Welcome to the Small Business heroes podcast where small business owners tell their story so we can learn from their experience. My name is Tony Radford. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Yep. Thanks very much, Matt for being on the small business heroes podcast. It's a new podcast. It's aimed at small business owners, micro business owners, that kind of thing. And it's really great to have you actually, can you tell us about your business Mark?
The business owner run is a marketing agency. We have 12 freelance staff, we're going to manage minute I think, basically, they now work as the implementation team and me as the strategist and business owner.
What's your biggest challenge so far?
Um, I'd like to say there's been one big challenge. I mean, I think that businesses is almost like a daily challenge. There's always something new something interesting pops up. But I think Take it away. That's the beginning, I think the biggest challenge was learning to transition from being in a corporate world. And then coming into what I call the real world now, which is really kind of getting out there meeting business owners, not having a big brand behind you to rely on, to make to open the doors for you. Some have worked for the very major brands in the past, and really trying to build that reputation from scratch. I suppose that was the real challenge in the first year, particularly was trying to establish who this organization is, with no credentials raised to start with, or be, you know, have the expertise and so as a team, we didn't have studies or anything to say, Well, yeah, we've worked with x y, Zed persons to get that confidence I think people need sometimes
I think that was a challenge. Is there any advice you could give people about that? I mean, what were the kind of things you did to lift yourself up as a business and get yourself
known? The best advice I can give about taking the first step is to bizarrely to take the first step I think there's there's a huge danger of writing huge business plans and having these massive dreams and and what have you, I think my advice would be to have you know the long term goal very clear in what you want to achieve and just start taking small steps and do fail. You know, failure is part of all our journey in life being from the point where we try and start to walk before an open car nice sometimes. Really, it's just about you know, having a clear plan not trying to go too fast, too big and definitely not over investing in everything on day one because you like, like any business you don't know on day one, whether it's even going to work, or people want it you don't have that knowledge until you try. So yeah, definitely big journey but take small steps off the path.
Yeah, I think when I started, I started from home. I started off with one client, I had a new USA I never met the guy but he was enough to get me going and I kind of went forward on the don't get it perfect. Just get it started. idea.
Exactly, I think that's a huge risk is, you know, I've got an associate in America at the moment. And she has spent six or seven months with a coach just talking through what she's going to do. I'm not sure that's the best advice. I think certainly she she has the skills and acumen to at least start that journey. And of course, keep the coach on board to help, you know, put back on track if you get stuck. Yeah, it was it's certainly been too long. And now of course, with everything having come to a grinding halt for a while, and she's now suffering that she's ready. But she can't actually get started because there's no one to start with. So
next question, Mark. What is one thing you wish somebody had told you when you started out?
It's a good question.
I think I think the one thing I'd say to people aside from just get started rather than procrastinate too long, is you know, if particularly transitions are late their age and maybe start a business. And even when you're younger, you know, just look at the skills you've got, be confident in what you've got. And remember that the value that you're going to be giving to people, there's there is a huge risk to starting off by saying, Well, I haven't done much work and people haven't done this and done the other. And therefore, what I'll do is I'll start cheap, because then they'll buy me and then I've got chance to build up expertise. Well, I don't agree with that at all. And certainly, from day one, I valued services that myself personally, as the business owner and consultant offers and the services that we give to customers at the level of value that they're actually giving back to our customers. So I think, for me, there's a huge risk to just slice low, undercut yourself getting negotiated down to beans to work for the wrong clients. We tend to be in the end, I think pick a client it's also to say to say no And I wish I'd listened to their own mind advice, or certainly one or two of my first earlier clients, and you're scratching around to get business, in your gut instinct, you can feel that that person, which is mainly how businesses work, because it's not, you know, dealing with a business or dealing with people. The risk is I found, also then ignore that gut instinct. And then find as you're getting into the project or development side, that that's really not the person you want to work with, it becomes painful becomes acrimonious. And, yeah, so I think, yeah, really listen to all your confidence and gut instinct, trust yourself, I think, is probably the one key piece of advice.
Yeah, that's really excellent. And I remember before I started, a guy I used to work for and I really respect. He says, when you get your first project, and you're asked to quote, think of a number and then double it, and I actually thought, well, this is what I should charge and I actually doubled in the guy said, Yes, and it was amazing, you know, but yeah, I think And I suddenly didn't the early days, I underpriced myself, I think quite a bit. So that's very good thing to
do. And also setting pricing. I think, to be fair to anyone starting a business is the hardest thing to do. I mean, if you look at my industry, for example, where we have a range of competition, and I think over time, even that's changed in my mind who our competitors are. But at the beginning, I just saw, you know, people offering something like I know, a website for 400 pounds. And then I saw other people offering a website for 20,000 pounds plus, and the customer sees the same thing when they're starting to do their procurement. And they had to go to the same day, I guess the I had to learn, which is where is it that I want to kind of benchmark what I'm doing and what is underneath that pricing to justify the value at a higher investment rate rather than a very low one. And I think that's, that's, that's hugely challenging when you're doing pricing going around and saying, Well, I'm going to Develop websites and people we're going to do SEO, we're going into social media wherever it is. And then to have the conference say, Well, actually, we are good enough to charge that rate and we are offering a different value. The knack of it, then, of course, is to put across what is that different value. And that is really, really challenging.
