100 FREE Ideas to Improve Your Business

Looking for ways to kick your business up to the next level? Great! Read our 100 free ideas to improve your business right here or download the FREE eBook and keep them to read later…

We’ve gathered these words of wisdom from experts that we know and work with in every field of business – and some that we’ve not yet met but who have become famous for their successes and their business acumen.

If you’re looking for some inspiration for what to do next, these tips and ideas will provide that much needed nudge. From keeping your finances in the black, to finding and keeping the best employees, we’ve compiled a treasure trove of useful nuggets.

And whilst you read, remember no one is born an expert. It comes from years of experience – trying, failing, and learning to be better. So be inspired and reminded by these invaluable tips and ideas to keep your business and yourself moving forward.

Strategy

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” – Michael Porter

No matter how large or small your business is, you need to develop your strategic thinking.

  • Take a look under the bonnet of your business to see what’s working, what’s most profitable and what your team enjoys working on the most? Where are you now and where do you want to be this time next year and in five years’ time? What do you need to stop doing, change and start doing to get there?
    Hana Dickinson, The Bridge
  • Have a plan (in a format you can use). You might draft a business plan in the text book fashion, you might create a marketing plan with the text book sections. You won’t find that document particularly easy to explain to your team or refer to on a regular basis. Some people might find the whole process daunting and off-putting. Don’t let that stop you having a plan. For some, a simple grid showing the 2-3 things to achieve each month will be far more manageable. Review your plan quarterly and update as necessary.
    Hana Dickinson, The Bridge
  • Watch out for strategic drift. A strategic drift is when the business has reacted too slowly to the external environment and in some cases the business decision is to continue as usual. Don’t wait until it’s too late to make the changes needed to survive and thrive, seek advice along the way.
    Kurt Scheepers, Business Buttons
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help! Business can be daunting. There is so much to know, where do you start? Have a chat with local accountants, solicitors, professionals. Most will offer a free initial meeting. Take advantage of it. Find advisors that you can get on with. You may be eligible for grants. It’s worth a look.
    Fiona Hotston Moore, Ensors
  • Use your experts. There are people in your business who have expertise and experience that you can use to drive the business forwards. This is especially valuable in the areas of your business with which you are less directly involved. Seek out your talent and use them to add vital intelligence and direction to your strategy.
    It will also make your team more engaged and committed to your business and your strategy if they have been involved along the way.
    Hana Dickinson, The Bridge
  • Create and maintain your culture. Once the strategy and plan is finalised, take the time to make sure your team is completely clear on your corporate personality (brand), what you stand for, where you’re heading, your business priorities and objectives and how they fit into the master plan.
    Hana Dickinson, The Bridge
  • Integrate change from the start (Part 1). People tell me that they know it’s best to start to think about change management from the start of a project so that everyone is on board. Makes sense, doesn’t it? But when is the start?
    If you think about how projects originate – from ideas that individuals or groups have as they consider the internal and external environment in which they work and see opportunities to move from where they are now to where they want to be. So the place to start thinking about change is when ideas are first conceived so people who are impacted understanding why that change was proposed.
    Imagine if the projects that were done were co-created by an organisation rather than individuals working separately. If, on a regular basis, the organisation came to a common understanding of where they were and identified what they needed to do. By doing this they address the “why are we doing this?” question early and individuals will already be on the road to buying into the change that emerges as the project is developed.
    Kathryn Simpson, Kathryn Simpson Consulting
  • Integrate change from the start (Part 2). Everyone in an organisation has a perspective on the environment they work in, which is the start of developing ideas that can ultimately lead to projects and new ways of working. Collecting those insights from everyone who may be impacted can be a big task but there are many tools to help
    you. Two of the most effective tools for integrating change from the start are:
    • 1:1 interviews with a structured questionnaire that can be consolidated and shared with all participants. This is a very powerful change tool as individuals start to internalise the change they would like to see.
