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SMEs

Do you want to appear in the national Press, Radio or TV?

Do you want to appear in the national press? Do you want to be interviewed on national radio? Do you want to be featured in a high quality national magazine?  Thomas & Fiona

If the answer to any of these questions is yes – please read on.

I attended an event in London last week called Meet The Journalists – organised by Dan Martin of Enterprise Nation. You may well ask ‘why would a journalist want to meet other journalists?’ – in my case it was to make new contacts face to face but also to ensure my thinking about the national media and the advice I share with my clients is actually up-to-date and accurate. It was.

The event was attended by many small business people and PR people and it was sold out. What interested me was the behaviour of some of those who attended. First of all, when invited to ask questions – several people launched into a long pitch about their business. Often very desperately as if they had to speak at 100mph and share their long story in 30 seconds flat. This demonstrated to me they saw this as an opportunity to pitch, not to ask. Rather like the hard sale at a networking event and probably likely to yield the same result. 

The next thing which interested me was the way in which a few small business owners wanted to whine and bleat at the journalists about how hard their lives are, how they try to get publicity but are ignored and how they don’t have time to make the effort to engage these journalists. There was a sense from some in the audience the journalists had some kind of ‘duty’ to tell their story. Again, this is a familiar ditty which I hear week in and week out. For me, it’s also a sign of a business which probably won’t last. It’s no good telling a journalist you haven’t got time – they aren’t interested. Listening and acting efficiently on the tips they share is one of the best ways to spend marketing time surely. Or hire someone to do it for you. Simple. 

A third thing which really got my attention was the way in which a national journalist will decide if your business is worth more than a cursory glance. I know how the news agenda works – when in television day in an day out, a story was often not deemed newsworthy until it had appeared in a newspaper somewhere first. Personally I could never understand that – a good story is a good story. However it often worked that way.

Now, the journalists clearly have  a pattern of research and – surprise, surprise – it’s very similar to anyone’s pattern of research.

In a national arena where they write about the biggest, the best, the richest, the worst, the least – they will not write about the mediocre. If a national journalist is interested at all in you, they will look you or your business up on the internet first. If your website is done by your cousin’s child and cost you 50p you are out straightaway. If there are no news stories already there about you to reinforce your credibility – you are at a huge disadvantage. If national or international profile is your goal – you have to be present in a way that can be found easily and quickly.

Finally, some national journalists positively want to hear from the little guy or the little gal but not every day and not on stories which are not of national interest. If you are hiring your first employee – that’s not going to cut it. If you are hiring that expert from Flog It!, that might get their attention. However, if they are writing about apprenticeships and you have hired your first apprentice – well, that’s a toe in straightaway. So my final piece of advice is this – keep on top of the news agenda every  day and, if it fits you or your business, become part of the story by proactively letting them know that you are around – and you are available. 

Are you a South West entrepreneur thinking ‘why bother with Twitter’?

Today I was asked to write a blog post about Twitter – so I’m happy to oblige.

Why? Well, as a media consultant and journalist I often hear comments like ‘why bother with Twitter?’ or ‘I’m on Twitter but I’ve no idea what to do’.

These phrases are familiar because a few years ago that’s exactly what I thought. When I became self-employed in 2009, I had a Twitter account which sat there doing absolutely nothing. I would occasionally send out a tweet but couldn’t really see how much good it would do for me in business.

However after about 18 months, for some reason, I really thought about it compared with other social media platforms. I realised it’s potentially a great way to connect with people – and here’s the key thing – very quickly with minimum effort. Also as a journalist, I’m often looking for good stories so this could be an effective way to achieve another good outcome. So I set myself a challenge – to give Twitter a year and try to systematically build my audience to work for me more effectively.

