How to generate leads for your small business in 2021

Leads are the lifeblood of every business.

In order to survive and thrive, your organisation will need to have a steady stream of sales leads, but even seasoned professionals can find it difficult at times.

It’s no surprise; securing that steady flow is hard work. It requires you to continuously attract new leads, qualify and nurture them, and ultimately turn them into customers. This process, called lead generation, is essentially a technique of finding the right mix of channels that will get you in front of the right people. Using an effective lead generation system will make this process a whole lot easier, but just like any tough job, lead generation requires you to invest some time and effort upfront.

If you’re not sure where to begin, this guide will get you started by leading you through five key strategies to capture and convert those all-important leads.

Create buyer personas

A lead is a prospective customer, so the obvious starting place is to work out just who is likely to buy your product or service, and how you can reach them. Begin this process with research – use the internet to find similar companies to you and see how their consumers are, and study your existing customers, you’ll learn a lot. Consider the basic components that make up a consumer – age, gender, likes, dislikes, purchase habits and financial situation, then feed these into a pen portrait to build buyer personas of your ideal prospect. You should also look closely at the information you hold on existing customers to help build this picture.

Build your marketing plan

Build your plan using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Based) goals, and remember to employ a wide range of techniques, with a sharp focus on inbound marketing techniques designs to draw potential clients to you. This ensures the leads coming to you are ‘warm’, making your job securing the customer that bit easier. Here are a few of our recommended inbound techniques:

Digital Advertising

Social media channels and search engines offer incredibly targeted ways of getting your business in front of potential leads. Often referred to as Pay Per Click, they are an effective way to get visitors to your site.

SEO

Digital advertising won’t work for every business, and in some cases SEO is worth greater investment. Google gets an incredible 3.5 billion searches a day, making it prime real estate for lead gen. SEO will improve your visibility in search engine rankings – hopefully keeping you away from the fateful second page of Google results! It must be routinely updated and maintained in order to bring in a steady stream of leads, but when done well can bring in endless warm leads ready to be converted to customers.

A Statista survey conducted among marketing professionals in the US, found that 43% of respondents believed SEO to be the most effective channel in producing high ROI, so this is a powerful place to invest your lead gen budget.

Blogging

Creating engaging content that is promoted well will position you as a thought leader in your field, demonstrating your credibility and bringing a human element to your company. Be sure to include a call to action at the end of each post.

Build a sales pipeline

Once your leads start coming in they’ll need to be nurtured to be transferred into sales. Using a sales funnel model will allow you to organise your customers journey. Once in place, your pipeline will also give you an overview of where prospects are in the sales process. There are a number of reputable platforms that can support this work.

Embrace automation

As you begin to get leads in, you’ll need to find an efficient way to keep in contact with them and nurture them through the pipeline. Plan ahead and look at where automation, such as email marketing, could help you in this process. The beauty of automation is its ability to allow you to scale your marketing efforts whilst keeping your content personalised to your audience. Automation does not mean impersonal – Liana Technologies reported that almost 70% of marketers found improved targeting of messages was one the most important benefits of marketing automation.

All of your prospects have different needs, and having the option to treat them as such will seriously strengthen your relationship. Look for an email service that offers segmentation and tailored, dynamic content which gives you the chance to customise content based on your contact’s needs.

Harness the power of social media marketing

Social media now stands as one of the most effective lead generation channels, and it should therefore feature significantly in your strategy. These platforms are excellent for enabling relationship-building, and once you begin regularly posting engaging content, you’ll attract followers who you can then drive to your website. Here are our top suggestions for using the major platforms to generate leads:

Twitter

According to Optin Monster, 66% of people have discovered a new business on Twitter, so it’s a great place to make yourself heard. Promote your new content such as your blogs, and stay active. Commenting, sharing and engaging is vital to keep a vibrant community.

LinkedIn

One of the smartest things you can do on LinkedIn is to take advantage of the platform’s targeted advertising. It’s in users best interested to keep their profiles up to date, which makes LinkedIn an advertisers dream – you can zone in on just about any part of your audiences profile.

Facebook

Like LinkedIn, Facebook has some incredibly precise targeting options. The platform gives you the option to create campaigns using a Lead Generation objective that allows consumers to fill in a form with their contact information. Most internet users are on Facebook, therefore it’s unsurprising that Smart Bug Media reported that 84% of marketers choose to use this platform to acquire leads.

Remember, business growth can be a difficult and long-term process, and a sign of sustainable progress is a steady increase in sales, rather than random sale spikes. Following these tips will give you insight and overview, allowing you to scale your operations up gradually. Good luck!

5 Minutes With Lucy Paine

Welcome to the third instalment in our series of blogs that look at all aspects of the challenges facing small businesses. For our third edition, we sat down with Lucy Paine from TechSpark who is leading their Tech Swindon ecosystem development project.

What was your background prior to Tech Swindon?

Very varied, I have worked for Pre IPO start-ups in Silicon Valley, within tech and education companies in sales, partner management and marketing, run my own business and most recently spent almost five years at Sussex Innovation Centre putting all my knowledge, experience and connections into helping other people grow their companies, or take their idea into reality.

Most of my roles have been around people and collaboration looking back but I can’t claim that there was a plan.

How do you help support small businesses in your role?

