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Are you ready for GDPR?

By the end of May 2018 Europe’s data protection rules will receive a significant overhaul which will have major implications for many small businesses - with or without Brexit!

In response to the digital revolution, Europe’s data protection rules have undergone the most significant changes for more than 20 years. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will require changes on how businesses process, handle and manage their data.

It is very important small businesses are aware of the changes to data regulation that will be enforceable from May 2018, including how they impact on marketing activities.

Areas for change include the way data is collected, such as the use of opt in statements and getting express permission to communicate with potential customers. There are also changes to the way data is recorded, as businesses need to be able to prove that consent was given, and when.

As well as ensuring privacy and data security, businesses also need to keep people informed about what type of data they hold, allowing them to access this and enabling people to have all their data erased should they wish.

The biggest impact on marketing activities will be concerning direct marketing, email marketing and the use of data lists. Essentially, businesses must only engage with individuals if they either have a legitimate business interest to do so (delivering services to customers) or express consent from the individual.

What should you be doing?

There are many things businesses should be doing, if you have not done them already. This includes auditing your data, mailing and email lists, as well as checking these against the new regulations – can you continue to use certain data lists?

You should also be reviewing your data processing methods related to marketing, including collection, recording and storage. This is also a good time to invest in your CRM systems. You can no longer rely on spreadsheets here and there. All data must be stored and managed properly.

Businesses should also check their reliance on direct marketing and instead, invest in content marketing strategies that give people a reason to engage with you, and give you permission to contact them in the future.

Delayed pop ups on websites and other methods of gathering compliant data should be high on the agenda, if not already implemented.

It’s not all doom and gloom, so let’s look on the bright side.

The previous existing regulation for data protection will mean many  businesses are already well on their way to being compliant, but will only have to make small ‘step changes’ to conform.

This is also good practice. You should not be ‘spamming’ people who are not interested in your brand, products and services.  You should be implementing smaller targeted campaigns that will generate greater conversion and deliver better results. Implementing email campaigns for the reason of gaining consent is seen as a ‘legitimate interest’, so use this opportunity to provide options for different types of communications and gain permissions. You can then segment your database and deliver the content they want, when they want it.

You are not alone.

Only six per cent of companies recently polled were aware of the implicated changes - this means they could be leaving themselves wide open to future potential fines. One of the most talked about elements of GDPR is the power for regulators to fine businesses that don’t comply. If a small business doesn’t process a person’s data in the correct way, then it can be fined. If it requires and doesn’t have a data protection officer, it can be fined. If there’s a security breach, it can be fined.

So small businesses – be aware and be prepared!

Want to know more?

You can get information on GDPR and it implications from the Government’s Information Commissioner’s Office - https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/

Five top tips for social media marketing

Want to grow and expand your business reach but struggle with the concept of social media?  

Here are five top tips we recommend following to increase your social media engagement and achieve business growth:

  • Planning is essential 

To get the most out of social media, you need to identify what you want to achieve. Set yourself SMART targets and conduct some basic social media research to get a feel for what works and where the gaps are. Planning beforehand also allows you to condense the content and make it audience specific. You should also plan and evaluate which social media platforms you are going to use, as not all social media will be beneficial to your business. Does your target audience use Twitter, or are they more interested in video content on YouTube? 

  • Consistency is key 

Make sure to keep your posts consistent and consider planning how often you are going to post on social media. Scheduling your posts will help keep your feed up to date, and the more regularly you post the better engagement you'll receive from your followers!  

  • Adapt to each social media platform 

Each social media platform is different. Tailor your content for each platform to suit the different needs of your audiences. For example, keep tweets short and snappy, while LinkedIn posts should be longer and more conversational.  

  • Include a variety of content 

Alongside making sure your content is relevant to your business, you should also include a variety of content in your social media posts. Your followers will want to know what you have achieved and what you are working on, so talk about it.  Also, ensure you are ‘on topic’ if there is something big happening in your business sector e.g. in the news / an awareness day etc then be sure to acknowledge it.

