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Don’t Do Several Independent Products in a Web Startup

David Cummings on Startups

After a product’s reached a modest level of traction, there’s an entrepreneurial tendency to start thinking of the next product to build — don’t do it. Too often I see startups with multiple products where the first one was a winner and the next two haven’t gone anywhere. Now, one web app segmented by functionality for different buyers is great and is not the same as separate code bases for truly independent applications.

Here are a few thought on multiple products within a startup:

  • Startups are inherently resource strapped, such that spreading people thinner reduces the effort on everything
  • Complexity grows exponentially as there’s more than expected overhead constantly figuring out how time will be allocated
  • When talented people are transferred from the cash cow product to the new product, they get pulled back to the main product as soon as things aren’t going well or a serious challenge is…

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What did the Queen’s speech say for small businesses?

The National Insurance Contributions Bill

Announced in the budget, the bill introduces a £2,000 Employment
Allowance for all businesses and charities in the hopes of boosting
employment. This is huge news for a lot of small businesses around
the country, especially start-ups looking to take on their first
employees.

The Deregulation Bill

The coalition has lauded the importance of deregulation for
years, but this bill is the first tangible evidence of their
intentions being met by actions that will benefit small businesses.
You can read more about the exact changes included in the bill here.

The Intellectual Property Bill

With some critics claiming patenting intellectual property is
becoming an outdated idea, the Government is aiming to make the
bill more relevant to modern businesses, reenergising the desire to
protect intellectual property

The Consumer Bill of Rights

This is designed to tighten up consumer protection alongside the
Consumer Rights Directive, which is being implemented with heavy
influence from Europe. The latter creates a single consumer rights
regime for online trade across national borders

HS2 railway line

Multiple bills were included to pave the way for development of
the high speed rail line. This was used to signal the coalition’s
ongoing dedication to the idea, but did also put in place specifics
for the line’s route and timing of the construction.

 

via Small business advice from Smarta http://www.smarta.com/blog/2013/5/what-did-the-queen%E2%80%99s-speech-say-for-small-businesses

What NOT to Spend On In Your Startup

Cut startup costs

Most articles are great at listing all the things you can spend your limited startup funds on.  But through experience, we’ve learned some lessons about wasting money and how to avoid the nonessential aspects of a startup.

Here is my list of things NOT to spend on if you can avoid it in the first 6 months.  By spending wisely you preserve your funds for the things that count. Also, in the first 6 months of your business you have certain priorities — this list will keep you on track.  I’m not saying to NEVER spend on these things – in fact depending on your business you may have to spend on some of them — just not in the first six months.

Conferences – They can be expensive and distract you. In the first six months your head should not be on conferences unless you can calculate a specific dollar ROI from going (such as, you’re being paid a speaking fee).

Travel – Travel is not only expensive, but you are less productive during travel. When I travel, I’m lucky to get one-third of my normal daily workload handled.  Aside from a critical sales call that you simply MUST attend — use email and phone instead. Skype video conferences and Google Hangouts are two free substitutes for in-person meetings.

Offices – “Real Estate is the leading cause of death for startups,” Ross Mayfield, co-founder of SocialText once quipped.  Obviously, if you run a local retail business, you need a shop. But today, many kinds of businesses can work virtually and  need not saddle themselves with fixed lease costs in the first 6 months.

Hiring Employees – As famed tech investor Paul Graham writes, “The classic way to burn through cash is by hiring a lot of people. This bites you twice: in addition to increasing your costs, it slows you down.”  Adding employees requires you take time to bring people on board, communicate with them so they understand the vision, and allow time for them to get acclimated. In some businesses, such as a restaurant, you MUST hire if you expect the business to run. But many other kinds of businesses are better off focusing on product development, marketing and/or sales before hiring a lot of people.  Plus, you want to give yourself the time to select the best talent for “permanent” hires; go with freelancers and contractors whenever possible in the first 6 months.

 A Too-Ambitious Website – Get a website up early.  But unless your business IS a Web technology business, keep it small and modest at first.  Invest in a good template design, and keep the number of pages down until your business has more of a track record.