I put out of my mind the fact that Twitter is global, has billions of accounts, loads of spam accounts and can be risky in terms of trolling etc. I trusted my common sense to deal with these issues as they arose (and they have from time to time and I’ve dealt with them as needed). I decided to use Twitter according to my agenda, my audience and my desired business reach. Therefore good connections for me are in the south west and London, they are people rather than organisations and one key thing – I share, I share a lot, I share as much as I tweet and I share things which interest me or which I think are generally interesting. If you do this, I guarantee at some point someone will say to you ‘I really enjoy your Twitter feed you share some good stuff’ or ‘Oh yes, I saw you talking about that on Twitter’.  You are creating your own news service.

Fiona 2013 - 3

Very quickly, having made that decision to take Twitter seriously, it became addictive and I got engaged in various conversations. I then decided to think about the best times to tweet – and you will find me talking most in the evenings and the mornings.

However the pivotal moment came when I saw a tweet asking for someone who could write a script and who had experience in the education sector. I answered as I met those criteria with a phrase ‘that’s me’. That tweet led to another tweet, which led to an email which led to a telephone conversation which led to a paid-for trip to London for a meeting which then led to a project which paid me £3,000. This was a short-term piece of work which I could relate directly back to a single tweet with a company which would never have found me – or vice versa – if it wasn’t for this amazing social platform.

That sold me on Twitter and I’ve had many great outcomes since. I’ve been offered work by people who’ve engaged with me, made the effort to research me online and then offered me work. I’ve been able to place publicity for clients and myself, and I’ve raised my profile in my own community in the south west. I will often go into a room full of business people – many of whom I’ve never met – and  people start talking to me as if they know me. Talk about the best ice-breaker.

Another outcome is that those who are beginners now pay me to get them started on Twitter – a totally unexpected outcome. So I’ve actually put my ad hoc strategy into something more strategic and started to apply it across Facebook and, more recently Pinterest. I don’t claim to be an expert, I just understand the concept of social conversation over the internet and how to control some of that conversation. I’m still discovering and I often go to workshops by others to increase my own personal knowledge.

My top tips are:

Really be clear as to what is a good outcome on Twitter for you. That way you can track success.

When you make a clear connection – take the conversation from the virtual world to the real world.

Share, share, share.

And finally please follow me @mum3fi

 

Wiltshire journalist shares her story to inspire women throughout the UK

Have you ever thought – I’d like to write a book? I’d like to tell my story? Can I write a book? Would anyone actually be interested? 

 

As a person who does a lot of writing as part of my business, it may seem strange to tell you that I’ve often asked myself all of the above. When I was a child I always wanted to be an author but, as I got older I wondered if I truly had anything to say of value. I was also pretty sure I couldn’t sustain a story of fiction for long enough.

After several years of running my own business I realise that I do have a lot to say, and some people will want to hear it.

 

In fact, I’ve learned that we ALL have something to say and there will always be those who want to hear it. All of us have value.

 

Once I truly accepted this fact, I found it surprisingly easy to share one of my stories. I’m now in a place where I’m not worried about those who don’t want to listen – those people will always be around – I’m reaching out to those who are life’s do-ers. Those who at least have a go at their ‘thing’ and those who want to live life with few regrets.

This week, my first foray into writing about myself in a book came to fruition. The book – available on Kindle – is Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00KB2XRYI .

It tells stories from a dozen business women from across the south west who want to encourage and inspire other women to try and to persevere if they want to start or develop their own business. Each story is very different. It’s thanks to my women’s business club – I Am Woman – that I’ve finally taken the plunge. I’m already thinking now about doing an entire book covering many aspects of my professional life.

My story shared in Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game

My story shared in Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game

My story about starting my own business and what I learned in those early days is not what you think. I’m not the business person who nurtured an idea, let it grow and then went into it with rose-tinted glasses and making a million in a month. My story is very different.

I had my dream job – and I lost it. I never wanted to be self-employed, I didn’t want to run my own business and I was devastated that life had thrown me such a curve ball. However, I couldn’t change the fact that this had happened. All I could control was what I did next – and that’s the story I tell. Looking back, I realise my more negative start actually stood me in good stead. It didn’t mean I didn’t make any mistakes – I made loads. But my view was always realistic and I seemed to be able to spot when something wasn’t working. To find out more, of course, you’re going to have to read the book.

