Sell Yourself Smart

March 31, 2008

Ok, so you’ve decided to go it alone. You’re going to turn your dream into your income, go from village fete to supermarket shelf. You have the product that everyone wants and the expertise to make it even better. You have the vision and the determination. Great start. But do you have the customers and is there a whole market out there not hearing your message? The delivery of a business message is crucial but, if you’re anything like most startups, you may be lacking in tried and tested marketing and advertising experience. Tight budgets often mean that we are forced to do as much of the work as possible, from strategy to implementation and so, when we go it alone, we have to learn new skills to promote ourselves – and fast. However, today’s freelancers and small business owners should be very proud of themselves as stats show that we are rapidly becoming increasingly savvy about how we pitch to the wider world.

The cost versus effectiveness debate of advertising has led to a face off between the more traditional forms (print, radio and even TV ads) and the new kid on the block, online marketing presence. And the Web is winning – big time. A poll on PeoplePerHour.com confirms that over 60% of users prefer to market online, enjoying tangible results from their investment. With UK online marketing spending up by 47% to £2,016 million last year, that’s a good club to be a member of. Direct mail scores an easy second place in the poll, with print ads plodding along in third. Indeed, industry experts are pretty much agreed that a combination of online and direct marketing (promotional material directed through mail or telephone to individual households or businesses) is a winning one. In the 2007 Global Marketing Effectiveness Report, direct marketing out-performed other forms of ‘old school’ promotion such as PR, newspaper, billboard and TV advertising and yet only 25% of marketing budgets are spent on this form of communication, with many seeing direct marketing as nothing more than glorified cold calling. The resounding benefit of direct marketing is that it is targeted and measurable and can be as creative as you like.

It is this same precision/branding combo that has led to the surge in Internet advertising of late. A poll of US citizens last year confirmed what TV bosses are fearing the most: 78% of respondents said that they had given up TV time to spend time in front of the computer; 24% said they were forfeiting eating or sleeping to browse the Web. Internet users tend to be more educated, with 75% having graduated from college as opposed to 45% of the population, according to a study by SRI Consulting. They tend to have a significantly higher disposable income to spend on your product and, if you still need convincing, banner ads generate 200% more of a branding impact on your audience than a single exposure to an advertisement in a magazine or on television.

That said, banner ads are nowadays actively discouraged by those in the know, so it’s important to get advice on how best to advertise online. Thankfully, this can be done on even the tightest of budgets. Success isn’t simply down to paying out vast sums to a search engine optimizer: it’s about simple research and knowing what you are offering and to whom. Companies asked to measure the effectiveness of their online efforts rated it thus: 49% Search Engines and Directories; 22% Button Links; 18% Online Press Releases; 17% Reciprocal Ads & Links; 10% Affiliate Programs; 6% Banner Advertising. It’s official then, paid placement or pay per click campaigns – again targeted and measurable – is the way to go. With low entry costs, sometimes starting from as little as 1p, paid placement search enables any company to get listed in the search results on some of the busiest websites, usually as ‘sponsored links’ to the right of the results. Essentially, you ‘bid’ on search terms that you predict your potential customers will use to find your business and your site is then listed in order of bid price on major websites. You only pay once a prospect actually clicks through to your site – converting their visit into a sale is the next step – but it means that all businesses are equal in advertising their services and products. Crucially, the fact that people who find you are likely to have been looking for what you are offering in the first place means that the lead is far more likely to convert to a sale. While many companies offer this service, Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing, and Microsoft adCenter were the largest network operators as of 2007.

Top tips:

Make sure your search term, title and description and website are directly relevant to each other and include the search term in either your title and description, preferably in both.

Give a direct URL to the relevant content. This is called deeplinking and is proven to lead to more conversions.

Do not use superlatives.

Ask the campaign provider you use for recommended search terms and then track leads in real time so you can identify the terms that work and ditch the ones that don’t.

As of today we have upgraded our Listing Options with a view to addressing some of the issues & preferences pointed out by Buyers. The Standard Listing remains FREE and carries restrictions on exchange of contact details as before. There are some extra restrictions placed on how many Providers a Buyer can invite to bid with this option. However we have added an option for Buyers to purchase contact details of Bidders if they wish to get in touch directly once they have placed a Bid.