    • Focus groups. Creating a structured agenda and involving 6-15 people is a more time efficient way of including people and will also help individuals move along the change curve.
    Online surveys, like survey monkey, are less effective as far as change is concerned, as it’s hard to design questionnaires that are simple and drill down into the reasons that people would like to change. It is critical to focus on why the change at the start. The information and insight collected can be used as input to a strategic planning review when all ideas are considered and prioritized. When projects emerge the link back to these collective insights will enable individuals to make a personal link to why it is important to support.
    Kathryn Simpson, Kathryn Simpson Consulting
  • Use your natural network. Networking is useful but don’t spend too much time trying to build new connections without taking the time to cultivate your existing network of peers, friends and business contacts. I don’t mean try and sell to your friends and family. I do mean look for opportunities that can benefit the people you know and provide the chance for you to work together, make useful introductions, support each other and show off your skills. Investing a bit of time, a good idea and an introduction will keep you in people’s minds and enable you to build trust and bolster your reputation.
    Hana Dickinson, The Bridge
  • Answer the phone. Literally and conceptually, you need to make sure that anyone who is actively seeking your services by calling up, emailing, filling in a web form, messaging on social media or calling in to see you, are welcomed and supported swiftly and with care. You probably spend money on marketing, so when it works and brings people to your door you must make sure you have the resources in place to nurture these leads and reinforce your brand with an excellent customer experience.
    Hana Dickinson, The Bridge
  • Customers for life. Stay in touch with past and prospective customers in a helpful and non-invasive manner. Done correctly, this can reinforce your brand and reputation, keep you top of mind for the right reasons and lead to referrals and repeat purchases.
    Hana Dickinson, The Bridge
  • Think about your business goals before defining your budget. It’s shocking to see the number of organisations that develop their budget without a formal review of their environment and confirming what their long-term plans are. I hear that “we have no time” or “our environment is constantly changing so we have to be reactive rather than planning”. Then the annual budget review starts based on different perspectives and last year’s allocation making it a painful process at best.
    The process of reviewing your business goals can be simple and customised to what you need:
    • Understand what is going on in your environment – internally and externally
    • Confirm where you want to get to
    • Agree your most important priorities
    Once you agree the important priorities then funds can be allocated to what is really important and removed from areas that aren’t critical to future success. The budget setting process is based on business priorities that have been agreed and better alignment across a business is achieved.
    Kathryn Simpson, Kathryn Simpson Consulting
  • Give your team the core skills to thrive. Providing training for things like time management will help your team increase productivity and reduce stress. Implement this simple process, for example:
    • Set goals – It’s important that you know what your short-term and long-term goals are – this will enable you to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not.
    • Prioritise – Prioritise the tasks on your list by what is most important, as well as most urgent.
    • Make a schedule – Using your to-do list and prioritisation as a base, make a schedule for the day / week / month, including time for breaks and contingencies. The schedule needs to be realistic, with padding for interruptions.
    Jann Richardson, JannRichardson.co.uk
  • Make partnerships sing. Contracts and service level agreements are an important foundation to any partnership between organisations. But if you really want true partnership, where you agree to cooperate to advance your mutual interests, then it’s worth agreeing and monitoring partnership principles that will be
    important to create a mutually beneficial and synergistic partnership. Here’s how you achieve success:
    • Develop your partnership principles together
    • Assess how you are living these principles
    • Create actions to address the biggest gaps
    • Check in on a regular basis looking for continuous improvement
    You may be surprised at how some very simple actions can lead to a significant increase in trust and success for both parties.
    Kathryn Simpson, Kathryn Simpson Consulting
  • How to sell your business and live happily ever after. The key to a successful sale of your business is preparation. Find a corporate finance adviser you trust to give you objective advice before you put up the “for sale” sign. Get their help in preparing your business for sale, marketing the business to optimise the sale
    proceeds and structuring the deal to minimise the tax bill.
    Fiona Hotston Moore, Ensors

