Friday, 25 February 2011

How to promote your business II: Social networking

It's been a bit of a crazy week since my last post! My part time job has increased my hours due to good performance which I'm over the moon about of course but it does eat into time I can dedicate to my other pursuits, such as this blog! Unfortunately the part time job only runs for about a month each term which is coming to a close at the end of next week so I'm making the most of it while it's still around. Hourly pay may not earn you as much as being self employed but it is nice to know you're guaranteed a certain amount of income!

Now let's get on with the show. This week I intend to write about my experiences using social networking for promoting your business. Social networking has exploded in popularity in the last few years and there are a lot of people who claim to make a living out of it. With over 500 million users on Facebook alone it's certainly a very powerful tool if you can get a decent following but that would be glossing over the hardest part.


Last week I touched on using Facebook ads to help promote your business which has been successful for me. In addition to this you can set up a Facebook page for your business; it's completely free so I really recommend doing this. A page acts much like a profile: you can upload pics, people can like your page and follow you as well as post comments.

The good thing about a page is once you get a following going it starts to practically advertise itself, sort of like a snowball getting bigger and bigger by itself as it rolls down a snowy hill. You can post comments, pictures, links and lots more to your pages wall which anyone can 'like' - this will then show people on their friend feeds your update which in turn will draw more people in!


Twitter can be thought of as a more streamlined version of Facebook: you can write limited comments on your 'wall' which get retweeted (people repeat them to their own followers) rather than liked. You're limited to 10 characters and any pictures or videos you want to show off must be included as a link.

I must admit I'm not as familiar with Twitter so my focus will be on Facebook but the ideas in the guide below will generally work the same for Twitter.

Creating Your Page

To start the ball rolling you need to create a page for your business. This is easily done following instructions on Facebook or Twitter so I won't go into them here. Once it's up and running you should fill it with as much relevant information as possible - photos, links to your business, anything you can think of about your business that people will be interested in. If you're a bit more technology savvy then you should consider creating a custom landing page on Facebook or theme on Twitter which can be dressed up to look pretty and enticing.

Spreading the Word

Here is the hardest part - you need to come up with regular, likeable content yourself before you can start getting other people to spread the word for you. Since the content will be specific for your business I can only give a very general guide here.

At the very start I recommend using Facebook ads to promote your page. I spent about £10 and got about 100 followers which is a nice starting base to build upon. From here you need to encourage these people to add their friends or 'like' your stuff so their friends will see it. Since it's by no means a big commitment people will tend to 'like' most inane comments, links and pictures so this is less difficult than it sounds. Ask easily answerable questions, post generic but relevant quotes, post funny pictures. There are a lot of people browsing Facebook while at school/work so they're basically just looking for an excuse to kill time. If you can provide for them then you'll reap the rewards.

Monetising Your Audience

So you've worked hard and gained a sizeable audience. Firstly you need to bear in mind that people can unfollow/unlike your page so to avoid slipping back you're going to need to come up with content on a regular basis!

It's great having a large group of people interested in your business but what we really want to do is monetise this opportunity. For the purposes of this blog this means getting more people to buy your products. This can be done as easily as posting updates when new products arrive or showing off your most popular products periodically but there are some clever methods you can use to encourage people to buy your product while also being able to track exactly what sales came from Facebook/Twitter (for online businesses at least).

  • Competitions - You can hold simple competitions on Facebook/Twitter which encourage people to participate for a prize. If you're comfortable with the legal side of things you can even charge entry if you make the prize worthwhile. Create a page on your site and advertise it through Facebook/Twitter. Who doesn't want to win prizes? Use a tracking link if you can so you know who came from Facebook/Twitter!
  • Discounts - If your e-commerce software allows the creation of custom coupon codes (and there are plenty out there that do) then this is a very easy way to get people to buy your products as well as track where they came from. The offer is up to you (x% off product, free shipping, buy x get y free etc) but make sure you create a unique coupon code for Facebook and Twitter - that way you know which sales came from which sites!


  • Fiverr - Fiverr is a site where people offer various services for $5. If you search around you'll likely find people with large Facebook/Twitter followings willing to give you a shout out for $5. If done well this is a very cheap way to gain more followers or traffic for your business!
  • YouTube - This is a lot more work than Facebook or Twitter but if you're willing to get up on camera and can produce engaging material you'll soon gain a very large following. Videos can be as simple as reviewing your own products - people like to see what they're buying before the commit so include your video reviews on your site if possible. You're obviously biased as you want to sell your own products but try to give a balanced opinion as people will appreciate this more than an out and out advertisement.

