Archive of ‘Blog’ category

Why keeping your startup a secret from your friends is actually a really smart marketing ploy

Common advice about launching a startup is to spread the word as much as you possibly can prior to the big day. But what I’m going to explain in this blog post is why that approach is a big mistake, and I’m going to suggest a pretty strange alternative strategy but one that can be very effective.

I’ve spent years working with big companies on major website launches, and client launches have typically fallen into two categories: The first category is the big high profile launch: fixed date, press releases, big launch team. The second is the quiet soft launch: Imperfect website, no press releases, small launch team.

Which launch strategy do you think has typically been more effective?

Without fail, the soft launch is more effective, and it has always been the strategy I recommend to clients. Now I’ll explain why.

No product is perfect from the outset, and no website is perfect from the outset. Sure, it can be technically perfect. You can spend plenty of time and money testing it with real users, but it is only feedback from your customers that will really allow you to fine tune it and perfect it. By doing a soft launch, you can do just that. You can slow-drip the release to your customers, and start to listen to their feedback. You can look at what your customers are doing on your website, whether or not they are buying, and what is preventing them from buying. You can then use this information to fine tune your offering so it is better designed to your customers needs. Then, and only then, can you consider your ‘big’ launch, because you will have a much better product to launch and you are going to get a much high conversion rate because of it.

So how to friends come into this? Well, when many of us start a new business we get pretty excited telling our friends about our fantastic ideas, don’t we? But the thing is, friends can actually be some of the most valuable assets to you in this early stage before you have a large number of customers to give you feedback. Friends can give you their own feedback. But if you “sell” the idea to your friends before the launched, their opinion is going to be biased. A much better strategy is to keep your ideas to yourself, show your product or service to your friends during your soft launch, and get their honest reaction. What is their immediate reaction? Do they get it? Does anything confuse them? What would stop them from buying? This feedback will be pure gold.

So a little note here before I finish: You need to use close friends who will be 100% honest with you. So by “friends” I mean your real friends. The ones who’ll take you to one side and whisper to you that you’ve got your skirt tucked in to your knickers. Yep, those ones.

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Are you doubting your ability to start your own business? Ok, Well this post is going to challenge you to think again

The fact you are on my website means that, on some conscious or subconscious level, you do have a desire to start your own business. Perhaps you are unhappy in your job. Perhaps you want something more rewarding in your life. Perhaps you want success. Perhaps you want a better balance between work and family life. Perhaps you are due to go on maternity leave and you are worried that your employment isn’t going to cover the cost of childcare when you return. Perhaps you are just bored and frustrated at the 9-5 commute and you want freedom.

You see, I really don’t need to write an article about what motivates you to start a business. You already have that motivation within you, whether you realise it or not. You have the desire and drive to make that change. But for some reason, you haven’t quite taken that step yet to making it happen. Here’s why. You are faced with fears. Starting a business is a scary thing. It’s natural to have fears. Here are some of the most common fears people having about starting their own business. If you identify with these, then you are not alone. But you can overcome these fears, and I will explain how.

I don’t have enough time

Even if you are genuinely time-poor, here’s a fact: you do have enough time to start a business. What you need to focus on is quality over quantity. Keep a task list of priorities and set aside dedicated hours to get things done. You’ll need to minimise time spent on social media and internet research and all the other things that we can use to procrastinate when starting a business, and focus specifically on things that are going to push your business a little bit further forward.

I don’t have enough money

You don’t need huge funds to start a web business. Start small and use free tools like WordPress to get your site up and running.

I’ll be giving up a well-paid job

You really need to re-frame your thinking. Are you giving up a well-paid job where you might get a 5% payrise next year if you are lucky? Or are you opening yourself up to the opportunity of a job where your opportunity for amazing financial security is only limited by your imagination and your ability to work hard?

