We all know that promoting our business and website via a business forum is a great way to get traffic, leads and sales. But sometimes it’s a little difficult to know what you can and can’t do on a given forum, and you might miss out on some promotion because you’re not sure of the rules.
To make it easier for you, here are 5 ways you can promote your website.
1. Join our forum and use your signature – it’s free to join, and the signature facility means that every post you make, and every comment you submit, can have a link to your site. It’s a great way to get backlinks, as well as traffic from forum readers and members.
There are so many subjects in our forums, from Marketing to Photography Services, and even a Water Cooler section, so you should find plenty to submit and respond to. The more you take part, the more you’re promoted – it’s a win-win for everyone!
2. Post a press release – for forum members, we have a Press release section. What’s happening in your business right now that could be seen as news? A new member of staff? A new project? A fantastic new client? Use our press release section to tell the world about it; you never know, it could be picked up by a journalist too!
3. Sell your wares on Facebook Marketplace. Facebook allow all the members to submit an offer once a month in their Marketplace section. Whether it’s a buy one get one free, money off or a time-limited offer, make sure the rest of the forum members know about it by posting in the Marketplace. We also promote these offers on Twitter, to give you added exposure!
4. Buy advertising on both sites. OK, so this one costs, but it does give you maximum exposure. We offer 2 different types of banner advertising, and email advertising to 2500 members – and it’s not s expensive as you may think. See our advertising page for more details.
5. Write a guest post. We’re always looking for experts to write for our website and blog. ArtClip Media Production works best when it has a range of posts from various industries and spokespeople – and we can’t be experts in everything! We want to hear from people and businesses who are experts in their field and want to share this with the wider SME community.
Submitting articles and resources and collaborating with SBB is a great way of reaching prospective clients and partners and is a great way of showcasing your expertise. So get in touch with your ideas now!
When I was at Leeds University (yes please note there is nothing between the word Leeds and the word University) I ran for the post of Financial Affairs Secretary which was a sabbatical post. I won the election and ran the commercial activities of the Student Union (brilliant experience) for a year. But the best bit of the year was meeting the University Bursar. He was a gentleman called Ray Head. At our first meeting he gave me some of the best advice ever.
“To be successful in life you have to be very ambitious and you have to be lazy”
The first bit made sense but I struggled with the second bit. He never did fully explain what he meant. Since I have started working, I have realized the significance of being lazy. What Ray meant was that you have to learn to achieve results through other people. Otherwise known as delegating!
It is so true. I have seen really hardworking people not get much done – whereas I have seen people who are focused get more done by using charm and respect to get others to achieve great things for them. They recognize that there is only so much they can do themselves. The worst possible combination is hard workers who are perfectionists as well – forget it!
The 3 R’s
Take caution when appointing board members
One of the areas where I am frequently asked to help small or fast-growing businesses is in the area of putting a board together. I have come across a lot of people who equally ask if I have any vacancies for them on the boards of businesses I am involved in. It is also an area I have strong views about!
Sadly, there are many people who are very good at self-promotion and are very believable. They may have won an award recognizing them as a ‘type’ of the business person of the year. And I don’t mean to denigrate these achievements but do you have any idea how many business awards there is each year? Well, Ernst & Young (I used to work for them) create at least 40 award winners each year. I guess there are at least 1000 business award winners each year. The point is to look beyond awards and accolades.
Early on in my business career, I met someone who was an award winner and a good self-publicist. I confess to falling under his charm somewhat and thought he would be great as a Non-Executive Director of some of the companies I had just got involved in.
But then I noticed how all the topics of conversation were always about him. He spent more time negotiating his terms of compensation rather than talking about the business or how he could help. He was a massive disappointment as he delivered nothing. Luckily for us, he left the companies early and was not able to acquire his negotiated share entitlements. I discovered some companies had not been so lucky with some of their appointments.
Scarred by this early experience, I then asked a lot more questions about potential Non-Executive Directors and discovered that my experience was sadly not unique. So my advice on this is really simple – before you appoint a Director ask some really sharp questions;
I should mention in the interests of balance, I have also had the pleasure of working with some brilliant Directors (and there are many more of them than the bad ones). I don’t want to use names on this blog as if I say good things; it could be seen as I am being paid by them and I don’t want to say bad things about people in case I get sued!