Next time: Offline advertising

Monday, 14 February 2011

How to promote your business

One of the most ubiquitous questions new business owners ask is, "how do I promote my business?". It's certainly a difficult question and one I've asked myself many times. Internet marketing is a very lucrative market with many people making their livings by claiming to know the answer to this question. While I don't want to make any sweeping comments if you do get caught up in all the buzz and hype then at least exercise some caution. There are a lot of less than reputable people out there pushing sales of their latest scam tactics for some quick money from people looking for get-rich-quick schemes. Just remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I intend to turn this into a small series featuring different avenues of advertising an online business along with my personal experiences of them. I've only been in this game for a year and my business is still quite small so I'm not claiming to be an expert but if anyone's interested in starting or advertising their own small business then you might enjoy the read just to get a feel for what each tactic is like without trying to be sold anything.

Golden Rules

Before I start this series I think it would be prudent to lay down some basic golden rules of advertising which apply no matter what you're advertising or how you're advertising it.

  • Know your audience - Knowing which demographic your products or services are aimed at can dramatically alter how successful your advertising campaign is. For instance, if you sell dog food and supplies then there's no point targeting people who don't own dogs; it's simply a waste of your time and money.
  • Know your products/services - Knowing what your business does sounds like an obvious step but it's a very important one. Some specialist knowledge of what you do can not only help identify your audience but also give you a leg up on the competition.
  • Know your competition - Always keep an eye on the competition and see how you can improve on them, such as offering superior customer service, a wider variety of goods or cheaper prices. Always keep up with your competitors and ideally pioneer new sales strategies to stay ahead of the crowd.

Advertising on websites

I think perhaps the most common form of advertising for a web-based business is through online advertisements placed on other websites. There is certainly something to be said for this method as most websites nowadays feature ads run by either the website themselves or a third party ad server, Google Adwords being one of the most common. There are quite a few ways to go about this and I will go over each of the different methods I've tried.

Link Exchange

The first thing you can do is attempt to exchange links with similar websites. If you sell video game products, for example, see if you can place reciprocal links on fan pages. Some of the brand products I sell have links to a fan site for that brand on the product pages and in return they link to me. This is a very mutually beneficial set up and more often than not can be done for free. This allows you to reach an audience you already know is interested in that brand and they get visitors who are interested in buying the product and want to know more. It's a win-win situation.

Google Adwords

There are a lot of similar services to Google Adwords which all work in a similar fashion and so this applies to most of them, but I have only actually used Adwords myself. This is basic online advertising where you pay for your text or pictorial ad to be displayed on Google searches and third party websites using Google Adsense when users search for related keywords.

It is a very powerful and complex tool, one I'll admit I'm still trying to get to grips with myself. A lot of people make money simply teaching people how to use it. The idea is in short you pick keywords and phrases and then bid how much you're willing to pay relative to where your ad is displayed and each time someone searches for them/clicks on your ad. I have been unsuccessful with my ventures into Google Adwords but I've heard it has really helped some people generate a lot of business. Be very careful with the keywords you use and take note of the stats Google gives you such as how popular the terms are. If you've any tips for successfully using Google Adwords please feel free to comment below as I'm still learning myself.

Facebook ads

This is along the same lines as Google Adwords but in my opinion is a lot simpler to use. You can very easily control for demographics so if you know your audience you can really target them and I have used this successfully myself. Facebook allows you to generate an ad (which is limited to a picture and small block of text) and then choose when to display it based on certain conditions like age brackets, gender, marital status and likes. So say if you sell Microsoft products, you can choose to only display your ads to people who've said their interests include 'Microsoft'. This really cuts away your ads audience to just the people who are interested in your products/services and helpfully it even displays exactly how many people meet your specifications and so how many people your ads can reach.

This is a service I recommend giving a go. I've had success with it, there's a huge audience and it's pretty competitively priced.

Independent ad servers

If you're in a niche market and don't fancy going to a generic ad server like Google Adwords or Facebook ads you can always look for advertising companies in your particular market niche. For instance, if you sell video games you can browse video game related websites and you'll probably find if they're not using their own ad service they're using one dedicated to gaming. This again separates the wheat from the chaff and allows you to better reach your target audience.

It's hard to give a great deal of advice when it comes to these services because they are all obviously different. You will have to do your research as some may be more expensive than generic alternatives and some may be cheaper. What and how much control you have over your ads is the most important thing.