I’ll be giving up job security

What is job security in today’s market? Are you really confident that your employers won’t be making redundancies in the future? What if you had a business that made money and made profit, even if you broke your leg and couldn’t work for several weeks? With a web based business, that is completely possible. So what does job security really mean?

I don’t have the expertise

The beauty of the internet is that there is an answer to everything. If you believe in yourself, invest in yourself. Do some training. Learn your craft. Learn how to market and learn how to sell. Most successful entrepreneurs started their businesses with very little expertise, but by believing in themselves and investing in themselves they’ve succeeded.

There are other companies doing it better than I can

If you haven’t watched Simon Senek’s wonderful TED talk, do so now. It will completely re-think your idea on competition.

I’m scared of failure

Do you know what’s worse than failure? Regret.

Ask yourself: what is the worst that can happen? Be honest. A web based business takes little financial investment. It just takes a bit of time and determination. So what have you got to lose?

So address those fears head-on. And never forget to think about everything you have to gain by doing something brave. This is your life. Live it with passion.

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Motherhood: the unlikely competitive advantage in business

If you are a mother, do you ever feel like you are at a disadvantage in starting up a business because you are trying to balance your work with family life? Many times I’ve had that same feeling. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it might have been easier to start a business when I was in my 20s and had all that time to myself. But now I’ve been running my business for a while, I’ve realised that I actually launched at the perfect time. More importantly, I’ve realised that my dual role as business owner and a mother gives me a unique competitive advantage that many startups just don’t have. Here’s why:

Quality creative time: If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know how important I think it is to have some small amounts of quality quiet time for your business. This is when you’ll be at your most creative, and when you will come up with solutions and ideas that will make your business stand out. Of course, anyone starting a business has the opportunity to give themselves creative time – short periods of quiet time when they can work really hard at thinking through ideas. But does everyone use that time well?

In economics, there is a very simple principle. People place a higher value on things that are scarce.  So if creative time is freely available, then people don’t necessarily value it or make good use of it. But what if you are a mother and you only get an hour a day of free time? Are you going to value that time highly? Are you going to use that time well? I’m going to take a bet that you will.

Highly efficient working: There is a beautiful viral video that appeared on Facebook recently, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you can view it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HB3xM93rXbY Here’s one quote from it: “Responsibilities and requirements are really quite extensive”. Can you relate to this? Of course you can. As mothers, we often have to do five different things at once, and do each of them well. Even if you haven’t realised it, you’ve become a master at working efficiently. And efficient working is what is going to allow you to become really effective in your business. In a startup, you often have to wear many hats, and you have to juggle a lot of balls in the air. Well, a mother has more experience in that than anyone else I know.

A first-class problem solving mindset: You don’t get a manual when you become a mother. No one tells you what to do and there are no easy solutions when you come across challenges. Giving up isn’t an option, and “no” is never a satisfactory answer (unless you are dealing with a toddler of course!). As a mother, you need to be persistent in large quantities, and you need to have a super-advanced problem solving mindset. So can you see how easily those qualities can work for you in a startup business? If you come across a challenge, then you know that challenge is NEVER beyond your abilities and you can ALWAYS find a solution. For example, even if you don’t know how to create a website without any money, you’ll figure it out. Because when you couldn’t get your child sleeping at 2am, what did you do? You figured it out!

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How to juggle a business and a baby (not literally)

I know I have a lot of readers on this blog who are women thinking of starting a business but who are also raising a young family. If you’ve read my About section you’ll know that I have a young daughter, and that I launched the business when she was just a baby. So I thought I would give you my top tips for how I try and balance the intensity of a startup business with the demands of a family.

Find your quiet hours

As any mother can testify, the concept of a quiet hour appears completely at odds with the reality of parenthood. However, have a look at your week and find the hours that are kid-free. This time will typically be when they are sleeping or napping, unless you are blessed to have family close by who help with the childcare. Dedicate a set number of those quiet hours to your business.

