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If You Can Admit You’re Wrong Occasionally, Your Business Will Thrive

Be honest. You hate getting criticized.

Of course you do. It’s human nature. None of us like to be critiqued, and we definitely don’t like to admit we are wrong (just ask my husband :-) ).

But as an entrepreneur, accepting criticism is one of the best things you can do for your business. Because the truth is, you won’t get your business right the first time you launch it. You’ll think you got it right. You’ll launch it and you’ll feel a burst of pride in your new baby. All your time, stress and hard work will have grown something that you are truly proud of, so its inconceivable that other people just might not like it as much as you.
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Trying to increase your audience size? This is why your strategy might be wrong

It’s 9am, and you have just walked into a packed conference room with 1000 people sitting in chairs, waiting to listen to the speaker: you. It sounded like such a great opportunity when you heard about it. You’ve just launched your brand new product that you have spent the last six months lovingly perfecting, and now you have a chance to tell the world about it.

So you take a deep breath, a sip of water, and begin your carefully crafted talk. But the audience in front of you aren’t listening. In fact, they are talking in whispered murmurs to each other. They aren’t even looking at you. No-one is taking any notice of what you have to say. They don’t care. They are just random members of the public, and they don’t really have any interest in the product you are trying to sell.
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This is the most common excuse for why people don’t start their own business

I’ve spoken to so many women with dreams of starting their own business. Women who dream it but have never made the leap. So I ask them this question:

What’s stopping you from starting today?

The most common answer I hear is money.

It’s a common misconception that starting a business in today’s competitive economy takes thousands or millions of dollars. After all, you only need to look at the crowdfunding and Kickstarter campaigns online to see the amount of money being channelled into new businesses. You might even read articles in the business press about Silicon Valley companies with 7 figure startup funds. It sounds insane, frightening, and it probably makes you believe that you’ll never be able to compete, right?

But here’s the truth.

Starting a business doesn’t take millions of dollars. It doesn’t take a team of Ivy League graduates, and it doesn’t take a cash-injection from a top venture capital business. Yes, you can go down this route. But that is simply one option and it’s not the only route to success (in fact, getting outside funding typically means you need to take an incredibly aggressive strategy with your business from day one, and that in itself is very high risk and leads to a lot of high profile failures; it’s this high-risk strategy that allows investors to make their money back from a single investment when the other nine fold).

We have technology now that means that anyone can create their own website, from scratch, without any background in coding and development. WordPress.org – which I run this website on – is probably the best example of this. It’s free, it’s easy to use, and it’s really quick to launch a website on it. If you want to create a shop, there are places like Etsy and Shopify that make it incredibly easy to just start advertising your first product.

So if you have a business idea you are dreaming of, but worry about the costs, here is what I would suggest: Take away all the complications and visions about your future business, and just write down the simplest form your business could take. So if you want to create an online shop, think about just one or two things you could start to sell. If you want to create a consultancy, think about advertising a single consultation service. Just keep it simple and make a start. An imperfect but real business is better than a perfect dream that never happens, right?

With a little bit of determination and by setting aside some weekend hours to getting it done, you could have a business website by this time next week. You could be selling your services and products. You could be winning your first customer. Doesn’t that sound exciting? You could be an entrepreneur within a week from now. And if you need extra help, don’t forget to download my free guide (see the box to the right of this blog). It will give you the step-by-step instructions for getting it all done.

*Disclaimer. I’m affiliated with Shopify, but like anything else on this site, I just recommend what I have personally used and like and believe is something that will help my readers, whether I’m affiliated or not. 

Why Visitors Will Forget About Your Website

A website is a labor of love, isn’t it? You pour your heart and soul into everything you write, and you take your time to make sure the layout is just perfect. So it seems almost impossible to think that you can put all that hard work in, only to have your visitors forget about you minutes after they’ve left.

Unfortunately, that’s the truth. Think about your own experience when browsing the web. If I were to ask you now:

“Quickly, tell me about a really fantastic website you visited last week. What’s the URL?”

Would you remember? Probably not. So when people can’t recall your website, it isn’t because you haven’t spent enough time on it, or that its just not as good as you hoped. Its simply human nature. Many of us can only remember a handful of URLs for websites we frequent, and they are typically very large brands.