People

“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.” – Steve Jobs

  • Recruiting for yourself? Don’t judge a book by its cover…never rely completely on just the information on a CV – talk to the candidates first before you agree to interview them. A 5-minute telephone chat initially can give you an excellent indication of whether you should interview this candidate or not. Arranging interviews
    by email before you’ve spoken to them is just a big recruitment ‘No No’.
    Michelle Pollard, Spider Recruitment Services
  • Hiring good employees is much the same as looking for your perfect partner… It’s all about compromise. Have a really clear idea of what skills are absolutely essential for the role, what’s a ‘nice to have’ and what would be advantageous but not a deal breaker….By keeping an open mind you could find ‘the one’.
    Michelle Pollard, Spider Recruitment Services
  • Interview tips.
    • Make sure the environment is inviting, people judge on first impression so make it count.
    • Allow the person You’re interviewing to talk. One of the worse things you can do as an interviewer is take over the interview yourself. You’ve got to give the person you’re interviewing a chance to communicate as much as possible without interruption. The more they talk – the better.
    • Ask open ended questions by using the STAR Method – SITUATION, TASK, ACTIONS, RESULTS. E.g. ‘Tell me about a time when you have successfully completed a challenging piece of work?’
    Jann Richardson, JannRichardson.co.uk
  • What do you want to achieve by recruiting? If you are a small business recruiting staff it’s a scary and time consuming thing to do. So before you do this have you considered all other options. Can you outsource some of the non-core functions to free up time? Maybe consider a Freelancer or organise some Temporary or Contract cover. Is your recruitment need because of an influx of business or a back log? Think about this properly before you make your decision. It could save you a stack of time and money.
    Michelle Pollard, Spider Recruitment Services
  • Remember it takes on average 56 days to hire a candidate. Be prepared for that. In many cases it can be shorter than 56 days however if you plan for this you can ensure you have diary space for interviews and time to make the right decision as opposed to a knee jerk reaction. Remember ‘Recruit in haste repent at leisure’.
    Michelle Pollard, Spider Recruitment Services
  • Be prepared. Interviews can be daunting… for both the interviewer and the interviewee. You would expect your candidate to be prepared so make sure you are too. Have a copy of the job specification and the candidate CV for reference. Be sure to have a prepared list of competency questions that you ask ALL candidates so that you are able to give each candidate the same experience. This also allows your decision making to be more consistent. How can you compare each candidate following the interview if you’ve asked each of them different questions….?
    Michelle Pollard, Spider Recruitment Services
  • Good candidates really are in demand. When interviewing give them the love and attention they deserve. Your company has spent real time, effort and money to get these candidates through the door so make sure the experience for them is a good one. There is never an excuse for a poorly prepared or rushed interview. Make
    sure the person that is representing your company is upbeat, informed, passionate and PREPARED.
    Michelle Pollard, Spider Recruitment Services
  • Think about the 5 ingredients that are needed for the perfect employee!
    • Skills – have they got these? Test them, get them to complete tasks.
    • Experience – check out their references, have they worked in the roles that are outlined in their CV?
    • Engagement – are they making all the right noises, are they really interested in your role?
    • Character – maybe consider personality profiling your short listed candidates, would they fit culturally with your team? Instinct – the great entrepreneurs and managers secret weapon – do you really think this candidate is a perfect fit? Michelle Pollard, Spider Recruitment Services
  • Recruiting online by using job boards is one of the most cost effective and most popular ways of hiring staff. If you use this method always ensure that your advert is ‘searchable’. Jobs boards work on a keyword relevancy basis when matching job vacancies with jobseeker searches, so make sure relevant keywords that jobseekers would search on appear in your job advert particularly in the Job Title and first paragraph of the advert. Jobs boards place more “weight” on keywords in the job title to help make the best match possible with jobseekers’ search terms. Avoid vague or company specific job titles as these will potentially mean nothing to candidates and could fail to appear in their search results.
    Michelle Pollard, Spider Recruitment Services
  • Staff are your biggest asset. Every 5 minutes spent coaching and developing your employees will pay dividends in terms of their engagement, contribution and value to your business. Make sure you build time into your daily routine to coach your key team members and to resolve any issues promptly .
    Fiona Hotston Moore, Ensors
  • Evolve your business. It is sometimes lonely out there in the business world and you need a sounding board and someone with a different opinion and perspective to run some ideas by. Does your business have an innovation team? It’s important to have the right people (colleagues, business acquaintances, business coaches/mentors) to help formulate a plan to move the business to the next stage of growth. A business has to evolve all the time and therefore sometimes only requires small changes to keep up with the external environment.
    Kurt Scheepers, Business Buttons
  • Create a Positive Environment for you and your people. Your workplace environment has a huge impact on your performance. Spend one week in a depressing office with drab decor, cheap furniture and harsh fluorescent lighting and I guarantee you will feel drained when Friday afternoon rolls round.
    I’m not saying you have to lay artificial grass everywhere but if you want your employees to perform at their best, you do have to invest time, thought and money into your environment. Some fast fixes include maximising natural light, designating clear breakout spaces (no eating at your desk!) and investing in decent ergonomic seating.
    Fraser Sutherland, Marketing Manager at Storage Vault
