Communication – What business depends on

Communication is the heart of  business.

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Your business is  your big idea – your vision –  made tangible as products and services, processes and people interacting

with other people called customers.

Your success depends on how clear and  powerful your vision is – and how well you communicate it.

You need to create the right story and the systems and products to back up the promise you make to your customers.

You have to communicate with and motivate two distinct groups of people.

  • People you want to buy from you – this is called marketing.
  • People who you need to do the work to make the first group happy – this is called  leadership.

But its the same story. Integrity leads to trust and trust leads to smooth running operations.

Getting this right means listening. It’s no accident that you have 2 ears and one mouth. That’s the proportion you need to use.

So this site will tell you about some of the tools that we have found useful in learning to communicate in our own businesses – and which could well transform the way you run yours. The most important thing is that it has to be easy to get hold of you – so if you want to get hold of us just ring 0845 094 0407 or you can ask a question via the “Ask Us” tab above.

Two books to help you are “Social Media for Real Businesses” which covers the fundamentals of sales and marketing and “Growing Jobs” which is about high performance work practices.  We also have a sales and marketing course specifically aimed at the owners of small businesses. It’s called 1Man Brand and you can find out more here.

What does digital mean to us?

 Some thoughts from the Chalkface.

I’ve spent most of the Autumn teaching various flavours of Marketing at the Business School in Southampton. Introduction to, Entrepreneurial, Digital and above all the use of metrics.

One of the big ideas floating around at present is the difference between value and worth and how co-creation changes the type of offers possible in the digital world.

Here’s an attempt to get some of these ideas into a digestible form – let me know if I succeeded.

Exchange and Value

The fundamentals of business and marketing is the idea of exchange with all other things being equal the choice going to the company that adds most value.

However in the digital world value is much harder to define than in more traditional sales and marketing environments

They Buying Nexus

The buying nexus

In the networked economy it is the use to which the item is put in the context of what the person wants to do that is important.

It’s long been a truism that the only reason people buy electric drills is that they want holes – but for some reason these are not available in the hardware store – mainly because although they could in theory be offered pre-sized, they can’t be pre-located. To provide the location the user needs the drill.

So the product is bought but to achieve the value that the customer is looking for he has to bring some activity of his own to the party. And it’s also true that the context is important. Drilling a few holes to put up a shelf is part of it. But if the shelf is part of the life support system an invalid member of the family, the importance of the context and the emotional value of the drill to the purchaser has ratcheted up even though the worth – what is actually paid has not changed.

The importance of Context

It’s also true that we don’t live as individual atomised consumers despite the way economic and marketing theorists look at the world. We are part of communities and we feel a connection to other people who are part of our tribe. And if we are happy or unhappy with our purchase we’ll tell other people about it.

If the drill manufacturer recognises that this “tribe” is a valuable market segment that can be catered for specifically then it can proceed to enrich its offer and create more value for its client base.

It depends also on the individual’s relationship to their community and to the connections that they have made with their cyber chums.

You see what constitutes “value” is partly made up of the purchasers motivations, partly made up of how “relational” rather than “transactional” the interaction becomes and how many additional layers of value can be added.

The Offer Spectrum

The Offer Spectrum

Our drill under normal circumstances would be at the rational /transactional end of the spectrum. But if the right levels of support, service and online access to experiential help such as chat advice or instructional videos can be constructed and made available to an online “support” community, then the vendor has the opportunity to engage in a deeper way with the purchasers motivations and start to build some goodwill and associations which will make them the manufacturer of choice for the future.

In case you think this kind of emotional allegiance is far fetched consider the case of Coke.

This is a product that consists of sugar syrup, flavouring and fizzy water. In blind tests it’s well documented that consumers prefer the taste of their main rival – and yet. When people know what they’re drinking they vastly prefer Coke because of the associations of “cokeness” in their mind. Built on 150 years of brand building by association with “togetherness”, being American and sociability. To the extent that it has the largest intangible brand value on the planet – measured as the difference between the stock price valuation and the book value of the corporation’s assets. It’s like Sinatra’s singing. Even if you don’t like it you can still learn lots from their technique.

In the digital world it’s also true that who sees what the use is may be part of the value. This can be the rest of the user’s community in an organic way or it can be the marketplace, the search engine or the social media environment in which the interaction takes place.