Tech Swindon is a new initiative focussed upon glueing together all the great tech scene in Swindon to then nurture and develop into a community able to challenge for talent against the shiny lights of cities like Bristol and Brighton.

The support we offer ranges from creating a peer-driven Swindon Founders meet up through to one to one strategy workshops – I’m a resource for the SME tech community and what that looks like is flexible as we evolve the proposition and meet more companies.

What inspires you about working with small businesses?

Helping them progress, as a neutral resource I offer can a sounding board, challenge strategy, help them test assumptions, build a team – we are a not for profit and I am not trying to upsell services. The success of Tech Swindon will be reflected by the growth of our small business community, and I hope some of that will come from the confidence and intelligence of the support delivered.

In your opinion how important is growing your small business network, building relationships and nurturing connections to help grow a business compared to other sales/marketing activities?

There are two angles to this question – firstly running a business can be really hard, lonely and having a network of fellow founders means you can share your issues/ highs and lows with a group of peers who understand and can help.

Secondly, the old cliché of people buying people is still true even in 2020 – and through networking, you’ll meet clients, partners and connectors you’d never build any depth of credible relationship with on LinkedIn. Just be picky with your networking, but when you find a group that works commit, go each month and build meaningful engagement, don’t expect a sale, hope for an interesting conversation and it will be worth your time.

You can also use this networking to support your sales and marketing, get onto social, take a photo of the group, tag the organiser, attendees you met etc and add an intelligent comment that they will all share – again do this with integrity and they’ll start sharing your message.

What are the main challenges you see SMEs face in doing this?

Time v perceived value – I have seen some companies go to every networking event going for two months, then decide none are worth it so don’t leave the office for the rest of the year. Research a meeting, check out the attendee list and if no one there is remotely in your space don’t go – find your tribe but also throw in a random one with an interesting speaker.

I think a lot of people worry about how false networking can be, and the first time is always awkward, but the second time you’ll recognise the faces and the conversations will develop from weather to something more meaningful.

I am avoiding the word useful, just sounds too manipulative – if you only look for useful you’ll miss interesting and genuine connections are more to lead to a referral than useful ones. We’ve all met the person who starts with asking what do you do, and looks over your shoulder as soon as he/she has decided you’re not going to buy what he is selling – don’t be that person.

How do you see small business networking, building relationships and nurturing connections changing in the future? Will Tech play a bigger role?

Tech hasn’t mastered the complexities of an in-person networking connection, LinkedIn is great to keep in touch, and webinars for quick calls or training, but we get so much more done in person.

It’s just like dating, apps and matchmaking platforms all sound great, but you only know when you meet someone if it’s going to work. And while business is a different transaction the trust you build in those first meetings is why you buy/ sell/ recommend/ partner with someone.

What is the most powerful networking event you have been involved with?

Powerful networking to me is a group where I feel comfortable, with familiar faces and new ones, in a non-sales environment where the room wants to hear more about you without judgement and who are themselves well connected and able to help you make connections that impact your business – that’s the utopia of networking and very rare.

In Brighton that was the Brighton Chamber Breakfast and their success was underpinned by the team and the culture of the Chamber – there was the odd salesperson but they didn’t tend to come back, they’d missed the point!

Do you have any final words of advice for small business owners wanting to improve their network and their networking skills?

Make time for networking, research the groups around you and try a few. Prepare your 30 second “What does your business do” reply, make it natural and interesting – and then listen to all the replies you get.

LinkedIn with the people you enjoyed meeting, ignore the invitations of the ones you didn’t and commit to going to the group that has the most relevance for at least 6 months, offer to talk, offer to sponsor a lunch/ charity event and see this time as a business and personal investment.

5 Minutes with Michael Gegg

What was your background prior to South Thames Marketing?

Immediately prior to setting up South Thames Marketing, I was head of global marketing for two of Hay Group’s (a management consulting firm) four business divisions. I left Hay after four wonderful years following its acquisition by Korn Ferry. Prior to that, I was head of international marketing and events for several years at Kenexa (now part of IBM). And back in the early days, I held marketing roles at a couple of psychometric testing and recruitment firms. So, my background has always been within the professional services space.

What inspired you to set up South Thames Marketing?

As with a lot of things in life, it was circumstance! I’d left Korn Ferry and was weighing up my next move. I’d always passionately wanted to launch my own consultancy and it felt this was the right time. Three years on, I wouldn’t look back. What inspired me? Having worked my entire career in professional services, I wanted to give back; supporting firms to just get better at their marketing. Working with clients of all different sizes gives me some great diversity, but actually working with an independent consultant or a big four management consulting firm, they have similar marketing challenges, just on a different scale.

How does South Thames Marketing help professional services businesses?

We support firms in several ways. Firstly from a strategy and planning perspective. Getting under the skin of what they are currently doing, assessing what they want to achieve brand and lead-gen wise and developing a strategy accordingly. From there we either hand that over for them to implement, or clients may ask us to support in certain areas (content creation, social media, creative design, campaign development etc) because they haven’t the internal resource themselves, or in some instances outsource their marketing in its entirety to us. We also support several international firms with European expansion or expansion into Asia. But in the first instance, we get to know the client and what they are looking to achieve and build from there.

What are the main marketing challenges professional services companies face?