  • Don’t neglect your own self-improvement. It doesn’t matter how competent you are as a leader, you won’t get very far if your team doesn’t trust you. We all respond favourably to the warmth and competence of those around us. Warmth is being friendly, kind, loyal, and empathetic. It is taken as evidence that you
    have good intentions toward others. Your competence – being intelligent, creative, skilled, effective – is taken as evidence that you can act on your intentions if you want to. Competent people are therefore valuable allies or potent enemies. Less competent people are objects of compassion, or scorn.
    Don’t neglect your own competence to learn and be better – your team will see that you are setting an example to lead and they will want to follow.
    Carole Burman, MAD-HR
  • Build systems that will allow you to measure the performance of your team. Tangible, evidence based measurement of achievement and areas for development makes every aspect of your business easier to manage. User friendly, targeted performance systems enable you to get to grips with under achievement, grasp where aspects of your business plan are failing quickly and spot the talent in your teams. Measuring performance in this way supports alignment with your objectives and keeps everyone focused and enables you to deal with poor performance more swiftly.
    Carole Burman, MAD-HR
  • Work on the optimisation of your systems. Are you confident that you are working as smartly as you can? How much duplication goes on and how much data do you handle unnecessarily? Cumbersome tasks and clunky systems waste valuable hours of everyone’s week. Take time to look at how your internal systems fit together, could they be streamlined and where there are opportunities for cross function reporting, for example.
    Carole Burman, MAD-HR
  • Encourage and improve teamwork in your small business. It is cheesy but teamwork really does make the dream work. If your crew understand their roles and, importantly, those of their colleagues, you’re some way there. Nurturing a culture of teamwork brings respect, flexibility, engagement and value to your business.
    Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t hear the phrase ‘that’s not in my job description’ ever again? A great way to achieve this is set a clear direction for your team, encourage peer to peer supervision, working groups and regular team forums. They can seem to take up time, but they can prove their worth, highlighting skill sets and defining team roles.
    Carole Burman, MAD-HR
  • Don’t confuse commitment and motivation. You will know that people come to work for different reasons and people have different goals. Taking the time to tap in to what makes your team members tick can really pay off. The person working until 7pm every night to get their work done may simply be doing so because they don’t want to lose their job as they need to the money, but the truth is if they were offered more somewhere else, they would probably go. In the same way that working hard, isn’t always the same as performing well and working smart. Ensuring that your team are motivated each day and committed to your business because they want to be part of something special yields far more valuable results than simply clocking the people that stick the hours in.
    Carole Burman, MAD-HR
  • Inspire your employees to come up with the best way to do their work. I know it may smart to hear this but those at the top really don’t know everything. Your best assets are those people doing the actual work that keeps your business afloat. They will understand the niggles, the successes, the hiccups and importantly where there are opportunities to work leaner and more efficiently. Do you take the time to hear them? What is their incentive for caring enough to step up to the plate and engage? A simple voucher for the winner of a suggestion scheme can go a very long way.
    Carole Burman, MAD-HR
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a great induction. Never under estimate the importance of a decent induction to a new employee into your business. Nor in taking the time to induct an existing employee in to a new role. The induction is your shop window – employees get a clear message on day 1 of what you are really
    all about. It is your opportunity to engage your enthusiastic newbie from the start, motivating them to add value to your business straight away, set your expectations and shape the culture of your team. The impact of anxiety on productivity is not to be minimised. Giving your employees knowledge, room to learn and to settle in increases the likelihood of them wanting to stay and get it right.
    Carole Burman, MAD-HR
  • Don’t let the standards for acceptable behaviour fall below the benchmark ever. We all know that poor behaviour in the workplace happens. Sometimes it happens far too often and sometimes it is from people who actually perform their role really well. If your business is to achieve a culture of respect, success and team work, poor behaviour must be addressed at the earliest opportunity. Everyone is watching your next move. Take time to check your policies and procedures so when the time comes, you can deal with this issue in a clear and consistent manner.
    Carole Burman, MAD-HR
  • Make everyone in your business responsible for the work that they did. The importance of being responsible for a task goes further than pinpointing someone to blame when it all goes pear shaped. By setting a clear vision for your business and giving accountability and responsibility to your team for achieving
    different parts, it will provide clarity for them, promotes a sense of support and when the results come makes them feel like a winning team. In the event that you do have someone who is not performing at the required level – it does help you know where the weak link is and how you can support them to remedy. The trick is to make sure people understand the task and care enough to carry it out willingly and well.
    Carole Burman, MAD-HR
  • Never underestimate the power of the word “thank you” when said with sincerity and authenticity. Work life is busy and as a manager, you are often juggling many things at once, from strategy to meetings to partner engagement, staff supervision and budgets (to name a few!) but stopping to take the time to thank someone when they have achieved a task, done a good turn or been a team player goes such a long way. It stops them from feeling resentful, makes them feel valued and assures them that their hard work has not flown under the radar. No-one wants to be an invisible minion. When saying thank you, be specific on what you are thanking
    them for – this will encourage them to behave in the same way again or know what they did well to continue doing the same again.
    Carole Burman, MAD-HR

