For many in the world of business, it was a turbulent 2016. Key questions arose such as: could we have predicted the Brexit vote, how ready are we for the changes it might bring, and do we have the skills and resources to ride an era of digital disruption?
However your business fared last year, it is time to move forward. In 2017, the UK’s SMEs must do all they can to increase revenues in a highly-competitive environment for trade.
Using social media to grow
Simon Crowther decided to launch marketing company Skyrocket Solutions Ltd in 2015 after realising the potential of social media marketing with his first company, Flood Protection Solutions. ‘I noticed that around 40 per cent of sales were generated via social media,’ Crowther says. ‘As a civil engineer I identified that in many traditional engineering companies there was a void between the manufacturing and marketing departments and the enormous potential of social media was not being tapped into.
Initially, Crowther spoke to a friend about the business concept while in the planning stages. ‘He was so excited about how we could help him move his automotive business forward that it was not long before he became our first customer, paying a monthly fee to have all aspects of social media appropriate to his business managed.’
The business grew through word of mouth and social media and it was not long before it was able to support staff, Crowther says. ‘As we provide a comprehensive service to our customers we ensure each staff member has a thorough understanding of the clients and their respective industries to offer the best service possible. As the business grows additional staff will be employed to meet demand.’
Crowther’s advice to small company owners enjoying a spell of quick growth would be to make life as simple as possible. ‘Employ good quality staff, have effective time management, learning to prioritise tasks efficiently. Have systems in place for effective accounting, and have effective strategies in place for your business.’
Increasing sales through lean operations
Ryan Shaw started Vape Shoreditch in February 2015 after working in the financial markets and the company is now turning over £80,000 a month. ‘We launched to simplify vaping and make it more convenient,’ he says.
The secret to increasing sales lies partly in having super lean operations, says Shaw. ‘Have a solid process in place and where possible use technology to make your business more efficient. There may be an upfront cost but in the long run you will see a strong ROI.’
It’s important to remember that you will face challenges along the way, but it’s how you deal with them that defines you as a business. ‘One of the problems we had was with manufacturing,’ Shaw says. ‘Our contract packer was poor, their quality control was lacking and delivers were always late. Because of this we lacked flexibility, and to remedy this we brought this process in-house.’
Engaging with your customer base
One of the key ingredients to increasing revenue is creating an ‘active customer base’, says Peter King, founder of coupon codes website Mamma.com. ‘This can be interpreted differently depending on what your business is, but fundamentally if you can find a way to actively engage with your customer base, even if it’s once a month, you’ll see a gradual growth in revenue and customer numbers,’ he says.
King engages with his own users through a newsletter, but feels many businesses get them wrong and try and sell to their audience straight away. ‘Ideally you want your audience to want to click on your newsletter and i’m not just referring to using ‘clickbait’ titles to lure them.
‘Try and create value in whatever market you are in. This could be done in a number of ways: creating free useful content, offering a step-by-step guide, offering giveaways or even running competitions.’
Providing solid content your audience will actively engage with will make it easier to sell and give you much high conversion rates.
King also recommends the use of ‘push notifications’, which allow your company to notify a user of new messages or events even when the user is not actively using your application. ‘A tip would be to make sure the notification has a clear benefit and call to action. For example: ‘Today we are holding a 50 per cent sale for one day only! Get your favourite item before someone else does!’ It’s very important that the person actually wants to see what you are sending them otherwise they’ll deactivate the notifications quicker than you can slap yourself.
‘This is a very powerful tool providing it’s used effectively and can help increase viewers/sales.’
Taking a side business full time
Tom Craig initially ran his digital agency Impression as a sideline to his full-time role for the first few months, after which his partner went full time on it, with Craig joining him soon after. ‘We employed our first member of staff in June 2014, and today we have a team of more than 20 digital professionals working across some well-known national brands, as well as supporting SMEs in their online growth,’ he explains.
The company’s first customers were primarily SMEs looking for their websites to be built for them. ‘[My business partner] Aaron is an extremely accomplished web developer so was able to turn the projects around efficiently and effectively, and we both also provided search engine optimisation and pay per click services for our growing list of clients too,’ Craig explains.
From there, sales came solely through word of mouth. ‘We were very privileged to receive some fantastic recommendations from our clients which really helped us grow. We’re also quite active in the digital community in Nottingham, where we’re based, so found networking brought more opportunities too.’
A big challenge during a time of growth has been recruitment. ‘When you’re a service based business like we are, employing the right people to deliver that service is essential,’ Craig says. ‘We want to build a team that includes experienced professionals alongside passionate people who are less experienced to learn – including local graduates.’
The importance of a great company culture
It’s a challenge the company has overcome in many ways through the culture it has created and the reputation that has been built up externally. ‘We’re known for being a fun office and having things like a beer fridge, ping pong table and regular socials certainly helps with this. Further to that though, we’re also known for investing in our team in terms of the training we provide in house, the events we subscribe to externally and the tools we use throughout the business.’
Craig’s advice to any company enjoying high growth is to be very clear of your core values or mission statement. ‘As a fast-growth business, it would have been easy for Impression to take on more and more projects and grow our team very quickly too, but that might not have been best for our future.
‘Instead, we focus on our core mission which is the build a world-class team of digital experts which delivers innovative campaigns to help our clients grow. By maintaining our commitment to this goal, we have shaped our growth in such a way that we’re confident it will continue for many years to come.’
This article was produced in association with Vistaprint, the leading provider of customisable printed and digital marketing materials, enabling millions of UK micro businesses of any kind and at any stage to market themselves professionally and affordably. Our world-class online design studio allows customers to easily customise their products including business cards, marketing materials, signage, promotional products, apparel, postcards and stationery at www.vistaprint.co.uk.