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Archive for January, 2013

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