So what can you do to ensure your precious and valued visitors return to your website again and again? Well, there’s plenty of options and I’ve listed them below. I’ve also scored them, so you can see just how effective each of these strategies is.

  • Advertising 1/5

The plus points of advertising is that it will increase brand awareness, and if you have a strong brand then people are more likely to remember it. The downside of this is that the big multi-billion dollar companies spend millions every year doing just that, and it can be very difficult for a startup to do the same. Think about the brands you are most familiar with on the internet. Are they strong, well-established brands? I bet they are. For me, that would be the BBC, Facebook, Google.

  • Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram 2/5

If you consistently make use of social media, then you can use it as an opportunity to keep your website fresh in the minds of your visitors and entice them to keep coming back. The downside to social media is the amount of noise. Your visitors are probably following hundreds of people and brands, so getting your website seen in that sort of crowd can sometimes be a challenge.

  • Facebook 3/5

Facebook tends to be the more successful way to promote your business on social media, and this is in part due to the fact that people just don’t follow as many brands on Facebook as they do on Twitter etc. When something appears in a visitor’s news feed they are much more likely to pay attention to it. However, Facebook continues to change the way this works (for example, at the moment it values engagement highly, so its only going to appear in your fans newsfeed if they are regularly interacting with your page – such as commenting and liking posts) so if you are using this you need to be constantly updating your strategy in line with Facebook.

  • Email 4/5

Email is definitely the best option for getting visitors to return, and the downside to this is that only a small percentage of your site visitors will sign up for email. However, when you do have people signed up, it is far easier to keep in contact with them about things that will interest them enough to return to your website, such as special offers, new products and interesting stories. Email is a very private thing for people, so always make sure you are respectful of this and avoid emailing people too frequently (unless its a daily email that people are signing up for, like Groupon). I email my subscribers fortnightly because that’s how frequently I publish my website, and I like to think this keeps me in great contact with my beloved visitors without becoming an annoyance in their inbox.

 

Is it possible to start a business whilst on maternity leave?

If you are currently in the run up to maternity leave, working in a job you – well, let’s just say – aren’t that keen on, I’m going to hazard a guess as to some of the thoughts that are currently running through your mind:

  • When should I return to work?
  • I’m dreading returning to work!
  • How am I going to leave my baby with a stranger/family/nursery?
  • How am I going to do a full time job when I’m dealing with sleepless nights/breastfeeding/chicken pox/fill-in-the-blank.
  • When am I ever going to get time to myself when I have to work 9-5, take the baby to a childminder, sit in commuter traffic, run errands?

Now I’m not here to tell you how to answer those questions or to scare you into what might be. You are resourceful because all women are resourceful, and you will figure it out because we all do. I know many successful women holding down full time jobs and caring for young children.

But what I am going to say is this:  I had all those thoughts running through my mind, and although I knew that I would cope with whatever life threw at me, having those questions on repeat every night told me that something else was wrong. It wasn’t the impending workload. It wasn’t the fear of being unable to cope. I knew I would manage it. It was simply that the idea of leaving my new little family to return to a job I didn’t enjoy filled me with sadness. It felt like such a soulless decision to make about such an important time in my life.

Sometimes life throws challenges at you which actually turn out to be gifts.

Whilst on maternity leave, I found out that my job role had changed, and not for the better. It was enough to tell me that I needed to walk away. At the same time, by pure chance, I had come up with an idea for a new gift website. So when I finally figured out how to get my daughter to nap somewhere other than in my arms (it took a loooong while), I opened up my laptop and started writing a business plan.

As soon as I started writing, I felt alive again. I had so many ideas swimming around my head. All that noise, all that worry; it vanished. It was replaced with a passion for something new. A passion for something that I felt, deep down, would bring about a positive change in my life.

So if you are planning maternity leave or you are in the early days of maternity leave and a little voice in your head is nagging you, start listening to it. Perhaps it’s not the logistics of the 9-5 that is bothering you. Perhaps it’s not the struggles of balancing work and family. Perhaps it’s just your soul telling you that there’s something else you should be doing with your life.