Is this being arrogant? Some might think so – but why do we women often feel embarrassed about blowing our own trumpet? Is it because men think less of us? Not in my case – I actually think it’s more because some women think less of us. Some cannot stand the fact that others are more ‘out there’ than they are. Women can be women’s own worst enemies. Truth is, I don’t actually care what anyone thinks, those who are interested will read the book, those who are not – won’t.

So I’ll end on these two notes – the woman who writes thousands and thousands of words each year about others has now written some words about herself. She also remembers one very important lesson in life which has sustained her. It was a saying which a teacher, Christopher Drew, put into my autograph book on the day I left primary school back in the 1970s. It’s always reminded me that life is always a journey of discovery and, thankfully, there’s so much more left to learn:

‘HE WHO KNOWS NOT AND KNOWS NOT THAT HE KNOWS NOT. SHUN HIM FOR HE IS A FOOL’.

 

How to create a community magazine – the ups & downs…

I’ve decided that I’m going to do a series of related blogs about the challenges of creating a community magazine

SWINDON HERITAGE – www.swindonheritage.com

 

Back in January, a group of three people in Swindon – Graham, Mark and Frances – decided to write, design and print Swindon Heritage to celebrate the town’s history with interesting stories, pictures, archives and ‘today’ stories or interviews influenced by history. I was not involved initially.

The idea had been kicking around for some time but eventually this trio of writers and historians decided to go for it. No money or support came from any outside source. Swindon’s oldest company Arkells hosted the launch where about 70 people attended  – including me.

The first edition was of exceptional quality – I knew the content was strong but the design and high quality glossy feel was unexpected. Then the trio asked me to help out in a consultancy role, to push other ideas and help out. We have had wonderful content, so far enough for a year. The challenge is raising enough to cover all costs and perhaps become a social enterprise.

So for the last few weeks, I’ve had a go at selling advertising space, had various meetings with more to come and have just enjoyed having any role in this lovely publication.

We’ve had great support from Swindon Council, both MPs (please subscribe Sirs if you haven’t already), the new Police & Crime Commissoner for Wiltshire, and hundreds of subscribers. We’ve also been supported by more than a dozen local independent shops and newsagents eager to stock the magazine (it sells at £4.99 a copy).

One big surprise, and disappointment,  has been the reluctance of bigger companies to even agree to sell the magazine or even look at it, taking just a small percentage of the cover price. We have repeatedly tried to get W H Smiths to sell the magazine in the Swindon area – but they keep saying we have to go through their normal distribution process  – something we cannot afford. How disappointing that one of the town’s biggest employers has no ability to stock a community magazine.

The other disappointment was Asda – with two big stores in Swindon. Asda makes a big deal about being part of the local community .However when it comes to Swindon Heritage – it’s a different matter. After hearing the spiel about having to go through their ‘normal’ processes so they can take a 20 to 25 per cent cut (which we cannot afford) – they did agree to look at the magazine.

Sadly, Asda head office in Leeds said it was not considered suitable for its customers in Swindon and would not consider stocking it. (I promise you there’s nothing inappropriate with this magazine).

So clearly its community agenda is highly selective. I wonder if Swindonians living in West and North Swindon feel happy that Asda has decided what is and is not suitable for them.

Is Asda for the community – what do you think?

Still, I’m hoping that one of the other supermarkets in Swindon or big retailers will be the first to support us – believe me I’ll shout about that. So come on Sainbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons, Martins et al – we’re waiting to hear from you….

I want to shout out about this lack of support from some of the town’s bigger businesses to show them up against those small businesses which are more than ready to ‘take a chance’ and are happy with their smaller cut of the cover price.

All of our stockists get a free shout-out in the May edition which comes out at the end of next week – front page picture is a lovely image of the late, great Diana Dors. If you live in Swindon and want to learn more about your town’s history – this is the magazine for you.

What is the potential return on investment of PR?