  • Engage in social media conversations 

You should monitor and respond to any social media conversations from clients and prospective customers engaging with your business. More than 80 percent of customers expect a business to reply within 24 hours of a posting on social media. Meet these expectations. You need to show the audience you are interested and value them!  

  • Measurement and monitoring

Measuring and monitoring your posts and tweets will help optimise your content in the future. Identify which posts performed well and were the most interesting for your audience, as well as content that didn’t achieve good engagement, to help you recognise popular content topics within your industry!

Top 10 tips for starting your business

There’s more to starting a business than having a great idea. Check out our Top 10 tips, to help get yourself on the starting line.

1. Make sure it’s right for you
Be brutally honest with yourself: are you the right person to start a business? Can you work long hours? Can you take pressure and criticism? Can you cope with financial insecurity? If your business struggled at first, would you keep going? Write down the reasons why you are starting a business and decide whether it’s right for you.

2. Make sure your product or service is a must-have
Your idea doesn’t have to be new but it does need to differentiate you from your competitors. You also need to know that people will want or need it enough to buy it.

3. Know your market better
Carry out as much research as you can. Find out about your market, the demand, your competitors. Talk to potential customers, suppliers, competitors, distributors and ex-employees of competitors. Test your idea and test the market. This is a vital step before you write your business plan.

4. Write a business plan
This is essential. It’s your roadmap. Remember, it’s not set in stone; it’s always evolving, with your business and should include longer-term objectives, estimates and forecasts. Each step should, if possible, be measurable so you can gauge your success and so you can access funding and investment, if you need to.

5. The structure

Will you form a limited company, a limited liability partnership (LLP), a traditional partnership or will you be a sole trader. Each option has pros and cons and you need to determine what will work best for you.

6. Image

This is more than just your name. It’s your brand identity, distilled into its purest form. It brings your vision and values to life and connects you to your customers so you need to give it some thought.

7. Money

This is a biggie, since you’ll need to spend it and you’ll need to earn it. You might also need to secure it from a range of sources or even borrow it and there are many issues to consider when it comes to funding. You’ll need to keep a handle on your finances and you’ll need to have enough cash behind you to make your business work.

8. Premises

Your back bedroom might be fine, at first but will it always fit the bill? Should you buy or lease? What about insurance and business rates? Think about what works for you now and what premises you may need as you grow.

9. The IT

Hardware, software and cyber security. Now, more than ever, you need to get this right, investing in the right gear will help you in the long term.

10. Seek help

Even long- established, successful businesses need help to bounce around new ideas and growth plans so new businesses should never try to go it alone. The right advice, mentoring and support can help you with business planning, legal issues, IP and patents, funding and investment, research, design, prototyping and product development, premises, HR and employment issues, marketing, sales and much more.

The University of Chester provides fully-funded support to businesses, through the Cheshire & Warrington Business Growth Programme.

Backed by £2.7m investment from the European Regional Development Fund, the programme helps:

  • Entrepreneurs – People with a business idea
  • Pre-start businesses – A new business not yet registered
  • SMEs – A small business trading less than 42 months

To find out more about the support available directly from the University of Chester please email: businessgrowth@chester.ac.uk or call us on 01244 567 500.

Switch on to commercial success

Don’t make the same mistakes as Edison – make your business work for you and become one of the SMEs that accounts for £1.8 trillion each year.

Don’t make Edison’s mistakes – turn your lightbulb moment into a commercial success

Thomas Edison is arguably the greatest inventor of all time… but he could be the worst entrepreneur. His commercial incompetence is backed up by records, which show his investors removed him from the commercial side of every business he started.

Jim Colston, a business expert at the University of Chester, said: “It does not always follow that the brightest sparks, with the best inventions, properly identify a real need for their products or services, to base a successful business. According to some sources, failure rates among new businesses are as high as 80%.”