Money

“Watch your finances like a hawk.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

  • Explore where there are areas you can save money – and no, it’s not the marketing budget! Sit down with your bookkeeper or accountant to see where there are areas for you to make small changes that could influence your net profit. For example, look at energy efficient products that could reduce your overheads over a period of time.
    Kurt Scheepers, Business Buttons
  • Get a Grip on Your Finances. It’s true what they say: two things in life are certain, death and taxes. However, no one ever said you had to overpay on tax. Whether you’re a fledgling startup or established multinational, it’s essential you keep on top of your finances. Taking a couple of hours per week to organise your expenses, investigate incentives and assess your outgoings can pay huge dividends down the
    line.
    Gary Easton, Director at Tax IQ
  • Cash is King. Cash (or rather money in the bank) remains key to running a successful business. Wise business owners will keep a close eye on cashflow ensuring customers pay their debts promptly and future bills can be met as they fall due. It sounds obvious but it’s surprising how often business owners lose sight of the
    basics of cash management.
    Fiona Hotston Moore, Ensors
  • Employee fraud hits 1 in 4 businesses – don’t be the next victim. The “typical fraudster” is all too often the “loyal hardworking employee who is always in the office first and last to leave”. The average fraud costs the business £100,000 but we have seen frauds in excess of £1m. The best ways to prevent employee fraud are
    segregation of duties, checks and independent audits.
    Fiona Hotston Moore, Ensors
  • Include your bank details on an invoice, or even better, ‘a pay now button’. You do not want people to put down your invoice so that they can find your bank details. It adds another step to the process and means that they may put off paying you or pay someone else whose details are easier to find!
    Liz Wright, EJ Wright & Co
  • Cash flow is important. Do not put 30 days on you invoice automatically. Maximum should be 10 days…..even better is ‘payable on demand’. It puts the cards in your hand so that you can chase the debt sooner.
    Liz Wright, EJ Wright & Co
  • You should have a bookkeeping system which is easy for you to manage. This is key to not only to succeeding in business, but also for effective tax planning. Your accountant should give you help to find a system which is suitable for you. It does not have to be complicated, the important thing is that you keep it up to date. Little and often is the key.
    Liz Wright, EJ Wright & Co
  • Review time. Set aside half an hour a week for when you can review your books to make sure that all of your invoices have been prepared and to check whether any debts need chasing.
    Liz Wright, EJ Wright & Co
  • Always keep your personal and business spending separate. If you are trading via a limited company and/or are VAT registered, then you will have a business bank anyway. I would recommend all businesses, no matter how small, to have a separate business bank account and to make sure that as many business transactions as possible are processed through this business account. Using your own cash or private account to pay for business expenses will make finding and recording business expense a lot more difficult and could mean that you lose valuable tax relief if you forget to record all of your business transactions.
    Liz Wright, EJ Wright & Co
  • Open a business deposit account. Put set money aside each month towards paying your business’s tax bill. If the money is in a separate account it is separate to the other business funds and may also earn a (small!) amount of interest.
    Liz Wright, EJ Wright & Co
  • An accountant should not just be there once a year to prepare your business’s accounts and tax return. Find an accountant who is on hand to help and advise with bookkeeping and who can advise you proactively throughout the year.
    Liz Wright, EJ Wright & Co
  • Always keep your accountant fully up to date with any changes in household income, as soon as possible, so that any changes to previously given tax advice can be made sooner rather than later.
    Liz Wright, EJ Wright & Co
  • Online bookkeeping. Designed specifically for small businesses and freelancers, online bookkeeping software is simple to use and makes it simple to stay on top of your day-to-day bookkeeping. It is completely web-based, so there’s nothing to download, update, or install on your computer, and you can access it from anywhere you have an internet connection. Your data is safely backed-up and your accountant has access to the data and so they can help with correcting bookkeeping mistakes and giving proactive tax planning advice.
    Liz Wright, EJ Wright & Co

Marketing

“Good marketing makes the company look smart. Great marketing makes the customer feel smart.” – Joe Chernov

  • Clear up, calm down and concentrate. Monitor all your marketing activity and stop doing anything that isn’t working well enough to justify the effort or spend. Most businesses would benefit from doing less and doing it better. Every single pound and minute spent should be considered in this way. Make it count.
    Hana Dickinson, The Bridge
  • Set a budget. Decide what will be spent on the various elements of your marketing. Then, as opportunities arise (usually advertising salespeople), you can weigh up whether they are better than what’s already in the plan and choose whether or not to adapt the plan. Hint: In most cases, you should stick to the plan.
    Hana Dickinson, The Bridge
  • Advertising needs time to work. Advertising can be a powerful tool, especially when it’s used as part of a coordinated campaign. One-off adverts will not demonstrate good value for money. If you commit to advertising, book a campaign lasting many months to give it a chance of achieving your objectives. Don’t be wooed to veer off plan by savvy media sales people. Stick to your guns.
    Hana Dickinson, The Bridge
  • Nobody cares about your business. In the majority of cases, if you want to get media coverage for your business, be prepared to give away a little bit of yourself. Usually the most effective pitches to the press are stories about the people behind it. How did they overcome adversity, why did they set up the business etc. You
    need to be prepared to build your personal brand and make sure that the opinions and issues you tackle underpin your business brand.
    Hana Dickinson, The Bridge
  • Video production values shouldn’t be an obstacle. For many videos are the key to online engagement. Don’t be intimidated by price or production. Video is powerful but it need not cost a fortune for social media. There is a time and place for top notch filming and editing for sure, but don’t let it stop you using video for blogs
    and social media.
    Hana Dickinson, The Bridge
  • If your product tastes good let people try it for free. If your service is better than anyone else’s let people try it for free or offer a money-back guarantee. You want customers more than they want you, so encourage them to try your product.
    Hana Dickinson, The Bridge
  • Social Media – Cardinal Rules on How to attract consumers
    • Dos:
      • Consider where your target audience congregates online and create your profiles.
      • Have a presence on relevant social media platforms.
      • Make sure your profile is up-to-date and communicates the essential details.
      • Engage with your potential new customers, fans and followers.
    • Donts:
      • Expect immediate results – it takes time and regular input to build
        relationships.
      • Substitute existing practices for social media – incorporate them.
      • Use social media to push sales messages.
    • For more advice on social media visit – Creative Intent
  • Six ways to make content marketing pay. How businesses can harness the power of branded storytelling. Content may still be the cool kid on the marketing block, but it’s a discipline peppered with potential pitfalls. Ross Wilkinson, Deputy CEO at Specialist – The Content Agency, offers businesses half a dozen steps to
    storytelling success, and a few banana skins to watch out for along the way…