Many business owners hear the term ‘public relations’ or ‘pr’ and think ‘I don’t need this, there’s no evidence of a return on investment’ or, as I’ve heard more than once:

‘I want bangs for my buck’ or ‘where’s the bums on seats?’.

Personally, I tend to back off from any business owner who thinks he or she needs my services – and then say things like ‘PR it’s not really that important but I think I ought to do it’ or ‘my product is so fantastic that that article should have sold a million overnight, that press release didn’t work’.

PR is one tool in a marketing strategy and a very valuable one – but it’s a long term, slow burn affair. It’s not, or very rarely, able to fill a stadium with your customers overnight or even in a week or a month. It’s about being visible and understanding how the media and social media works and putting yourself out there to be discovered. Also, if you’re selling a product everything else has to work, like your website, your telephone, your e-mail. You have to be available!

In a time of recession it’s the PR which gets abandoned very quickly. Why is this? Is it not even more important what you project outwards about you and your business at this time? Through traditional and social media? Through advertising, leaflets, brochures, events, e-mailing or whatever strategies you use? Is it not important to be part of your business and geographical community? To have a view on the issues affecting that community?

There are some organisations or business people who just get this – look at the charitable sector, they absolutely understand the value of PR day in, day out. They just get it.

At a recent business event I attended, I spoke to Graham Hill, who discussed these very things with me. He runs a telephone answering company called Verbatim near Newbury. He belongs to various business groups and last year, one of those groups honoured him.

He was  the first Oxfordshire member of the Entrepreneurs’ Circle to be awarded “Entrepreneur of the Month” twice in less than a year for making stuff happen in his business. So a group of which he’s a member honours him internally. Deservedly so.

I’d like to say I was responsible for what happened next but I’m afraid I cannot – Graham didn’t know me then! But Graham’s story is one which shows what CAN happen when you get the message about PR.

A simple press release went out detailing his award with photograph. In terms of cash spend – the most this would have cost him was £500, probably less.

Graham Hill gets the award for Enterpreneur of the Month for the second time in 2012.

In Graham’s words this is what happened:

1.    the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce then invited me to speak at their lunch  which led to a couple of sales enquiries.

2.    Then Executive Television, which produces  30 minute documentaries on business and entrepreneurial subjects (aired on Sky information channel 212 and BBC/ITV digital) got in touch.

3. We have just completed the filming, one of four companies interviewed about “Effective Business Communication” Once they have a date to broadcast they will email 5000 IOD members information etc.

So from one little press release we have positioned our business as opinion makers / formers.

What will this publicity be worth globally? What would it have cost if that documentary was turned into advertising space? Four firms featured in 30 minutes – let’s say, conservatively you’ll get seven minutes air time – thousands and thousands of pounds.

Not all press releases will have the same effect but sooner or later one could – and once you are established as a leader in your field in your area, a commentator on your sector, the sky can literally be the limit. And hopefully you’ll take your friendly neighbourhood journalist along with you……

 

The Budget – what do journalists think?

It’s Budget Day – a day when some journalists groan and yawn and others get all flustered with excitement.

If you are producing a programme, especially a debate about the Budget or an impending Budget, the hardest job is to find participants. And that should ring all sorts of bells for anyone in business. It’s a wonderful time to set yourself up as a commentator on a topical issue – if you’ve got the courage.

Today, I’ve only got to look at my Twitter feed to see who’s been commentating both locally and nationally. Have a look at your own Twitter feed and you’ll see. I’ve got MPs all saying what you would expect according to their political allegiances, individuals like Martin Lewis, voluntary sector groups like the CAB, campaigning groups like Gransnet, other journalists etc.