Great question. There are several. But I think for me the biggest is staying relevant. The web is awash with content: white papers, blogs, videos all addressing a topic – it could be Brexit, it could be productivity, it could be attracting and retaining the best talent. The challenge is getting their voice heard over everyone else who is trying to have a say on that topic. Relevance is so important.

How can professional services professionals/companies stand out from the crowd?

Being human. Too many firms will try and cram every buzzword they know into a piece because they believe it adds credence. But at the end of the day you are writing (or presenting to) another human being –  I guess it could be a robot in the future! – so you need to write accordingly. My biggest tip always is when you’ve written something, read it back to yourself and then ask the question ‘if you’re sitting opposite that person in a business meeting or pitch’ is that how you would speak? If not, then start again. We’re all humans, including your clients!

How would you say professional services companies differ from other industries when it comes to marketing?

I’m probably biased here, but I think if you can succeed in professional services marketing, you can succeed in any industry. Working in professional services you are challenged every day. That could be with the quality of content/materials you have to produce to stay relevant or stakeholders you have to manage in-house, who all have an opinion that is apparently right! Succeed in this market and you’ll succeed in others. Yes, I know every sector will probably say similar, but come and spend a month in professional services and let’s have a conversation after!

What trends can you see happening in professional services marketing?

It’s already happening. More and more firms are adopting the new exciting digital technologies that are out there. The key is integrating your tech stack and maximising the insights you gain from the data.

What’s the best marketing campaign you have been involved in?

One of the last campaigns we rolled out at Hay Group was a campaign that explored the connection between employee and customer engagement. At its core was a report, where we’d undertaken an in-depth survey, but we’d then managed to interview and involve several of our clients from around the world. This was important as it added credence to our voice, but also allowed us to offer some incredibly interesting global insights plus the opportunity to create a number of supporting assets: extended case studies, blogs, videos etc. We rolled out the campaign in a crazy number of countries around the world, working with our local marketing colleagues, who we had to influence that this campaign would work in their particular market. In our planning we fully involved our local marketers, so we adapted versions of the report for different markets – this is so important. We held webinars together with in-person Forums in a number of cities. I attended the London, New York, Madrid and Sao Paulo Forums in person and seeing the report in multiple languages, speakers talking so passionately and importantly just seeing it resonate with every audience member was fantastic. The ROI we achieved was outstanding. Because we had involved clients and worked closely with them in the final report, we also managed to partner with the internal PR departments of some of them, which gave us huge traction when approaching the media. But, I cannot take the full credit, my marketing manager at the time, Louise Shaw, who is now doing fantastic stuff at Deloitte in Australia – I’m really, really proud of her, drove it and the success was 100 per cent down to her. As a leader, there is no better feeling than seeing someone on your team really thrive.

What is the best marketing campaign you’ve seen?

I’m not sure the best, but I love the Adobe marketing cloud ads – if you’ve not seen them definitely check them out!

Do you have any final words of advice for professional services companies wanting to tell their story/better their marketing efforts?

I just refer to what I said earlier, please, please remember your clients and prospective clients are human beings!

How brands should behave on social media during COVID-19

The Coronavirus pandemic is perhaps the largest challenge most brands have ever faced. 

As the world changes rapidly before our eyes it’s vital that we respond appropriately in this trying time. Companies are finding themselves being challenged by consumers like never before – be it about the treatment of workers or how they’re contributing to the cause, how your brand acts on social is more important now than ever before.

Your inclination might be to go quiet across social media. We understand that urge. How do you compete with a global pandemic? Is it even ethical to do so? A number of high profile brands directly affected by the pandemic have made that decision –  there hasn’t been any Twitter activity from easyJet since 17th February as they contend with refunding and rearranging their customer’s flights and hand sanitizer producer Purell haven’t tweeted anything aside from official statements since February. Hygiene companies such as Purell could be accused of profiteering so their silence is probably a wise choice. However, unless the nature of your services or product puts your brand at risk of being insensitive, we strongly suggest you do not go dark. 

Done well, this moment represents an important opportunity for your brand. Perhaps surprisingly, SOPRO has reported that as much as two-thirds (65%) of all industries will experience stable or increased demand – with more than a third (39%) likely to see increased demand during the pandemic. Therefore, it’s vital that you keep active on social media to keep your business afloat, however, this must be done in a sensitive and appropriate manner.  

So how do you navigate this confusing time? Whether your business has temporarily ceased trading, is still in full operation or if you are contending with fewer customers (or too many panicked customers) we’ve assembled these guidelines to help you find a new focus to your digital content strategy.

First things first, 2 very important rules:

Do not try to profit from the crisis, or do anything that could be interpreted as profiteering:

A global pandemic is not a marketing opportunity. It would be not only insensitive but downright dangerous for a brand to try to profit from this tragedy. Corona (who, granted, are in a very unusual situation sharing the name of the virus) have come under fire for running a campaign for their new Corona Hard Seltzer with the tagline ‘Coming Ashore Soon’. It should go without saying, but Coronavirus is not something you want to associate your brand with. 

Do not run campaigns that could be considered ill-timed amid a global pandemic:

KFC recently paused their ‘Finger Lickin’ ads, amidst criticism that encouraging customers to lick their fingers during the global spread of coronavirus was a rather bad idea. Geico also halted their campaign ‘Perfect High Five’ after customers made noise on Twitter about how inappropriate it was. A Coors ad titled ‘Official Beer of ‘Working’ Remotely was also put on hold over concerns that the message would come across as tone-deaf as most of us transition to working from home. The lesson –  a campaign that was seemingly inoffensive a month ago could be seen in a very different light today. 