Because in its own way the online world is quite Orwellian in that every transaction or interaction is tracked – by government, by the interactive space’s owner or by companies using cookies to retarget advertising to people who visited their site but failed to complete the online sales pipeline.

Market Concentration

Thomas Power, late of Ecademy, always used to remark that when the game is over, the one who has all the names will have won. The digital world has allowed the kind of market concentration that Geoffrey Moore addressed in “inside the Tornado” to happen much faster and go further. We truly are already living in a Winner Takes All world.

This process is analysed in depth in a presentation to a conference by Activate.com

Here’s a slide from the presentation that demonstrates the degree of concentration in online music.

Concentration in the Audio Market

Concentration in the Audio Market

You can access the entire presentation here http://www.slideshare.net/ActivateInc/activate-tech-and-media-outlook-2016?ref=http://activate.com/

So our task as marketers is how to construct a marketing mix and set of activities that allows us to develop offers and product/service sets by interacting with our customers both online and offline and then find ways of making them useful, enticing and compelling to the needs, motivations and aspirations of our customers.

If it was easy everyone would be doing it.

Till next time.

New Grants available for West Sussex Businesses

West Sussex county council have put aside a further pot of £600,000  to help businesses to start-up and to grow in West Sussex.

This programme is for start-ups, early-stage companies (1-2 years) and  established and growing businesses in West Sussex that are SMEs.

Job creation is the key

The proposal must create or safeguard jobs in West Sussex and the company will need to fund half the project with the grant supplying the other 50% up to a maximum of £25 k

50% of the funding available will be dedicated to specific sectors

Important sectors

These sectors are:

  • Manufacturing, particularly linked to healthcare, aviation or marine industry
  • Low carbon and renewable technologies
  • Tourism and local food
  • Care
  • Land based businesses

Suitable projects

Examples of suitable projects include

  • Purchase of machinery and equipment
  • Premises refurbishment/expansion
  • Feasibility work relating to business expansion
  • Development and implementation of business strategies to improve sales and commercial performance
  • Knowledge transfer-related activities
  • Product development
  • Efficiency improvements

Find out more now

Full details available at the Be The Business Site

You can find out more at 3 special presentations which you can book here

There are also 1 to 1 clinics available to support your application these will be held in Horsham, Worthing and Chichester – please ring Sussex Enterprise on 0844 3715400 to book your slot

 

 

Recruiting for attitude, vision and internal branding.

People who share and promote your vision

One of the projects I’m involved with right now is giving face to face business advice to local companies via a couple of county council schemes, one of which involves monitoring the progress of companies in receipt of development grants.
I recently had follow up meetings with a couple of these immediately preceding going into hospital to have a knee replacement.
Both the companies I talked to were in the business of presenting a vision of perfection to their customers – one is a boutique speciailising in Prom dresses, the other is a stunning innovative events venue. Both were suffering from staff who had been recruited without taking into account their need to have an attitude of focusing on the appearance of the place.
In our own experience the times when we have created a proper, detailed job specification before interview are when we have got the best results. So if you are running a venue where people are enacting their dreams – weddings, product launches, etc – you need to employ some one who thinks like a front of house manager rather than a maintenance engineer to make sure that the facility looks pristine.
Wally Olins in his book, Olins on Brand, once observed that in a service business you spend 90% of your time money and energy keeping your own people onside rather than promoting the product.

Internal Branding

Which brings me to the Hospital.
I had my knee done at the Horder centre in Crowborough which is a charity that has a contract with our local NHS for doing knees, hip and shoulder replacements. While it is technically a private supplier it’s ethos is more like John Lewis or the co-op.
I have never been in a place where the alignment of everyone you met with the corporate purpose is so complete. Everyone from the volunteers who show you around and carry your bags, through the staff that bring you cups of tea to the surgeon were dedicated to making you feel at home and looked after. The sense of mission was palpable.
Now whether it is easier to achieve this in a not for profit compared to a private business I’m not sure but I bet that somewhere in their selection and interview process there’s a bit about aligning with the what the organisation seeks to deliver. There’s a lesson in that for all of us.
Conventional wisdom is that you hire on ability and fire on attitude.
Maybe that’s the wrong way round.

Funded face to face business advice for West Sussex Businesses

If you are a small business in West Sussex, you can get two 1 hour face to face advice sessions for £25 the pair. funded by the West Sussex County Council “Be the Business” Programme Bring your business problem to one of our expert advisers who all have many years business experience and will help you themselves or refer you to a specialist if need be.

