Tag Archives: social media

Is the High Street making a comeback?

29 Apr

I was walking through my home town of Teignmouth the other day and was struck by how many new shops and cafés seem to be popping up.  Not so long ago, every time I went into town it seemed like another business had closed down.  At one point, I think there were more empty shops on our main street than there were open!  It’s really good to see the town coming back to life, a new Morrison’s recently opened, and I think a lot of people were worried that it would be the end of the town centre, but thankfully it seems to have had the opposite effect.

Similarly, in local Exeter, when Princesshay opened, a lot of the High Street shops started closing down.  But now, most of the shops on the High Street are open, and there are lots of new shops in the area.  Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, and we will start to see less empty shops on our High Streets.

With the growth of Internet shopping, there is less of a need to go into town centres to get what we need.  Shopping from home can be quicker, you don’t need to worry about parking or getting your items home, and you can shop around before making a decision.  But you lose the experience of shopping (which, if you ask me, is an experience that should be maximised and enjoyed as much as possible!), you can’t try clothes on, you won’t pick up things that you wouldn’t normally, you can’t choose your own fruit and veg, and you can’t chat with the shopkeepers.

As a business it makes sense to have an online presence as well as a shop.  You can use this to stay in touch with customers, let them know about special offers or new products/services, and just generally remind them that you’re there!  Hopefully you will be able to offer some kind of shop, even if it just sells gift vouchers (for example if you have a café, or are a hairdresser) so that you can gain some additional sales.  The easiest way to get started online is through social media – simply setting up a facebook page or twitter feed.  Get in touch if you need any support getting started – call us on 0800 043 2440.

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A Paper Rose

15 Apr

On getting engaged last year, I went straight onto Etsy and Folksy looking for inspiration for planning my wedding.  One of the first things I came across was Laura Gamble’s beautiful Paper Bouquets.  Laura has a Fine Art degree and started making paper flowers for her own wedding.  After everyone loved them so much at her own wedding, Laura decided to start a business making paper flowers for other people’s weddings.  She opened her shop on folksy in December 2011 – six months after her own wedding.  Laura also works as a classroom assistant.  She has just launched her own website.

For my wedding, Laura made me a bouquet, wrist corsages for my bridesmaids, windmill favours for the kids, and decorations for our cake.  I love that we can keep all of them forever, the flowers will never die and I don’t have to dry them our or press them or anything.  Everyone loved them on the day too, they really are beautiful.  (I promise that’s the last post about my wedding!)

How did you get started with A Paper Rose?

I studied Fine and Applied Art at the University of Ulster in Belfast, where I specialised in painting, but always loved craft and working with paper.  When I got engaged I decided I wanted an alternative to real flowers (I have quite bad hayfever so wasn’t loving the idea of sneezing all day!).  After a lot of experimenting, I settled on making my bouquet, the bridesmaids’ bouquets and the gents’ buttonholes from paper.  They were all roses.  I also made the table centrepieces, they were tissue paper carnations.  It was so great because on the day there was no stress about the flowers dying and I could keep my bouquet as a memory of the day.  I got so many compliments about the flowers that I decided to keep making them and see if any other brides-to-be would like them too.

What social media sites do you use, and which have you found to be the most successful for marketing your business?

At the minute I mainly use Facebook and am also on Pinterest.  I’m thinking of joining Twitter, but sometimes it’s hard to keep up with them all.  Facebook has been the most successful way of marketing my work in terms of raising people’s awareness, also after having taken part in a wedding fair and giving out business cards you can see a jump in “likes” on your page.  I sell my work online through Folksy and more recently Etsy, these have been my most successful ways of getting orders.

What is the best thing about running your own business?

I love the feeling every time you make a sale, that someone has chosen your work for such an important event in their lives.  I love that I can be creative and make some money doing it.  I work in a school, but during school holidays I love the days when I get to work on the business 9 – 5.  I really enjoy doing a variety of tasks, especially the designing and making, but also the admin side of things.

What has been your biggest challenge to date?

Never having enough hours in the day to do everything you want to! Trying to juggle working a job, caring for family, still seeing friends and then making sure I don’t neglect the business.  It’s very important to try and get the balance right!

What advice would you give someone wanting to start a craft business?