A New Social Strategy

Due to panic, curiosity or the fact that a majority of people are now stuck at home, time spent on social media is significantly up. 85% of Chinese consumers reported an increase of at-home screen usage during the outbreak. Bearing in mind that your content will likely be sandwiched between rolling news coverage on Covid-19, you should consider the following when creating content amidst the pandemic. 

Distraction

It’s important to steer your focus away from hard-selling. Remember, the increased time we are all spending online is prompting a lot of people on social media to be even more vocal than usual, particularly on platforms such as Twitter. If your company comes in trying to make a hard sell for a product that feels ill-timed, your followers will let you know about it. 

In these economically uncertain times consumers are looking for distraction, so consider what you could offer for free to provide that for your customers. Offering tips to survive lockdown is a good idea, as is providing ideas to keep the kids entertained. 

Connection

Now is the time to build a sense of trust in your brand. ‘Trust content’ allows you to spend more meaningful time connecting with your audience, something they will appreciate when things return to business as usual.  Consider creating long-form content such as articles, video series, podcasts or training content. Adjusting the volume of social media content, you post is perfectly reasonable right now. Give additional attention to creating high quality, meaningful trust content instead.

Figure out how your company can create good will and stand by your customers during this time.  Be it offering more customer service across social or extending return windows, it’s a chance to deepen that all-important brand awareness and trust.

Community-building 

People are seeking social communities online like never before. Virtual communities are popping up across social media – from bands performing live streamed concerts to fitness trainers providing live streamed classes – people are coming together for a whole new type of experiential moment. If your brand can offer this type of experience, great! If not, think of other ways you can rally your audience together, such as sharing content that connects us all to help build that feeling of coming together over a common cause.

Consider changing the focus of your campaigns from hard-selling to raising brand awareness. Community- building should be the focus of your social campaigns, maintaining your recognition level, so your customers can respond when they are ready to spend. For instance, set new conversion goals on your Facebook campaigns so they are raising brand awareness rather than trying to make sales. 

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

With the indefinite timeline of the Covid-19 pandemic, it can be challenging to look to the future, but brands can serve a vital role in doing this. This does not mean offering discount codes for 6 weeks down the line, but just providing simple positive messaging that reminds us all this will come to an end. Switzerland’s tourist board is a particularly good example of this, giving their social media followers a slice of Switzerland from afar, using hashtags like #neverstopdreaming and #staystrong to bolster morale.

Companies must remember that there will be a point someday where everything will return to business as usual. If your business has gone quiet on social media for months on end the effects could be catastrophic; customers would have good reason to think you had gone out of business during the pandemic. Instead, use this time to distract, connect with and support your customers. If you can successfully adapt and offer your customers value in this time of uncertainty, you will win their trust and when normal life resumes and they do spend again, it will be with you. 

Make LinkedIn work for your small business this year

LinkedIn has long been known as the home of B2B discussion, and in 2020 the opportunities to engage and grow your business are expanding. Companies of almost any kind can benefit from maintaining a LinkedIn presence, and although it does require a dedicated, platform-specific approach, the numbers speak for themselves:

  • LinkedIn has more than 645 million users, across more than 200 countries and territories; 
  • LinkedIn has added nearly 150 million new members in the past two years;
  • 94% of marketers use LinkedIn to publish content;
  • Of the LinkedIn users who are engaging with the platform monthly, 40% access it on a daily basis;

LinkedIn is the world’s largest and most active professional networking platform and your company page represents a huge opportunity to establish your brand as an industry thought leader, as well as attract top talent from around the globe. Here’s how to optimize your business page and improve your presence, authority, and recruitment prospects on the platform.

How to create and optimise your page

Step 1

Log in to LinkedIn. Click the work icon on the top right corner of the page. Then click create a company page.

Step 2 

Select small business from the list of options.

Step 3

Fill out your company’s name, a public LinkedIn URL, your business’ website and your business’ industry.

Step 4

Check the verification box to confirm you are authorised to represent your company, then click create a page. If you don’t have enough connections, you may not be able to create a community page. If this happens, build your network then try again. 

Step 5

To really unlock your business page’s potential, you need to optimize your page – according to LinkedIn, completed pages get 30% more weekly views. Start by identifying keywords and using them throughout your page.

Include relevant keywords at the very beginning of your company tagline as well as in your headline, overview, specialisms and life section. Keyword research will help you understand the actual search terms that people enter into search engines. Use tools such as Moz Keyword Explorer or SEMRush to help you. 

Step 6

Using those keywords, write a strong ‘About’ section. Work up an engaging overview of your business, that answer the following questions:

  • Origin Story: Where did our idea and passion come from?
  • Vision: What future do you want to help create?
  • Values: What core values support our vision and decision making processes?
  • Positioning: Who are our customers and where do we fit?
  • Products/Services: What are our core product & service offerings?

Step 7

Creating backlinks to your company page will help boost your SEO ranking. A good way to do this is to ask your employees to update their LinkedIn profiles so that their page’s a link back to your business.

Step 8

The best way to improve your company’s ranking is to regularly share relevant content. Read on to discover the best type of content to share.

