Archive for July, 2013

I think it was my dear, old Gran that first imparted that pearl of wisdom – presumably in response to my child-self’s failure to deliver an unprompted ‘Thank You’.

It is true. Manners do cost nothing and yet they are so important.  Now, I’m not talking about inherited rules like not putting your elbows on the table when eating, or doffing your cap to a person of importance. The contrived etiquette of Victorian times is no indicator of a well-mannered modern person.  No, what I’m talking about is common courtesy.

You’re probably wondering why I’m harping on about manners, in this company blog.  Well, Rumblechatters, I’ll tell you why. Common courtesy is the cornerstone of professionalism in business.  It’s as simple as that.  Behaving in a professional manner whilst at work is akin to having good manners at home.  Being considered a decent person depends on maintaining certain behavioural standards. So does running a professional business.

When you work for big corporations a defined level of professionalism is mandatory.  You can’t get your foot in the door without it.  There is very little room for bad manners in the world of the blue-chip.  Why would there be?  Successful corporations can choose from the cream of the crop.  And the cream tend to be exceedingly well mannered.

It came as quite a shock to me that these rules don’t always extend to the world of SMEs.  My role here at RumbleChat is to help food and lifestyle businesses with their marketing.  The majority of these businesses tend to be small. The vast majority of small businesses I encounter operate in a lovely, friendly, considerate and professional manner – I cannot emphasise this enough.  They are a joy to work with and making a positive difference to their businesses makes every working day worthwhile.

There are however, a small minority, who really let the side down.  And it’s to this small, dysfunctional subset that I dedicate the following rant. You know who you are! And I’m here to tell you there is no need to behave badly in business. While you may like to think you’re a maverick entrepreneur, to the rest of the world you’re just plain rude. If you’re in any doubt as to which category you fit into, check out my list of popular offences:

  • Failing to turn up to meetings…that you requested…without providing any forewarning or excuse…just literally not turning up.  How hard is it to send a text or an email?  Our digital age provides the perfect armoury for cowards – you don’t even have to have an actual conversation. Just whack out an electronic correspondence of some sort
  • Sending emails or texts when only a conversation will do.  Now I know it sounds like I’m contradicting my previous point but I’m not, really.  There are still occasions when only an actual conversation, face-to-face or on the phone, will suffice – like making an employee redundant or terminating a contract. Running a business necessitates some tricky conversations. So man up and deal with it.
  • Failing to pay for services.  If you are receiving a service from another company, you need to pay for it.  End of.
  • Obtaining services under false pretences.  By this I mean, courting agencies to pitch for a project that will never happen…just so that you can steal their ideas and use them yourself.  Bad form.
  • Disappearing off the face of the earth…in communication terms at least.  So rude and unnecessary – refer to my first point

Now none of this is the rocket science of the manners world.  It’s not hard to do.  Anyone can behave in a decent, professional way if they choose to.

In the world of big business there is a warning adage about being careful who you upset on the way up….as they’ll undoubtedly be gunning for you, from their ivory tower, as you make your inevitable descent.  This concept of commercial karma is equally relevant in SME-land.  So for the vast majority of you who ‘do unto others as you would have others do unto you’ as Matthew requested (7:12…impressed?), give yourself a pat on the back and know that commercial karma will be yours.  For those of you who wheel, deal and steal – beware, and take heed of another of my Gran’s pearls: ‘What goes around, comes around’

So RumbleChatters, what’s your most unprofessional business experience? No names please, but give me those gripes!

Today I’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and shine the spotlight on a real bugbear of mine – badly written websites.

Having spent many years toiling as a marketer for large corporates, I am well versed in the high standards a large budget can dictate.  When I started consulting for small businesses a few years ago, I was regularly disappointed to find that they often set the standard bar disappointingly low.

On reflection it was easy to see why.  When money is no object, you can either a) employ the best or b) outsource to the best.  Small owner-operators do not have this luxury. They are often forced to be  ‘Jacks-of-all-trades’.  Whilst I won’t go as far as to say this necessarily results in ‘master-of-none’ status, I am afraid it does often reveal glaring weaknesses that can have a profoundly negative effect on commercial results.

These days everyone thinks they can ‘do’ marketing.  To a certain extent they are right – the world of digital marketing is much more accessible than its traditional predecessor, but being able to go through the motions is not the same as being good at it. I believe the tide will turn; lots of companies are realising that they are not getting the ROI that they desire, and maybe there is value in investing in expert support after all.

But if you are intent on doing it yourself, please ensure that you’re getting the fundamentals right. One of the first areas to examine is your company website.  After all, it should be the desired destination for most of your digital efforts and often represents a prospect’s first significant interaction with your brand. There are some great off-the-shelf website packages available these days, that enable you to create a fresh, modern-looking site, with minimal design investment. Select your template, add your logo, insert a few photos and hey presto, you have a great looking site.

Where lots of small businesses fall down though, is the written content. Some of the startups I see have great ideas, a visually pleasing and well-functioning site, but it just falls apart with the copy. The words are clunky, with grammatical errors and a turn of phrase as grating as fingers across a blackboard.

Writing has become like driving.  Everyone thinks they are good at it. Most people can do it, to a certain extent, but not everyone can do it really well.  Inexcusable apostrophe disasters aside, common content errors include copy that is monotonous and dreary, or verbose and flowery, or simply clunky and jarring. All of these contribute to a negative visitor experience.

Time and time again I’ve seen this with small businesses and the problem is, once you’ve got your website and you’re happy with it, it’s hard for anyone else to tell you it is badly written. Are you really qualified to judge whether your copy cuts the mustard?

“I could sharpen your website copy for you” is a line I’ve used often with clients where we are delivering significant increases in traffic to their websites via social media marketing, but the conversion rate remains depressingly low.

As a small business owner, it’s extremely hard to be objective about your pride and joy. But you need to take the emotion out of it.  A badly written website will hamper your commercial prospects.  Personally, if I log on to a website with grammatical errors and tedious copy, I tend to traverse elsewhere.  For if said business owner can’t be bothered to invest in getting their content just-so, how can I really have confidence in their attention to my overall customer experience?

Freelance copywriters do not charge the earth.  Sure, if you go to a massive agency, they’ll mark up their offering astronomically (you can bet the writer will get a mere fraction of that), but if you hunt around you will find some talented scribes, who will take pleasure in penning you some killer copy for a modest sum.  Check out our competitive copywriting rates here – I can guarantee they’ll be less than you think.

One of the reasons big businesses are so successful is that they continually optimise performance by matching individual’s key skills with business requirements.  There are many business areas where the small operator can get by with a fairly meagre modicum of talent.  Writing isn’t one of those areas though, so if you’re not a natural scribe, please call in the professionals.