Too Much Time Blogging – Newbie business owners lacking clients (and with excess time on their hands) often make the mistake of trying to become the next Huffington Post. Even if you’re not spending money, you’re spending something just as precious: time. Limit your writing time and put more effort into closing sales.

Paid Networking Groups – I am not a fan of paid networking or referral groups such as BNI.  But if you’re considering one, at least hold off joining until you figure out whether you really can benefit from one. Try Meetups instead – they are either free or charge only a nominal fee.

Document, presentation and spreadsheet software – With all the free online software services, you should be spending little or nothing at first for these. As your business grows you can selectively upgrade to meet specific needs.

Public Relations – Don’t get me wrong, PR is valuable. But in the first 6 months you’re still figuring out your startup’s “story” and how to frame it.  Until you’ve gone through that process don’t waste your money or the PR professional’s time.

Raising money – Some startups will never get off the ground without investment – but that’s not most startups. Unless you are part of the tiny minority with the kind of high-growth business likely to attract investors, or you are planning to buy into a franchise and need the franchise fee, focus on getting customers instead.  Raising money is a full-time job in and of itself, and it distracts the founder from other things in the business.

Large print runs – For brochures, sell sheets, mailers and other items: prepare and print in small quantities.  Invariably you will refine your business and your marketing materials after the first 6 months. You may end up focusing on a narrower niche or revising your pricing. You want to be nimble, not locked in to a 3-year supply.

Web conferencing software –  Holding meetings and sales presentations remotely can be valuable.  But all those $24/month expenses for software services  can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars monthly. Explore free options that may fit your situation:  Google Hangouts, AnyMeeting or OoVoo are 3 possibilities.

Conference call bridge – Try a service like FreeConference.com instead of paying for a conference bridge service.  Couple it with Google Talk, and you don’t even have to pay long distance charges (calls to phones in the US and Canada are currently free).

Collaboration, CRM, sales management and other software – Just the process of evaluating and choosing software packages can take hours, even days – why get distracted?  If it’s a process improvement type of software and  not core to your business, it can wait 6 months.

Shop – really shop – for deals – Many vendors offer loyalty program discounts, or discounts provided by official partners of the vendor.  Don’t buy anything until you’ve first checked websites of your key vendors to see what offers and programs may be available.

Invention services —  If you have an invention that you think could be valuable, run, don’t walk, to a patent attorney – not to an invention promotion service. U.S. patent law recently switched to a first to file system. You could lose rights by not taking the correct steps promptly, and only an attorney can advise you.

Trademark filings – Filing for a trademark usually doesn’t have the same urgency as with a patent. In fact, by consistently using your mark over time you establish stronger rights. In the first six months a trademark registration is not an essential expense.

Advertising – Advertising takes money. Besides, a lot of startups are still figuring out what they are doing in the first 6 months.  Instead, ramp up your social media presence during this time. You can connect with your audience and develop more of a two-way dialogue during this time, gaining feedback from your target audience as well.  If you must advertise, experiment with low cost alternatives such as Facebook Promoted Posts and Twitter Promoted Tweets.

Finally, I’d like to also point you to two additional resources:

How to save on expenses in a small business.

Ten ways to save money in your business.

Image: Startup costs

The post What NOT to Spend On In Your Startup appeared first on Small Business Trends.

via Small Business Trends http://smallbiztrends.com/2013/05/startup-costs-to-avoid.html?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=startup-costs-to-avoid

Customer services: an extension of your brand and values

“As an internal communications specialist, I cannot stress the value of good customer service enough.”

“As the managing director of an agency, with responsibility for all client relations, I cannot stress the value of good customer service enough.”

“As a regular patron of the convenience store on my street, I cannot stress the value of good customer service enough.”

Seeing a pattern emerge?

It doesn’t require an industry expert to explain the importance of good customer service. In fact, as you might expect, that privilege usually belongs to your clients. I can put forward some pretty interest facts related to this area though; for example, 81% of customers would be willing to pay more in order to receive superior customer service. That’s a personal favourite.