    • Know your audience. The first bullet could end right there, but this is easier said than done. Those insights will pay off handsomely in the long run, though, allowing you to design and adapt content for the groups you wish to reach. Do you really understand where your customers are, digitally speaking? What are their pain points? And what solutions can you offer that will genuinely meet these needs? If you
      don’t have answers to these questions, any subsequent content strategy will be built on shaky ground.
    • You will have to pay to play. There are brilliant case studies of “light bulb moment” content concepts that captivate an audience and deliver ludicrous results. They will also have been heavily supported by a carefully-constructed paid distribution strategy. Answering all the questions in point one will provide the
      framework to build out a paid media plan that works hard for you, whether that’s to a niche audience of 500 or a pool of 500,000. Don’t ever think that, just because you’ve published it, people will flock to read it.
    • Learn to COPE with content management. The prospect of producing many of pieces of content – articles, videos, infographics, white papers – is a daunting one, and rightly so. To stand out, your content must always be informative and engaging and you can’t let storytelling standards slip. But don’t reinvent the wheel for every piece. Build a content strategy around your richest content themes and develop a bank of assets you can repurpose for different groups across multiple distribution channels. The Create Once, Publish Everywhere model will help you keep a firm handle on consistency of message and workload management. Think quality, not quantity.
    • Use experts – on the inside and the outside. Your organisation’s secret sauce in content marketing will be your people – the experts who drive your business forward every day – whether that’s through product innovation, technical expertise or promoting a compelling vision to follow. Your content should reflect all of this. Don’t expect these ambassadors to be wonderful wordsmiths, though. That’s not their day job. But do bring them on board at the earliest opportunity. Connect them with marketing colleagues or third party agencies packed with content-creating experts who can take their industry brilliance and convert it into content you’ll all be proud of.
    • Be mindful of compliance. Working in a highly regulated industry does not make engaging content production a non-starter. Being mindful about what you say, claim, promise or advise should be best practice in any industry today. However, process and planning will be brought into sharp focus. Our approach is to share content plans with compliance teams as early as we can, define “off-limits” topics from the get-go and add a realistic amount of editing and approval time to your production schedules. Last-minute rounds of understandable compliance amends can kill an article’s natural flow, so create time to find the best way to restore and retain an original idea’s integrity.
    • Monitor all content, but measure for the right reasons. Every piece of content should have at least one desired outcome, and that won’t always be directly attributed sales. Reach, engagement, action and finally conversion can all be improved by a robust content marketing strategy that connects you to customers and prospects at the right time, in the right place, as part of the overall marketing mix. Content
      marketing is not all about direct ROI – and why should it be? It has the power to positively effect so much more. Some channels are better for brand building, others more effective at lead generation, and content marketing should feature in all of them.
      Ross Wilkinson, Specialist UK
  • Google for Business – get your business seen for FREE! When people search for you, does your phone number show up? Is the right address and website listed? Control how you appear on Google Search and Google Maps — for free. Google My Business gets you in front of your customers. You’ll stand out, whether people are looking for you on Google Search or Maps. It’s really simple to set-up and Google’s step by step instructions will guide you through the process.
    To find out more www.google.com/business – Creative Intent
  • Your website isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it tool. As soon as it goes live, you should be testing, tweaking and refining it.
    • Set up simple A/B experiments to test key elements like headings, calls-to-action and navigation. After each test, select the best performing element and move on to the next one.
    • Don’t be afraid to experiment, either. Try some outlandish ideas and see if they work. The worst case scenario is you discover something that doesn’t work with your business and you know not to use it again in the future.
      Will Craig, Director at Digital Impact
  • Evolve Your Company Website. Typically when smaller businesses first start out costs need to be curtailed and as a result the website typically ends up being a simple template based brochure site so that potential customers can ‘google’ your business.
    Typically these are created using either a DIY platform or by getting a local web designer to build something quickly without much coding. However, after the initial stages when you have a clearer idea of your business
    identity, how your business functions and where you want to seek out new clients or customers much more can be achieved with a fully customised website designed and created to help achieve your business goals.
    Key advantages:

    • A design based on your company branding guidelines that squarely focuses on your target audience and promotes your company accurately.
    • A customised user experience consistent with your brand, including clear signposting for visitors to perform the most common activities as easily as possible.
    • Customised content areas to display each section of the site clearly and appropriately.
      • Custom functionality.
      • Co-ordinate marketing efforts more effectively through planned content additions and custom content areas for this purpose.
      • Increased website security through a range of measures.
      • Improved website optimisation – Increasing the speed of the website, which is particularly important for mobile devices and is a factor in search engine optimisation (SEO).
      • Improved SEO of the website through careful planning of the website structure, layout content regions and code optimisation.
      • SEO of pages for use in conjunction with Google AdWords to significantly reduce the price per click.
        Adam Sumner, Director, Bristles & Keys
  • Do you know exactly how well your website is performing? It isn’t enough to just have a website these days, you need to understand how it is performing for you. Is it getting traffic? Is it converting visits into enquiries? Is it optimised for search engines?
    If you know how your website is currently performing, then you can take steps to improve that performance, to increase the number of visitors and ultimately the number of sales or enquiries that you receive.
    Want to know how your website is performing? Check out this link for your digital analysis report:
    – Creative Intent
  • Keep search engines interested in your website. One of the best ways to keep search engines coming back to your website and listing your website highly in the organic search results, is to keep the content fresh and relevant. The easiest way to keep updating your content, is through the use of news/blogs on the website.
    By posting regular news items about your company, its services and products, as well as industry relevant stories, you can keep both visitors and search engines coming back to your website again and again.
    See some examples of how to keep a good blog: – Creative Intent
  • Mobile Friendly Websites – Don’t be penalised by Google! Since April 2015 Google has been penalising websites that aren’t responsive. In other words, if your website isn’t mobile friendly, then you may well see a drop in your Google rankings. Google is trying to put the large number of mobile users first, by ranking websites that respond across the large variety of mobile devices, above non-responsive websites. By having your website designed for both mobile and desktop you will keep both Google and your mobile visitors happy.
    – Creative Intent
  • Web Hosting. All website hosting is not the same. Most websites for start-up businesses will be hosted using one of the bigger hosting providers on shared servers or use a DIY providers server. These provide a relatively cheap way of hosting your website so the world can see it. However, as your business grows a more
    sophisticated approach is often needed.
    Advantages of higher specification hosting:

    • Your website should be quicker as the ratio of resources to demand is improved.
    • Your website should not be affected by being associated with spam websites or websites with inappropriate content, which can affect SEO performance.
    • Improved website security, which can include a number of different measures depending on budget, but typically include scanning websites for malicious code, active scanning for common types of attack and securing the server generally. By having this in place it should significantly reduce costs and downtime associated with these and should help keep your website healthy.
    • For more critical websites: Active website monitoring with procedures in place for a 24/7 response to problems.
      Adam Sumner, Director, Bristles & Keys

Inspiration

“I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.” – Estee Lauder

These guys have seen it, done it and got the t-shirt. Here are top tips from top people.