My quiet hours are 5am-6.30am. This isn’t for everyone, but I’ve always been a morning person and a cup of coffee usually gets me through.

Get mobile

My iPod is one of the most important tools for my business. When I was breastfeeding a hungry newborn for hours at a time, my iPod kept me in touch with the rest of the world and allowed me to get things done. So make sure you use mobile technology in a way that can help you juggle the demands of business and family life.

Put quality time ahead of quantity

Like many mothers, I found myself asking whether I was spending enough hours with my daughter at such a precious stage in her life. That was, until I realised that what my daughter needs from me isn’t a quantity of time but high quality time. So I try to plan ahead to ensure the time we spend together as a family is something she’ll really enjoy. So that might be something as simple as a trip to the park, a walk in the forest, or a messy day of painting in the house. Try to avoid negative thoughts about the time you are spending away from your family on your business and instead look at ways you can maximise the time you do spend with them.

Set yourself realistic goals

If you are trying to balance the demands of family life and a new business, you need to be realistic about how much you are going to get done in the average week. For too long, I planned out my business week with ambitious goals, in the mindset that I needed to have a launch strategy and growth strategy as big and impressive as a high profile startup. Not true. I still achieved a lot but I found myself under far less pressure when I made my goals more realistic. And remember. Even if you have little funding for your startup, you can still outsource the odd thing to try and progress a little faster. Sites such as fiverr.com offer a fantastic array of low cost, good quality services for a new business.

Take time for yourself

I’m in daily contact with wonderful networks of bright, powerful, successful business women. And every single day I see one of us asking the same question:

Am I doing enough?

For us women, one of our beautiful strengths, but also the one that gives us the biggest challenge, is our constant drive to be doing more for everyone around us. Not only are we dedicated to our businesses, but we always want to be doing more in every aspect of our lives. We want to be there for our family. We want to support our friends. We want to help our community. We want a tidy house. And a slim figure. And we shower ourselves with guilt if we think we might not be doing enough.

Pause.

How much good are you doing in your own world if you don’t stop to make time for yourself occasionally? You are no help to anyone, and no value to your business, if you are tired and stressed. So the best thing you can do for you, your business and everyone around you is to take some time for yourself on a regular basis. Guilt-free time.

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How to avoid the sort of crazy website launch that’ll have you reaching for the wine and chocolate

One of the best strategies for succeeding in the world of online startups is by starting small (or lean, which is the fashionable team at the moment. But I use the word small. It’s straightforward and it doesn’t remind me of dieting). Here’s why: An over-complicated or over-ambitious launch becomes muddled, it confuses your customer base, and most importantly it will take away all the confidence you have in yourself and what you are selling. It’s really easy to avoid over-complicating things and I’ll go through some of the main stuff to avoid:

  • Selling too many products or services. Here’s the thing. Market research was vital in the pre-internet days when startups needed thousands of pounds of investments and were therefore high risk. An online business doesn’t need thousands of pounds and it isn’t high risk. By starting small and limiting the items you sell, you’ll gather the perfect market research. What sells well? What product doesn’t interest your customers? Stop guessing and start studying your customers.  Do this before you invest thousands, and you’ll have a much better chance of your business succeeding.
  • Spending thousands of pounds on advertising: here’s why too much advertising can be bad. You don’t know who you are selling to. You might think you know, but until you launch and you start getting sales, it is simply a guess. You could end up wasting thousands advertising to completely the wrong market segment. So start small.
  • Producing complex solutions. If you are creating something technical, such as a new piece of software, you may have a grand vision in your head about what that is going to look like and why your customers are going to love it. But creating software can be an expensive and time consuming business. If you get it wrong, you will alienate your customer base and it will be very difficult to recover from that. Limit your initial development, pull back on your ambitious vision, and see how customers react to your offering. You could find that they don’t want all of the expensive things you had planned to put in there. Actaully, that is pretty likely as a lot of customers prefer simple solutions over complicated ones.
  • Producing a complex website: So all these points equally apply to your website. I have seen so many websites launched with dozens of menu options, numerous categories, and the whole look is confusing and overwhelming. Really, your initial website should just tell your customers a little bit about you and a little bit about your product or service. Plus a blog. That’s it. You don’t need all that other stuff.
  • Shouting about your business from the rooftops. A high profile launch is one of the most risky choices you can make for a website launch. If it works, it can be wonderful. But if it doesn’t (for example, the site becomes slow to respond to the huge number of visitors who’ve read the press release, or there’s a bug on the website) it can be catastrophic. Look at the health care website launched by the Obama administration as a perfect example of how damaging a problematic launch can be.

