EASY SMALL BIZ MARKETING #7 Help! What’s My USP?

March 8th, 2013

Unique selling point. We know it’s important but how many of us can say instantly what ours is? If you’re not sure what yours is then these tips might help.

USP – why all the fuss?

Well it directly impacts on your sales because knowing what is UNIQUE about your business and what sets you apart from your competitors is what will prompt your customers to buy from you rather than them. So USP = $$$$!

How To Get Yours!

To know what sets you apart from your competitors, you need to do some research into what they offer. A quick approach would be to identify say 3 or 4 of your main competitors and jot down what each one of them does well and not so well in your opinion. Put the positives down under “strengths” and the negatives down under “weaknesses”.

This is part of doing a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). There is more information on how to do this in the post EASY SMALL BIZ MARKETING – #5 Know Your Competitors

Once you’ve done strengths and weaknesses for your competitors, do the same for your business and compare them. Ask yourself: What can you offer that is different or more appealing to customers?

The answer to that question is your unique selling point.

In our case, for example, with our SliQ Invoicing Plus software, our product has a low, one-off purchase price for unlimited usage. This is much better value for small businesses, as many of our competitors charge a monthly fee and often charge a higher rate for heavier usage.

What Do I Do With MY USP Now I have It?

Let your customers know at every opportunity! Make your USP your key message in your promotional activity. So make it prominent on your website and social media channels and any print media or advertising.

Ideally when promoting your USP to your customers, you should describe it in terms of how it benefits them. For more on this, see our other post:

EASY SMALL BIZ MARKETING #6 SELL MORE. SHOW HOW YOU BENEFIT YOUR CUSTOMERS.

EASY SMALL BIZ MARKETING #6 SELL MORE. SHOW HOW YOU BENEFIT YOUR CUSTOMERS.

February 28th, 2013

It’s been a while since my last post but we’ve had a busy time here at “SliQ Towers” releasing the latest version of our Invoicing Plus software. So, back to the marketing series.

We’re looking in this post about what you’re offering your customers (product features and benefits). Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your customers are interested in finding out all about what you’re selling. They’re usually only interested in how it can benefit them. Sounds harsh but true. If you only have a short amount of time to capture the interest of a potential customer, you’d better make sure in those precious few seconds that you’re talking to them about how you can improve their lives!

What we’re talking about here is FEATURES VS BENEFITS.

A FEATURE is a description or characteristic of your product or service. A BENEFIT is the advantage that the feature brings to the customer or what makes him or her better off. The founder of make-up giant Revlon is famous for saying: “In our factory, we make lipstick. In our advertising, we sell hope”.

Do you know the difference between the features and benefits of what you’re selling?

Why not make a list of the features and then alongside them, list the possible benefits that this might bring the customer? Benefits can be practical (saving time) or emotional (making someone feel good about themselves).

I had a go at doing this for some of the features of our SliQ Invoicing Plus software:

FEATUREBENEFITS
Simple to useSpend less time on invoicing and more time running the business
One off fee for unlimited useSave money to invest elsewhere in business or more profit.
Customisable invoice templatesGives your business a professional image and using your logo promotes the company brand which may result in repeat business.
Runs wide range of reportsHave instant information about who owes money in order to chase payment and improve cashflow. Spend less money on accountants.
Email invoices and reminders directSave on paper costs and hit your environmental targets

It’s not as easy as it seems but if you have a go at doing this, what you write in your “benefits” section will make good promotional copy on your website or other promotional materials.

By the way, I decided to change the title of this blog post to reflect what I’m talking about. I added the “Sell More”, as that would be a key benefit to any business owner reading the tips here.

EASY SMALL BIZ MARKETING – #5 Know Your Competitors

January 18th, 2013

A competitor is any business that has the potential to take away customers from you. They could be offering a similar product or service to you but sometimes they might not even operate in the same industry as you, so may not be immediately obvious.

Those offering the same or similar products and services are called “direct competitors”. In the example of our online luxury pet goods business, our direct competitors would be other online designer / pet shops. Although our customers local pet shops are unlikely to stock the same type of unique and luxury products they are an “indirect competitor” in that customers may decide to buy something less unique from them because it suits them for other reasons.

