Been hit by Panda or Penguin, or just struggling to get any momentum in your website traffic? Wondering what you can do to move your business forward? Naturally, I’d recommend hiring a good SEO company to deal with your online woes and get your website into good shape – but in the meantime, there are plenty of ways you can grow your business and they don’t all depend on getting Google love.
1. Partner with complementary businesses
If your product or service compliments other products, working with companies that offer those other products can be a sound way to grow your sales. Think of ways your client uses what you produce – this should lead you to identify suitable partnerships.
- You’re offering some type of adrenalin sports activity – work with companies and websites that offer other types of adrenalin sports activities, as your target market is already visiting their website.
- You’re offering graphic design services – work with companies that offer website creation, marketing, printing services, exhibition equipment and so on.
Look to feature on their websites alongside what they offer, get a spot in their next email campaign and get a link in their email footer. The incentive for them could be that you offer a percentage of sales generated from the leads they bring you, although if your business/website is already thriving, you might instead want to offer mutual advertising of services on each others’ websites (etc) as a benefit, rather than a commission arrangement.
This can alternatively be done white label, so e.g. the customer approaches the graphic design company and believes they are providing the website creation as part of the service package. This can lead to a more seamless service experience for the customer.
2. Get marketing companies to work for you: for free
Marketing services aren’t cheap and small businesses rarely have much to spend even though marketing is what they so desperately need to grow. But what if your marketing company agreed to work for free? Well, not technically for free – every time you make a sale, they get a percentage of the monies paid. If you have a fantastic business idea, consider approaching a marketing company and offering this kind of partnership.
To make this work, you need to make a clear separation from the sales they obtain and those you would have got anyway. The best solution is for the company to have their own branded version of your website. You may want to consider contributing to the cost of building this site. The contact information on the site – phone and contact form – should go directly to you, so you deal with all the customer service. Their role is purely to build the content, links and social shares, driving traffic to the site which converts into orders for you, a percentage of which are paid to them. Because the customer service is dealt with by you, there is an element of trust involved that you will correctly record phone enquiries as originating from them, but copies of contact form submissions can be cc’d to both parties for their records.
Think a marketing company would never buy it? Think again, Angel is already involved in such partnerships, and we’re always pleased to hear from businesses with good opportunities for us to consider.
3. Run an affiliate scheme
Running an affiliate scheme means letting others sell your product for you and giving them a percentage of the sale in exchange for their efforts. The positive is that you can build a large network of sellers who you don’t have to pay unless they actually sell something for you. The difficulty is promoting your scheme. You can run it through an established affiliate network such as Affiliate Window but the costs are high – typically £5-£10k to participate in the first year. Smaller affiliate networks logically have less affiliates and therefore less exposure. Alternatively you can buy some cheap affiliate software such as Post Affiliate Pro (currently only $19 a month) and run the scheme yourself. The downside to this is that you have to put a lot of work in to attracting affiliates to your scheme.
4. Partner with similar companies in different territories
If you don’t offer your product or service in certain areas, and you can find other businesses in your niche that similarly don’t operate in your patch, there’s a great opportunity to partner up with other companies nationally, or internationally. The agreement between you and the company (or companies) is that they give you any leads in territories that they don’t cover that you do, and vice versa.
5. Turn charities or schools into advocates
According to the SFR there are 24,328 schools in England alone (Jan 2013) and some 180,000 registered charities across England and Wales. All of these bodies have something in common: they want to raise money. Consider whether you have the kind of business that could work with a school or charity to facilitate their fund-raising efforts. For example:
- Book company Scholastic hosts book fairs at schools and prints a book catalogue that is sent home with pupils. A percentage of sales goes to the school.
- Nestle runs ‘box tops for books’ where buyers of their cereal can cut out the token, give it to the school, and the school can exchange the tokens. This encourages parents to choose their brand over others.
- Flora ran a similar ‘cooking with schools’ scheme for cooking equipment.
- Morrison’s ran a ‘let’s grow’ scheme for gardening and eco equipment. This encouraged more parents of the participating schools to shop at Morrison’s.
- Sainsbury’s ran a similar active kids scheme for sports equipment.
- Tesco ran a scheme extended to both schools and clubs allowing the purchase of equipment in just about every aspect of the curriculum.
Many of the voucher schemes play on parents’ interests, in their children being fit and healthy, and having access to good resources.
Here are some examples of how businesses could make this work for them:
- An estate agent offering to donate £200 for the school for every house sold through them.