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Think you need an original idea for your startup business? This is why you are wrong

Since starting my business, THE most important thing I’ve learned so far is this:

An OK idea with a fantastic execution is far better than a GREAT idea with an OK execution. 

Traditional startup philosophy starts with the assumption that a successful business is down to having an original idea. And if we look at some of the successful startups in past decades, that seems to ring true, doesn’t it? I mean, who wouldn’t have wanted to be the one to have thought of the idea for Facebook, for example?

But is this really true? Let’s challenge this assumption for a minute.

At any point in time, you may have a spark of genius that leads you to think of a great idea for a new company. Now, there are billions of people on this planet. So what are the chances that, at some point in time, someone has had the same thought?

Somewhere across the globe, another genius may have thought of the same thing. But perhaps they just didn’t know how to get started with launching a business. Or perhaps they did, but couldn’t find the people they needed to help build the product. Or perhaps they built a prototype, but they didn’t have any idea how to market it. Or perhaps they were great at marketing but their prototype failed because they didn’t know how to build it.

A great idea is just that. It’s an idea. It isn’t hard work. It isn’t blood, sweat and tears. It isn’t late nights. It isn’t research. It isn’t networking. It isn’t marketing. It isn’t trying something out repeatedly, failing, getting up and trying it again until it works. It isn’t a business.

So if you are contemplating whether your idea is really good enough to launch a startup, here’s some news:

You are asking yourself the wrong question.

The idea only has to be ok, and to be honest it doesn’t even have to be original. What does need to be fantastic is your approach to getting your idea launched. That is what will determine whether you succeed or fail.

But surely, if my idea isn’t original, I’m just a copycat business?

No. This is simply not true. Let’s take coffee shops as an example. Now, I live in the UK, and I’m old enough to remember what ‘coffee shops’ were like back in the 1990s, pre Starbucks era. The coffee shop I used to go to as a teenager had some nice cakes, cracked teapots, and watery coffee. There were hard, plastic tables and chairs, very few decorations, and zero atmosphere.

On paper, Starbucks is just a coffee shop, isn’t it? It has furnishings. It has coffee, tea and cakes. It has tables and chairs. So Starbucks was never an original idea. It was just another coffee shop.

Starbuck’s success was down to its approach. It challenged the status quo for what people expected from a coffee shop. It shook up something that was actually quite an old, established industry.

So you can do the same. If you love your idea, forget about whether it is original. Start thinking about how you can put an original stamp on what you are doing, and how you can do something different to what other businesses in the same industry are doing. Shake things up and challenge the status quo. Most importantly, spend your time, effort and perseverance on fine-tuning your approach, because it is your approach to launching your business that will be the real determining factor.

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Have we finally discovered the answer to the question: can women have it all?

“Having it all” is something many men aspire to in life. A successful man has a great career, a beautiful family, his health, and wealth. But rarely are those aspirations coupled with the phrase “having it all”. That phrase is typically used when talking about women. Do a Google search and you’ll come across countless articles on the phrase “having it all myth”. So you see, whereas it might be something perfectly acceptable for a man to want all these things, some people argue that it is unrealistic for a woman to want the same.

So here are my thoughts on the matter: If you are employed working woman, then I think the idea that you can have it all is a myth. The working world just isn’t designed around women of a childbearing age. That might not be a beautiful phrase to read, but it is the truth. The world of employment still has a long, long, way to go before it accepts – without question – that a new mother needs flexibility in her working life, and she needs it without having to compromise the progression of her career. That means flexible hours, remote working, and time off for dependents. It means the perception of a ‘mother’ in the workplace has to change. It means that caring for a newborn isn’t seen as “time off work” or a “luxury” but a necessity. Whilst things have improved in the last 50 years, it is still a long way off where it needs to be to give women an equal chance of climbing that career ladder.

However, I do think women can have it all in today’s world. Does that sound like I’ve contradicted myself? No. Re-read my second paragraph. Whilst it may be difficult to balance employment with motherhood, you can balance self-employment and motherhood.