Popular topics include raising finance, help with business and marketing planning and advice on effective use of social media, The two sessions allow you to bring a problem, get some direction and then work together on the solution. You can book on via Sussex Enterprise through this link

The advice is given by Branduin Business Services in partnership with Sussex Enterprise under the direction of Dr Alan Rae. He said that “we are planning to deliver 450 advice sessions by the end of the programme in November. Our team can also help you access other funded support programmes such as growth accelerator and the MAS service as several of us are accredited coaches under these programmes”

Entrepreneurial Marketing

We all have the experience that marketing in small companies never happens in quite the same way as the textbooks tell you to do it. You may have wondered why.

Put baldly, the official view of marketing was developed by and for large US companies selling consumer goods to a captive audience. They have the resources to create products, and carry out expensive, broadcast promotions. And they can dominate the distribution channels.

However the vast majority of businesses operate in a quite different landscape.  Instead of being dominant, exploitative and jealously guarding information, they operate in a world of collaboration where knowledge is shared to co-create value and where continual learning about the market and each other is the order of the day. Small businesses operate like this as do service businesses and engineering companies. In fact the whole official marketing stance bears little relationship to the way business to business companies conduct their sales and marketing.

This video explores some of these issues and gives you some handy hints as to how to operate better in your own business.

 

It came about because during the Autumn I was invited to give two courses on entrepreneurial marketing at the business schools in Toulouse and Southampton.  Following on from that I gave an overview talk at the Personal Development Bureau’s meeting just before Christmas.  This is the video of the talk.  I’ll be making a further version of this with the slides embedded at a later date and will be developing a workshop.

Funded Business Support in West Sussex – Clinics, Workshops – even grants!

West Sussex County Council  have created a fund to aid small businesses in the county in partnership with Chichester University, Sussex Enterprise and the organisation I work with, Branduin Business Support.

Building Value

How to build value in your business

Some of this money is earmarked to support specific projects and some is aimed at more general business support.   The business support strand will include.

  • Enterprise road-shows
  • Business start-up clinics
  • Business boot camps
  • 1-2-1 Business advice sessions
  • Peer network

Immediately the programme extends the clinics that Branduin have been successfully delivering to Sussex Enterprise members for the last year to any West Sussex Business for £25.  You will be able to obtain impartial business advice from highly experienced general business advisers on issues you may face starting up or expanding your business.  These will be held at Sussex Enterprise Premises in Burgess Hill.  The next one will be held on 20th August 2013 – you can book by following this link.

The clinics will be run on these dates also.

  • 18/09/13
  • 23/10/13
  • 13/11/13
  • 11/12/13

The grant fund is set at £600,000 to help local start-ups and established businesses that are wishing to grow. Applicants will be required to provide 50% match funding of the total project costs.

The list below gives some examples of the type of activities which could be eligible for grants:

  • Purchase of machinery and equipment
  • Premises refurbishment/expansion
  • Feasibility work relating to business expansion
  • Business strategy to improve sales and commercial performance
  • Knowledge transfer-related activities
  • Marketing consultancy to identify new sales channels
  • Product development consultancy
  • Efficiency improvements
  • In company training

You will find more information at the Be the Business web site

Collaboration in small businesses – a University white paper available as a free download

boardroomAs you know I do a lot of research projects with Universities into how small companies use the internet. Most of this is about marketing but we also did a study into how small companies use internet tools for collaboration.

This research is written up  in the Journal of Small Business and Enterprise development. The paper describes how 12 small companies went about collaborating effectively. Some just worked together in an ad hoc way and some set up specific platforms to allow others to work together in specific ways.

Usually you have to pay to have access to papers like this. However Emerald, the publishers, selected it as a recommended article and have made it available as a free download for a short period of time – until the 13th July in fact. So you can access it here.

You can read the individual case studies and find out about how they can be classified according to how much technology they use and whether they collaborate as equals or whether the hub organisation provides the platform and sets the rules.

It’s definitely worth a read so I’d encourage you to take up the offer as under the terms of academic publishing you won’t be able to get it FOC even from me when the concession expires on the 13th.

If instead (or as well as) you would rather hear about it via a webinar, I’m going to be running a short overview webinar. It will be on Friday afternoon, 5th July at 4.30. You can register using this link. http://alanrae.clickmeeting.com/collaboration I’ll send you the password after you register.