- A recycling company provides posters and leaflets on their service – the school collects up all the items to be recycled, submits them en mass and receives the proceeds. Examples: mobile phone recycling, CDs/DVDs, book recycling, aluminium can recycling and ink cartridge recycling.
- A local gym offers a 25% discount to pupils, parents or staff of a school and pledges £20 for each annual membership taken.
- A company donates a prize of their goods or services for raffle. This creates exposure for the Company to all the parents of pupils at the school – it also has the potential to attract press attention.
6. Release promotions through representative groups
There are plenty of bodies out there – organisations, magazines, clubs, representative groups, associations – that like to keep their members sweet with great offers and discounts as a benefit of being affiliated with them. Not only will this provide you exposure but they also create a positive brand association for smaller companies. For example, consider offering discounts and promotions through:
- The NUS or Student Beans (if a substantial segment of your customer base is students). For education related products you may want to offer this directly through schools, colleges or universities.
- Pmmemployeebenefits.co.uk – they offer voluntary salary sacrifice schemes where employees can enjoy discounts on leading high street retailers, holidays & travel, everyday purchases, family days out and cinema tickets.
- Some of the top voucher codes websites – there are hundreds online that are heavily used.
- Professional bodies – for example, the Institute of Chartered Legal Executives charges an annual subscription fee but balances this by securing a wide range of benefits and discounts for its members.
7. Build a branded group
Do you know one or two other small companies that offer different but related products to you? Or perhaps they offer a completely different service, but it’s something your customer needs (for example, small businesses need both marketing and accounting). As well as considering a mutually beneficial arrangement to cross market your products and services, another option to consider is to create a shared brand across your companies.
Lois Geller of LGMG says “In one sense, perhaps the most important sense, a brand is a promise. You know what you’re going to get with a well-branded product or service”. People place their confidence in brands. So it stands to reason that if you love Virgin Media, you may well give Virgin Money, Virgin Wines and Virgin Mobile a go.
Your companies can remain physically and financially separate – it is only the brand they share – but it is important to think carefully about what that means and to be prepared for hard work. Geller notes: “A brand is a specific combination of logo, words, type font, design, colors, personality, price, service, etc.” You’ve got to make sure that your brand is consistent across the companies.
The benefit of creating a branded group is that you can cross market to customers who use the services of the individual companies and, satisfied with the service of one, they are more inclined to make use of the others.
8. Franchise your business
If you plan to rapidly expand your company nationally – or even internationally – franchising is a great option to consider. The franchisee – rather than the franchisor – provides the capital for expansion, so your business can grow much larger and faster than if it were funded by bank finance. Not every business is suitable for franchising though. The franchise should be based on a concept with pizzazz, says Geoffrey Stebbins (right), president of World Franchise Consultants. It has to capture the imaginations of would-be business owners since it’s easier to market a franchise with built-in appeal than one that sounds like some run-of-the-mill concept. The franchise also needs to offer a superior product or service that is clearly distinguishable with positive characteristics in the marketplace. It follows from this that it also has to be possible for you to control and standardise the quality of that product or service since the whole concept of a franchised business is that whichever franchise the customer attends, the quality and service is consistent.
You may find the UK Franchise Directory publication useful to give you an idea of what other companies are offering and how it all works.
9. Use independent distributors
An independent distributor acts as the store front and sales person of your organisation so naturally, this won’t work for all products. Avon and Betterware are notable examples of companies whose representatives distribute sales material, collect orders and even deliver the goods on behalf of the business. The benefits are that you don’t have to pay your sales people unless they make sales, and you don’t need premises (although there is no reason why you couldn’t also have premises and employ independent distributors to cover different areas of the Country).
10. Use alliance and association
Alliance is about using a person, company or brand to promote your product or service. A good example of an alliance is Starbucks and Barnes & Noble – the two seem to pair naturally, and customers of both buy into the laid back drinks and bookworm culture that has been formed. Another famous example is Apple – which in the past has partnered with Sony, Motorola, Phillips, and AT&T. An alliance might alternatively be with a celebrity or industry thought leader who becomes a brand advocate for your product.
Association is about credibility. For start ups and small businesses, it’s about making your business look trustworthy and dependable, even where you have little or no trading history. A great example is to become a contractor through an association like Homeserve, that not only provides qualified tradesmen with regular work but gives tradesmen credibility because they have proved themselves to be upholding exacting standards.