I started partnering with other software development companies and agencies, they would submit their work to me under some white label thing. And when I saw the rates, they were charging, I definitely put my rates up at that point because they were like, twice what I was charging or more probably think in some cases.
It because you know, I mean, certainly I think in the IT world and software, there's, there's a value put on what you do. I've certainly seen the other way around particular social media world these days where people still have a strong perception that it's actually easy to do. And of course, all of a sudden, you know, just turn something on. We can post something on Facebook. We can, you know, take a photograph in Instagram, pop it up there. Put some words, put some hashtags, etc, you know, all that stuff can be done. And there's no denying it looks easy, but that's not social media. That's literally just posting stuff. And the challenge we have is to get across Why do we charge a management fee for managing strategy for implementation, planning, analytics, and all the things that go along. And even when that's explained, what's sometimes missed is the skill set behind is greater than that. So there is the experience of knowing how to market to people how to engage with the right audiences, and and also then how to integrate that in a broader marketing strategy. And that's where the expertise starts to really be the value proposition, as opposed to Yeah, as many people can, they can post stuff on the checklist. That's that's not what we do. But I think with all these things, trying to sell in advance is art until someone knows you I think we get a lot of brand in there and a word of mouth, it may be in your tribal, the mind. And again, you know, that takes time, money and effort to do. And, you know, people are very quick to judge as they should be these days because we have a limited time. I think I think one of the hardest services to get across to people is over the last five years, particularly the style of the business is certainly around search engine optimization. What I've noticed over the five years is that it's become further and further out of reach of small and medium enterprises and startups. But there's still the sharks and cowboys out there trying to convince people that they can, you know, get their website to rank at number one for 500 quid and the reality is behind a bit like software engineering or developing anything, the the level of skills to actually not just get it to number one, because that's, that should never actually be the objective but typically Yeah, actually relevant traffic to the site, and then into the correct pages and then acting in a way that's within the customers journey. So they don't bounce. And so it starts to move conversions forward. That's that's the skill set. And, you know, the big players have got, I mean, other people realize this, but some of the big players have got 10 or 20 people working on just purely SEO every single day.
And I went to talk recently,
by certain event, I go to his networking group or search London, which if anyone's interested in that world,
of SEO, then do go
along, it'll open your eyes. And, you know, I was sitting there watching the people from like the large travel agents, and the International kind of companies. And it was that like, the head of SEO was going up there and showing us the level of analytics they do, to then work out how to invest time, effort, content, everything else. And when you actually see the detail that goes into that, it's absolutely insane. And that's certainly very different to 10 years ago back in 2012, particularly, and moving forward now the time of somewhat popular to eight on a Google you then get results, boom, upgrade your business. That's a long time ago. It's just it's just there anymore. And I don't think that's Google trying to do anything to be difficult to businesses. I think it's their key strategic objective, which is to serve the best possible content in the best possible way for exactly the stream that you're searching for. And I think somebody feel that guru out to get them all, you know, they're trying to crush the small businesses from being able to play in that arena. But the reality is that there's so many websites, I don't know how many billion there are now, but I think there's a good few billion websites. They could work out in a nanosecond which one to serve to someone to give them the best experience in Google. And that's the challenge that small was against Very often now I actually recommend against really doing SEO, the investment really starts there at about three and a half thousand pounds a month to do anything meaningful. And that's because there would be at least one member of staff working on that website for a client every single day of the month for about 10 hours a day.
Yeah, that's certainly an eye opener, isn't it? And yeah, quite different story from Yeah, as you say, 1010 years ago, when it was a bit more sort of wild west isn't an SEO. I mean,
10 years ago, you could pop with some keywords and stuff with your front page as much as you liked. Yeah, go and go and buy backlinks. Because then Google counted the number of backlinks, not the quality. And that's gone. And that went with penguin and panda updates back 2012 2013. So and refined ever since it's that's never gone away. It's getting harder, you know, speed of pages and quality of links. Now is the measure But the list is it just goes on. And that's why I need someone who has absolute expertise. They can't do that and 500 pound a month, let's let's be clear, we
don't have the time burn absolutely good. Talking of money. If someone gave you 500 pounds to spend on marketing, what would you do? How would you advise them? You know if it was another if it was a micro business?