This is a worrying figure – and not just for entrepreneurs. Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) play a huge role in the UK economy, accounting for £1.8 trillion or 47 percent of the UK’s private sector economy, according to the Federation of Small Business.

Last year, Companies House registered more than 600,000 new businesses so if failure rate estimates are accurate, more than 400,000 could be gone by the end of this year but a higher success rate would deliver a huge boost to the economy.

Jim said: “The importance to the economy of entrepreneurs and SMEs is clear and so are the main reasons they fail. However, most of these reasons are completely avoidable.”

Supporting entrepreneurs and SMEs by delivering the Cheshire and Warrington Business Growth Programme, the University of Chester aims to help businesses grow, thrive and boost the region’s economy.

 “The vision and skills we have across the region give Cheshire a rich vein of entrepreneurial talent and the facilities and incubators that exist, such as the University’s Thornton Science Park, mean there are incredible opportunities for small businesses and in turn, incredible potential for the regional economy.”

It is with support from specialists, such as Jim, that SMEs can beat the start-up pitfalls and turn their ideas into profitable enterprises.

Jim explained: “The risk and uncertainty in starting a business can be affected by external and internal influences and there is a need to understand the contribution of these influences on the success or failure of a particular enterprise.”

Some external influences can be outside the control of a small business such as the effects of Brexit. Others can be recognised and mitigated, by changing the product offering or adopting new routes to market.

Internal influences are usually driven by lack of knowledge, research, planning and realism. In her Tech.co research, ‘Here Are the Start-up Failure Rates by Industry’, Kristan Pryor found 46 percent of start-ups fail due to ‘incompetence’ and a further 41 percent due to unbalanced or lack of experience.

Jim continues: “To create successful businesses, entrepreneurs need more than great ideas. Just look at J Murray Spengler, inventor of the upright vacuum cleaner, one of the most successful inventions of all time.

“It was WH Hoover who commercialised the product – he is the guy who made his name because he knew how to commercialise the product, while poor Spengler is all but forgotten.

“Innovation is simply not enough. If an entrepreneur truly wants to succeed, the right advice or mentoring is vital.”

Jim’s view is supported by research from O2, published in The Independent. 'Small Talk: The high failure rate for start-ups can be reduced by better support' highlights how incubation and accelerator programmes can increase survival rates to levels as high as 92 percent, as well as showing how businesses taking part in these programmes deliver significantly higher profitability.

Through the Cheshire and Warrington Business Growth Programme, Jim and the team at the University of Chester can help entrepreneurs and SMEs turn their ideas into commercial successes.

Backed by the European Regional Development Fund and the cutting-edge facilities and support available at the University, a programme of fully-funded support can help the region’s businesses bridge the gap between concept and commercial success. Read how other businesses are benefitting from the support.

To find out more, visit https://www1.chester.ac.uk/cwbgp email businessgrowth@chester.ac.uk or call 01244 567 500.

What are the key things to consider when starting your own business?

Starting your business

Starting your own business is not easy. It requires commitment, enthusiasm, funding and expertise.

Growing your business is even more challenging so it’s important you start up for the right reasons, as these will be the key to developing the skills and tenacity, which will keep your business running – and when the time comes, expanding and developing your ideas.

Start your business for the right reasons

Be honest with yourself: If your reasons are, ‘I want to make a lot of money’ or ‘I want to have more time with my family’ or because ‘I don’t want to answer to anyone else’, you need to think very carefully.

Excellent reasons include:

  • I have a passion for what I will do and I strongly believe, based on my research, that my product/service will fulfil a real need in the marketplace.
  • I have the mental stamina to cope with the potential challenges and the drive, determination and patience to succeed.
  • I thrive on independence and I’m skilled at taking charge, when a creative or intelligent solution is needed.

Know your needs

Recognising your training needs and seeking support is crucial. New business owners often lack relevant business and management expertise in areas such as finance, purchasing, production, marketing, recruitment and managing employees.