3 Routes to funded business consultancy

3 Routes to funded business consultancy

Today, the amount of business support available to small companies that want to grow is a shadow of its former self. The coalition has administered the coup de grace to a Business Link that had been systematically run down by the Blair / Brown junta who didn’t believe in it.

3 routes to funding

3 routes to funding

And yet nature doesn’t like vacuums. I have recently joined a group of consultants, Branduin, who aim to deliver the original Business Link model as it should have been done. Support from seasoned Business Advisers with extensive business experience of their own backed up by specialists. We offer business support services mainly through local Chambers of Commerce – we’re actively working with Sussex Enterprise plus several London based chambers.

While most of the funding for business support has also been swept away there are a few programmes available for companies that can be considered high growth, that operate in the manufacturing area or are engaged in producing intellectual property. These are respectively

• The Growth Accelerator Programme
• The Manufacturing Advisory Service
• R&D tax credits.

The growth accelerator is aimed at companies that can double their turnover in a few years. Eligible companies employ less than 250. The programme unlocks a £10,000 support package over a 12 month period that includes 7 days of Business coaching, 6 external masterclasses and 50% matched funding for leadership and management training of up to £2k per manager. If you employ 4 or less people the cost to you is £600 – for 5-49 employees its £1500 and its £3000 for companies employing more than 50. Coaching can cover Leadership, change, innovation, sales and marketing, operations, finance etc.

The Manufacturing Advisory Service is aimed at companies involved in manufacture although this is defined quite widely. This is aimed a helping to fund particular projects to drive business growth, develop advanced manufacturing capabilities, create high value jobs or to improve carbon footprint or resource efficiency. The scheme will fund up to 3 projects in a fiscal year until March 2015 and will fund 50% of eligible costs up to £3k for the first project, 40% for the second and 30% for the third. A maximum of £7200 per year can be secured in this way.

R&D tax credits allow companies to offset a multiplier of R&D spend against corporation tax. It must resolve some genuine technological or scientific uncertainty and be related to your company’s trade.

Many of our group are registered so that our business support and consultancy can be part funded via these schemes. I for instance am registered as both a Growth Accelerator Coach and an MAS advisor.

If you feel that any of these may be relevant to your needs, please do contact me (07958 200112) or via the “Ask Us” tab at www.communicationinbusiness.co.uk.

Social Media (aka web 2.0) and small business collaboration

One of the exciting things that doesn’t get talked about much is the way  small companies have used the communication possibilities of web 2.0 or social media as we call it these days for collaboration.

We recently published a paper in the Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development  based on talking to 12 companies that were ahead of the game in setting up systems to allow other people to leverage the power of web 2.0 for their own ends. Some of them were collaborative groups of companies, others were building platforms that other people could use.

We effectively identified 5 key benefits and identified a 2 x 2 matrix of styles of collaboration which you may find helpful if you are planning your own business strategy in this strange 21st Century.

The Benefits were

  1. Improved operational efficiency. Most companies emphasized the benefit of web based tools in reducing operational costs and making it more cost effective to engage external resource.
  2. Increased Capacity.  Effective players used external networks to source collaborators and suppliers
  3. More effective external communication.  The companies seemed to understand the importance of building a more or less prominent web presence in order to attract customers, collaborators and suppliers.
  4. Customised offerings due to the effective use of web channels to maintain closer contact with customers and so understand their needs better.
  5. Lifestyle benefits such as reduced travel and time away from family and home location.

Analysing  the ways that companies approached the use of these technologies,  we developed a 2 x 2 matrix which set  how they worked  with other companies and players (as control vs collaboration) against their approach to the use of ICTs  – ie did they use simple or complex ICT tools to manage the business.

Simple tools include much of the basic social media and online networking capability that uses simple, free to use or low cost tools.  A more sophisticated use tended to use purpose built bespoke systems that managed the business and with which the other “ collaborators” had to engage.

It is tempting to assume that the use of sophisticated technology leads to more control being exerted but extensive experience of the use of social media suggests that this is not necessarily so.

For copyright reasons it’s not possible to discuss more here. However the paper has been given an award for excellence by the publisher  and the original will shortly be available with details of all 12 of the case studies  for free download for a period of a month. I’ll let you know when that is or you can contact me to request a copy when available via the “Ask Us” tab above

Collaboration Matrix diagram

Collaboration Matrix