Go for it, even if it just supplements your income it’s a really rewarding way to be creative, it does however take a lot of time and hard work.  With Etsy, Folksy and other online sales platforms, you can work from home and make some sales even if you don’t have time to sell at all the craft fairs.

How do you manage your time between employment and self employment?

It is frustrating because I feel that I could go much further with the business if I had more time to work on it, but as a classroom assistant I’m sort of spoilt with my hours, I work 8:30 – 3:30 – so can get an hour of work done each day when I get home, before it’s time to make dinner etc.  I also have the school holidays to work on the business – which is great.  I usually spend an evening or two per week working on A Paper Rose and try and do a few hours on a Saturday.  It depends how many orders there are or if a wedding fair is coming up.  In the next few weeks I am doing a couple of fairs so I will be working a lot more hours to get ready!  Lists are a really helpful way for me to focus and get things done in a tight time frame.

What are your plans for the future?

I would love to be in a position to work fewer hours in a job, maybe 2 days per week and the rest on the business.  I’m planning to set up a website in the coming months to hopefully increase my online presence.  I’d also like to increase my product range.  I currently make bouquets, buttonholes and wrist corsages, but would like to extend the range to table centrepieces, hair accessories, paper flowers for home décor – to name but a few!  I’d also like to make some new paintings.

You can find A Paper Rose on Facebook, Etsy and Folksy.

Laura on her wedding day DSCN0667

Simply Lovely!

25 Mar

Vicci was doing well in her career as an Internal Auditor, but craved something more from her career.  After finding out that she would be made redundant two years ago, she decided to follow her dreams and start her own business – Simply Lovely.  Vicci is 31 and lives in Cumbria in the Lake District.

mothers day card

“After graduating with a degree in Graphic Design I took a job, as most do, just to tide me over – after all a job is a job, right? Well 7 years later I found myself still in the same job, having worked my way up the ladder, I had a good wage and was fairly content working for an adult training provider as an internal auditor. I always wondered ‘what if?’ or ‘I wish I could just do something else’ – then I was hit with the bombshell that the company I was working for would no longer be trading and all staff were to be made redundant.

After 7 years this was such a blow but I knew that this would be my chance to follow my dreams. To pursue a career in the creative industry and even be my own boss!

It all happened really quickly, from the initial news of redundancy to leaving the company with my redundancy cheque being placed in my hands…my opportunity to do something for me!

I’ve always been passionate about design for print and decided to start designing for the greetings card market. I set up shops on Etsy and Folksy and opened up a Facebook page building my brand and customer base. Thankfully Simply Lovely has gone from strength to strength and not even 2 years into this exciting venture and I now have my own website, andwonderful customers who keep coming back for more!

Simply Lovely started as a dream, a concept, and now I’m designing bespoke wedding packages, event stationery, party invitations, guest books, photo albums, business packaging for other small businesses and I even offer branding packages to name a few things! It’s incredible how Simply Lovely has developed!

It’s been a roller-coaster and I can honestly say I’ve never worked so hard BUT it’s all for me, for the future and for my dreams. It’s certainly not easy but every sale and every happy customer makes it all worth while.

My redundancy was a blessing in disguise, it gave me the opportunity (and funds) to start something amazing and I couldn’t be happier with my decision to just go for it! If you don’t try, you’ll never know and may always be asking yourself ‘what if?’…”

And what makes it all possible for Vicci to run her business?

“I have an incredibly supportive family and friends that keep me sane and help out at extremely busy times, from post office runs to making reindeer bags!”

Just how important is Social Media to business?

18 Feb

Nowadays most of us use social media in our personal lives.  It might be that we sit back and just see what our friends are up to, or we might post regular updates and photos.  Most people who actively choose not to use social media are at least aware of it.  But many small business owners haven’t thought about using social media for their business.  So how important is it?  Does a business that’s doing fine without it need to start making time to set up and maintain social media sites?  And does every new business need to get set up – and at what point?

I am a self confessed Facebook addict (at my baby shower one of the options on the sweepstake was “how long until photos of the baby are on Facebook?” – it was about an hour and a half after he was born) and use it for my personal life, my own business, and the Opportunity Plus South West pages.  I was running my business for quite a while before I set up my facebook page – I think I was concerned about hassling friends with constant updates about my business.  But when I did it the increase in sales was incredible.  Now I rely almost entirely on Facebook (much to my partner’s relief as I don’t ask him to update my website all the time – on Facebook I can do it myself).  It brings me customers from all over the country, it’s free and easy to manage by myself, and I’m always on Facebook anyway so it doesn’t feel like work.  I haven’t been using any other social media, but am starting to now – I can already feel myself becoming addicted to Pinterest, but Twitter is still a bit of a mystery.