Yeah. Again, I suppose this is where as an agency, we're sliding into some, because I wouldn't suddenly jump on that and say, right, what you need to do is x, y and Zed. I think we need to understand what their business is, who is they're trying to target, what their products are, their locations, they're trying to hit, etc. that given was that conversations had, if it was, let's say, it's my business that I had been granted 500 quid and trust me at the moment, we could all do some cash. But I think really, I stripped the budget out in a test on different channels, so key channels to my business, our business to business channels. We're also working on LinkedIn, sorry, our Facebook and Instagram stuff to build that up a little bit further. And that's really just to raise awareness. So looking at the different objectives for awareness raising, we probably I probably use some of that fortune to push some content through Instagram. And then then I do some of it for content writing an article writing. And some of it I would then use to basically use one of my team to work on the LinkedIn side of the business. I was thinking about kind of LinkedIn ads. In fact, someone asked me the other day about these and I've got really mixed views on them. I've tried them tested them. So set the guys meeting, again, a bit like pay per click at the moment where to get real volume or traction or fair, you've got to pay a lot of money and I'm not seeing yet. Maybe we Don't have a big enough budget, certainly not 500 quid to, I'm actually seeing those conversions coming through, if I'd have seen very little of them at all, in terms of clicks, which is the first thing impressions. Yeah, sure. But impressions are just obviously just someone coming onto a page. Yes, they're presented. And that's counted as the juicy number that Facebook and LinkedIn like to give you to say, wow, look what you got for your five quid. But the reality is, unless that translates down through the funnel in some way to conversions, then I'm, it's useless. And I'm not, I'm just not seeing it from LinkedIn ads. So I would tend to move towards the content side there, which cost very little for us to do, but can give good value, then also working out reaching to people. So that's probably over that side. And then I think the rest of the cash really, I'll make it some of the thousands here but it can be on a small budget. I would go to one of our credible data providers and they basically Have GDPR compliant lists that we can actually use for either do some direct mailing out to people, very key targeted people and or using that for email marketing.
You know, I think direct mail is, it's been mentioned by a few people actually is as a way through, literally getting to the specific person you want to communicate with, as it's not that used at the moment, you might have a chance of your piece being read by the person.
Again, it comes down to the same thing again, which is you know, understanding really intrinsically what works for email marketing and direct mail and all the messaging you want to put out there. You know, you can spend thousands, thousands on on any of those and get nothing back. Because there is an art to understanding over many, many years about what people will respond to what they will engage with. Notwithstanding what, uh, you know, as customers, whether were business customers or consumers, we are definitely far far more savvy about sniffing out a marketing activity, you know, the stuff you could have got away with, again, 510 years ago, we're super savvy. And a lot of people don't even open that envelope when it comes to the donor, they can see it's so called junk mail, or non targeted and then it gets dropped in that bin before they've even opened the envelope. So even the design of the envelope, the way it's presented, in that sense, is the first kind of step to opening up the next part, which is the letter then get them to read it, then get on to activate. And that's the sort of stuff works with ease has to come back into it again.
That's interesting. What about you guys as a business? What's your you know, what's the next step for you guys in these interesting times that we live in?
I think I mentioned this, I mentioned this to the other day that
you could asked me that question around about mid January, I could have given you a little roadmap, going forward two years, exactly what we're going to do exactly how we're going marketing with four and to our customers. We have plans in place for bringing on, you know, staff for, you know, for bringing operations managers, which is the next step for me. And for growth strategy, I think, you know, given the last few months, our industry which we service, which is hospitality, you know, hotels, large restaurants, that sort of stuff. Here, Spain and other countries, has actually been decimated. And of course, that's a car so we've kind of gone back to a different plan, really, which is just hold and see. And I think we're going to have to gently kind of move forward as the different countries unlock the different services and I think here in England, and we're looking at sort of July ish for food and beverage, which is ready restaurants and hotels still appeal to key workers at the moment. They're not open for business and not allowed to be. So I think we've got to go forward with that. And we, we did a piece of work in in March before I kind of went into furlough which ran in the moment. We just for we did that we looked at the curve of the forecast curves of the virus for the UK. And we overlaid that into a map, then we overlaid it into when our customers tend to be doing seasonal activities. And then we kind of then have adjusted or just nudge that forwards as time has changed, but it hasn't changed that much. We sort of said around July, it was our absolute guesstimate when things might change. And I think we used a curve from one the other countries to look at that and say, well, when will that flatten off? When can could it start to change and move out? So
I'm pretty optimistic. But
literally at the moment, the problem and challenge we have is that our contacts will take them as hotels and you K, are also follow. So in the same way as that I wouldn't be allowed to do business with them at the moment. Personally, my, I have an operations manager, running the team and Switzerland for me. But she really is just holding the fall and operations for anything that comes up. But we can't do anything. So then. So long story short there is in the short term, I think we've got to help the hospitality customers get ready to open. So I think we need to be working with them before that date. So we can help to raise awareness again, to start bringing customers on board engaging them, but also for them to catch the positive first wave, which is when they open up. So in the short term, I think we're going to work on the rebooting. I think in the sector we work in we're probably not going to see it come to anywhere near a decent kind of normality to at least Christmas and again, that's quite sketchy. We were talking or certainly the Koreans talking to the Other people out there existing customers, and they're still saying I don't know, about Christmas still to be fully up and running. And then I guess once we get to a sensible vision, we understand how this all gonna work, then we're really looking at 2021. Now, some say, well, that's where we might get back to a sense of what I could call normality.
