Will has been busy as a regular contributor to econsultancy’s blog as well as others, so we thought we’d share some of his posts here too.
Having a growing online business can be filled with thousands of individual decisions, each of which in sum can lead to the shape of your business. We thought we’d summarise some of them here as a guide for anyone making similar decisions. Enjoy.
Tips for boot strapped startups (try saying that after two pints)
In his post, Six top tips for bootstrapped startups, Will shares his advice about what to expect when starting a new company without piles of VC backing behind you.
1. Employing friends and family at the start of a new company is a good way to get people who believe in you on board – but make sure the relationship can survive the stress.
2. Take the lead, the buck stops with you. Management by committee can lead to poor compromised decisions.
3. Don’t wing it or make rushed decisions. Tell your team exactly what you need to make a decision (data, costs, where assumptions are) then they will come prepared when seeking approval (and more likely to get a “yes”).
4. Don’t let minority investors run the game; this can slow down progress when small share holders dig their heels in because of different expectations. It’s your business, so make sure you can run it your way.
5. Patience isn’t a virtue, it’s a necessity. Will gives a rule of thumb that “raise twice as much as you think you need and expect it to take twice as long”.
6. Know your end game. And keep it in mind the whole way along. There are many reasons to start a business, but once you’re immersed in the detail and the hard slog, don’t forget your reasons and make sure the ship keeps moving in the right direction.
Nothing is normal
If you’re just at the early days of starting your business and feel like your life is a bit all over the place, it’s normal. Feeling like you’ve done nothing for a week then completely manic the next week, it’s normal. In Will’s post for Management Today, My Week: Will Wynne of ArenaFlowers, he describes how a day can involve going to meet with a courier company, or getting two hours sleep, or not having lunch, or flying to the US to check out how they do things out there.
Sit in big chair, stroke cat, ponder world domination
In one of Will’s post for econsultancy, he looked at issues regarding international expansion of an online business. This can be an attractive prospect for business owners – you may have found that you get a lot of traffic from non-UK audiences, or that your product might be attractive for those outside of your current target country.
This is not an insignificant decision to expand your business internationally and there are some tools which can help you work out if or where markets for your products exist. Will comments in the telegraph on Google’s new export research tool here. Called Global Market Finder, this tool from Google allows you to look at search terms and competition in new countries. This might give you some ideas if there is demand for your product, or what people are looking for in your particular field. For example, Marmite appears to be a popular search term in China, as is Marmalade in France.
Will also writes about the potential complications around websites, language, SEO and tax. Once you determine that there is a market, how you get into that market is a plethora of details. Will gives you 3 top things to consider in his post International e-commerce: three things to consider.
The first is how you show your content to your new audience. Targeted, local websites? Or using your main domain? There are pros and cons to both; you need it to decide which are most important to you. Having a local website gives a better customer experience, but takes more resource to build and may be harder to get integrated into your backend systems. Having localised content on your main website maybe a good way to test the market before you invest in a new site.
Do you need to create a locally registered company? No, it’s not a legal requirement within Europe (although it can help massively when negotiating with local suppliers. Again, it’s worth weighing the benefits of a local company against the set up. Creating one does lead to more admin and accounting costs.
VAT, under the distance selling rules for the EU, are charged at the local VAT rate of the goods-receiving country. Up to a certain threshold. And this threshold changes from country to country. For example, once a UK company has sent 35K Euros of goods to Belgium, the company then has to register for VAT in Belgium and pay the Belgian tax to the local tax office (not the UK one). Variable tax rates on products can create a development issue too, because different tax rates will need to be applied to products depending on which country they are to be sent.
Socially acceptable marketing
You have things up and running, plans of global domination simmering gently on the stove. So what’s all this social media marketing malarkey? Ok, that’s a bit patronising, if you’ve come here to a blog from a twitter link or a facebook post, you probably know. But knowing how to use it for marketing is not necessarily so straightforward. We hear a lot of examples from big brands with big bank accounts and what they do with social marketing, but how about young companies decide to use the space is trickier. Will’s blog post on econsultancy “How should a young company approach social media marketing?” gives insight into our experiences of using social media. Things that have worked long term (like our twitter application, Flowers and Fun) , things that have some success at key times (our Facebook valentine’s wishes page), and things that we could have done without (our world cup flowers video).
Will gives 6 points of sage advice:
1. Make the idea simple. It should be easy for people to pick up – but then also easy for you to put down if it falls flat.
2. Be realistic. Converting sales from social media campaign may disappoint you, but focus more on getting your name out.
3. Make it non-commercial. People don’t want to be marketed at, they want to be entertained. If your marketing message is obviously selling something, people are less likely to engage, in our experience.
4. Don’t hashtag spam. There are plenty of examples of this going wrong (Habitat being the first example, although they’ve since gone into administration – not due to the hashtag spam, though!)
5. Have fun with it (if you post robotically, people won’t be very inclined to read it or respond)
6. Track what you can (traffic, use referral tags)
Staying on the right side of right
You may be on the right side of your customers – but are you on the right side of the law? The Advertising Standards Agency released a new extension to its remit in March 2011, which includes content on websites, twitter feeds and Facebook walls. There are some grey areas which we identified in the new remit and Will’s blog post on the new ASA online regulations, gave some examples of where companies had gone wron and some of the trickier issues. We thought we’d summarise some of the grey areas and how to avoid getting an ASA complaint upheld:
1. It’s all about context: Editorial content on a website is not within the remit. Unless it’s used for marketing purposes. The example Will gives is the Tanning Shop using a Daily Mail article about tanning being good for you in one of their marketing emails. Complaints were upheld because although the article was published by the Daily Mail, that wasn’t enough for the Tanning Shop to substantiate the claims. Similar with customer reviews. You can’t control what people post on your wall, or how they review products on your website. But you are responsible if you use those reviews for marketing purposes.
2. Familiarise yourself, your marketing team, your content team and your design team with the new regulations.
3. Respond if the ASA contact you. From what we’ve read about complaints, the ASA don’t take kindly if you do not respond and you are very likely to have a complain upheld.
4. Be cautious on social media. If you retweet a tweet from your company which has erroneous information about your company or products, that could lead to an upheld complaint.
5. Question any agency you use to write content about you to make sure they know the new regulations. Put processes in place so that claims the write about you can be substantiated. This means more editorial time.
There we go. Quite a few tips all in all! Hopefully helpful / of interest.
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