There are a number of ways in which businesses can compete with you. One of them is pricing.
A competitor may reduce the price of what they’re offering to gain more customers from you or increase their share of the market.This may mean that you have to run your business more efficiently in order to be able to reduce your costs and lower your price accordingly.

They can also offer customers benefits other than price. They may for example be more accessible or convenient to shop with. One online fashion retailer has recently offered customers a next day delivery service if they order before 9pm which sets them apart from their competitors. In other cases something about a competitor’s product or service may be unique and not available elsewhere. When the dyson company promoted the first vacuums without bags for example.

The key to staying ahead of the competition is knowing yours and their strengths & weaknesses. Most people have heard of a business SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). Hopefully you’ve considered yours when starting your business. If not, here is a good article on how to do it. http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_05.htm#business

Take a bit of time to find out what your competitors strengths and weaknesses are. What is good and not so good about what they’re offering? How does your business compare? What can you offer that is different or more appealing to customers?

Also see our posts on knowing your products’ Features vs Benefits and Your USP

So by this stage you should have a very good idea about what your customers are looking for, what is already being offered to them and what it is that you can offer them that will appeal. Hold on to these ideas because they are like precious gold dust for using in your promotional materials!

How did you find out about your competitors? Did you approach any yourself? What sort of tips would you give others in your position?

Excel Invoice Templates – Totally Free from SliQTools!

January 18th, 2013

Do you want your invoices to look professional? Include all the right information? Don’t have time to create it all from scratch yourself? Well look no further because we’re giving away to our SMB friends some slick and efficient templates.

As well as invoice templates we have quotes and delivery notes too. Just add your company details and you’re ready to go. They’re free and they’re ready to download and use right here. No fuss, no registering your email address etc. It’s all quick and easy, which is how we like it here at SliQTools!

If you like these, perhaps you might return the favour and tell others about them. Also if you want an even smarter solution to your invoicing, do take up the free trial of our quick and easy invoicing software. It’ll take care of all your needs for quoting, invoicing, purchase orders, storing product and customer information and running reports. And it is very reasonably priced if you decide to buy.

You can directly download the templates in Microsoft Excel by clicking on the pictures below. Or to see bigger previews of the templates and find out more, visit our free invoice templates page.

INVOICE TEMPLATE

 

INVOICE PAID TEMPLATE

 

QUOTE TEMPLATE

 

DELIVERY NOTE TEMPLATE

 

Let us know how you get on with the templates. We also regularly share news and tips for small businesses here on our blog so do stay tuned!

EASY SMALL BIZ MARKETING – #4 Knowing Your Customers

January 8th, 2013

To increase the chances of success for your business you’ll need to find out about your existing and potential customers – also known as your Target Market. Of course you’ll need to know how to find and reach these customers. But also think about whether they need or want what you’re selling? What influences their buying decisions and what prices they are prepared to pay?

So have a think about who is likely to be interested in buying your product or service. You could start by thinking about your ideal customers and jotting down the answers to these questions:

What do you know about them?
Where can they be found?
What sort of thing matters to them?
What are they concerned about?
What do they need?
 

 

The answers to these questions will help you word any promotional messages more personally and effectively. Using our fictional luxury pet items online business, POSH PETS as an example, I might say:

My ideal customers are pet owners with significant income
Or pet owners with a special bond with their pet
Or someone looking for a special gift for a pet owner
They can be found at pet retailers and vets
They could be found at retailers of high quality or designer gifts & goods
They have internet access and shop online
Their relationship with their animal matters to them
Having high quality, fashionable and / or unique items are important to them
They are concerned that the item is good enough for the pet
They need the items to reflect well on them and not to look cheap or common.