What posts to share

Social media content is all about who you want to reach and if it will drive viewers down your marketing funnel. Here are a few types of content that work especially well on LinkedIn, including a deep-dive into video, our top-tip for 2020.

Publishing how-to blogs or list posts

Writing informative articles is a great way to raise your visibility and start conversations on LinkedIn. It demonstrates your industry expertise and positions you as a thought leader. How-to blogs and list posts receive the most attention on LinkedIn, and given their easily digestible formatting it’s easy to see why.

Sharing Industry-Adjacent Content

The key to LinkedIn articles is to consistently share information that interests your clients. This content gives you the opportunity to showcase other topics you’re familiar with that could be helpful to clients. Customers remember smart people who offer up reliable advice, so sharing industry-adjacent content helps keep you top of their mind in the long run.

PowerPoints and PDFS

LinkedIn owns the service SlideShare, which offers tools to help you make your own presentations. Take advantage of their tools and courses and share original slideshows on your LinkedIn page. 

Make Predictions

Prediction posts at the start of the year are a winning tool for boosting your LinkedIn engagement. Making predictions about your industry positions you as a sector leader and encourages people to share their opinions with you.

LinkedIn Video

Video is 5 times more likely than other types of content to start a conversation amongst LinkedIn members, so it’s a great tool for increasing brand awareness, offering a more human side to your company. 

According to Wyzowl’s 2019 State of Video Marketing…

  • 79% of people say a brand’s video has convinced them to make a purchase
  • 87% of people would like to see more videos from brands.
  • What’s more, 59% of executives agree that if both text and video are available on the same topic, they are more likely to choose video.

Despite this, video is still a relatively untapped marketing channel. Don’t be put off by a lack of budget of technical know-how, you can create this content affordably in – house your video content doesn’t necessarily have to be professionally produced to be effective. Here are a few ideas for creating that captivating video content.

Create screencast tutorials and presentations. 

A screencast is simply a video recording of your computer screen accompanied by audio narration. Use a PowerPoint presentation or high-quality visuals, and narrate as if you were giving a presentation. Screencasts are one of the most cost-effective techniques for producing video content and are the perfect place to start if you’re camera shy or don’t have a video camera. 

Show behind the scenes of your business


Giving your followers a backstage pass offers a unique insight into your business – why not highlight your best employees, or flaunt your office culture and brand values?

Try DIY animated videos

Hiring professionals to make animated videos will set you back a fair bit, so why not try giving it a go yourself? Animated videos are a great tool for simply explaining concepts, whilst enchanting your viewers. Try cloud-based animated video creation platforms such as Sparkol or Vyond. These platforms are not free but are more affordable than employing a professional, and many of them offer free trials. 

Share video testimonials from happy customers

User-generated videos take the pressure off your company to produce content while offering social proof – something you can never get enough of as a business. Customers product reviews, social media shout outs and testimonials are invaluable tools to grow your business, and if they are video testimonials, even better! To cultivate your customers, why not consider offering them discount codes in exchange for video testimonials of your product. 

Interview experts and thought leaders

Associating your business with influential thought leaders in your field will help you become recognized as an industry leader. Interviewing experienced leaders in your industry is a tried-and-tested way to build trust and authority with your target audience.

Pro tip: Add subtitles to your video content – studies have found 39% of people are more likely to finish a video with subtitles.

How to grow your followers

You’d think out of 645 million users, it wouldn’t be that difficult to quickly build your connections, but after you’ve exhausted your own contacts list it can be a challenge, especially when you want to make sure those connections are relevant and add value to your network. Here are some simple steps to help grow your followers:

Add a page link in your signature

If you’re already emailing someone professionally, it’s likely your page will interest them.

Add the follow company plugin to your website

This drives visitors from your website to your LinkedIn, increasing your reach.

Ask your employees to add your page to their current work experience

This will help you get more backlinks and gives you the opportunity to share your employees’ best posts on LinkedIn, profiling your top talent as well as leveraging their networks.

Mention companies and pages in page updates

By mentioning companies with the @ symbol it’s easier for them to reshare your content in front of your audience. Think about the companies you admire and have strong followings and mention them in your updates. 

Keep it up

Post consistently – according to LinkedIn, pages that post daily get twice the member engagement. Try the 3, 2,1 technique to keep your content varied- every week aim to post 3 pieces of industry-related content, 2 pieces of ‘proud’ content (content that makes your employees and followers feel good) and just one piece of product-related content.

Remember to engage promptly – reply, comment and ask questions and keep your business details and photos up to date. Building a community on LinkedIn requires attention.

Make LinkedIn work for your small business this year

There are endless opportunities to make your small business LinkedIn Page work wonders for your company. Of course, running a small business can be challenging, but with a good plan in place and the right tools, LinkedIn can be a fantastic tool for helping your company grow. We hope you’ve found this guide helpful, and are inspired to make LinkedIn work hard for you in 2020!

5 Minutes with Joseph Bradfield

Welcome to the first in a new series of blogs that look at all aspects of the challenges facing small businesses. For our first edition, we sat down with Joseph Bradfield from the business support incubator Sussex Innovation Centre (SINC), to find out how small businesses can better use PR.

What’s your role at SINC?

I spend about half my time promoting what SINC does and the other half working as a consultant with our members. The consultancy part of my role involves helping businesses define their message and helping them better tell their story.

