Video chat: learning from others who are doing it well #MAent

The rain was pouring. In the space of an hour I’d driven around endlessly to find a parking space – the only one available was in a flooded patch of car park. I’d stepped in a muddy puddle in my nice, bright white Converse, I’d queued and paid for a train ticket I didn’t use (floods delayed or cancelled all trains to London Euston) and I’d lost my cars for 10 minutes in my own coat pocket. It hadn’t been the best start to the day. But it got better!

Thanks to the power of online, what was meant to be a cosy chat with Jennifer D Begg in the comfort of her Camden office space, turned into a Skype chat instead. I had a camera and online voice recorder set up, Jennifer was armed with a camera at her end too. And guess who’s footage came out best? Jennifer’s, of course, because she’s the expert. That’s right, she’s the co-founder of TeamTwoBees.com, a digital marketing and training consultancy – and the inspiration for ContentEdMK, the focus of my enterprise project.

Showing people how to do it for themselves

Jennifer came to my official place of work to talk about social media, creating super quick Instagram videos, and opening up access to her closed Facebook group offering a wealth of extra training materials and a place to continue our learning, ask questions and mingle with peers.

She inspired me with her informal approach, her enthusiasm and her passion for showing people how to do things online so they can go on and do it themselves. And she’s flying the flag for women in technology, selling to concept that tech doesn’t have to be intimidating and front-loaded with jargon. As she puts it, ‘education is a gift no one can take away from you’ and if Stephen Hawking can write a children’s book explaining complex scientific theories, then it should be pretty easy to teach people how to use technology.

Listen to Jennifer: she talks a lot of sense

Here are five super short videos (here’s the album on Vimeo) where Jennifer spills the beans on how she got started, biggest issues for small businesses, online training and fee structures.

 

 

 

 

 

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Instagram as a platform for my business #MAent

I really like Instagram. So simple, visually pleasing and a great mix of images and video. And I quite like it as a platform for my online training business. It’s a really cool tool for business, offering an easy way to promote services and products, linking back to full articles/blog posts or training materials. And it offers a way to cultivate followers so your content flashes up as people scroll through their feeds. Like a more finely tuned and elegant Facebook, I guess.

I’ve set up the ContentEdMK Instagram page now (although links through to courses etc won’t be live, I’m just using it as a prototype) and have had more than 20 likes in the 30 minutes I’ve just spent loading photos and videos. This gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.

The aim is to combine free content (simple tips, how tos and local events and information) with paid-for training courses (more detailed, comprehensive, hour-by-hour training modules). All of which will be accessed via a link underneath the title photo or video, paid-for courses will sit behind a paywall or some other formal log in, once a user has registered and paid (I’ll thrash the details of this out later, there are numerous options).

I’m pleased with the look and feel, and the simplicity this platform offers. And I have more ideas in my head than time in the day. Here’s what it looks like so far…

The ContentEd MK Instagram page

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Small business in Milton Keynes? Take this survey please #MAent

surveymonkeyIf you’re a small business operating in or around Milton Keynes, then I’d be super grateful if you could take this short survey on content marketing.

There are just nine questions and if you make it to the bottom there’s a link where you can sign up for some free training.

All support gratefully received. Responses are anonymous and will form part of my research towards the enterprise and innovation (#MAent) module of my MA in Online Journalism. You’ll find more info about my project idea here.

Take the survey. (thank you very much!)

 

 

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An integrated presence online is key. And so is discipline

Shailey Mincoha is Professor of Learning Technologies and Social Computing at The Open University. And she’s awesome.

I had a chat with her over a cup of coffee last week, and she opened my eyes to some issues linked to my hypothetical startup and also to the way I work in general. Positive changes coming soon!

I’m going to break down our conversation into sections…

Mobile phone. Image: UnsplashKeep it personal, don’t do too much too soon

(You will be judged!)

When you’re a small business – and my husband confirms this as he’s the owner of one – there’s an expectation that you’ll be able to reach someone relatively quickly and get a personal response from a real person. Larger companies hide behind generic email addresses and standard replies, but small businesses have a real opportunity to inject their personality into what they do (see my interview with Little Love Notes on how promoting your business is promoting yourself).

Shailey says small firms shouldn’t fall into the trap of distancing themselves from customers by failing to efficiently respond to calls and emails. And by confusing customers with too many channels.

When you discover a new brand and want to find out more, what do you do? You Google them, visit their website, check out their blog, hop onto their Facebook page and Twitter profile and perhaps see how often they update it and how they engage with customers. If their page hasn’t been updated since 2013, and there are reams of customer queries without a response, you’ll log off with a bad impression of that company. Even though their product might be totally awesome.