The Priority Listing option has been amended to allow Buyers to publish their contact details also, in cases where they want providers to get in touch. Again these will only be accessible to Bidders once they have placed a Bid, allowing them to get in touch directly to discuss the project. Priority Listings carry infinite permissions to Bid Invites and all bids include the contacts of Providers. The price has been increased to £9.95 to reflect the extra privileges provided.

The chart below shows the differences between the two options in more detail.

Listing options

Choosing to be self-employed. Why do we do it? More control over our careers? Yes. More money? Hopefully. Better work/life balance? Definitely. According to a recent poll conducted here on PeoplePerHour.com, a massive 59% of respondents stated that finding a happy medium in the work/play debate was a major factor in their decision to shun the trappings of ‘normal’ employment. But if new research is to be believed, many of us are simply swapping one headache for another, risking health and home in our desire to seek a self-employed fortune, forgetting what drove us to make the decision to quit our 9 to 5 jobs in the first place.

Professor Richard Scase, a business expert, recently went on record to say that, by 2015, he believes some 30% of the workforce will have non-permanent jobs. The UK truly is a nation of wannabe shopkeepers, it seems. And yet, it appears that the choice to become self-employed is far from an easy one for many of us, more of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. New research commissioned by Orange Business Services clearly demonstrates that we are increasingly aware that being a freelancer is no bed of roses: a detrimental impact on health is now the fastest growing concern when deciding whether to start up a business of our own. 34% of respondents believed that starting a business would negatively affect their love life; 33% felt it would damage their quality of sleep; and 33% believed it would make them more aggressive. Yikes. But with analysts at the Institute of Directors claiming that one in five of the UK workforce will be freelance by 2025, it seems that massive numbers are still putting potential wealth before health. Did you know that the largest UK company classification is businesses with 0 employees, with a whopping 3,262,715 companies run single handed?

The majority of those who decide to make the leap into self-employment do so in the full, eyes-open knowledge that setting up a new business or even working alone demands full-time commitment, both of time and resources, and yet the sacrifices we make in choosing to be self employed are not limited to our health. UK based accounting software company Kashflow commissioned a survey of 400 UK small business owners, asking them what sacrifices they had made in order to ensure their companies are successful. 32% said that they often forego family time, the demands of work leaving them struggling to attain that ever-elusive work/life balance. It’s harsh but true: faced with the responsibility of paying the bills, with no regular salary and an increasingly unsympathetic bank manager on speed dial, over 26,000 individuals went bankrupt or had an IVA last year alone, crippled by lack of funds and increasingly strict red tape governing small businesses. 21% of small business owners surveyed said they had increased their personal debt levels and were relying more on credit cards. 18% of small business owners said that they now have less disposable income and hadn’t had a holiday in years, while 5% bemoaned their lack of social life. No money and no spare time definitely do not make for effective work/life balance, especially as it is the increasingly impatient families of small business owners who are left to deal with the fall out as the business becomes the number one priority due to the risk and investment tied up in it.

So what is the solution? Is the only answer to rejoin the ranks of commuters and one-hour-lunchers? Ask the majority of freelancers and the self employed and they will shudder and answer with a resounding “NO”! We are, it seems, willing to accept that there may well be a substantial time lag between making the leap and living well, as long as the journey between these two phases isn’t too long. And, yup, this is where the old chestnut of good planning comes in. By no means exhaustive, make sure you’ve ticked most of these crucial boxes before you go and tell your boss what you really think of him.

1. Do I want to be a freelancer?

Be honest, can you do it? Do you really want to do it? Why? Do you have a support network? How much are you willing to invest, both time and money? You know the potential benefits but do you know the risks? Do your research.

2. Know your market

The worst thing you can do is merrily enter into a market that’s already saturated with what you do/where no freelancers operate. Effective market research is essential in finding out if there actually are people out there who want what you offer and who, crucially, will pay you for delivering it.

3. Have a business plan

Every, and I mean every, business needs a plan. At its simplest level, where are you now, where are you going and when and how will you get there?

4. Company formation

Know the rules and laws about company formation. Fundamentally important.

5. Finance

Finance isn’t just about how to pay the bills, it’s about having a back up plan, a get out clause. Investing in the services of an accountant is crucial if you have decided to establish a limited company. So is insurance. Make sure your accountant is fully up to date on the changes being made to small business taxation.