I also run workshops helping businesses find the most compelling message about their product and help with topline communications strategy. I help people write press releases and stories and find contacts in the media, and I will occasionally do a bit of copy editing for people, all sorts really, anything communications related.

How does the Sussex Innovation Centre help small businesses?

SINC is a business incubation network, supporting entrepreneurs, start-ups and scale-ups across the South East. Marketing is one key service we offer. Essentially we provide some of the functions that you might get by employing an agency, but we try to find ways of making it more lean and cost-effective. 

One of the ways we do that is through the support of the catalyst team, a graduate scheme of recent Sussex grads who assist the startups with on the ground, day-to-day work. They’re overseen by our senior team and learn crucial skills. The scheme offers a more cost-effective option for the startups as it means we can support them at a much cheaper rate, at a point when they don’t necessarily have the budget to recruit a team of seasoned pros.

Small businesses seem to be talking a lot nowadays about social media and email marketing, but less so about PR and communications. Why do you think that is?

I think PR is a bit of a mystery to a lot of small businesses, it feels like something that’s off in the distance that only big companies do. Social media is something that everyone uses day to day for their own social lives so there’s a lower barrier to entry because you understand the rules, but PR is not really that different from social media – it’s about starting conversations with people, trying to find common ground on things they’ll be interested in and leveraging that to help spread the word through those third parties. 

The problem is, people don’t necessarily know as much about the internal workings of a newspaper. Knowing who to approach is a genuine barrier to entry and it’s something that a large proportion of the costs that an agency will ask for come from. 

For the national press, it’s about finding the one person within the publication who focuses on the niche subject area that you’re trying to position your story for. For the trade press, it’s about finding those smaller publications who may only have 4,000-5,000 readers but they’re actually interested in your industry and are interested to read what you have to say. Generally, for the national press, they’ll be looking for an unusual angle or something they’ve not heard before that’s entirely new to the wider public. For the trade press, you can get a lot more opinion pieces.

Social media and PR really are two sides of the same coin – you can identify which journalists are writing about specific topics from their twitter feed. Rather than going to somebody with a pre-built story and trying to convince them it’s something they should write about, the best way of getting good PR is to spot when a journalist has got a question they can’t answer, usually they’ll be asking around on twitter about it and inserting yourself into that conversation as a forerunner to being their trusted authority on the subject. It’s important to respond as quickly as you can – the 24-hour news cycle means that most journalists want to wrap up whatever story they’re currently working on so they can move on to the next one.

How do you suggest preparing to jump on those key moments?

Everything you do should be focused on preparing the material you can repurpose again and again. Get yourself some good photography because most stories are gonna need a striking image to go alongside them, get yourself a decent relatively brief bio that outlines who you are, the key points of what your personal journey is and what 3-5 topics you can talk about with authority. And then it’s playing the waiting game. You might have to do a bit of reshaping when a particular story comes along, but you’ve got 90% of the work done already so you can fire off a tweet or respond with an email to somebody when a story happens. 

If there’s a breaking news story in your field then that’s the time to go to your list of journalists in a spreadsheet and say ‘in light of today’s news, I’m free to comment’. Usually the journalists are desperate for that. Just think – they have to fill 100 pages of space a day if they are working on a national newspaper, even more through their online channels, and most of the time they understand a bit about the industry but they’re not experts in it. Having an authority to give them a couple of paragraphs of context really makes the story.

So if you’re a small business and you want to announce a new product launch for instance, but you haven’t got breaking news to jump on, what strategy should a business consider?

It’s worth writing a launch press release because it gets your name out there, but the likelihood is that it’s not going to get picked up unless somebody has a segment that it’s perfect for, for instance a weekly app roundup. In which case, find out who writes that feature and send it to them – a lot of people try to sell their product without understanding the publication they’re speaking to. You have to remember they’re incredibly busy people getting hundreds of emails a day, so you’re basically trying to do half of their job for them. If you can format things to fit with what they’re looking for that’s going to help as well, so if you look at that app review segment and see that each one has a screenshot of the front page of the app next to it then send them that screenshot.

What trends can you see happening in PR?

The Hero’s Journey is a big talking point right now. Recently it’s been something that’s been applied to the entrepreneur’s journey, it’s a way of framing your story that’s a bit more compelling than just saying ‘this is my product, this is what it does for people.’ The Hero’s Journey encourages you to tell the story of why you built your product, as well as revealing what things have got in the way as you’ve tried to build the product. It’s more human, more real – those are the bits people learn from. 

Think about the film The Social Network – the bit that’s interesting about the Facebook story is Mark Zuckerberg in his dorm room getting in trouble with the university because he’d stolen loads of data. That’s the bit they made a movie about, not the bit about Facebook being a giant multibillion dollar company. Please don’t take that as an endorsement of stealing people’s data!

What’s the best PR/communications campaign you have been involved in?

There’s a guy in the Life Sciences department here at the University of Sussex who studies the biochemistry of fungi – he has developed a chemical compound that can be used to make fungicides more effective and prevent fungi from developing a resistance. He was having a lot of trouble finding a big industrial partner to work with who saw the potential of the idea. Then researchers studying these compounds found that the same chemical process could be used to treat the ash dieback disease that’s affecting trees – now that made for a much bigger news story as it was a country wide issue which lots of publications were already covering, and had more human interest. There are only so many farmers but everyone likes going for a walk in the woodlands. 