As you can see there is a central theme to many of these methods and that is simply: know your audience. It seems obvious but it's a hard nut to crack. Once you do though and people who are interested in your products/services are aware of your business you'll soon find yourself with a growing customer base. They key is giving the people what they want. The trick is finding the right people in the first place.

Next time: social networking.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

An Equilibirum

Despite billing the blog as the story of a young businessman and university student I have not really focused much on the latter aspect but I feel this is a mistake because it gives a less holistic view of what it's like to juggle business and university.

In fact university makes quite a significant impact on my business life. It can be very hard to judge which to put first: I need to concentrate at university to obtain a degree, but that degree will be used to make money in the future which is the aim of my business does now. I try to strike a middle ground where possible but I lean towards university whenever I have to make a choice.

For an example, university started up after Christmas in the second week of January. After then until the end of January I had to put a stop to almost anything to do with the business bar the bare necessities such as posting off orders so I could focus on studying for the winter examinations. Since you're left on your own to study you essentially have weeks of free time and it's up to you how you spend it. As such it can be very tempting to forgo revision in favour of the immediate gain of concentrating more on the business aspect and potentially seeing more sales.

However it's also easier to ignore the business side of things because there are few if any 'deadlines' to adhere to which remove the sense of immediacy that coursework or examinations have. Competition is tough however and I'm up against people that do this for a living. Ignoring the business side of things too much (particularly on eBay/Amazon Marketplace) means competition can sneak in and take advantage of my idleness. It's a matter of fact that on quite a few items I sell there are price wars between myself and the competition where we each try to outdo the other by a penny. It sounds petty, but when you see two identical products for sale with a penny difference in price, would you buy the cheaper or more expensive one? If you're not careful and on top of the game you'll soon lose out on sales which means lost money and if you're not making money then you run the risk of losing your business entirely.

It's tough to find the equilibrium - the sweet spot in terms of time spent focused on business/university work to extract the greatest benefit from one while not at the detriment of the other. I don't believe there is a right answer, but whatever it is caffeine is certainly inclusive in it.

Monday, 7 February 2011

A New Beginning

It is almost scary to think that it has been close to a year since my last post here; I knew I hadn't posted in a while but I had no idea that it was going on close to a year. I do apologise for the lack of posts for such a length of time but I hope to restart this blog.

To give an update on the business this blog covers I am happy to announce I had a very good Christmas relative to the rest of the year. Unfortunately due to industry trade fairs after the new year it was only 3 days ago that I was able to get the most popular items restocked. Perhaps partly as a consequence the year has been off to a disappointingly slow start. I was hoping to carry on the increased interest from Christmas but it seems this has not been the case, which is unfortunate but natural.

It also seems that my supplier has been getting a lot more business of late as more competition is showing up on sites like Amazon Marketplace and eBay which forces my hand to turn a lower profit in order to still make sales. This is not an ideal situation to be in, particularly one where I'm not turning over enough sales on a daily basis to really justify it, but I am in a niche market and my supplier has exclusive distribution rights in this country so I can't source from elsewhere.

This does mean I know we all pay the same price wholesale so all I can do is abuse the fact that I'm running this company myself and not relying on it for a living, meaning I can cut the profit margin as close as possible hopefully to the point that it becomes unprofitable for the competition who presumably DO rely on the sales for their income. I realise this is potentially a suicidal strategy but any income is better than none and since on the internet there is little more than price point to set you apart from the competition on places like eBay and Amazon Marketplace it's all I can do.

I was however recently contacted by a foreign supplier who stocks brand new products I can't get elsewhere. I am currently raising funds to make an order through them and diversify since being foreign there's a good chance I'll have less competition also selling these products. It's a gamble like everything else but as this whole experience has shown me running a business, no matter how small, is no easy task.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Spring Time

It's been a while since the last update, hasn't it? Seems it has been harder for me to keep to my once-a-week update schedule than I thought, although the gap of time I've left between now and the last update is unacceptable. I did think of the blog during the absence but I'm unsure as to whether to keep going with it or not; primarily this is because I'm not sure why I started this blog and what the point of it was/is. Without knowing the purpose of this blog, it becomes hard to write material for it.

Largely this blog was set up to track the progress of my business so I guess that would be the most obvious thing to write about. A lot has gone on since I last wrote about the business not long before Christmas last year, so there's plenty of news. While business did not especially pick up over the Christmas season very early into the new year I got a brand new shipment of goods completely new to the business which are not particularly common in shops. This allows me an edge over some competition as I'm now expanding the range of products I sell. In fact, the new stock has sold far better than my old stock. I'm looking to expand this line of products further in the future as the business picks up more and more steam.