And what happens when a member of staff sets up and runs the company Facebook page and then ups and leaves without handing over the log in details? Another page gets set up, then another and before you know it you have three different pages on Facebook, none being updated effectively. This looks bad to the customer too. One Green Bottle, for example, has several Facebook pages which have been left to gather dust, but the product looks great and news on the website is up to date and relevant.

“What is key for me is to have that integrated presence, don’t go into social media if you feel you need some experience first, because people will judge you on what you’re posting (or not posting). You don’t have to, on the first day, set up everything. Set up your website, experiment with a blog, have some kind of discipline,” says Shailey.

“People can panic too and go over the top if they’re confident in one particular skill. Try not to forget the other areas, decide what you want each channel for, what purpose does the technology serve? Businesses need to make clear distinctions between what happens on Facebook, for example, and what happens on the website as you don’t want to drive traffic away from your website if it’s doing its job.”

A personal approach is nice, but don’t over do it

Strike a balance

“It’s difficult to move from personal social media use to professional, you must balance it. What’s important is your product, your service and your relationship with customers, not showing too much of your human side,” says Shailey, who suggested one of my training resources be a best practice guide which should be kept refreshed.

The personal versus professional issue is somethingI I came across during a local networking meeting, where sole traders hadn’t made the leap from one to the other but were combining the two. I think, sometimes, people interpret personal as being informal and they’re very different. Informal is a tone of voice, personal is who you are.

iPad, cakes and drink on a desk. Image from UnsplashMore about that discipline…

Digital doesn’t mean working all hours just because you can

It’s easy to assume that digital means working 24/7, responding to emails the second they flash up on your mobile. Shailey suggests that a speedy response isn’t everything, it’s about discipline and setting expectations for your customers. She cites a small accountancy firm which adopts a potentially ‘old fashioned’ way of working, but not to the detriment of good customer relationships and efficiency. The firm opens and closes at a set time and will not respond to calls before or after this time, over the lunch break or during weekends. But rest assured, your message will be promptly responded to within 15 minutes of their doors opening. Customers understand that, they know when they’ll get their response and Shailey says it makes her more disciplined in the way she approaches them.

There are different ways to kickstart creativity too – start the day with a brainstorm over tea and cake and don’t start open the doors until the coffee’s drained and the crumbs are cleared away.

I really like this approach – both as a way to run my own business by setting clear work patterns, and as a way to help other small businesses approach tasks around content creation and digital marketing. I hate acronyms with a passion, but what about CAKE as a potential training tool? Chase, Attack, Kill, Eat seems a bit harsh for my target audience and this suggests I should probably steer clear.

On stage gig with 'free' in lights at the back. Image from UnsplashHow do you make money when so much out there is free?

You add value, that’s how

One of the big issues with my mini enterprise is that there’s so much free training already out there. But is there an overload? Where do you go, who do you trust?

Shailey says for small business owners who don’t have multiple skillsets – and that will be the majority – and with lack of funding and lack of time, value is key. Added value.

Perhaps what small businesses need,  she suggests, is access to a directory of social media strategists, web designers, free office space, startup toolkits, etc. Some of these services will be offered by ContentEd MK but I can’t deliver them all and there’s no point reinventing the wheel when there’s awesome content and training already out there. But there is value in finding the best of what’s out there and flagging it up. So, part of my training idea will involve creating content and curating resources of value to businesses in Milton Keynes. For example, Tech City UK has produced a great toolkit for digital startups as well as a series of 11 online courses covering everything from sizing up your idea to managing customers.

“SMEs will also need to know about copyright, intellectual property, the kinds of images they can use, how to deal with venture capitalists, interview skills and more. You need to create extra value,” says Shailey.

And she’s right. My skills are in online journalism and content creation and strategy, I don’t know the first thing about venture capitalists. But this is a learning journey for me too, and there’s no reason why I can’t research more about funding opportunities locally and use my local contacts to create resources or a directory helping local SMEs access this kind of information.

For example, each employee working for a small business can lose 15 minutes per day due to slow broadband connections. Government schemes like this one (now closed) offer grants of up to £3,000 to SMEs towards high speed broadband – benefitting a whopping 55,000 UK companies between 2013 and 2015 and helping to ‘transform the digital landscape’ and ‘boost business’. If I can tap into the options open to MK businesses, local and national, then that’s going to add value to the content training I’ll be offering. There are also Knowledge Transfer Partnerships available where business owners can work with academics like Shailey Minocha to give them the objectivity they need.