  • Karen Brady CBE, one of the most high profile and respected business leaders in the UK.
    • You need to motivate people’s hearts and minds; give them passion and entrepreneurial spirit and
      make them part of the organisation, feel part of the ‘inner circle’.
    • Nothing is ever achieved alone when you’re running a small business. It’s all achieved with team work
      and listening to people with an open mind.
    • I think I’m naturally brave, but courage is absolutely something you can cultivate too. When I was asked
      to do Comic Relief Does The Apprentice, how could I have known it would lead on to my doing the
      interviews for the main show, then becoming one of Alan Sugar’s advisors?
    • Calculate the worst thing that can happen and be comfortable with it. Don’t be afraid of things going
      wrong. Before you achieve success you nearly always face temporary defeat – sometimes total failure
      – and the easiest thing in the world is to just walk away, or simply not bother. Those who succeed find a way through.
    • West Ham has been a good example. We took a massive leap of faith in bidding to move to the Olympic
      Stadium, but now we have the most exciting future of any club in world football. The hardest fights are
      the ones really worth winning.
    • I believe you regret only the things you don’t do, not those you do. You get one life and one career. Don’t
      end either asking yourself: ‘What if?’
  • Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple.
    • Sometimes the first step is the hardest one. Just take it! Have the courage to follow your heart and
      intuition.
    • Start small, think big. Don’t worry about too many things at once. Take a handful of simple things to
      begin with, and then progress to more complex ones. Think about not just tomorrow, but the future.
    • Ask for feedback from people with diverse backgrounds. Each one will tell you one useful thing. If
      you’re at the top of the chain, sometimes people won’t give you honest feedback because they’re afraid.
      In this case, disguise yourself, or get feedback from other sources. Focus on those who will use your product – listen to your customers first.
  • Peter Jones, long serving Dragons’ Den dragon, and one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs.
    • Once your business takes off and the money starts rolling in, it’s tempting to go on big spending
      binges. Beware! The best entrepreneurs keep a tight lid on expenses and will wisely re-invest profit to
      continually improve their business.
    • Planning for your success is as important as achieving success. You need to know exactly how you
      got there so your success can be duplicated, scaled up and multiplied, and it is that which turns an
      entrepreneur into a Tycoon.
    • Perseverance, sheer determination and tenacity are core characteristics of the mindset of a Tycoon.
      Successful entrepreneurs battle against all the odds to build their business and always appreciate
      when it is time to get out. Try to have flexibility to work outside your own comfort zones in order to bring your dreams to fruition.
  • Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin and a very experienced man at starting and succeeding in business.
    • On motivation: “It’s important to understand what your main motivation is so that you can focus your
      efforts on reaching those goals. Then structure your job – perhaps by delegating some work – so that
      you can spend as much time as possible turning this energy to your company’s advantage.”
    • Be proud of your business. “Above all, you should work on building a business you’re proud of. This has
      always been a motivator for me, from my student magazine days, through to our latest startups today.
      I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If money is your only motive, then I believe you shouldn’t launch the business at all.
    • Your first year is about survival. “In a company’s first year, your goal should be simply to survive, and
      this will likely take everything you’ve got. No matter how tired or afraid you are, you have to figure out
      how to keep going.”
  • Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft who has helped shape the world we live in.
    • Learn from your customers. “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”
    • Find the best people, and look after them. “You’ve got to give great tools to small teams. Pick good
      people, use small teams and give them great tools so that they are very productive in terms of what
      they are doing.”
  • Lord Alan Sugar, star of The Apprentice and a veteran of creating successful businesses.
    • Have a clear business plan – “No bank’s going to give you money on the basis of your ideas and no
      one’s going to lend you any unless you’ve got some collateral you can put up there. The boom days
      of swanning into a bank, mentioning the word ‘.com’ and walking out with a big cheque are over. You need a business strategy, clear plan, balance sheet and informed backers. No one’s going to tell you how to do it, and if you don’t know how to do it, then stay with the job you’re doing. Because if you’ve not got a road map in your head, then forget it.”
    • Stick to what you know -“Do not start a business on your own if you haven’t had experience in it. So,
      for example, you might have worked in the purchasing department of ‘Philip Green’s Shop For Ladies’
      Shoes’, say, and been out to Hong Kong or China to buy shoes and realised that they only cost £3 and end up being sold for £39 in the shop. You’re the one who has the expertise, so you develop a little range for yourself and start to sell them. That’s the way you start. But that’s because you’ve amassed some experience, not because you just randomly think it’s a good idea.”
  • Deborah Meaden, another dragon from Dragons’ Den, who built up a multi-million-pound holiday business
    before moving into investing.

    • It’s very important to learn business skills but there are also other specific attributes, like the ability to
      take a risk, that makes you an entrepreneur.
    • Know the importance of protecting your intellectual property, protection of what you are and who you
      are is very important.
    • Entrepreneurs don’t see barriers – they see around them – and think of different ways to do things.
      Before you start your business, or in the early days, think about why you are doing it. If it’s just to make
      money, you’re a business person. If it’s because of a passion, you’re an entrepreneur.
    • PR has to be honest and represent the real stories of your business.
  • Rita Sharma made her fortune offering bespoke holidays, and has two key pieces of advice for your business.
    • Get a mentor. “There are so many organisations and groups out there for people starting their own
      business, and a lot of small businesses can start these days with little to no start-up cost. You just
      have to have the inclination to go out there and take the opportunities when they arise.”
    • Research is critical to success. “If someone has an entrepreneurial spirit they will be able to succeed.
      As long as they understand their market, their competitors and what it takes to be a success.”
  • Charlie Mullins became known as the ‘millionaire plumber’ after turning his plumbing business Pimlico
    Plumbers into a huge empire with a turnover of £18 million.

    • Embrace social media. More than anything else in the past decade the use of social media has
      changed the way companies put their names into the public consciousness. Post on industry and
      consumer sites, understand that Facebook and Twitter are not just for your kids. Hack out a niche for
      yourself by writing your own blog and link it up to other social media to obtain the maximum penetration.
    • Decide on a unique selling point. Work out what your organisation stands for and stick to that core
      ethos in your business transaction. You need to make it the aim of your marketing effort to get that
      message across to your customers – and that means anybody you can reach. The guy who never buys a
      bean from you might inadvertently refer your biggest ever order over lunch after liking something he read on your blog.
  • Mark Zuckerberg, who created Facebook and changed the way we interacted online, has some great advice for people looking to emulate his success.
    • Start with a problem you want to solve. “I always think that you should start with the problem that
      you’re trying to solve in the world and not start with deciding that you want to build a company. And
      the best companies that get built are things that are trying to drive some kind of social change, even if it’s
      just local in one place, more than starting out because you want to make a bunch of money or have a lot of
      people working for you or build some company in some way.”
    • Learn to grow by making mistakes. “Most companies mess up by moving too slowly and trying to be
      too precise. When you’re moving quickly or doing anything like this you want to make mistakes evenly
      on both sides. We wanted to set up a culture so that we were equally messing up by moving too quickly and by moving too slowly some of the time. So that way, we’d know that we were in the middle.”

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