‘Customer service’ usually makes people think of a retail scenario, but it applies to pretty much any sector you can think of. There are always customers as there’s always someone that benefits from the product or the services you provide. Otherwise you wouldn’t be paid to do it, would you?

Client service doesn’t only apply to making sure you always do a good job all of the time without issue. In fact, I’ve always said that an issue or problem dealt with effectively can actually be more beneficial than just doing a good job all of the time. Generally we expect good customer service and as a result we tend not to talk about it that much. We’re more inclined to moan about being poorly treated, or maybe wax lyrical about a speedy and sensitive resolution if a problem arises.

A customer-facing team are much the same. They’re expected to be empathic, efficient and good communicators by default. It isn’t until an employee goes truly beyond the call of duty, or possibly aggravates a client, that a particular transaction becomes noteworthy.

Because each customer should feel truly valued, and yet call centre operatives, retail assistants, front of house teams etc. can deal with hundreds of individuals on a daily basis, it’s essential that attributes of your corporate brand identity – put forward through your internal communications strategy – mirror those that will help a workforce achieve consistent excellence in their customer service.

Cynical decision makers might frown upon a brand built upon terms like ‘friendly’, ‘warm’ or ‘personable’ as part of a brand identity.  But, every conscientious employee endeavours to stay true to the identity of their company’s brand, using it as part of their role’s blueprint. Although an individual’s personality traits can never be underestimated, a brand identity that is easily implemented across a busy, customer-facing work environment is far more likely to be reach your client base.

Think of it this way: the easiest way for a member of your team to convey that your company is ‘friendly’ is to be friendly when dealing with clients. It’s the same for a company that wants to be seen as ‘understanding’ or ‘sympathetic.’

A brand identity that’s ‘optimised’ for those working in customer service – which draws upon personality traits that lend themselves to best client-facing protocol – is often the most successfully translated to stakeholders.

Guest Post from Sam Rainey, McGrath O’Toole: Internal comms specialist Sam Rainey was invited to join Leeds-based McGrath O’Toole as managing director last April, to develop the client services function that drew upon his 16 years’ experience in the creative and experiential event sectors.

The Future of Mobile Marketing: Smartphones and Augmented Reality

mobile marketing

With each new year, marketers continue to say that mobile marketing is going to be huge. Has the time already come, or are there more developments in mobile marketing and technology yet to be seen?

Mobile is one of the most innovative technology platforms out today, and with about 50% of mobile users (and 70% of affluent customers) owning a smartphone, the market for apps and further technological advancement is greater now than ever before.

The Future of Mobile Marketing

Smartphone users are expecting a deeper personalized engagement and assistance from their phones. Many people are dependent on their phone as their sole source of telecommunication, as well as a way to connect via social media and email. They also use it for entertainment and consuming content. This means that app and operating system developers need to fulfill a hefty order: To continue to make smartphones an integral part of user’s lives.

Facilitating Experiences

FourSquare and Yelp have released app updates in the last year that allow users to be notified when their friends have checked into the same location or are nearby. This type of GPS-location for a user’s social network is even further reducing the need to communicate directly with friends to find out where they are. This can be useful when attending large events, going out with new friends while running into some new ones or even avoiding an ex-girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife or boss.

Besides utilizing mobile to market locations as a place where a user’s friends are hanging out, mobile apps can also be used to market events or unique experiences. This includes secret concerts or performances for only certain app users or a special on hot air balloon rides that a user just happens to be a few blocks away from. Users like the gratification of having apps do the work for them. That way, they can focus more on their friends and the experience itself, rather than spending effort having to find it.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) continues to be the golden child in the minds of those thinking about the future of mobile marketing. Think of all the potential for local businesses – instant restaurant reviews (which Yelp has already been utilizing since 2009), hotel locations, online prices for products on shelves and more. Not to mention all the games and entertainment experiences that augmented reality can bring into users’ homes.

The potential of augmented reality is seemingly endless, especially because it is still in development and its potential remains vastly untapped. HowStuffWorks (who has a great video on AR) estimates that by 2020, there will be 50 billion devices connected to the internet. This means that online sensors can influence how users see reality in relation to their individual preferences and past history.