The way we positioned that story – the headline was New Chemical Compound May Help Us To Fight Losing the Ash tree – but the second half of the press release said this is just one of many applications of this technology, we’re looking to explore how it could be used to protect cereal crops. The ash dieback story was on BBC news and the Farmers Guardian picked it up. Then, an agrochemical chemical company got in touch and were interested in developing the product to help protect cereal crops. It’s about leaping on the bit of the story that’s news and using that as an opportunity to talk about the bit that you’re really interested in selling.

What is the best PR campaign you’ve seen?

Great PR campaigns make use of whatever resources you have at your disposal. If you look at Spotify, the one thing they’ve got is tonnes and tonnes of data about what people are listening to, so they make that the central appeal of all of their marketing.

They’ll send out a story every week saying, for instance, this Valentine’s Day we noticed people are listening to a lot of ‘I’m All Outta Love’ and ‘Without You’. It’s part of their billboard campaigns, part of their advertising campaigns and also part of their PR strategy. The best campaigns are aligned with all of your other marketing, you dig out the bits that make for the most interesting story. Lots of the companies we work with have those kind of stories because data is becoming more and more of an integral part of startup culture.

Most companies will have some kind of data-based piece they can put out. Journalists like charts, infographics, top ten lists. It’s an easy sell because you can immediately picture what the published story looks like. One of the clients in my last job was a home insurance provider and we used to do a story every year gathering the reports of all of their home inspection people to find out what things people had flushed down and blocked the drain. We would pick out the funny ones – the fringe cases that could be the headline. One guy who got called out found half a roast chicken in someones U bend – that got the journalists’ attention!

Do you have any final words of advice for small businesses wanting to pitch their story?

A good way of thinking about it is the old BBC slogan – Inform, Educate, Entertain – those are the three pillars of what makes a good PR story. You want to either tell people how to do something, educate them about something they know nothing about or entertain them. Ideally all three. At least one of them is usually a good place to start. 

Thanks to Joseph for taking time to chat with us – look out for the next ‘5 Minutes with…’ soon!

Small business marketing ideas!

As a small business that is very interested in small business marketing, we spend a lot of time each week reading tips and advice from across the World Wide Web. So, we thought we’d launch a regular round-up of some of the cool ideas that we come across just in case you have missed them.

So to kick off, here’s a few for starters.

Use Google Data Studio to Analyse Your Facebook Ads

If you are spending money on Facebook Ads to increase reach, conversions etc you are going to want to fully understand your Facebook ad performance. One really good way of doing that is through Google Data Studio.

This article by Social Media Examiner covers how to better track and analyse your Facebook advertising campaigns performance with this free tool.

Get Creative!

Want to be the same as your competitors? Of course not. That would be silly.

From Speed dating with potential customers to Alignment with trade associations, this article by All Business has some brilliant approaches by 10 entrepreneurs that are not scared to look outside the box when it comes to marketing their business and products.

Video marketing is leading the way for ROI

Everyone’s talking about video marketing, and for good reason: there’s power in video, especially for small businesses. Video grabs users’ attention and engages them to a greater extent than text (apart from this blog of course).

We can’t think of a better form of media to engage your target audience than video. 83% of businesses say that video provides a good return on investment and ROI and research by Moovly found that you are 53 times more likely to show up on the first page of Google if you have a video embedded on your site. As Middle Table say; with numbers like that, what’s not to love!

Build your LinkedIn community in just 5 minutes a day

Are you maximising your presence on LinkedIn?

It’s possible to start building your personal network with just 5 minutes effort a day so no more “I don’t have the time” excuses!

South Thames Marketing show you how…

We hope you find some these useful and if you are looking for any tips/advice on how to better maximise social for your business drop us a line. As fellow small business owners, we are happy to chat and advise without obligation. We’re just pleased to help where we can.

 

How to grow your LinkedIn network in just 5 minutes a day

As a small business are you maximising your presence on LinkedIn? Our favourite B2B platform has now got more than 630 million members – 21% of the entire global workforce –  yet, despite its huge number of members, many people are still not using the platform to its full potential.

Despite a growing number of small firms and independent consultants stepping up their social strategies; in what is an increasingly competitive market, many still have work to do.

Research shows that nearly 60% of people now consult social media before making their buying decisions. 70% of them use LinkedIn, so it really is more important than ever to ensure you have a strong, thriving network.

Building your community is all about making connections. So, this month we’ll show you how dedicating just 5 minutes a day to strategically building your first-degree connections can exponentially improve your access to new clients and professional opportunities.

So, whether you’re aiming for that 501st connection, or just want to make your profile work harder for you, read on as we show you how to grow your network by investing just 5 minutes a day.

1. Personalise and connect

Follow up with everyone you meet (or wanted to meet but didn’t) at networking events. You can only do so much at a conference, so use the power of LinkedIn to make those connections count. Before you hit connect make sure you send a personal message, explaining who you are and where you met (remember, this is not the time to sell your services). Dig out those business cards and get searching.

2. Update your status daily

Simply having a LinkedIn profile is not enough to keep those connections coming in. Like any social media platform, you need to engage and participate. As you would on Facebook or Twitter, make sure your content adds value, stays on brand and includes a call to action. Try sharing relevant articles, videos or blog posts.

