I run a couple of small businesses and have a bit of a software addiction so I have tried out lots of software/apps but these are the ones that managed the test of time and sit up front in my 'dock'. I'm Mac based so naturally the apps are mostly MacOS but they mostly have their counterparts for other operating systems. Also my reason for choosing the apps may be helpful.
For most companies retaining customers is more efficient and cost effective than finding new ones. Communicating with existing customers will help spread your name, build your reputation and keep your customers. Today communication mostly means emails and electronic newsletters. With this in mind here are 11 tips for "keeping the customer satisfied".
One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses is finding new customers. I have found, as with most things, it's just hard work, perseverance and focus. The following points come from a checklist I use to keep me on track.
A story to finish. When thinking about customer services my mind always goes back to my once having visited a very 'posh' car showroom straight from my garden in my (clean) gardening clothes. The showroom was empty and the salesman completely ignored me. Only when I started to open a car door did he stir. Having roused himself he went straight to how "expensive" this model was and asked if he could he show me a "...more suitable alternative." (THIS PART OF THE STORY HAS BEEN CENSORED). Some weeks later, I was driving past the showroom and saw the salesman with someone I took to be his boss. I am ashamed to say, I couldn't resist pulling up next to them and asking how they liked my shiny new BMW.
A long time ago I was told two things about fraud theft and deception. Firstly for ordinary people to steal or deceive they must have a perceived Need, see an Opportunity, think that the Risk is low so they won't get caught and have Mitigated things by concocting an excuse that relieves them of any blame. Secondly everyone lies and steals at some level, it's controlling that level that counts.
The personal examples that stick in my mind came from a retail sales manager and a building contractor. The shopkeeper maintained that their workers needed to understand the difference between taking a loose grape from the bottom of a box and actually pulling a grape from an undamaged bunch. The builder took the view that if there are five bags of cement left over from a job and one goes missing it's an unfortunate fact of life. If two go missing you're being robbed. Leaving the philosophical arguments and any matters of trust to one side, I have found that, in most small businesses, they key to controlling the mis-use of company property is maximising education and minimising temptation.
The education side of things should focus on mindset. "Just this once..." isn't a valid excuse and the personal use of postage stamps, printing paper, writing pads, pens and paperclips is not some sort of open-ended perk, it's stealing! The message needs to be I trust you not to steal from the company, please don't let me down.
From a temptation standpoint I suggest using office supplies to set tone because it's easy to implement some low-level controls (controls suggests concern and vigilance). Think about a lock for the supply cabinet and asking people to sign for the supplies they are taking.
The underlying message needs to be that if the business sees taking a paperclip as dishonest what will they do if someone helps themselves to the petty-cash?
On a more formal basis every company should set out in writing, as part of it's employee contract, exactly what it's attitude to the theft and mis-use of company property is and how it will be handled.
All of this may seem heavy handed in small 'family' type organisations but for anything bigger 'shrinkage' can have a real impact on profits.
IR35 is anti-avoidance tax legislation designed to root out so called disguised employees*. This, as usual, can get complicated but my rudimentary understanding is that it's trying to stop people getting paid indirectly for their work. For example someone who gets paid through their own limited company when they should be paid direct, as an employee, from the client their de-facto employer. Basically any situation where money is diverted simply to avoid some or all of the tax liability.
As you probably know the whole thing has been widely discussed in the press what you may not know is the the government has provided some help by way of a 'Check employment status for tax' page at gov.uk. After some disclaimers the page sets you off on a tick box survey designed to clarify personal/organisational tax status.
If you hire workers, or hire out workers to others or are yourself a worker the form helps you make an informed determination as far as where the tax burden sits.
*Nothing in this post should be taken as tax/legal advice on which you can rely. It is for general information only and just represents my understanding of current tax legislation. If you are unsure of your position I strongly recommend that you take professional legal advice.
It's widely accepted that to make a website attractive not only to human visitors but to the search engines, good content is important. But it doesn't stop with good content for maximum effect new content needs to be uploaded regularly. It's one of the main reasons that blogs are still regarded as important because it's a simple way to get new content onto the website regularly.
But in an increasingly busy world finding the time to sit down sketch out an idea and then write and edit the post is time-consuming. It's subject to procrastination and affected by writers block. Because of this I keep trying to find artificial ways of producing written content. Whether it's a blog post or website content or training materials, it doesn't really matter I'm constantly trying to find ways to make content creation easier.
The fact is that no matter which avenue I go down, whether it be private Rights or artificial intelligence copywriting it always comes back to the same thing. The amount of editing I have to do at the end normally means I should've done it all myself from the start. Which brings me back to the original problem!
Now, In an effort to get some control over all of this, I have started to just speak directly to my laptop using its dictation facility. The idea is to produce a load of unfiltered text to which I will apply a minimum amount of editing. It's a kind of warts-and-all approach to content creation.
I'm fortunate in the sense that I don't have to research everything I'm talking about. Most of the messages I want to get out there come from experience not books. Perhaps more importantly these days I'm more interested in giving my honest opinion, good or bad, and letting people decide for themselves whether to take it on board or not.