Price Comparison

Mobile makes it easy to instantly check for product and service prices, as well as for coupons and discounts, from anywhere there is wifi access or cell phone service. While many mobile marketing apps, like CouponSherpa (available at Google Play and iTunes) and Apple’s passbook, have utilized this to create services based on a user’s location, search and available connected profiles, the future still remains wide for further possibilities.

For instance, what if a restaurant’s app noticed a user’s negative tweet about a competitor and instantly text them a lucrative coupon? Or if a user’s smart phone GPS says they are in the area, a business could pay to be part of an app that offers instant, unique deals personalized to that user, depending on where they are (Groupon is going down this road with their instant deals).

The future of mobile marketing will depend largely on apps reacting to the customer, instead of the customer initiating the request for information themselves. GPS location, as well as inter-connected social media APIs will make this second nature.

Interaction With the Outside World

In relation to augmented reality and mobile marketing based on a user’s behavior and location, mobile technology may also continue to make a user’s life easier by increasing their ability to interact with the outside world. Instances may include:

  • Using Shazam to listen to an infomercial to instantly buy the advertised product.
  • Ordering photos from Shutterfly directly from a user’s smart phone camera album.
  • Using apps or bluetooth to pay for purchases at a department store.
  • Scanning a piece of furniture’s barcode to search for tutorial videos on how to assemble it.

There are many instances where the Internet already makes smartphone users’ lives easier than ever, but the key to future development is fine-tuning what has already been done while also innovating further ways to streamline and make things more efficient.

While mobile marketing has already come quite far in just the past few years, the fact remains that there is much more that can still be done. With almost every electronic device available being built to connect to the Internet, smartphones and other gadgets alike will bring marketers and users together to create experiences, influence purchases and make life a little easier.

Mobile Future Photo via Shutterstock

The post The Future of Mobile Marketing: Smartphones and Augmented Reality appeared first on Small Business Trends.

via Small Business Trends http://smallbiztrends.com/2013/05/mobile-marketing-augmented-reality.html?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mobile-marketing-augmented-reality

Five steps to using online video as an effective communications tool

The way people process information is changing. Today we
look for bite-sized video content that can be easily processed and
instantly shared, take for example Twitter’s recent 6-second
innovation,
Vine
Check out these top tips from
Detlev Weise, Chief Executive Officer at simpleshow, for using video to
communicate with your customer.

Microsoft suggests that by simply having a video embedded
into a landing page, a website is 500 per cent more
likely to retain visitors, making video an essential tool for
any 21st century business. Here are five techniques marketers can
adopt to ensure online video conveys the right messages and reaches
the right audience.

1. Tell a story

Before you even begin to approach your storyboard, you must
consider your audience’s point of view – what previous knowledge do
they have of your product or service? It’s key to analyse your
topic and filter out layers of information omitting anything that
isn’t core to your message. With video the age-old saying “Less is
more,” is certainly true. A good story can help your audience
understand and, above all, remember the message. Whether you are
marketing a product, launching a service or making an announcement,
make sure your video encompasses the three key elements of a story:
identification, dramatic composition and resolution.

2. Visualise it

Our background is in animation and so while there are many ways
to tell a story, we’re firm believers that images are a hugely
effective way to communicate a message: they remain in people’s
minds longer than words and many symbols are understood at first
glance globally. For this reason, don’t be afraid of presenting
your message symbolically. Simple illustrations can help convey the
content in an easily comprehensible manner. You can source your own
images if you have a talented animator on your team, but otherwise
we would advise taking your concepts to a professional to execute
the drawings.

3. Turn up the sound

Speech, music and sound effects are all perceived differently to
visual stimuli, but exert an enormous influence on your audience
sub-consciously. Be ambitious when it comes to the soundtrack.
Using background music in your clip helps you stir different
emotions in your audience. While you do need to bear in mind the
editing and usage rights, using music can also help the pace and
atmosphere of the film. Good sound design can help your film become
easier to understand and attention to detail will further improve
its impact.

