Carolyn's Business MK Column Dec 2010

 
Wed 01 Dec 2010

How many businesses depend on a surge in activity over the Christmas period, only to dread the three dark months of the New Year?  For many businesses, January, February and March are months when the world seems to stop; the phones fall silent and incomes fall to solemn depths.  Once upon a time, the January sales kept the retailers smiling.  Now, with the sales starting before Christmas, even that post-Yuletide treat lacks the promise it once did.

There is a risk of going into hibernation; hunkering down in the darkness and crossing ones fingers in hope of better times once the weak spring sunshine puts in its first appearance.  Resist the temptation, burst forth from your burrow and give your reputation some of that tender loving care it has needed for so long.

With economic forecasts less than encouraging, it is probably more important than ever that small firms in Britain take the opportunity afforded by that slow down in business to do all “that stuff” which has been sitting on the “to do” list throughout the year.  Some of those jobs might cost money, and money may be a commodity which feels in short supply.  However, it is also the case that there are some great deals to be had from a range of service suppliers, because many  are short of work too.

Hands up everyone who has thought in the past twelve months that they ought to be revamping their website.  Websites are funny things; we take such trouble over setting them up and then leave them like a vase of wilting flowers to expire unattended.  We start by thinking that “having a website” is a key to the Promised Land, but if we do too little to look after them they end up serving no useful purpose whatsoever.  Even worse than being out-of-date, the majority of us have sites which no potential customers will ever find because they are not optimised.

Search Engine Optimisation is the black art of making your site appear near the top of search engines like Google.  A survey carried out earlier this year by Thomson Local found that fewer than half of the UK’s business websites were optimised – that is to say most British business sites will never be found by anyone searching for their products.  

Conduct an experiment; type into your favourite search engine the phrase you would use to find your own business – so for example I would type “Public Relations Milton Keynes.”  If you are not on the first page, what are the chances anyone is ever going to find you?  It is a bit like having a marvellous shop window display - and drawing the curtains!  What better time than the dark months of New Year to have some work done on your website to make it both more interesting and informative but also to make sure someone out there actually looks at it?

While you are about it, is it time to gather in some new testimonials?  If your website has a section for these how many of them are from the present century?  We all know how many buying decisions we make ourselves on the basis of recommendation (PR is about reputation, the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you)  and yet all too often we are a bit shy about asking others to say good things about us.  The reality is that most people are pleased to be asked.  It makes them feel like valued customers whose opinions are worth listening to.  

To take things one stage further, you might consider having some video testimonials shot and edited for you.  While it is encouraging to read the positive things someone says about your business, how much more effective to see and hear those people saying it?  If you do not have the facility to host moving pictures on your website, these testimonials can go onto YouTube with a link from there.  YouTube is now the second most frequently used search engine on the web after Google and your business ignores it at its peril.

Signing up for online business directories is another excellent method for raising your electronic profile.  There are quite literally thousands of them out there of varying degrees of specialism and, indeed value.  Look for sites with a “Google Page Rank” of one or higher and join a couple a day and you will potentially see your website climb up those rankings.

And what about you?  How many people out there who could be your customers are completely unaware of your existence?  Small businesses in Britain do more than eighty per cent of their trading with other businesses or customers based within a thirty mile radius of themselves.  We like to shop locally and source our services likewise.  So, if you are likely to have some time on your hands in January, why not go to a local networking meeting or two?  Networking is not an exact science and if you go to meetings with the intention of making a hard sell to everyone into whose hand you proffer your business card you will be sorely disappointed. You may not actually land a contract on your first, second or even third visit, but you will make yourself known to potential clients, or indeed people who can refer you . Most breakfast meetings cost ten to fifteen pounds a time.  How many PR opportunities cost so little and offer sausage bacon and egg at the same time?

Happy New Year to all our clients and friends.

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