 

In conclusion

I’ve strayed off the beaten track here a little, my business idea is about content marketing and training. But Shailey’s confirmed things I already knew, and given me some inspiration. Discipline is something I can put into my own work, and help instil in others when they’re setting up social media profiles, sending eNewsletters and creating content. And this great blog post (I do love a bit of swearing in a blog post) offers some great tools and apps that help instil the discipline and plan content.

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‘I’m marketing me as well as what I do’#MAent

Maxine France has two children and two jobs. And not a lot of time. By day she’s a graphic designer, by night – and sometimes that means a late one –  she’s running a small business called Little Love Notes, a personalised gift service based in Milton Keynes. And did I mention she’s on a school fundraising committee too?

As part of my research into small businesses and if/how they use content marketing, I spoke to Maxine about websites, training, juggling orders and ideas…

lovenotesWhat is your biggest concern as a small business?

Time is my biggest issue so if I need help with something then I’ll try and get help, and yes, sometimes I’ll pay for it. I’d have to weigh up whether it’s cost effective for me to use someone else or learn/try to do it myself. It’s also about ideas, I always like to run things past someone to get a different viewpoint. It’s easy to think your own ideas are great but other people always have useful contributions and might suggest something I haven’t thought of. You open yourself up to personal criticism as a small business owner as I always feel more confident when other people like or help me develop my ideas.

Confidence is an issue too, not so much for products that are now selling well, but new stuff. If you’re on your own it’s just you saying what might work and what might not. My idea might just be good in my head and no one else will think so.

I can’t write about myself…

If you’re buying a picture from John Lewis, it’s John Lewis. They’re not a risk, they’re a known brand but as soon as you buy online from a one-man band or crafter, you’re asking people to give you money before they’ve received anything and for something they’ve probably never seen in the flesh. They know nothing about you, about what you produce and a lot of the time, what I do is an emotional thing, people put their feelings and sentiments into the artworks, they’re telling me about themselves or their loved one and they need a person at the end of the button they’re buying from. So, it’s important to tell them about me and make them feel comfortable that I’m going to deliver and take care of the information they’re giving me. Because it’s personal to them they need to feel a bit personal about me, I’m marketing me as well as what I do. And that’s why I do it, I started this when I was pregnant with my daughter to keep a sense of self as well as being a mum and people can relate to my story and it shows I’m more than a machine.

A website, Facebook page etc is very important because people will want to find out more about you online before they buy anything.  I can’t write about myself, I have no idea where to start. My ‘about’ pages are tiny, I don’t talk for a living and certainly not about myself and I’m not a marketeer. I know why I do it but it’s hard to translate that into something that someone else will understand. Knowing how to pitch me, and me having some with the experience to understand if the bits I’m picking out are right or if I’m missing something, would be useful. It’s really hard to write about yourself and promote your own ideas without sounding wrong so this is something I’d need help with, sometimes you need someone else’s creativity to help with that and to make you realise what’s possible.

productWho helps you promote your brand?

For my website, I didn’t have enough of an idea about how to do it myself, I needed to be separate from it as it’s an area that’s not my expertise. Design is my expertise but not web design so I was comfortable buying in expertise because it’s important to get that right. You invest a lot into a website but if it was something smaller, I might look online and try to do myself but a website is a big thing and I didn’t want to damage my reputation with something that wasn’t right.

I use Facebook a lot, especially if I’ve got a new design so I can pit it out there, and I always ask for feedback there. I go to my followers to see what they think, and sometimes people approach me with ideas about new products, they feel comfortable coming to me to suggest something.

To train or not to train? Online or offline?

Christmas is a busy time for me and I’d potentially pay for marketing advice to help in the run up to that season. I need to think about that way in advance, Christmas is a biggy for orders, so I’d be interested in training to help me sell myself better and promote my products over that period. Marketing myself well at Christmas is so essential and I wouldn’t want to miss my window of opportunity with any training so I’d prefer a set time and date so I have to do it and if I have to be physically present then I’m more likely to do it.

I’d be happy to try other things online, sometimes just looking things up and having a go myself. Online tutorials about how to use Instagram, for example, might be useful as I don’t know enough about how it can be used as a sales and marketing tool but I might be interested in dipping in and out of a training course for something like that, it’s not time sensitive and I could fit it in between orders, when I have time.

So, yes, I would pay for training it it helped me develop a skill that was useful for the business.

Is local important?

I’m an online business so working with local businesses isn’t something I’d focus on, but I did use a local web designer for my website and if I needed specialist printing, for example, I’d want to use someone local so I could quality check, as its my brand on the line and it would be easier to do this with someone nearby.

 

 

 

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