 

The more specific you are, the better. I cannot say this loud enough: THE MORE SPECIFIC YOU ARE THE BETTER :-) Targeting your efforts at the “general public” is too vague and unlikely to gain success

Different customers have different needs, behave differently and obtain and respond to information in different ways. Knowing your specific audience allows you to give them a message that is relevant to them, using a method that is appropriate. For example, we now know that POSH PETS customers are more likely to respond to our products in a smart-looking, well designed, online retail environment. They are also more likely to respond to promotional messages about the items being unique and good quality rather than messages about getting the best deal or saving money. The goods can be reasonably priced but that needn’t be a promotional message.

So how to carry out the research? If you already have contacts or customers you can ask them their views either by talking to them or phoning or emailing them. You can also use your Facebook or Twitter accounts for immediate feedback. There is a fantastic article on this subject here: http://bit.ly/w9aK1W

Or you can write a more formal questionnaire which could be distributed to your identified target market either by hand, by direct mail or online using something like Survey Monkey or Google Forms. You could encourage participation by offering incentives such as discount vouchers. There is more information on writing & conducting surveys here : http://bit.ly/WqG58h

What for you, are the quickest and best ways of finding out about your customers?

You may be interested in the other articles in our EASY SMALL BIZ MARKETING series:

Intro – MARKETING CHECKLIST

#1 – MARKETING BASICS

#2 – SETTING GOALS

#3 – WHY BOTHER WITH MARKET RESEARCH

EASY SMALL BIZ MARKETING – #3 Why Bother With Market Research?

January 7th, 2013

The more research you do, the better the chances of your business being successful. Why? Put very simply – if you’re trying to sell something to people, they must want it and be prepared to pay for it from you and not your competitors.

I think some small business owners are put off by the idea of Market Research because it sounds jargony, time-consuming or costly. Also some think Market Research is only relevant when starting up a business. Well it certainly pays to keep up with it regularly. In my experience many people ARE doing their own Market Research but they may not be calling it that. It doesn’t have to be formal, using questionnaires or consultants. Every time you talk to a customer about what he or she wants, or chat with a supplier or read your local or industry news, you’re conducting market research.

It’s worth checking that what you’re doing is covering the 3 main areas of research:

1. Knowing Your Customers
You need to know who specifically is going to buy from you (Your Target Market) and what they want.
Using the fictional example of our POSH PETS business, our customers will obviously be pet owners with a significant disposable income. Information from and about your customers also helps to maintain and improve your customer service, and to guide your efforts in developing new products and/or services.There’s a new post coming soon with more information on Knowing Your Customers, which will include details of where to find your customers and how to market directly to them.

2. Knowing Your Competitors
You need to know who else is out there locally or on the internet, offering a similar service or product to you. This isn’t always obvious. In the case of POSH PETS, you may think that there aren’t many retailers of luxury pet items but the lower-cost pet suppliers would also be a competitor. Keeping up with what your competitors are offering helps to to stay one step ahead and offer your customers something more attractive. It can also give you ideas for improving your products and/or services.
A new post is coming soon with more detail on this step.

3. Knowing Your Environment
It also pays to be aware of anything that may be on the horizon that might affect your sales. In particular economic, social, and political forces that shape business. Gathering information about the environment allows you to respond to particular trends or events that impact your small business. Anything that will impact on your business, you need to know about. For example keeping up with the latest technological and IT news is essential if like us you are a software developing company.

There are 2 ways of researching. Firstly by carrying out your own research, asking potential customers questions or phoning or visiting local competitors (Field Research). Secondly, by reading information collated by others in magazines, newspapers and on websites related to your industry (Desk Research).

Why not use a grid like this to help you make a note of any of your findings and keep it handy in the coming months?

CUSTOMERSCOMPETITORSENVIRONMENT
Info Gathered By Me
Published / External Info

How do you keep in touch with what your customers think and what your competitors are up to?

You may be interested in the other articles in our EASY SMALL BIZ MARKETING series:

Intro – MARKETING CHECKLIST
#1 – MARKETING BASICS
#2 – SETTING GOALS

WHAT TO INCLUDE ON YOUR INVOICE

December 20th, 2012

Do you know the essential items that you need to include on your invoices to clients? Some of this depends which country your business is based in and what your tax status is. It’s best if you check with your own tax authority for specific details. Links to various tax authorities are included.

