In-Cumbria's Business Doctor gives tips on doing business in Cumbria and rural areas.
Whilst attending a business event this week I was asked “What’s the best route to market in Cumbria?” This depends what business you are in and where you are in the business cycle, a new-start, growth or mature business. Every business is different and each organisations routes to market should be individually reviewed, but I have found some general 'rule of thumb' principles that can be applied and share them below.
Ensure you have an effective website.
It’s important to have a website that helps promote and substantiate you and your business but not necessarily to sell your products or services (unless you are an e-commerce business). It’s about using a website to help build awareness of what value you can add to potential clients businesses or domestic customer’s needs. Your website is your digital shop window.
The best websites share stories, have customer testimonials and plenty of case studies; they take an inbound marketing approach. Google loves fresh content, so update your website regularly with blogs and news using key words that potential customers would search for. If you can add a video or two, this enhances your ability to be found and tends to engage your viewer more than a few paragraphs of text. You need to ensure that your website has a call to action, e.g. fill in an enquiry form or pick up the phone. Pay attention to the data your website feeds back to you (any website worth its salt will use Google Analytics or similar). Many websites, whilst they may look good, are never refreshed with new content and this means they will not get noticed and are relatively worthless at generating leads. Having a website isn’t the only solution to get noticed and on its own is of no great significance to building your business profile.
How about Social media?
Utilise social media; Facebook if your target customers are domestic i.e. the general public. However LinkedIn if you’re in the business to business supply chain as it helps build relationships with key stakeholders and decision makers. Again, ensure your landing pages are professional with clear messages as to the value your business can add to the viewer and link regular fresh content from your website, i.e. blogs or share relevant news. This ensures you are continually seen and noticed by your existing and potential contacts. Twitter can also be very effective in raising your awareness, but I find there is a huge amount of traffic, therefore it can be very difficult to manage properly yourself unless you use software such as Hootsuite or Buffer. If this isn't your area of expertise, I would recommend that you outsource to a social media or marketing specialist, as it is becoming increasingly difficult to be 'heard' above the rest of the 'noise' on social media and tends to require expert skills nowadays.
Does point of sale material still have a place?
Traditional point of sale marketing material has a value, such as brochures, flyers, printed newsletter particularly if you exhibiting, holding a business seminar or at a conference. But it can be expensive for the return on investment and I notice a lot of what gets printed never gets read or even used. However, a great method to use print is sending a prospect you met at a meeting, exhibition or an existing customer a 'thank you' or 'introduction to you' letter inside a hand written envelope in the post. This will get noticed as it is likely to be the only piece of post they receive which isn’t a fast food sales flyer, junk mail or account statement from a supplier.
Online forums and Newsletters – a more successful way to promote you and your business and build a profile is to register to receive regular industry updates and if you can submit blogs and stories to these sites, as this will hit a much wider audience than you can on your own and also more effective than traditional hard copy point of sale material.
Cold calling by phone or in person
Cold calling can be effective when done well and part of a concentrated targeted sales campaign, however for general business growth and development it tends to have a very low return for the effort. People do not want to be sold to these days, they don’t have the time either to listen to the sales patter and the chances of getting direct to the decision maker is highly unlikely! Allowing the customer to find you of their own choice by careful strategic targeting is the way forward.
It's a fact that most business development is generated through leads via networking. Sometimes, nothing beats getting out there and building relationships and contacts, but it is important to note that networking is not about selling! In Cumbria and North Lancashire, the most effective way to build your business is through people and establishing an effective referral network. So get out the office and meet new contacts, get to know them and their businesses, find out common interests, find out about their passion outside of work and continually build trust. It can take a number of meetings to establish trust, however be consistent in attending events, be consistent in approach and be prepared, i.e. have business cards, a small note pad and your diary on you. Use their first name regularly when in a conversation and build the discussion from the previous meetings, e.g. Did you enjoy your family holiday to Italy? How did your daughter get on in her exams? Did you find that new member of staff or how did that new piece of work go that you mentioned last time? Then ask further questions and actively listen, taking in relevant points for the next time you meet. Write down notes in your pad or phone to record key points, but only when not in view of the contact or when you’re back in the car.
Remember people buy knowledge. So when asked, share tips, give advice, share contacts, introduce them to other business people you know at the networking meeting which may be of value to them and their business needs. You want to be remembered as being the person to go to. Think of yourself as a signpost!
After every event ensure you follow up, drop each person you meet a simple “nice to meet you again” email, to consolidate the connection. Also connect with them on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Ultimately, by networking and following up you will generate valuable personalised touch points that traditional marketing and sales methods and solely using social media fall short on. The chances are, over time, these contacts will either ask you to sell to them or introduce you to someone who will benefit from your services or products.
Do remember that these new contacts will check you out on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and your website so ensure these are professional, relevant and up to date. Your story must be consistent across all the sales channels mediums and throughout all your marketing activities.
Want to grow your business and try out networking?
Some groups I recommend worth attending.
- BNI (Business Networking International), Carlisle, Kendal, Barrow, Morecambe, Lancaster. Free to attend for first 2 meetings, BNI groups meet weekly which accelerates the trust building relationships.
- BECBC (Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster), monthly meeting (first Wednesday) in West Cumbria for the energy and nuclear supply chain.
- Chamber of Commerce, Business Growth Hubs run many events, refer to websites for further details.
- Also check out Eventbrite to see what’s on in your area or specific to your business sector.
If you are looking to review and then grow your business, Business Doctors Cumbria offers a free business health check to help you to establish a clear vision and understand the steps to fulfil your aspirations.
Book a free business health check: businessdoctors.co.uk/health-check
Contact Peter Fleming:
Call: 0845 163 1490