It's early days and I'm not sure if it's a sustainable approach to a big problem. It may be that my random thoughts don't contain enough information to be helpful. For now all I know is that this post looks like it's going to take less than 20 minutes from start to finish where normally it can take anything up to a couple of hours.
Three main points to finish up. Firstly however you do it you need to make sure that you are putting fresh content on your website as often as you can. Secondly you need to find a mechanism, process or practice, for content creation that works for you and is sustainable in the long term. And finally please accept this post as the ramblings of an overworked content creator.
For most of the businesses I have been involved with the websites have become the main way they prove their trading credentials (sometimes an elaborate business card is all that small business needs). Whatever the purpose or size of your website all visitors are potential customers and they look at your website for proof that they are dealing with a legitimate business. A lot of this 'confidence building' is down to the overall look of the site and the quality of the content. Good images, error free text and easy navigation are great first steps.
To build on a good 'first impression' here are some fundamental elements that your website should include*.
1. SSL security certificate as identified by a web address starting with https:// (look for the padlock symbol).
2. Physical address and landline telephone number. This is especially good if you are a limited company.
3. A domain based email address for example firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Any relevant trade association logos.
5. Where appropriate consider including insurance details. Not too detailed just give the basic cover etc.
6. Multiple domains. This may not be a tangible part of the actual website but owning the top level domains for a business is a good idea and an indicator of a serious business. For example JIMLTD.com/.co.uk/.net and JAMESIMAGEMANAGEMENTLIMITED.com/co.uk all point at this website.
Looking at this from the other side, as a website user you can check a websites safety status with a Google Transparency Report. By typing in a web address you can search to see whether a website is currently dangerous to visit.
*Nothing in this post should be taken as legal advice on which you can rely. It is for general information only and just represents my understanding of current UK/EU legislation. If you are unsure of your position I strongly recommend that you take professional legal advice.
According to LinkedIn John Mueller is a senior webmaster and trends analyst at Google. So if anyone is in a position to talk about new webpages and search engine optimisation it should be him.
The question that I was interested in seemed straightforward; How long does it take for new web pages to show up in the search engines? The answer, as with most things SEO was not definitive. The problem starts with the disclaimers that have to be made with almost everything to do with this complicated subject. At this point it occurs to me I should just let you watch the video. You can get the answer straight from the source and I can demonstrate how easy it is to feature a YouTube video on your Blog (copy link - paste link).
I have chosen CookieYes primarily to make my own sites compliant but also to be able to offer an affordable and GDPR solution to my clients. CookieYes provides:
After doing my due diligence I chose CookieYes for three main reasons:
Unfortunately this is one of those topics that can become very confusing very quickly. But with that in mind it occurs to me that I should write something about MY UNDERSTANDING of what GDPR actually is.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is an EU-wide regulation that controls how companies and other organisations handle personal data. Post Brexit it is likely that the UK Government will implement like-for-like legislation.
One interesting 'kicker' to all of this is that website owners need to log all consents given. You can check out the ICO's 'Cookies and similar technologies page'.
It's worth noting that I have made the changes and engaged with CookieYes because it's the right thing to do AND now I don't have to worry (as much) about falling foul of complex regulations.
As always if you think I've gotten something wrong please let me know.
*CookieYes Limited is registered in the UK. Company no. 13074037.
Please Note: Nothing in this post should be taken as legal advice on which you can rely. It is for general information only and just represents my understanding of current UK/EU legislation. If you are unsure of your position I strongly recommend that you take professional legal advice.
I want to finish with the point that website owners should always be finding different ways to tell people what they need to know and why they need to know it. It's only then that a solution can be presented. For example a young person with a new car may not know that oil is a big deal or what could happen if they don't check it regularly. The principle is that WHAT and WHY information presented properly to the correct audience with invariably lead to questions of HOW. Taking the example of engine oil; How do I check it? How do I change it? It is these questions that allow a link to be made between expertise and monetisation.
The WHAT and WHY are FREE the HOW costs something.
First of all this whole topic is subjective. The most important thing is that whatever you write represents you and your organisation in a way that pleases you. If there is any doubt about that you may want to consider some form of split testing where you create several versions, show them to staff or stakeholders (or me) and see which gets the best response.
In the meantime here are some guidelines. The 12 points below are not a definitive list and are not in any particular order. They are just some suggestions to act as a guide. Choose the points that are applicable to your business or market sector and discard the others.
Before getting into things. I feel the need to say that everything in this post is just my understanding of what can be a confusing legal area. Also if anyone can see anything wrong with what I write please let me know.
There are three main reasons I either create my own images or license them*.
In my opinion after the quality and appropriateness of the image (which is very good from most providers) having confidence in the images legality and long-term availability is worth paying for. This is especially true now that images are relatively cheap to license.
As I write I realise that this is a traditional view of image licensing and in the modern world of micro-stock and amateur portfolios it may be outdated. The point is that I do everything I can to minimise risk when it come to business, yours or mine.
On a contractual note when James Image Management purchases images for clients they need the client to agree to be bound by the licensing agreement that comes with the image. This is done to protect our company, your company and the creator of the image.