Here’s a really useful list from UK government site www.gov.uk which lays out the common-sense basics:

  • You must clearly display the word ‘invoice’ on the document.
  • a unique identification number
  • your company name, address and contact information
  • the company name and address of the customer you are invoicing
  • a clear description of what you are charging for
  • the date the goods or service were provided (supply date)
  • the date of the invoice
  • the amount(s) being charged
  • VAT amount if applicable
  • the total amount owed

Hands up how many of you had all the items? I confess I had been missing one of them off for years until I started working here at SliQTools – oops!

If you are a UK VAT registered business, there are different things you need to include, explained at the HMRC website

Wouldn’t life be easier if there were ready made invoice templates to use you say? Well, luckily enough, we’ll soon be providing just that! Free invoice templates for you to download, use and share as many times as you like. Do check back in the new year when we will hopefully have them loaded up for you once we’ve stopped merry making and dragged ourselves back into work!

And with that, we’d like to wish a happy holiday season to you all.

Links to tax authorities by Country:

Country

Taxation Website

Australia The Australian Taxation Office (Opens new window)
Austria Ministry of Finance (Austria) (Opens new window)
Argentina Argentina Tax Information (Opens new window)
Azerbaijan Ministry of Taxation (Opens new window)
Bangladesh National Board of Revenue (Opens new window)
Belgium Ministry of Finance (Belgium) (Opens new window)
Brazil Federal Revenue of Brazil (Opens new window)
Canada Canada Revenue Agency (Opens new window)
China (Hong Kong) Inland Revenue Department (China (Hong Kong)) (Opens new window)
Croatia Ministry of Finance (Croatia) (Opens new window)
Cyprus Ministry of Finance (Cyprus) (Opens new window)
Denmark Central Customs and Tax Administration (Opens new window)
Egypt State Information service – Taxes (Opens new window)
Estonia Ministry of Finance (Estonia) (Opens new window)
Falkland Islands Taxation Office (Opens new window)
Faroe Islands Customs and Tax Authorities (Opens new window)
Finland Ministry of Finance (Finland) (Opens new window)
France Ministry of Finance (France) (Opens new window)
Germany Ministry of Finance (Germany) (Opens new window)
Gibraltar Information Services (Opens new window)
Greece Ministry of Finance (Greece) (Opens new window)
Guernsey Income Tax Authority (Opens new window)
Hungary Ministry of Finance (Hungary) (Opens new window)
Iceland Ministry of Finance (Iceland) (Opens new window)
India Ministry of Finance (India) (Opens new window)
Ireland Revenue Commissioners (Opens new window)
Isle of Man Treasury (Opens new window)
Israel Ministry of Finance (Israel) (Opens new window)
Italy Ministry of Finance (Italy) (Opens new window)
Japan Ministry of Finance (Japan) (Opens new window)
Jersey Jersey Customs (Opens new window)
Kenya Revenue Authority (Opens new window)
Korea, Republic of Ministry of Strategy and Finance (Opens new window)
Latvia State Revenue Service (Opens new window)
Lithuania Ministry of Finance (Lithuania) (Opens new window)
Luxembourg Ministry of Finance (Luxembourg) (Opens new window)
Malaysia Inland Revenue Board (Opens new window)
Malta Ministry of Finance (Malta) (Opens new window)
Mexico SHCP (Opens new window)
Monaco Department of Finance and Economy (Opens new window)
Morocco Ministry of Finance (Morocco) (Opens new window)
Nepal Inland Revenue Department (Nepal) (Opens new window)
Netherlands Ministry of Finance (Netherlands) (Opens new window)
New Zealand Inland Revenue (Opens new window)
Norway Ministry of Finance (Norway) (Opens new window)
Pakistan Federal Board of Revenue (Opens new window)
Peru Ministry of Economy & Finance (Opens new window)
Philippines Philippine Bureau of Internal Revenue (Opens new window)
Portugal Ministry of Finance (Portugal) (Opens new window)
Singapore Inland Revenue Authority (Opens new window)
Slovenia Ministry of Finance (Slovenia) (Opens new window)
South Africa South African Revenue Service (SARS) (Opens new window)
Spain Agencia Tributaria (Opens new window)
Sweden Ministry of Finance (Sweden) (Opens new window)
Switzerland Federal Department of Finance (Opens new window)
Thailand Revenue Department (Opens new window)
Turkey Ministry of Finance (Turkey) (Opens new window)
United States Internal Revenue Service (Opens new window)