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Inspiring women series – Ellie

315380_10151003421656067_2142316614_nIn the second of my series interviewing female entrepreneurs who’ve taken that big step of starting their own business, I spoke to Ellie, Director of http://www.exhibitionplinths.co.uk. Ellie also has a blog at http://www.ellieentrepreneur.com talking about her journey to self-employment. You can also find Ellie on twitter as @EllieExhibition, and she has a list on there (inspiration) outlining the seminars and workshops she attends.

Ellie. What inspired you to start your own business? 

What made me decide to start my own business was, in total honesty, the fact that I could not cope with a 9-5 job! After over 30 jobs between the age of 20 and 24 (!) I felt the strong urge to be able to create my own path rather than living on someone else’s. My background is Dentistry and there was something about the job that just never sat with me straight. A very difficult concept to put into words but I’m sure many others unhappy at work will feel the same.

What do you think has been your biggest breakthrough so far?

My key breakthrough in business was getting Rachel Elnaugh on board as a business mentor. I realise that all the business and marketing advice in the whole world will not work on your business if you are not in the right mindset for success. I expanded my mindset greatly with Rachel and also by attending the Millionaire Mind Intensive Seminar where I was able to – over 3 days – expand my mindset and energy to the place it needed to be. From small thinking to big thinking! It’s really key (I find) to learn from someone else who has done it already, because you can sail past most of the pitfalls because they have already fallen in them often not once, but many times before.

What advice would you give to other aspiring female entrepreneurs? 

I would advise you to use social media and network, network, network. The networking hours on twitter are great for making valuable contacts and friends! Remember your customer is king or in my case probably Queen! I pride myself in giving an outstanding service, working with my customers to achieve the results they want. Nothing is too big an ask. Be positive – you need to believe that you are the best in your industry. If you don’t believe it no one else will!

The advice I would give to other women would be: firstly, to believe in yourself and try to steer away from an either/or mindset. We tend to think we can either have our own business, or go to work and earn money. We can either have a business, or a happy marriage. I’d advise getting used to thinking that you can have it all! For those who say you can’t have your cake and eat it, I truly believe you absolutely can both have your cake, eat it and most of all enjoy it.

Do you have a story worth sharing? Want to be featured in the next interview? If so, contact me by email – lauren @ theglitteringeyesbrigade.com and tell me a little bit about yourself. 

Why beauty isn’t everything in advertising

If you are thinking about doing paid advertising, you are probably considering how to design your ad. So let me ask you a question: are you designing it to look beautiful? Or are you designing it to work for you?

I love fashion and lifestyle magazines. Whenever I travel, I’ll buy two or three at the station or airport to keep me occupied for the journey. And if you flip through any of these magazines you’ll see some stunning ads full of beautiful models, gorgeous locations and elegant typeface.

So it is tempting to create ads that showcase beautiful design, your stunning logo, and inspiring images. But before you do so, read this article. I will explain why beauty isn’t everything when it comes to advertising online.

First, have a look at this excellent infographic from Kissmetrics:


How Colors Affect Conversions
Source: How Colors Affect Conversions – Infographic

The statistic I think is most interesting is the one from Performable. They changed a button from green to red, and it resulted in a 21% increase in conversions. So have a think about that statistic and what that would mean to your business. If you spend $100 on advertising, you could achieve a 21% increase in sales just from changing the colour of a button. That’s a huge number!