*Nothing in this post should be taken as legal advice on which you can rely. It is for general information only and just represents my understanding of current UK legislation. If you are unsure of your position regarding image rights I strongly recommend that you take professional legal advice.
Substance over style is a notion that anyone involved in website development needs to keep in mind. When all is said and done great content always beats great style. But you as a website owner can always strive for both.
I'm writing about this because one of the few things that seem to be universally accepted in the world of web development and internet marketing is that content prevails when it comes to delivering a positive experience to your visitors. Good content attracts loyal visitors. I always follow this first principle by emphasising the need for veracity, authenticity and trustworthiness.
You have to attend to all of this on every single page of your website. Every page is important and every page deserves your full attention. The problem is that often the hardest part of creating content, especially written content, is structure. I find that most website owners have a lot to say but sometimes don't know how to say it. When I get stuck I default to a sequence of questions I have relied on for over 40 years. I ask myself;
Who? What? Why? Where? When? How?
You are probably aware of the fact, that there's nothing new or original about this. As a student I became aquatinted with the ancient Greek orator Hermagoras of Temnos and then Rudyard Kipling and later still Aristotle. But the truth is that I came to it through the 1958 movie 'Teachers Pet' starring Clark Gable. By the time I saw the movie I was in my teens and the power of asking simple questions, has stuck with me ever since.
In the movie the questions were applied to journalism. I have found that they can be applied to most content creation especially where you are trying to tell your audience a story. For those of you that have read this far I hope you can see how I applied the questions to this post.
One final thing. I found out a long time ago that it's okay to be plain spoken, if what you are telling people is exciting.
To save you time you should know up-front and unsurprisingly I think the answer is to build your own website but get help from someone like us. However there is more to it.
There is a lot written on the internet about how to choose a web design company. Common checklists include;
So far-so-good. But, and there is always a but. I still find that the most important thing on peoples mind is budget closely followed by the realisation that great website performance, design and branding all come at a price and often the TOTAL price is less than clear. This is especially true when ongoing fees, the cost of updates and additional pages are factored in.
This in my opinion this lack of cost vs clarity led to the surge of DIY website builders we see today. This means for many people the problem has become choice. To check I did a quick search on "how to build a website" and was presented with 2,070,000,000 results - I make that over 2 billion options!
There are a few major players in the market which simplifies things but based on my interaction with small businesses over the last decade what owners want is affordable good looking functional websites that they can control without being too technical.
In recent times there has only been 2 main choices -
This middle ground sits between a costly fully custom coded website that almost always requires professional and a cheap fully DIY adventure that demands competency in website design, branding, photo editing, writing content, keywords and search engine optimisation.
It should come as no shock that it is this third choice that James Image Management currently operates in and recommends to all budget conscious businesses that want to keep control of their biggest shop window. Get someone who will start you off, listens to what you want and helps you when you want to make changes. This can bring the best of all worlds-
A final consideration. Recent history tells us that no website, server or content management system is 100% safe against cyber attacks/hacks. This is relevant here because some online builders rely on the website manager to keep up with security issues by regularly installing security updates. Most newcomers understand the importance of these updates but not the urgency. The thing to remember is that some platforms attract more hacking attacks than others. So any delay upgrading security patches as they come along can allow criminals into your site which can ultimately lead to the site and domain name becoming unusable. It's the sort of costly mistake that you only make once. It's also one thing less to worry about if all of the 'backend' security required is high quality and comes as standard in the systems you are using.
This post is inspired by something I have just read that reminded me of the importance of function when it comes to web design. The RNIB article 'Now, it's more important than ever that everyone can read your information!' It caught my eye because it follows on from the RNIB* advising, strongly, that websites don't use justified text.
There are generally four alignment options for text Left, right, centred and justified. The problem is that justified text can create large spaces and patterning in text blocks that can make it harder to read the actual text.
We have always been mindful of creating justified text that looked natural on the page but this was more for the look of the page than any other consideration. However with the growing acceptance that accessibility is something everyone should be taking more seriously we now take the view that it's easier to avoid any issues by using standard text.
Because of this we now recommend not using justified text on all new websites and over time will be looking to reconfigure our existing sites.
*Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).
When I write I always struggle with talking about what I think about things. This is mostly because anything I write is invariably the result of some sort of group effort or conversation. This problem is compounded when I write for websites that I build and control. If I'm not careful my name ends up everywhere.
The message then is that when planning your website you should decide what voice you want to use and how you want to present yourself to your visitors. If you are an expert in your subject be clear about it. If you are an aggregator of facts and opinions don't hide it.
The James Image Management Website is a clear example of this. I built the site and created all of the content, BUT I am not alone in my delivery of the service. I have a team of people and partners that I can call upon for help. The net result is that I can deliver a very personal product knowing I have the technical back-up to deliver it.
The point is that even though my name is on most of these posts and the website refers to us as a group it all comes down to the fact that clients can be confident that any projects WE undertake are controlled by a single person ME.
James Image Management websites contain a mix of original photographs, hand drawn digitally manipulated images and stock photography.
All images Licensed Through James Image Management Limited.
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