If you think you’ve not got the courage to contact your local media outlets eg. newspapers, television or radio and offer to be a commentator for your sector , then engage on Twitter or Facebook because then you’ll get into conversations with interesting people who may be interested in you in the future. Remember, whatever someone’s perspective, they are still human beings, often with families, or savings, or expenses, or debts and the Budget affects them as personally as you. Today is a perfect opportunity for some PR on a day when people want to talk. At the time of writing Granny Tax was trending on Twitter. And if that’s not enough, it’s a day when you can be ‘topical’ and relevant. Look at who’s talking and follow those people or groups who interest you – some will follow you back. Make the Budget work for you, even if it doesn’t work for you (you know what I mean).

Enough of the rant, this wasn’t at all what I wanted to blog about really. But I’ll save that for later – (another moan about the absurdities of our current health provision in Swindon.)

 

Better off? Or worried about extra costs?

What does the budget mean to me – as a working mum with three kids and a husband who is, luckily, working? Well, I won’t have to pay tax until I’ve earned a bit more, I don’t earn over £150,000 a year so the cut in top rate of tax will not affect me in fact barely anyone that I know. I’m not a pensioner but my mum and parents-in-law are – so I’m worried for them as they live on a very fixed income. It’s possible that we might keep child benefit which is great. I had accepted we would lose it but felt that we’d have to deal with that, but I did feel cross that some families with a greater household income would keep it. If that anomaly has been overcome, then for me child benefit should be reserved for those in most need.

My concerns relate to the more vulnerable in our society. People who are disabled, by physical or mental issues, those who have chronic illness, those who are carers, and so on. Also I’m not clear on how the Budget is going to stimulate economic growth – I don’t mind being put right, being contradicted, being corrected. But I just don’t buy the argument that those who earn what to me is mega money – will not fleece the system if the tax rate is lowered. They’ll do it any way if they can. Wouldn’t you?

Share your views? Go on…..

Who cares what a journalist thinks? You?

Sue and I have just attended a networking event in Swindon which we regularly attend.

We like the event’s very relaxed, social atmosphere and had invited a client along too (Tailored For You). When I arrived, Sue and our client were chatting away happily – and not with each other. Always a good sign.

 

If you’re wondering, the event was run by Business Scene.

There’s a guest speaker at every event and this one was no exception. This time it was a marketing expert sharing tips about how to make marketing, selling, business enjoyable and easier. Lots of good stuff in there and I’m glad to say that Sue and I felt we’d already, quite naturally, employed some of her tactics.

But it made me think. Should I be a guest speaker?

One of the tips was to tell personal stories – what personal stories would anyone out there want to hear from me? Well, as a journalist I’ve had a varied and interesting career. I’ve probably got stories coming out of my ears. But could I talk about business, SMEs in particular? I thought tonight I’d have a go.

As a business person, I get loads of stuff through my door inviting me to this free business seminar, or that business event – and when I see these flyers they are soon decorating my orange box. Do you feel like that? Is the word business a turn-off? What do you think a journalist thinks?

When I was told I was to be appointed business editor of my local newspaper in the mid-1990s, I almost stifled a yawn. How dull would that be? A more senior role writing about dull and boring stuff.

What I learned was that business isn’t actually dull at all – not when you realise you are writing about PEOPLE who happen to be in business.

You are writing about events which are organised, attended and enjoyed by PEOPLE. A human face can be put on almost anything.

It was at that time my job to go out and do that very thing. Tell business stories in an interesting way. Then there were multiple reporters on the newspaper. Today there are a handful. If businesses want publicity, more often than not, they need to blow their own trumpet or they won’t be noticed by any journalist.

If you look at your business and you think ‘who will want to read about my work, my company, it’s so mundane’. STOP IT! Your stories are all before you, if you just take the time to look. It’s about PEOPLE, it’s about ‘QUIRKY’, it’s about ‘UNUSUAL’. Put a human face on your business and you are a long way towards having a news sense.

Don’t forget pictures too, especially moving ones – essential for some businesses eg. hotels, venues. Moving pictures are becoming more and more important – think social media, think You-Tube, think about the choice that consumers enjoy today.

 

think people, think quirky, think pictures...

And of course, if writing or pictures are not  for you, you may need a Sue or a Fiona to help – (sorry had to get that plug in!)

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