These great Directors add focus to a business, bring a wealth of contacts with them, help companies raise money and keep the management in check. As an investor, I am learning the importance of investing in companies with great boards, or if they don’t have them, helping put one together.
People who take risks are seen as vital to the well being of the economy. We are told that taking risks generates wealth and employment and leads to a better way of life. So, the reverse must therefore be true that people who refuse to take risks inhibit growth and stunt the development opportunities of people around them. If this is so well known and risk-taking is such a positive ‘virtue’ why is everyone not taking risks all the time?
Being an economist by background and curious about people by nature, I have always been fascinated by attitudes to risk and by people who take them. When I was in my early twenties, the Lloyds crisis erupted were lots of people stood to lose their personal fortunes. (Insurance syndicates existed where very wealthy people would agree to be a name and would put at risk their entire wealth for being a ‘name’ and when their syndicates returned a profit would take a big slice of the profit). To become a name was very difficult as it was a ‘guarantee’ (hindsight is a wonderful thing!) to make money for doing nothing and it was very much an old boys club. When it started going wrong in a big way and people were being asked to make good on their ‘promise’, lawsuits galore ensured. These people assumed capitalism was a one-way street where they would get money for nothing. Sorry, doesn’t work that way. Many argue that it was the fortunes lost on Lloyds and Thatcherism’s emphasis on wealth creation that has altered the landscape of British attitudes to wealth.
Many years ago, when I was living in Neasden, I was in my local pub (it is now the McDonalds opposite IKEA on the North Circular Road), I was talking to someone about the mad cow disease outbreak. He was there having a cigarette and a pint of cider and said to me “well, I have stopped eating beef – I mean you can’t be too careful”. I didn’t point out the irony of making that statement whilst having a cigarette and cider.
As mentioned in previous blogs, finance is driven by the risk v reward ratio. The curious thing I learnt last year whilst studying for my IMC exams was how risk (or volatility as it is called) is measured by looking at the variations in the past returns. For example, if you hold two shares in different companies in the same industry. You paid £100 for each share, and the returns over the last 10 years have averaged 10% each year. You would expect the price of each share to be the same, wouldn’t you? Well, that would depend on the volatility of the return. I share A has returned exactly 10% each year and share B has been all over the place (0% one year, 20% up the next year etc) it will be priced lower than sharing A as it is seen as a ‘riskier’ share.
This has been the rational way of looking at risk v reward. But age and profile have a lot to do with your attitude towards risk. The Fund which I have set up with my partners operates in an extremely risky environment and therefore is not suitable for retail investors. Yet, when I was talking to the advisor of the Fund about his attitude to business he said “I am an accountant, I don’t take risks – I only go into situations which I know are 100% safe”. A look at his track record would suggest he is right – and yet the returns in the past have been very good.
My own view is that it is easy to take risks if you have little or nothing to lose. My appetite for risk has diminished over the last few years as whilst I still want to actively invest in businesses I look for really good quality companies and management teams and not good ideas as I would have done in the past. I have also been scarred by the experience of losing all my money in four ventures. Learning from business history should temper our attitude toward risk. The greatest living investor and one of the world’s richest men, Warren Buffet has a very simple investment philosophy and thinks that he does not take risks. He famously stayed away from the whole dot.com boom and was seen as not understanding the new economic paradigm. Well, he proved that he understood it better than most. Business to him has always been about making a product or service and selling it at a profit. These examples do make you question the risk v reward equation.
When I was at PriceWaterhouse Coopers, managers there were keen to promote their willingness to take risks. The reality is that a partnership structure will make decisions which are short term as there is little or no incentive for taking risks. Most risks do not pay off for a couple of years so if you are a partner in a firm and you are not so sure how long you are going to be around, why would you not simply make decisions which maximize your profit this year – as that will feed into your salary. And the reality is that if you are trained as a lawyer or an accountant (especially lawyers) you are trained in not taking risks and advising others on how to minimize their risk. It is therefore rational not to take risks.