11. Merge with or acquire another business
Growth: perhaps the most obvious, a merge allows your business to grow its market share without having to put the hard work in. It’s like buying new customers. You may for example buy out a small competitor, acquiring its customers; or buy a business that has assets that enable you to produce more or offer something different.
Diversification: I discuss diversification later, but this can be achieved where two businesses that offer different (but perhaps related) products and services merge to offer ‘the complete package’.
Synergy: by combining your business activities with that of another business that has complementary strengths and weaknesses, you should see an increase in performance and a decrease in costs.
Sharpening business focus: this can be achieved by merging with another business that has better market penetration in a key area of operations.
Increased buying power: a larger merged company can benefit from the economies of scale that derive from purchasing in bulk.
Increased pricing power: by buying a company that deals with one aspect of your operations, you can reduce your costs. For example, a manufacturer could buy a business that deals with producing its packaging. A web marketing company might look to merge with or acquire a small graphic design company, thereby not having to pay a mark up every time it needs graphic design work completing.
Eliminate competition: merging with a competitor not only leads to growth but allows you to acquire an instantly larger market share by eliminating some of the competition.
For start-ups and small businesses, merging or acquiring another business may seem out of sight because of the financial costs involved. However, a realistic alternative for you may be to acquire a small website that has some decent rankings for the key terms you’re targetting or even some decent links in, but perhaps hasn’t monetised their site yet, or has stopped trading.
Diversifying might include:
- Adding complementary goods or services to your existing offerings – for example, an art dealer may offer an art insurance policy, or a photography studio may offer a framing and printing service. To help identify opportunities, consider carefully your customer needs and how they change over time.
- Identifying market opportunities – marketing your existing goods or services to new geographical markets (for example marketing the product in a new country), changing product dimensions or packaging, considering new distribution channels (e.g. moving from selling via retail to selling using e-commerce and mail order), changing your pricing policies to attract different customers or create new market segments.
- Developing your existing product – innovating, improving on features or quality, differentiating your product or service from others.
Diversifying can also include creating multiple streams of revenue outside of your core offerings. This is a particularly important strategy for seasonal businesses. This might include:
- Offering tuition or paid speeches in your industry.
- Providing in-depth articles regarding topics in your industry for a fee.
- Becoming an affiliate or partner for other related companies – for example, an accountancy firm may offer bookkeeping software.
If you get a lot of website traffic from countries you don’t target, you could also consider displaying Google Adsense adverts just to those visitors, as a further source of revenue. Google’s DFP (https://www.google.com/dfp/) is one service I’m aware of (although haven’t used) which facilitates this.
Reviewing core revenue streams and identifying new ones is part of monetisation – something that Chartered Accountant Paul Layte says every business should carry out as part of their annual budgeting and review cycle.
13. Offer a Groupon
Sites like Groupon and Living Social enable companies to reach a huge network of customers that might not otherwise discover their product or service. Groupons have been successful for some businesses – for example, The Gap used it to launch a $50-for-$25 coupon and attracted 445,000 customers – this brought in much new business and consequently repeat business, the key to your Groupon promotion being a success.
However, poorly planned campaigns can be disasterous – for example, the Posies Bakery & Café offered a $13 Groupon to customers when average store sales were just $5, and the business ended up losing about $10,000 on its promotion. For your Groupon to work, you need to at least cover your costs and be reasonably certain of a decent rate of repeat business.
14. Use alternative venues
You might consider your website as your main sales tool, but have you considered creating greater exposure by having a presence elsewhere? Examples for goods include Amazon’s Marketplace and Ebay Stores. For sole traders offering services, there are plenty of freelancer sites such as PeoplePerHour.com (a personal favourite) on which you can create a profile to generate business.
15. Let your customers market for you
If you’ve got a good number of customers past and present that were happy with what you’ve done for them, ask them nicely to write a review for you. Ideally, you want this to go somewhere that Google recognises as a trusted source for reviews.
If you’re interested in local rankings, your company Google plus profile is a good place to add these reviews. Make sure your customers add them individually from their own location – don’t try and add them on your customers’ behalf as you may find your reviews are treated as suspect and removed.
Google also recognises reviews from various review websites on the web including Trustpilot, Reviews.co.uk, ReviewCentre.com, ResellerRatings.com and Ciao.co.uk.
Positive reviews not only encourage people to use your company but it is thought that there is a correlation between quantity of reviews and search engine visibility, particularly in relation to local results.