Self-employment, either by starting your own business or by going freelance, is the only way I think it is possible for a modern mother to achieve the sort of balance she wants in her life. And there’s more. Not only is it the right option for an individual, but I think this is the best way that us woman can actually progress the cause of women in the workplace. Why? Because we become the employers, not the employees. We become the shapers, not the shaped. We can create businesses of our own that offer the sort of flexibility that women want. And surely that’s a far more powerful tool for changing the status quo than policy changes introduced by a predominantly-male political class.

So yes, we can have it all. But we need to be the ones to make that change. We need to reject the rules we’ve been given and start writing our own. Then, and only then, can we really try and achieve equality.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Mahatma Gandhi 

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Social media not working for your business? This is probably why

You must promote on social media!

So say the latest and greatest business books. But if you’ve launched your startup on social media, you might be starting to question this theory. You might find that posting on social media is taking up a huge proportion of your time. And you might find that people are ignoring your posts. No one is clicking. No one is buying. So you are probably wondering: why put the effort in?

Here’s the biggest misconception about social media: many people believe that by promoting on social media, you can win sales.

This isn’t exactly true.

Social media is far more subtle than that. People use social media because they can express themselves in a fun and safe environment. And the problem that a business has is that full-on sales promotion gives people the exact opposite emotion. It makes them feel threatened and they are likely to be put off by it. If you are using social media to promote your products and your services, and you are seeking a sale, what you are actually doing is pushing customers further away from you.

That said, social media is not a waste of time for businesses. It just needs to be approached in a very different manner.

A good social media strategy is about building noise and building relationships. What do I mean by noise? I mean that people start to talk about you and your product. That’s what you should be working towards on social media. The reason this is so important, is because social proof is such a big aspect to whether someone decides to buy from you. If they see other people talking about your company on social media, then they will see your company in a positive light, with a greater amount of trust and authority.

Secondly, social media is about building relationships. Strong relationships with businesses and people that are mutually beneficial will always be a great strategy for building a new company. But where do you find these people? You find them on social media of course. So using social media to start a conversation with someone you’ve never met, and building a relationship, is something that is really going to help your business.

By using social media to create noise and to create business relationships, you can really begin to narrow down your tasks and goals when you are on social media, instead of spending hours at a time posting sales content that no-one is going to read.

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Think men have the advantage in starting a business? Think again

Here’s a sad fact, taken from Forbes. Women own 40% of businesses in the US but only make up 10% of venture-backed businesses. So do you feel like your gender might put you at a disadvantage in the world of entrepreneurship? Of course it shouldn’t. Women actually have a number of strengths that put us at an advantage, and I’ll go through some specific examples for you:

Interpersonal skills: There have been numerous studies looking at the differences between women and men in the workplace and those studies have demonstrated that women place more value on relationships, and typically have stronger interpersonal skills than their male counterparts. So this is something we need to really take advantage of when starting up a new business. There are many great networking opportunities for women (I’ve written about it in this blog post) and this plays to our strengths. Where men may see each other as competition, we’ve learned the power and the value in working together and creating strength in numbers. So remember to take advantage of this. Use your interpersonal skills to strengthen your startup and build your business network from day one.

Persuasiveness: Studies have also shown that women have better persuasion skills. So it should be fairly obvious how this becomes a strength in a startup business. Whatever your business is about, you are going to have to do some form of selling. Having the talent to persuade your customers that your product or service is something they can’t live without is an art form. So its great to think that women may have a bit of an advantage in this area.

Risk taking: There was a study into gender differences between male and female bankers and they found that women bankers actually take more risks than their male colleagues. So if you ever thought risk- taking was a macho behaviour, think again. Intelligent, calculated, strategic risk taking in business can be a huge advantage in a startup and it’s really important for the growth that a new business needs to thrive. So contrary to public perception, we women really do have an advantage there.

Greater empathy: There have been studies to demonstrate that, even as young children, there is a demonstrable difference in the amount of empathy exhibited by males and females. Studies suggest women are biologically programmed to be more empathetic. And what does empathy do? It makes you understand people better. More specifically, it makes you understand your customers better. And what happens when you can really emphathise with your customers? They love you. They will buy from you, and they will return to buy from you time and time again.

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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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