I can guess what you are thinking now. You’re thinking: “but I’ve seen those ads with the big red buttons. They’re ugly and annoying. There is no way I will allow that to reflect my brand!”.

Whilst I would be inclined to agree, you do have to take note of these pieces of research if you really want to get the best ROI from your advertising. The fact is, people to respond well to some colours over others, and often it is the uglier, brighter, gaudy looking designs that draw attention from visitors over the more beautiful but muted brands. However, you don’t need to go down the path of bright red and yellow, giant font, flashing ads that we’ve all seen and hated. There is a middle ground. What you do need to do is draw the attention of the visitor away from the rest of the page they are currently looking at. So you do need to make a statement.

So does this mean you should make all the buttons on your ads red?

Absolutely not. Red is not necessarily the color that is going to work most effectively for your target customer. But you do need to do some research into colour psychology for your target market, and more importantly you need to try out some different ads to see which ones get the best response. That is exactly what these businesses in the infographic did. They experimented and they looked at the results. By doing the same thing, you could really transform the effectiveness of advertising for your business.

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The most important action you can take today if you want to succeed as a solo entrepreneur

One of the best things you can do to grow your business is to form a network online with other business women. I’m part of one, and it’s probably helped to grow my business more than anything else. On top of that, having peers to talk to about your fears, hopes and dreams is something that is invaluable during moments in your business where things do seem difficult or challenging.

So how do you go about finding a good network? Well, I’ve listed several excellent business networks below. But before I go into that, first let me outline what I think is important to look for in a network:

  • Don’t necessarily focus on finding women in exactly the same industry. Instead, look at similar and complimentary industries. There may be some cross over between your companies that will be of great value to you all.
  • Look at finding women in a similar stage of their startup to you. If you are just launching, it will be great to speak to people who are having similar frustrations and revelations as you, whereas if you are in a growth stage of your business the conversation may be very different.
  • Be clear about what you want to get from the group. Do you want to learn new things? Or do you just want some moral support? This will help you to find the right people.
  • Some online groups tend to link people up based on geographical location too, so if you would like to meet people in person as well as chat online, make sure you consider this.

So here is a list of some great networks out there to consider joining:

When you join a network, make sure you take the time to introduce yourself to people and how you started in business. It will give other women a chance to see what they have in common with you, or they may relate to your story. Also, make sure you give as much as you take in a network. Actually, give more than you take. Help out others as much as you can and you will be remembered for all the right reasons.

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The web industry might not thank me, but I’m going to spill the beans on website pricing….

If you are currently writing a budget for your startup and wondering how much a website will cost you, here are some honest facts from my own experience in the industry:

Option 1: Hire An Agency ($10000 for basic websites, up to mid six figures for complex ones)

  • If you want to go for the expensive option, then what you are really paying a premium for is higher quality and a greater level of originality with the design work, and highly qualified technical staff. So an agency becomes more beneficial only if you have something very unique you are looking to build, whether that’s a very unique design or very complex technical features.
  • If you use a web agency, the hourly rate is higher. Often it is in the region of $80-$200 per hour.
  • You’ll likely need to pay for other things such as requirements gathering and design work, plus testing. You’ll most likely find a basic website costs upwards of $10000. A complex website might cost in the region of $50000-$100000. The numbers just go up from there. Something incredibly complex could be in the mid six figures or even higher.
  • By working with an agency, you might find you have a larger team working on the project rather than a single freelancer. Each team member is likely to have a more specialist role.