Speaking of picking up steam, I started advertising on Facebook intermittently about a week or two ago. It has definitely helped traffic to the website but these don't seem to be converting into sales too easily unfortunately. I have had a few more sales on my website instead of eBay but the majority of my business still comes from sites other than my own. Getting new traffic and raising awareness of my business is of course good, but it's expensive. I'm not sure if what I get out of Facebook for what I put in is good or not as I don't really have any reference frame for what should be considered 'good' and what is not. It's definitely better than Google Ads, that's about all I am sure of.

On a more personal note I would like to mention that the student ambassador job I mentioned a few posts ago has now been and gone. It's unfortunately only a couple of days worth of work but I did manage to find another job which even pays better. It's temporary too, but there's more hours to it at least. Right now any money coming in is good, so I'm taking all the hours I can. My business is nowhere near a level where it can support me right now, which was the original aim of the business. It does have a steady amount of sales coming in, about 2-3 a week which I'm happy with right now. I'm not sure whether that qualifies as good or bad for a business that's around half a year old now, though. I need more frames of reference, but I suspect this business will end up being one for myself in ten years time. Right now everything I'm doing is new and I don't know how to interpret the information I get. I'm glad I'm going through this though, as I suspect it will be of great value to me in the future even if it ends up not being this exact business I'm running.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Christmas Time!

I'm in a bit of a good mood lately. I had my first sale today in a while so I'm happy to finally have some money coming in, even if it is off eBay for one product. I'm procrastinating on writing my final report of the term but I'm going home this coming Saturday and I've got the lion's share of it done anyway so it's not such a big deal. It's also Christmas time and I'm trying to get myself in the Christmas spirit. It's not quite there yet but we're only 6 days in to the month so there's still time. 

The lone sale has given me a small glimmer of hope even if it is an isolated case and the only one of its kind for far too long. The article in a trade magazine I wrote, which was mentioned in a previous post, got published a few days ago which garnered me some publicity, though it's pretty much limited to those in the industry such as companies because it's not a magazine that's widely available. Still, I've had several suppliers contact me offering their relevant services so it's not all bad.

I'm also working on a deal to get some mutual ads up on relevant websites to hopefully bring in traffic and I've been contacting some professional advertisement agencies to try to get the word out about my company as I'm clearly not cutting it and neither was Google Adsense for the money that was spent. We'll have to see how that works out.

Until next time, merry Christmas :)

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Nothing much new

A week has passed and unfortunately yet again there is not much new to report on. It's actually quite disconcerting that I haven't had a sale at all this past week since this is supposed to be the prime season for shopping and gifts. I did hang around the posters around town but I'm not sure what good they did. I haven't had any emails or phone calls yet but the website has registered a few more hits on average than it did before. I've noticed a number of them have since been taken down; I'm currently debating whether to put them back up or not since I haven't been able to determine the effectiveness of the posters. It's worth another try, though.

I've managed to finish 2 of my essays so far, 2 on time and I plan on handing in one tomorrow ahead of the deadline. This would have left only one essay plan due in on the 14/12 but I've discovered another report due in on the first day back during revision week. I want to stay home during revision week to try to save money so I'm going to attempt to get that done ahead of time. The trouble is I'm thinking so far ahead with this that nothing about it has been covered in lectures or seminars yet so I have no idea what to do. Provided the material is covered in time I should be able to get everything done within the first few days of December allowing me plenty of free time for one last push at advertising my business here before I go home for Christmas.

On a personal note I realise this is the closest I've come to updating weekly so far; I would have updated yesterday but I came down with an awful fever or something yesterday evening and was reduced literally within an hour to a shivering, stuffy, feverish wreck. I was quite worried because these were the same symptoms I had just before coming to university if September and they kept me back for about 4 days. The trouble was that there is going to be a huge joint fancy dress birthday party this Saturday for two of my flatmates with their friends from home coming up to see them and I didn't want to be ill for it. I was given some Lemsip cold & flu tablets and some paracetamol before going to bed in an effort to stave it off and I'm glad to say it worked - by the morning I was feeling mostly better and as I type this I'm pretty much recovered, if still a little sensitive to the cold. Well enough to update the blog, anyhow.

I'm also pleased to say I managed to find a job of sorts as a student ambassador for visitors to my subject's department in university. It's by no means permanent of regular but it's some money coming in so woo! I also closed down an old Google Adsense account of mine with some money in it. The only issue is all this money will be coming to be in some months time when I really need the money now. Ah well.