“I like to invest in businesses that idiots can run because one day they will be”.
My point in all of the above for potential investors and companies raising monies is to try and understand your own attitude to risk and the person who you are asking to undertake risk. What should the return be to compensate them for that level of risk? Your pitch needs to address this issue. For potential investors, you should feel that you are not taking a risk – because you understand the business well. You trust and have confidence in the ability of the management team and you are comfortable with the prospects of the industry the business is in.
As Warren Buffet says
“I like to invest in businesses that idiots can run because one day they will be”.
Despite this – you still stand a good chance of losing all your money but it should not feel like a risk.
Of course, the best way to minimize risk is to not do anything!
This business provided a branded taxi experience in central London. I invested initially because I liked the area they were in and what they were trying to do – create a ‘Starbucks effect’ with taxi journeys. Again, given the increasing cost of owning a car, this business seemed to be set for good growth.
This has been one of my worst investments and culminated last year in the business being sold with the shareholders effectively getting nothing. It is so true, that you learn more from your failures than your successes so I am happy to share with you the lessons that I learnt from this. If you pick up something from this, please feel free to send me a donation as they were extremely expensive lessons for me!
The first thing I learnt was that management skills and experience need to match what the business is about. The management team had very strong sales and marketing skills – amongst the best I have seen. Coming from a sales background, I mistakenly thought this is the only thing that really matters in this business. I was wrong. The most important thing in a business like this is operational excellence – we simply did not have that skill set. It meant in effect that the salespeople were selling lots of contracts – but because of weaknesses in the operations, we could not either deliver, or we were doing so at a huge cost. Because of the sales and marketing expertise, the company also had a massive focus on weekly meetings. They took up a lot of time and they probably took at least one day of management time (a week!) in terms of preparation. My advice that falls out of this is that whilst I accept it is critical for growing businesses to have control over the business – the cost of getting information must be proportionate to the needs of the company.
Develop simple and easy measures of learning how well your business is doing and monitor them on a daily or weekly basis. But if they are taking more than 10 hours a week (collectively) to gather, develop different measures.
Bullshit bingo - A healthy way to break up long meetings
The company was losing money (as was in the plan – and so was not a problem in the first few years) but then decided to pitch for the LutonAirport business. The terms of the contract would have meant we would always have to provide a minimum level of service at the site and we knew it would not have been profitable. But it was a real ‘win’ and would have put us on the map. It was a disaster and cost us a lot of money and accelerated our inevitable decline. When you are starting out in business stick to the golden mantra –
“Sales are vanity, profit is sanity – but only cash is reality”.
I know it sounds simple – but if you stick to this – you will not go wrong. We also failed to grasp that the reasons why taxis are very popular in London are for reasons unique to big cities. An operation in Luton would never have been profitable (unless we had done a tie-in deal with someone like EasyJet - but that never materialized). The other thing to add here is to know your customer. When you are spending £500 on a flight from Heathrow – you will not mind spending £25 on a taxi to the Airport. If you are flying on a budget airline - £25 to the airport may represent the cost of the return flight!
There were two other lessons I learned from my experience with Blueback. You have to know the cost of a sale and the average revenue per sale. What I mean is, that because of poor delivery, we were not able to retain customers, so therefore we had a weak average revenue figure, but we had set up a cost base in our sales operation which meant that the cost of acquiring a customer meant that 15% of gross revenues were absorbed as a sales cost – putting further pressures on your margins.
Finally (I did learn a lot from this experience!) I also learnt that this was a business requiring massive scale to become profitable.
The Business should have had from the very start a very bold aggressive plan to acquire other operators and keep growing for a year or two. If this had been the plan, we could have raised more funds and perhaps made a success of it. (The business did raise over £4m as it was).
Because of the credit crunch and the prevailing economic mood at the moment, it is harder for companies to raise money at the moment than it has been in the past. This might be a strange blog for a business angel to write – but here are some alternative ideas for how you might look to raise money for your enterprise without seeking help from external investors.