Nowadays, when I want to buy someone a gift but I’m not sure what, I go to Facebook and ask for ideas through the Supermums Craft Fair.  Anyone who makes/sells something that fits my brief, comments with a link to their page/product and I check it out.  I rarely go to that person’s website – if they even have one.  If I know what I want I would usually start out looking on Amazon – again not even going to business websites.  If I need information or advice I might write it in my Facebook status or in a specific group rather than Googling it.  So if you ask me, being on social media is far more important than having an all singing all dancing website.  It’s also cheaper and easier.

Now, accepting that social media is important for business is one thing, but HOW important is it?  Building up a network of followers is great for spreading the word about your special offers and building brand awareness, but having thousands of likes isn’t necessarily everything it’s cracked up to be if those likes don’t translate into paying customers.  So, do spend time building a following on social media, but don’t let it eat into the time you need to spend doing your core business and actually making money.

Each social networking site works in a very different way and no business needs to use every kind of social media, but you need to think about the one that will work best for you and your business.  If you create lots of beautiful images through your work (for example if you have an arts and crafts business) then Pinterest could be for you, but if you offer a service based business you might be better off on Twitter.  Have a look at all the different options, see what your competitors use, ask your customers which sites they are already on, and have a go yourself and see what you find the most user-friendly.

Which social media sites do you use?  Which have you found most successful, or easiest to use?  Are there any you are determined to start using but need a nudge to get going on it?

Check out some of the interviews we have completed for the blog with businesses that use social media: Rocket & Co, Just for Tiny People, The Very Vintage Hire Company.

Getting more visitors to your website – Search Engine Optimisation

4 Feb

Tim from Weboptimists.co.uk has kindly shared his top ten tips for Search Engine Optimisation – a term that most of us have heard of, and know we need to use to increase our website traffic, but don’t know where to start to improve it!  These useful tips should help you get your website coming up on Google searches and getting more visitors to your website.

Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO) is essentially how you get to the top spots when people search for what you offer on the internet. A website can look amazing, it can have the best deals in the world, it can provide invaluable advice, but the people searching for these things need to be able to find it.

So, what can you do to ensure your site turns up higher on the search engines?

Here are some easy steps:

1. Think like a customer. Ask yourself what your ideal customer would type when they’re looking for what you offer. Don’t call a website ‘The Amazing Emporium’ if what you actually sell is ironmongery!

2. Check what people are actually searching for. Check the Google Keyword Tool for how many people use certain search terms. (No-one searches for ‘The Amazing Emporium’, but over 22000 people searched for ‘Ironmongers’.) If you have a well recognised brand, use it, but otherwise concentrate on informing people of what you do.

3. To do this, your website needs to reflect what you do accurately. The title of each page needs to be descriptive. Calling your home page ‘Home’ doesn’t help anyone, nor does calling inside pages ‘page 2’ or similar. Let’s say you call your site ‘Architectural Ironmongery from Dorothy Jenkins Torquay’. This gets the people searching for your company name if they know it, what you do and, especially when combined with a region, you should start to turn up on Google for a good combination of searches which are relevant to your customers.

4. Aside from the title, you also have Heading tags. These are like headlines and sub-headlines in newspapers and can be used to further describe what you offer. Your H1 tag is the most important, so maybe ‘South Devon’s Premiere Architectural Ironmongers’. An H2 tag, or sub- headline could be ‘Door handles, knobs and letterboxes from Dorothy Jenkins’. You’ve now just expanded your search terms!

5. You will also need what is known as ‘body’ text to describe exactly what you sell. Ideally this will be around 300 words or so, accurately explaining what products you sell and what services you offer. Don’t try to stuff this with keywords, but do at least mention the things that you expect people to search for in this text. Keep it natural, try to engage with customers. Remember the marketing formula of AIDA – gain Attention, grab Interest, encourage a Decision and then suggest an Action they can take.