Keep yourself present in your connection’s feeds to give them more opportunity to like and share your posts. This will get you introduced to their connections and offers a great opportunity to grow your network. When connections share your content it is social proof that you’re an expert in your field, which might encourage those 2nd-degree connections to reach out to you.

3. Participate in groups

It’s impossible to engage on a one-to-one level with hundreds of connections. Here’s where LinkedIn groups are a great way of making and maintaining those new connections. Join relevant groups and pick a handful to stay active on, but avoid marketing yourself or your business. Participate in (or better yet, initiate) group discussions.

If you are a member of any ‘real world’ networking groups look through their membership directory and find those contacts on LinkedIn. Remember to customise your connection request and reference the group you are both in.

You can also consider starting your own group. A certain level of kudos will come with this, and people are keen to connect with experts. When they join they are likely to connect with you.

4. Promote your profile

This is a great way to take advantage of your presence on other platforms. Make sure you have customised your URL, then place your LinkedIn profile link in your email signature, add it to your website, include it on your business cards and list it on your social media bios. This tip is easy to achieve and can really drive your traffic and therefore connections.

5. Engage

Keep an eye on your wall and be sure to share, comment on and like your connections updates and posts. There is always a lot going on with LinkedIn – new jobs, birthdays, job changes. Interacting with these important milestones is a great way to develop relationships as well as building new connections, as it will give you more visibility on the platform.

Conclusion

Give just 5 minutes of your day to one of these tasks and you’ll be able to track your success as your number of connections starts to grow. When you connect with the right people on LinkedIn you are truly taking advantage of one the best networking tools at your disposal, putting you one click away from meeting any one of those 630 million members.

If you would like some support with your LinkedIn or wider social media strategies, we’d love to chat.

A version of this post originally appeared on our good friends at South Thames Marketing’s blog.

Taking advantage of the benefits of Twitter for small business

Let’s be honest, Twitter is an interesting world! We follow our favourite celebrities or footballers and we’ve winced at some of the stuff they’ve shared. A scandal hits and one of the first places we turn to is Twitter! We’ve also all had that sneaky look when our phone signal goes down, just to see the comical responses that people post. Why do people get so angry? It can be an intimidating, as well an interesting place!

And in a professional sense, it can be a place where you might think, it’s best just to steer clear and concentrate your efforts on LinkedIn – especially within the B2B world.

Yet, Twitter is actually a very powerful marketing tool and an extremely effective and valuable one to build relationships with your clients (and prospective clients). We’ll be honest, we love it!

You can learn an incredible amount about your customers; you can engage with them; you can make your brand more human and importantly, you can add value by sharing relevant and engaging content. It’s also a great way to stay ahead of what’s happening in the industry and build awareness of your firm. What is there not to like? What’s more, it’s free.

However, the reason people don’t appreciate the value and power is that they do not appreciate the time and effort that is required. You get out of Twitter, what you put in!

So, here are some of our quick tips to help you find that value:

Understand what you want to achieve.

What are your goals? Is it…

  • Increasing sales?
  • Becoming a customer support channel?
  • Increasing brand awareness?
  • Tracking industry trends?

Maybe, it’s a combination of the four, but always be clear and remember you can’t be all things to everyone.

Have a clear content plan

Posting interesting and engaging content, such as blogs and white papers, is important to maintain the interest of your followers. Relevant content grows your following and increases your brand awareness. Complement your own content with relevant third-party content that will be of interest to your following. But, have a plan and remember you need to be tweeting around 3-4 times day. Mix your content up, use images, create GIFs, embed videos – make sure your newsfeed is engaging and looks your own.  But don’t forget while ‘quantity’ is important when it comes to tweeting, it cannot be at the expense of ‘quality’. If you over-post, you run the risk of coming across like an aggressive spam account.

Use Hashtags

Make sure you use relevant and popular hashtags in your tweets. Look at what hashtags are trending with your target audience. This play a big part in growing your following.

Engage, engage, engage

Twitter is not just a place for broadcasting announcements, you have to engage with your community. Retweet posts you find interesting. Add a comment or click Like. If someone comments on your posts, good or bad, reply – professionally! You’ll get positive results from Twitter when you genuinely engage with people, but this requires a time commitment. One simple tip: just take 5/10 minutes a day, maybe during your commute home, to scroll through your feeds and comment and retweet.

In most industries, Twitter is full of influencers; make sure you also follow, retweet, comment and like their posts. If you can build up a relationship with these individuals, there is a chance they will begin retweeting your content. The benefit? They have significant reach and exposure.

Measure and keep track

Twitter analytics enables you to analyse your activities:

  • You can track the performance of your tweets daily and monthly. From this, you can get an understanding of what kinds of content gets the best engagement and you can tailor your plan accordingly. It will also give you an indication of the most effective times to post.
  • You can also track how your following has increased/decreased over the last 30 days, and how many new followers you’ve received per day. You can, therefore, look at what kinds of content was posted on the days you lost followers, did you post too much that day?

Finally, don’t expect overnight results. It takes time to build a relevant and engaged community. So, stick with it and the success will follow – no pun intended!

Twitter is an ‘interesting’ world, but it’s also an extremely effective one. If you would like some support with your Twitter or wider social media strategies, we’d love to chat.

A version of this post originally appeared on our good friends at South Thames Marketing’s blog.