One of the problems with seeking external investors is that the process does take a lot of time. You will without a doubt seriously underestimate the amount of time, energy and effort it takes to raise money. One tip I would consider giving is that before you meet any potential investors, find out what else they have invested in and what the average amount of their investment is. If they have invested in very few companies and invest a small average amount – they will take up a lot of time and may not invest at all. This is where angel groups can be very helpful. You must be disciplined when you come to fundraising as you need to keep your eye on the business at all times and as we all know there are only so many hours in a day!
So I hope you find these tips useful (all used and implemented by me in the past!)
have now made twenty investments in small companies or start-ups. The aspect that the successful enterprises seem to share is that they have management teams with real expertise in the field they are operating in.
There are a few golden rules I use when it comes to investing. And these rules have been learnt at great cost as they inevitably arose from analyzing a failure.
One of these rules is the use of Industry experts.
I have a good network that spans many fields. Before I am about to invest in an area, as a sanity check, I will ask someone with relevant expertise in a field about that business area. This has proved to be a very useful tactic.
Example 1 - I was impressed by a business which was in the area of film production. The management team was very strong and had been at the sharp end of production for a number of years. The business seemed to be worth backing. As I knew nothing of the business area, I asked a good friend of mine who is an expert in this field to give me his opinion; it was revealing. He was able to show me why this model simply could not return a profit. Needless to say, I declined to invest. This ten-minute conversation saved me a lot of money and it is worth getting this sanity check.
Example 2 - I was about to make an investment in a company that supplies vegetarian condoms to the NHS and other sexual health products. I was impressed with the management team and the business plan. Sadly, I did not have any expertise in this particular area, nor did any of my friends (we live a sheltered life!) As part of my research, I then went to a sexual health clinic as a ‘patient’ to understand how I would be offered the company products. This was a fantastic way to spend 30 minutes. Not only did I understand the business model straight away, but I was also able to come up with some small suggestions on how the business could increase its presence. I did invest in the business which is listed on PLUS. www.sexualhealthgroup.com and I are very happy with my decision to invest. (note: THIS IS NOT AN INVITATION TO INVEST IN THIS BUSINESS)
Example 3 - As a final illustration, I invested in a café chain, (Amano) a couple of years ago. The USP of the business was that it was open all day and had a different offering and setting throughout the day. Not having the expertise in this area, my due diligence included a wonderful day and a half of sitting in the café reading books all day to see this offering first hand and to see it on a Saturday. I was convinced by the end of this that it was a good investment to make – time will tell if I am right but I am very happy so far.
So my point to investors is to always seek out expertise and if you do not have access to it – do your own fieldwork
Field work as I have demonstrated above is great fun!!!
I have made that have gone wrong for me. Why is that?
Well firstly, I think the world is already full of people who want to share their success with you (whilst success has many fathers, failure is an orphan!). Lots of investors, like gamblers, only talk about the ones that come in. Nothing wrong with that but we tend to learn very little from the ones that we tend to get right. If you are anything like me, you think that your successes are simply down to the fact that you are brilliant! (OK you may put it a little more thoughtfully than that, but the end conclusion is simply a variation of that premise!)
What you can do, if you are interested in learning, is to stop and reflect after a failure and note down key points. Physically writing down your key learning points is a very powerful way to deal with the inevitable anguish that failure causes. I am writing this blog hoping to share some of the lessons I have learnt from my failures – and it is not easy to publicly admit to them, but if other investors and businesses learn from these mistakes – then hopefully some good will come of it. There is a commercial reason as well – this blog is designed to be informative rather than one elongated gloat.
This encourages risk-taking and learning. When I see companies pitch to me, I always ask the management team about any failures they have experienced. If they say they have not, I get nervous. If they say yes, I ask them what they have learned from that episode. Many would-be entrepreneurs blame having the wrong team around them, or not imposing their view strong enough on the rest of the board. This makes me walk away. One of the people I have backed recently had a number of failures behind them. What he was able to demonstrate brilliantly was that each time he had learnt something powerful that in my humble opinion made him a better business person.
Alas, I can’t tell you how he did as that would be bragging about my success!
From business planning to business management, success in the world of business takes time, though, and consideration. A business information blog is a place where all three elements are combined to give anyone interested an outlet for sharing and discussing their views, as well as providing and receiving knowledge on the best practices for business success.