6. People love pictures. Unfortunately search engines don’t! So, include pictures for the people but, for the search engines, you have to make sure that the code they read is also descriptive. Instead of having ‘website picture 2.jpg’ call it ‘Quality brass door handles and Ironmongery’. You also get the chance to give it an alternative text tag, or ‘alt-tag’, which is the text that shows up when you hover your mouse over the picture. This can be a touch longer than the title but, again, should be descriptive and include likely search terms, like ‘Brass door furniture from Dorothy Jenkins – Torquay’.

7. Once your site is set up, make sure that you can use it. You should be able to get to every page on the site with no more than two clicks from the homepage. Interlink pages that are relevant to each other ‘So now you’ve seen our hinges, why not also look at our <locks and escutcheons> page!’

8. If you are happy with your site, go live! Submit your site to Google, as well as ‘pinning’ yourselves on Google maps. Also submit to Bing, as many companies have this as their default search engine. Finally, find an appropriate category in Dmoz to submit yourselves to, preferably within a region you cover, as their human editors may decide you’re being overambitious with your new site!

9. Tell everyone, especially those online. Ask them to share your homepage address on Facebook and Twitter. Search engines love to see a website which is engaged with its users and online social media links are their way of scoring your site for this.

10. Finally, start to create backlinks from other sites to yours. This could be by listing your site on the website of your trade body, or by developing links with other companies, whose services complement your own. For example, Dorothy Jenkins may decide to exchange links with a local door carpentry company and a fitting service. However, these links must be relevant – don’t be tempted to swap links with a site which is completely unrelated to yours. Many people will try to sell you links but this should be avoided: often search engines will penalise your site for trying to buy your way to the top. If you want to spend money – give it directly to one of the search engines, through a scheme such as Google Adwords, but read their guidelines first – a badly designed advert could be costly and ineffective.

Once you’ve done all of this, you should be well on your way to turning up in searches that your customers use. Aim for page one, as it is rare that people look beyond this, unless it is for something incredibly specific.

There is one thing you should continue to do – blog. Google loves a website which is updated regularly and a weekly or monthly blog will show that you are constantly refreshing your site. It also gives you a chance to showcase new products, introduce new staff, or talk authoritatively on a subject your company has expertise in. Publicise this regularly through your company Facebook page and Twitter feed. If your blog is interesting, funny, or of genuine interest, people will share the link to it, or even ask you to write for their websites on your specialist subject which may provide a link back to your own. And so the whole thing evolves!

Enjoy. Don’t get obsessed (that’s our job!). Write good content and offer a good service. Everything else will fall into place in time.

Website advice from the Weboptimists.co.uk

The-Weboptimists-Website-Design-SEO-Social-Media

Young Entrepreneur to watch out for!

26 Nov

Carmen Croxall runs The Very Vintage Hire Company, hiring out vintage and retro items to weddings and other events.  Carmen has built this business from scratch in just over a year whilst she was just 24.  She now hires out to events every weekend and is brimming with ideas for the future.  This girl is one to watch!

How did The Very Vintage Hire Company start?

14 months ago I was selling cake stands at pannier markets, and someone brought a large order for a wedding.  I realized I could sell in bulk to brides and grooms.  But the constant making of beautiful items was rather time consuming and there is a limit to how much one person can make and sell, so I thought why not hire them?  I was a single mum and a student and I was literally living on the breadline.  So I brought crockery as and when at the cheapest price could find.  I started to build a collection of vintage china. Then saving money, and spending most of my student loan I reinvested in stock and it just grew!  Now, after many changes to the business we have units full of stock, several members of staff and bookings up till 2015.

What is the best thing about running your own business?

The best thing is the raw belief that one day I will make it big and all the hard work with pay off.  It may be hard but its the most exciting, satisfying thing I have ever done. I have met some amazing people, been involved in some great ideas and learnt so much already, and it’s only just the beginning.

What is the hardest thing about running your own business?

Keeping on top of everything! Because it expanded so quickly I’ve had to actively discourage bookings over winter to sort the infrastructure to so it will be able to cope with another summer of huge demand.  I advise everyone to have a backup plan if things suddenly take off.

Are people surprised when they find out how young you are?

Yes, I am often met with disbelief.  Sometimes when I meet people I can tell they are a bit skeptical of me until I get talking. I once arrived at a business meeting and got directed out of the room as the people there thought I had wondered in lost!  I have even been mistaken for my own PA!