Option 2: Hire A Freelancer ($240 to $2000+ for more complex requirements)

  • A decent freelancer will typically charge between $30-£60 per hour. How much a total website build will cost depends on how complex your requirements are.
  • If you just want a website to show information about your company and products, then a good freelancer can do that in about 1-2 days. So you are looking at a likely cost of somewhere in the region of $240 – $960.
  • If you want a basic eCommerce website then this may take a little longer, but nowadays eCommerce sites are easy to build so a good developer should quote somewhere in the region of 2-4 days. So you are looking at a cost anywhere in the region of $480 – $1920
  • If you have more complex requirements, then the price will start going up and a freelancer will need to quote on a case-by-case basis depending on the complexity. A good freelancer will spend time listening to your requirements and will give you a breakdown of what their day estimate is for each complex item you’ve spoken about.

Option 3: Do it yourself (free, or minimal cost)

  • This isn’t as scary as it seems. If you use a software solution such as WordPress, Squarespare or Shopify you can create a website without any upfront cost, and with Shopify you can build a basic eCommerce website. However, whilst WordPress is free, you do have to pay a monthly fee for Squarespace and Shopify.
  • To give you an example, this website is built in WordPress and it hardly cost me anything to build, just my time plus $79 for the lovely template design. It took around a day to set up (I already have some experience in WordPress). The first WordPress website I ever set up took me 3-4 days, so it is pretty straightforward. My Giftizzi blog is also in WordPress, and uses a template which cost me $99. Again, that only took a day to build (my main Giftizzi site is a complex build so I did go through an agency for that).
  • WordPress is easy to learn. If you haven’t done so already, sign up to my newsletter so that you can receive my free guide to setting up a website in less than 24 hours. Give it a try, and I think you’ll be surprised at how much you can achieve with very limited technical knowledge.

As you can see, there is a big variation in website costs so if you are going to budget for your startup then you need to understand what you are building and how complex it is. Is it something you could do on your own with a little preparation work? Or is it something that is truly ground-breaking and complex that requires the knowledge of specialists?

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This ancient invention can be your secret weapon for great SEO

SEO seems pretty technical and overwhelming sometimes, doesn’t it? Have you every browsed around SEO blogs and videos and thought: wow, this is pretty complicated. I’m really going to have to pay someone to do that for me.

Me too.

I decided I wanted to recruit a specialist SEO company, and I was ready to sign the contract when a little voice in my head told me not do. I just thought to myself: you know, it can’t be that difficult. Other people have figured it out. Let’s try a few things and see what happens.

So I did. And let me tell you something. It worked. I got the same rankings in just three weeks that the SEO company told me would take them three months to achieve (and thousands of dollars!). And all that techie stuff? You don’t need to know it. Sure, learn it if you really want. But if you are a beginner like I was and just need to get started, that advanced stuff isn’t needed.

Now, there are plenty of pieces of advice I can give you about how I got started on SEO, but it would be too long for a blog post, so I’m going to give you some simple things you can do to just get started on SEO. And it doesn’t involve the latest and greatest tools, it doesn’t require the use of software, and it doesn’t require any technical knowledge.

In fact, all you need is something that’s actually thousands of years old.

A piece of paper.

Get a pen, and a piece of paper, and jot down some ideas about what you think your customers would type into google to find a company or a service like you are offering. Why do this on paper? Because you need to think like a human, not a machine. So by removing yourself from the computer, you’ll allow your brain to think creatively. And that is why I say that SEO isn’t technical. Because all Google is doing is trying to help humans find the information they want. So the more talented you are at predicting human behaviour (as opposed to a machine’s behaviour) the more success you are going to have with SEO. Write down as many ideas as you can. Don’t stop at ten. Try and think of hundreds. If you have customers you can speak to, ask them what they would type into Google to find you.

So what do you do with all this information? Well, you make sure that is exactly how you word everything on your website. If customers are looking for beautiful necklaces for bridesmaids, give them exactly that. Don’t give them an obscurely named page such as jewellery for special occasions. Apply this rule to every piece of content on your website, and you’ll find that SEO starts to work for you in no time.

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