know. Anything that adds to your credibility will help you online, so list all of the things that you have done under the heading “We comply with the following legal and tax regulations”.

If you are a start-up, these rules may seem to big a mountain to climb. But there are two things to remember. Firstly, do your best to comply. Secondly, if you’re correctly challenged, then immediately take corrective measures. With the exception of VAT transgressions, in most cases this will be enough to avoid business damage or prosecution.

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On social networks, it’s tempting to try and grow your network rapidly by accepting any friend requests that come your way and building a network of strangers. As Louis Gray explains, when thinking about business networking; revenue is only going to come from a small selection of your online community. For that reason, building a network of highly engaged people with whom you have a genuine connection can prove to be a great way to unlock business opportunities.

It’s easy to judge someone’s social media “usefulness” on their number of friends or followers, or assume that low numbers equates to a small and relatively useless network. But it might be sensible to start slowly and focus on quality. What do you think?

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Our clients, and most people we’ve met and talks and events recently, have asked the same question: Is social media appropriate for business-to-business marketing? Unequivocally, the answer is YES.

In the last year, 40% of Clear Thought’s revenue can be tracked back to a social media source, and 100% has been enhanced or aided by it in some way. In the last six weeks alone, here are some things that Clear Thinkers have achieved through social media:

  • Hooked up two people met through Twitter with paying B2B clients.
  • Received two good quality new business enquiries, both of which are now at proposal stage.
  • Sourced experts willing to talk to us about their business as part of market research projects.
  • Enhanced relationships with prospective businesses using online nurturing techniques.
In B2B decision-making or considered purchases, social media has most impact in the top half of the sales funnel
In B2B decision-making or considered purchases, social media has most impact in the top half of the sales funnel

From a new business perspective, social media has critical impact in the first three stages of the sales funnel. That is, Awareness, Interest and Evaluation. From a social media perspective, you need to do the following:

To generate awareness: ‘Be There’ find out where your prospects hang out online and have a presence there.

To convert awareness in the interest: ‘Be Relevant ‘ provide information that is useful or controversial to pull people into your content.

To make it through evaluation: ‘Be Proven’ provide case study and testimonials at every turn online, ideally with other people talking on your behalf.

To really make the most of the channel, it makes sense to get some expert support – particularly in measuring and enhancing your activity. But, here are some really simple things to get you started.

10 FREE things you can do to generate awareness online:

  1. Ensure your company & all employees have a LinkedIn profile.
  2. Join or set-up an interest group on LinkedIn.
  3. Set-up a SlideShare space, link it to your LinkedIn profile.
  4. Set-up a YouTube Channel or Facebook page (if appropriate).
  5. Set-up a company Twitter Feed.
  6. Bookmark your content (StumbleUpon, Digg, Delicious, etc).
  7. Set up a BT Tradespace profile.
  8. Set-up Google, BlogSpot and WordPress identities.
  9. Comment on, or become a contributor to, blogs and forums.
  10. Regularly update email signatures with new content.

10 FREE things you can do to generate interest online:

  1. Post snappy links to content via Twitter, Status, Email footer, etc.
  2. Post regular interesting short blogs (10 mins).
  3. Prepare deeper content like pressos, papers and articles (20 mins).
  4. Give each of your team an area of expertise to track and comment.
  5. Post details of other people’s content relevant to your audience.
  6. Comment on industry news and happenings… in real time.
  7. Make sure all employees regularly update online statuses.
  8. Follow-up traditional touch-points with online contact.
  9. Gather permissions to send email updates.
  10. Ask intelligent questions in online forums.

10 (nearly) FREE ways to prove your credentials online:

  1. Provide written case studies on your site, blog, etc.
  2. 140 character lines to link back to your case studies, articles, etc.
  3. Post case study videos on your site, YouTube channel, etc.
  4. Post webcasts and presentations on your site, SlideShare, etc.
  5. Post product demos on YouTube, SlideShare, etc.
  6. Re-use the words of others about your products and services.
  7. Provide intelligent answers to questions posted in Forums, Groups
  8. Run live Q&A sessions via Twitter.
  9. Add a customer feedback / rating system (like Kampyle) to your site, blog, etc and re-use the positive feedback.
  10. Ask LinkedIn contacts for endorsements.

Note: In this blog, we’re focusing specifically on lead generation. It is worth noting (and blogging in the future) that social media can be powerfully used in market research, recruitment, lead nurturing and much more.

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Fifteen per cent of hiring managers in the UK said they either currently use social networking sites to recruit potential candidates or plan to do so by the end of the year. Using social networking is an effective and economical way to source new talent, especially for startups. They are a great way to communicate to a targeted group of people, who are linked to your industry or interested in your business or to reach out to a wider audience. For startups who don’t have a big brand, sourcing candidates is sometimes difficult. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are all rich in talent and can give your company a presence.

Here’s how to leverage them to your advantage:

LinkedIn

Search for potential employees by past or current employer, such as a possible direct or indirect competitor who may have employed people with the skills and experience you need. Use the recommendation feature to ask people for recommendations and provide recommendations to others. Your name will appear on the profile page of the person you have recommended and more people will connect to you as a result. Ask your employees to activate their networks to reach out to passive candidates. You could offer staff incentives to source successful candidates through social networks.

Facebook

It is worth it – because it’s free! You can create a recruitment-oriented home page on Facebook. It should give facts about your company, the jobs available, the company culture and how to apply. Pictures and videos can go a long way toward selling your company. You can use competitions to get candidates’ contact information. You can also search for candidates by skills or by company or by job title and it will take you straight to the candidate. I have found Facebook works best as a place to set up groups and advertise them.

Twitter

Send a tweet that says you have current opportunities and link it to your web site. If the person reading the tweet isn’t a fit, they may know of just the right person! Twitter is a great place to broadcast jobs and build talent networks. You can ‘re-tweet’ which gets your followers to spread the word to their followers. Offer your opinion on news, industry happenings and seminars. Share news, industry tips or links to interesting websites and blogs. Oh yeah, also great for recruiting great candidates.

Guest post by Nikki, founder of CV writing company www.mycvandme.co.uk

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