How do you market your business?

Social media all the way.  I have created a Facebook page, website, twitter account, youtuble channel, linkedin profile, pintrest profile and ebay business seller account and keep these updated daily. I have learnt use quality always over quality, don’t spam your followers and likers with irrelevant posts. Don’t share other businesses photos and posts, create your own. Give your audience shareable content not repetitive or boring or self indulgent. Great photos, engaging and relevant unopinionated posts get me an average of 10 new likes a day on facebook.  Also paid Facebook advertising engages my target market.

What are your plans for the future?

So much. Having realized that I can do it, it feels like nothing can stop me now. I am currently working on some exciting viral marketing campaigns and a brand new company. I want to continue to work hard and build an amazing future for myself and my son.

https://www.facebook.com/vintagehire

http://www.veryvintagehire.co.uk/

Where do I start with marketing?

10 Sep

One of the most common questions we are asked here at Opportunity Plus South West, is “How do I market my business?”.  It doesn’t matter how fantastic your business idea is if your customers don’t know about it!!

Market research

If you haven’t done any market research yet – get out and do it!  Work out who your ideal customer base is and go and speak to them!  Find out if they want what you are offering and get some feedback on your products, services, and prices.  Even if you plan to work completely online, you need to speak to people face to face so they can see your products, and you can gauge their reactions to them.  Don’t just ask friends and family, they won’t want to hurt your feelings so might not give honest feedback.  Get online and share links to your website on forums and social media and ask people for feedback on what your offer, your prices, the design and content of your website, everything!

Completing your market research should help you identify your target market, and will introduce you to some potential customers.  If you give out freebies or testers then people should remember you, and if they like what they see, they will hopefully recommend you to their friends and family.  Stay in touch with the people who help you at the start, let them know when you are launching your business or new products, maybe give them a special offer as a thank you.  Word of mouth is the best marketing – it’s free and people trust their friends’ recommendations.

It might be that you start your business small and treat the first few months as market research, and then when you have built a customer base and know what they want, grow the business.  Read about Liza, a single Mum who retrained as a mobile hairdresser and now owns a barbershop.

Social Media

We are lucky to live in a time where you can use social media to contact large numbers of people for FREE!  Set up a Facebook page, a twitter feed, and a blog, and make sure you use them!  You can tell all your followers about new products and special offers quickly and for free.  You can update your photos and information yourself, meaning you can change your mind about exactly what you do!  When you’re getting started you could use your facebook page to do some market research too.

Read about Rocket & Co. – a small business which mainly markets itself through Facebook.

Website

Nowadays customers expect most businesses to have a website.  It is worth getting some sort of website up as soon as possible – it doesn’t have to be anything fancy – it might just be a single page with links to your facebook page and so on, or it might link straight to a blog.  If you have a shop somewhere like eBay, etsy, folksy, or notonthehighstreet then that can be your website – again you can set this up yourself (or get in touch if you need a hand).  Check out these sites to discover your competitors – is what you’re doing already available and for what price?  How is your product different and better?

Read about Hose Solutions Ltd – a business which started out as an eBay shop run out of a spare room, which has grown into a successful Limited Company in just 5 years.

Business Cards

Get some business cards printed and hand them out to everyone you meet!  Make sure they include your name and contact details (phone, email, website, address if applicable) and make it clear what you do (or roughly what you do – you might not be completely sure yet if you are still in the early stages!)

Get out there!

Go to events and talk to as many people as you can!  Get a market stall for a day as a great way of reaching lots of potential customers at once.  Even if you don’t sell anything you will get feedback from people, and you can see what is popular and what no-one is interested in – it probably won’t be what you expect!

Finally…

Remember to always be confident and enthusiastic about your business – if you aren’t then no-one else is going to be!  If you’re having an off day, the beauty of self employment is that you can often just do something else that day – but don’t keep putting it off forever.  You need to be feeling positive to effectively market yourself and your business.  You might get negative reactions, but you need these so you can reassess your business or marketing style to get a more positive reaction next time.  If you are not confident going out and speaking to people, you may want to ask someone else to go and get feedback on your behalf.

If you would like to speak to someone about your marketing plan, or how to use social media to market your business, or just get some honest feedback on your products or business idea, give us a call on 0800 043 2440.  We could even arrange a focus group for you.