4. Spread the word

Decide the objective of your video and think how to reach that
audience. Do you want it to explain your service, communicate a
milestone or attract visitors to your website? How you host and
distribute the clip will determine whether it reaches the target
audience and, ultimately, whether it will achieve the desired
effect that makes a tangible difference to your brand.

How and why a particular video is shared online is almost
impossible to predict, it must evolve naturally from a piece of
genuinely engaging content that people are compelled to share. That
being said, help things along by making your video shareable, easy
to find and easy to embed onto other sites.

5. If in doubt, ask an expert

Videos made off a shoestring can reach hundreds of millions of
people across the globe however, a professional-looking video is
key when it comes to presenting your business. A poor-quality video
can ruin even the most beautiful concept or even an entire brand
reputation, so if in doubt follow the golden rule and ask an
expert.

via Small business advice from Smarta http://www.smarta.com/advice/sales-and-marketing/advertising-and-marketing/five-steps-to-using-online-video-as-an-effective-communications-tool

Top 5 Ways To Protect Your Store

A struggling economy has led to an increase in retail theft. Theft itself has always been an issue, but lately more organized groups are running the show, stealing large amounts of store inventory and reselling the goods for profit. These groups contribute to the billions of dollars lost by retailers every year.

You’ll need to protect your store and inventory from shoplifters, employees, and break-ins when you close for the night. Your insurance policy will help you get back on your feet in case something happens, but you should still do all that you can to minimize threats. Review your security and procedures consistently once implemented, so that you stay up to date.

If you notice any security issues take immediate action. Failure to do so will open the way for thieves but it will also compromise your insurance policy. Most insurance companies require some security measures to be implemented by you in order for the policy to be effective. Failure to comply will invalidate the policy and put you at risk. Here are the top five ways to protect your store.

Keep Up To Date With Inventory

This point tops the list because it will help you identify what was lost if the unthinkable happens. You can use manual methods to keep track of your inventory, but with so many computerized programs it is easy to implement an automated program. This will help you keep accurate records as it happens. At any point in time you’ll be able to look and see how many items you have in stock.

Proper inventory makes it easy when you have to fill out insurance claims. While you’re taking inventory, record the serial numbers and models of your computers, scanners and other equipment.

Install Video Cameras In The Store

Cameras are a costly investment, but they are invaluable when you want to protect your store. Burglars might think twice about carrying out a heist if they spot surveillance cameras on the building. If the cameras are hidden they can be used to help security and law enforcement personal catch the thieves and recover your stolen goods.

When you set up surveillance cameras, make sure to record the footage and keep it for a minimum of seven days. This way you’ll be able to access the footage if you don’t immediately determine that you’ve been robbed. Use signage to alert thieves to the fact that the property is under surveillance.

Lighting and Design

The lighting within and around the building can also serve as a deterrent to thieves. Make sure that parking lots, doorways and entryways around the building are well lit so that people in the area can identify anyone trying to gain forceful entry into the store.

The building, doors and windows should be well constructed to prevent easy access to the valuables inside. The doors should be fitted with deadlocks and locked securely when leaving the store. Sturdy gates should also be installed to prevent vehicle ram raids.

Safe

Install a safe in the store if you handle large sums of cash. Ideally you should make deposits to the bank daily, but where this is not possible, store the money in a hidden safe. Lock the safe before you leave the store.

You should also have a written policy detailing how cash is handled. An irregular banking procedure will protect you from attacks. Employ a third party company to transport cash if you’re dealing with large sums of money. Leave keys to the store and safe only in the hands of your most trusted employees.

Security Guards

Security guards are not always a foolproof means of safeguarding your stores, but it will go a long way to deter petty thieves. Your security guards can serve double duty. When the store is opened they can look out for shoplifters and do bag checks at the door. When the store is closed they can stand guard and spot any unusual activity.

Don’t be a victim; use these and any other methods to protect your store against active thieves. When they fail, your insurance policy will step in to cover any losses that you incur.

These methods might not be applicable to some stores, so they might need to be adapted to suit your own particular circumstance.

What are some other things that you have done to protect your store? 

By: Kole for Quantum Security Gates