EASY SMALL BIZ MARKETING – #2 Setting Goals

December 11th, 2012

Your marketing goals should support your business goals. So in other words your marketing goals will help you achieve the goals you have for your business.
I’ll use an example that we discussed here at SliQTools the other day. We want to increase sales of our SliQ Invoicing Plus software outside the UK. This is one of our business goals. In order to achieve this, we need to increase the volume of traffic to our .com website. So our marketing goal is to increase the number of daily visits to our website.

If you want to increase your chances of success, make sure your marketing goals are SMART. I’ve seen a few different variations of what SMART stands for but I think this one is really good:

Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Results-orientated
Time-limited

If I give you 2 examples to compare, you will see why using SMART is erm, smart!

Imagine your business, POSH PETS sells luxury accessories for pets (crystal cat collars, designer dog clothes, priceless pet beds, you get the idea!)

Example 1 – you say you want to:
Increase sales by making more people aware of the POSH PETS brand

That sounds positive but it also sounds very vague. Which people are you targeting? How will you reach them? By how much do you want to increase your sales? By when? Do you want to sell more of a particular product line? This example begs too many questions – NOT VERY SMART GOALS :-(

You’ll need to come up with something more detailed as a plan otherwise how will you know if you’ve been successful in raising brand awareness or achieving the sales figures you want.

Example 2 – you say in the next 12 months, you want to:
• Increase sales by 10%
• Raise awareness among local customers with 1 feature & 1 advert in the local press
• Set up a monthly email newsletter and gain 100 subscribers
• Promote the newsletter with a product giveaway via your website & facebook page

As you can see, this example features MUCH MORE SMART GOALS :-)

They are:
Specific – stating how much you want to increase your sales by.

Measurable – By pinpointing precise figures (10% sales increase, 2 press articles etc) you will be able to see how you performed against your targets. You can then use this information to help you set more accurate goals in the future.

Attainable – hopefully you will have considered each goal in turn and set figures and deadlines that you can realistically achieve. For example, the 10% sales increase is a realistic forecast and you that have the time and resources to invest in writing press releases and newsletter. One organisation I know who had one person doing their marketing wanted their brand to be as high profile as the local council who had a large communications team and budget to match. Erm, reality check?!!

Results-orientated- far from being vague, the goals state the precise results you want to see ie 100 subscribers. Again this helps you keep track of how successfully your business is performing.

Time-limited- putting realistic deadlines on activities helps you stay focussed. If you are new to marketing strategy and / or are pushed for time, you might consider writing down one or two goals for the next 3 months. Then review it and do the next 3 months and so on. Keeping things short term will be more manageable.

If you had to choose one marketing goal for the next 3 months, what would it be?

 

You may be interested in the other articles in our EASY SMALL BIZ MARKETING series:

Intro – MARKETING CHECKLIST
#1 – MARKETING BASICS

EASY SMALL BIZ MARKETING – CHECKLIST

December 6th, 2012

Here at SliQTools we’ve produced a series of articles providing practical marketing help for people running small businesses. A good place to start would be our article on Marketing Basics then follow the checklist here. We have provided links to accompanying articles in the list below.

 

IT’S HELPFUL TO THINK OF MARKETING IN 3 STAGES:

WHAT, WHO & HOW

To get the best results from your marketing efforts you need to address these in order, so I’ve highlighted them in traffic light colours.

 

WHAT

What do you want your marketing to help you achieve?

1. Set marketing goals that support your business goals (Marketing strategy)

Make the goals: Specific Measurable Attainable Results-orientated Time-limited

2. Consider how much time & money you have for marketing (Marketing Resources)

 

WHO

Who do you need to consider to achieve this?