Do you have any advice, digital marketing tips for sort of smaller businesses,
that the worst thing to do is, is do nothing. That's that's definitely the case. And the other extreme, the other worst thing to do would be trying to hard sell things that just aren't going to move at the moment. We have to we have to look at how people are behaving, what they feel comfortable with and everything like that. So my advice would be just to walk a delicate line of keeping awareness up and certain let people know you're still in business because that's going to be concerned, starting to maybe then move into a phase of letting people Have a little bit of a teaser of what might be coming your business as you start to, and more importantly, how it's going to help them to move forward out of their own kind of mental lockdown. Yeah. And how is that going to help them progress. So I think the messaging needs to be quite delicate at the moment, engagement needs to be quite high. I've seen one or two of the hotels and restaurants now start to pay it forward by getting people to do competitions and quizzes on their page, which are being really innovative, really good, really simple stuff as well. That's allow people then to send them content, which they then reusing to then engage them and they've encouraged people by saying, you know, we'll give away a meal for four or we'll give you an overnight stay here or some type of spa or whatever it is that your product or service is when you when you can use it and there's got a good refund policy, all that sort of stuff. So So yeah, I think I think that's almost paying it forward thing. actually paying in that point is it started He was excited about the world again. I think that's the advice I give is just key to never avoid the hard sell. Absolutely. People have are having overload as it is from from probably looking at screen so much and TV and the last thing is almost the moment is some battering down. So myself matches up them. Other bit of advice I would say is don't forget, you know, that's part of your preparation for getting restarted as well. It's you know, that's the best part of your journey is to start warming everything up gently. I think going into a cold start, wait for
a date, and then sort of start on that day.
A you're gonna miss opportunities and be your customers won't be with you.
That's really, really great advice, actually. Thank you. Because my next question was going to be can you give us one actionable sales tip and
Mike jumped into that a little bit too quick?
Yeah, no, that's excellent. No, yeah. No, that's really great, actually, Mark, thanks. Thanks very much for joining us, and for The podcast with podcast listeners, how can they get in touch with you what's the best way
to get in contact with me at the moment is a bit tricky, but Kareena, as I said, is running the business so you can contact the business Still, if it's almost connects me ready for when we come out of all this, then LinkedIn is always the best place to reach out to me and connect with me. I'm very active on there normally. And I'm always willing to have a chat with someone or a 15 minute call, just to bounce some ideas. And there's some advice or help on this specific so please do obviously follow our Facebook page, because we do post into their regular staff and updated regularly as well. And then as they were starting to build stuff on Instagram, and our Instagram page isn't kind of like the kind of pictures, pictures pictures, we have a link in the top. And that takes you through to articles relevant to each of the posts. So it'll actually take somewhere useful. I mean, a nice way but we're not, you know, like a celebrity. So it's a different kind of vibe. But yeah, on every single one of the posts you can see on my Instagram today, if you click on the link at the top of the bio, you'll find there that there's articles behind it, which talk about things like spinning up your website, how to improve, kind of your Facebook kind of refinement, that sort of stuff. Some general advice get started. And Failing that, yeah, literally, if you email contact at sparks for growth, calm, and that sparks number for growth.com. So contact out. And then Christina, for the time being, who's our social media manager is managing inquiries, I'm more than happy to talk to you. And then when I come out this, then I'll be more than happy to chat with anyone, I think at the moment, just to get out of the four walls, but I mean that nicely as well. You know, don't feel like we're too big because someone said that to me. I'll give you something you're too big to talk to us. Well, we do work with big clients, but we're small agency and we've started as I said at the beginning of this call, you know as As a tiny, tiny, tiny group of people put something together, we've built our expertise and team up, but we're not too big for our boots to actually just have a conversation with someone have a hand up sometimes. So yes, please do.
Okay, thanks. Thanks so much, Mike. That's brilliant. Thank
you. Thank you, Tony has been great. Thanks a lot. This
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