Poor management is one of the top reasons a new business fails. Successful business people need to be good leaders, skilled at motivating themselves and their employees.

Neglect of a business can also be its downfall. Business owners and managers need to organise, plan, control and review all activities/operations. This includes continuing to study the market and customer data and responding quickly to market changes and you may need help with this.

Capital

A common and fatal mistake for many businesses is having insufficient operating funds. Forecasting unrealistic revenues from sales and underestimating cash flow needs are also common.

You must consider not only the costs of starting a business, but the costs of staying in business and there is lots of support and advice available on accessing funding and raising capital.

Location. Location. Location

Location is critical to the success of your business. A good business location can help a struggling business to survive and ultimately thrive but a bad location can mean the end to the best-managed enterprise.

Consider:

  • The type of space required
  • Where your customers buy and where your competitors trade
  • Local incentive programs for business start-ups in specific targeted areas
  • The area's receptiveness to a new business and the community support
  • The cost of your premises

Planning is vital

No matter how large or small your enterprise is, it is critical to have a business plan – and get the right support to help develop this because it’s just as important as your great idea.

Your business plan needs to be realistic and it absolutely must develop with your business – don’t create a plan at ‘start up’ and put it in a drawer, never to see it again.

Your business plan maps out your vision and objectives for your business. It will keep you on track and on target and it needs to change as your targets and ambitions change.

Rapid expansion

A focus on slow and steady growth is best but often a rapid expansion can seem the only way to cope with sales.

An ideal situation is to wait until your company has established a solid customer base and a good cash flow, before you push on with major growth.

This will give you stability and will ensure you have the right systems and people in place to succeed. It will also help with re-financing, attracting investors or applying for funding, should you need to.

Must-haves

Must-haves for success are a good business plan, a marketable product or service and boundless enthusiasm.

When things get tough remind yourself why you started your business and use your business plan to stay on track.

Keep going. Keep smiling and remember, you’re not alone.

How do you create a buzz about your company or product? Create some great content!

Compelling, quality content is a major factor in determining how well your website will perform. Great content can increase your website’s ranking in search engine results and promote engagement with website visitors.

However, content creation can be time-consuming and not everyone is able to turn their hand to writing for the web. Sometimes company owners can be too close to their product or service to be objective so a good solution could be to engage a copywriter.

A copywriter will give you an outsider’s perspective; this can be very beneficial, as people within the company tend to make assumptions about what is and isn’t common knowledge to their audience. Outsourced copywriters can anticipate the questions customers will ask and provide answers written in a way that they will understand.

Copywriters get to know you, as well as your competitors. They are skilled in scoping out your company’s products/services strengths and weaknesses and recognising what works to develop an industry-specific approach. They also know the value of good grammar and when it comes to website content, grammar and spelling matters. Errors and misspellings can discredit your business and its message.

So professional copywriters can save you time (and therefore money) as they turn around highly effective copy very quickly. Once briefed they can get on with the task of creating great web content, blogs and other promotional material.

To enable copywriters to do the best job, it’s important for you to have a good, honest relationship with them. How well you work together is part and parcel of producing the best copy. Briefing and building a relationship with a copywriter is essential but how do you go about this for the first time?

Here are 7 simple steps to keep you focused when briefing your copywriter:

  1. SCOPE - give a big picture of your sector, your type of business and the project you are about to undertake and how it fits with any other marketing you are doing.
  2. PLATFORM - be clear what the copy is for: website, blog, brochure, advertorial, flyer…
  3. AIM - what do you want your copy to achieve and why?
  4. USP's - what is the unique selling point of your marketing?
  5. TIMESCALE - when do you want the finished copy delivered?
  6. AUDIENCE - who is the audience for the copy – who will read it?
  7. STYLE - drill down to your brand's style and tone. How do you want to come across – professional, straightforward, friendly, welcoming etc? If you don't already have an 'in-house' style, look at other companies' website/brochures to get an idea of what you like and give your copywriter examples.