1. CUSTOMER NEEDS

Carry out Market Research to find out about:

i) Existing and potential customers (Target Market)

What do you know about them?

What do they need?

Where can they be found?

Describe your ideal customer.

 

ii) What are you offering them? (Product Features & Benefits)

 

iii) Is It The Right Price? (Pricing)

 

iv) Is it in the right place for customers to find it? (Place / Distribution)

 

2. COMPETITORS

i) What are yours and their strengths & weaknesses?

ii) What do you offer that’s unique? (USP)

 

HOW

How Are you going to reach your customers most effectively?

1. THE MESSAGE

i) Can you describe your business in one sentence?

ii) How would you like your business to be known? (branding)

iii) Do you have a tagline?

iv) What do your satisfied customers say about you?

 

2. THE METHOD

i) Choosing the right promotional tools for reaching your ideal customer (brochures, website, facebook etc)

ii) Consider how your existing customers find out about you?

 

3. MEASURING

How will you measure if your promotional activity is working?

EASY SMALL BIZ MARKETING – #1 Marketing Basics

November 27th, 2012

A series of articles providing practical help for people running small businesses, who may have minimal time or money to spend on marketing. Oh yes, neither do you have to have a marketing degree or a dictionary to keep up – this is a jargon free zone!

 

In today’s article I’m introducing the different aspects of marketing and will go more into depth on these points in later posts. Do leave a comment if you have a burning question in the meantime though…

First you need to think about your:

Marketing Strategy:  In other words. What do you want your marketing to help you achieve? This should support your business goals. (if you need help with setting business goals this post may help you). As an example, if you run a local shop but now wish to trade online then you’ll want your marketing to introduce your products to new national & international customers.

 

You’ll need to consider your Marketing Resources: How much money do you have available for market research and promotional costs such as advertising or web design and hosting. Even no or low cost promotional activity such as social media, will require significant time dedicated to it. Be realistic.

 

You will need to do some Market Research so you can identify:

  • Who your target audience is
  • Who your competitors are
  • What you can offer that is unique

 

There are 2 ways of researching. Firstly by carrying out your own research, asking potential customers questions or phoning or visiting local competitors. Secondly, by reading information collated by others in magazines, newspapers and on websites related to your industry.  Market research needn’t be outsourced at great expense. Every time you talk to a customer about what he or she wants, or chat with a supplier or sales rep, you’re conducting market research.

 

Find out about your Target Market

  • Where can they be found?
  • What sort of thing matters to them?
  • What are they concerned about?
  • What do they need?

 

It’s helpful to try and visualise your “ideal customer.” What do you know about them? This will help you word any promotional messages more personally and effectively.

 

Find out about your Competitors

You should know who is out there selling something similar to what you are selling. It might not exactly match what you’re offering but do still count them. Try and find out what they are doing right, and what they may be doing wrong. If you measure your own and your competitors strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) it will help you identify areas where you can beat the competition and offer something that your competitors aren’t (your USP – Unique Selling Point).

 

Consider your Pricing Based on your research and knowledge of the market, what will you charge, and why?

 

ONLY once you’ve done the previous steps, do you need to start thinking about the most appropriate way of promoting your business. Many people think marketing is about the website, the brochure, the blog, social media. Actually these things are just one part of the whole marketing mix – the Promotional Tools. Based on all the new information you have at your fingertips about your target market and your USP, what’s the most appropriate way of reaching out to that audience and talking to them. What do they want to hear and what tool will reach them best? It’s no use ploughing time & energy into Facebook if the stats say your over 60s male target market don’t use it.

 

Finally draw up a Task List to help schedule when the tasks need to be done and by whom. It helps to keep focussed if the tasks are small and manageable and the deadlines realistic. Try scheduling tasks for the next 3 months and then review after that.

 

It would be great to hear from you. Do you find you have time to devote to marketing? If so, which activities take priority for you?

 

You may be interested in the other articles in our EASY SMALL BIZ MARKETING series:

Intro – MARKETING CHECKLIST