6. Spreading the word

A portfolio of what you do will stand you in good stead. Make it simple and stylish. Advertising and networking are ever-changing beasts. Become media savvy and watch and learn from how the successful people in your field made it to the top.

Nikki

Taking on board your feedback on improving the skills section of the site, we have now introduced the new skills system, allowing you to showcase your skills in a better and more visible way and hence help win more business.

What does the new skills section look like?

With the new system, you will be able to select skills from a pre-defined skills lists, or simply add your own custom skills. Additionally, you can indicate how many years experience you have with each skill and your skill level (proficiency). Please see screenshot below.

Skills screenshot

Please make sure to log in to your account and update your skills in order to take advantage of this new feature!

How to stop spam emails

March 3, 2008

If you are running a small business or work as a freelancer, you will most probably have already received spam emails at some point. Apart from clogging up your inbox, spam emails can also carry viruses and spyware so it is very important to know how to protect yourself.

We have been receiving some emails from users worried about receiving spam so we have decided to write a short article to provider some information on this topic, as well as some practical tips on how to protect yourself and your business from spam emails. We hope you find it useful.

What exactly is spam?

Spam email is simply unwanted, unsolicited email; it is sometimes also known as junk email.

Some examples of spam email:

  1. Online pharmacies
  2. Adverts for gambling sites
  3. Promotion emails for ridiculously cheap, pirated software
  4. Adverts for pornographic material
  5. Advertisements for ‘Herbal Viagra’ and other non-existent products.

How do spammers get your email address?

The most important step towards stopping spam is to understand the techniques spammers use to get hold of your email address. Unfortunately spammers use many different ways to collect email addresses – the most common methods used are:

  1. Website harvesting – spammers use special programmes called spiders (similar to search engines spiders) to collect any email addresses found embedded in web pages.
  2. Guessing – spammers use automated software to generate probable email addresses
  3. Dodgy websites – if someone registers on a dodgy website, the site owner can sell the email addresses collected to spammers
  4. Bogus spam block services – these fake services ask the user to enter their email address and offer to block spam but in reality they actually do exactly the opposite: collect email addresses that are then sold to spammers.
  5. Spyware/viruses – these are malicious pieces of software installed against a users will on his/her computer and amongst other things, can be used to collect email addresses or send spam emails

How to spot spam

Filtering your emails manually for spam can be a time-consuming process so if you are getting a large number of spam emails, it is recommended to use a mail filter to block the majority of spam automatically. Here are some common spam characteristics to help you detect spam manually:

  1. Emails from people/email addresses you don’t know
  2. Offer products for sale and contain urgent calls to action ‘Buy V1agra online today and get 70% off’
  3. Subject line of the email does not match the contents – this is designed to get around the filters that only check the subject line of the emails.
  4. Contain strange misspellings e.g. ‘V1agra’ (designed to fool junk mail filters)

Tips for dealing with spam

  1. Use Junk Email filters – most of the web mail providers today (e.g. hotmail, yahoo, gmail), as well as Microsoft 2003 and 2007, offer junk mail protection. Ensure that this is switched on.
  2. Do no click on any links in spam emails or download images that might be embedded in the emails. Doing so will only confirm to spammers that your email address is active and valid and will result in more spam.
  3. Do not click on ‘remote’ or ‘unsubscribe’ or reply to spam email
  4. Do not list your main email address on internet directories or any other sites where your information can be publicly available. If you do need an email to register on such sites, it is best to create a 2nd email address using a free web mail service and use this for these sites instead of your main email address
  5. Do not open attachments in spam mail
  6. If you use a spam filter, always report/flag junk mail that gets through so that the filter can stop these emails next time
  7. If you can, pick a longer email address that is more difficult to guess
  8. If you are receiving a big amount of spam even after using filters, the simplest solution might be to change your email address. Before deciding to change your email address, ensure that your filter preferences is set to ‘high junk mail protection’ or you might want to try a ‘spam blocking’ service (see below).
  9. Using a ‘spam blocking’ service (like spam arrest). These services can help reduce spam by asking everyone who emails you to verify themselves by entering a numerical code on a web page; unless the sender verifies themselves the email will not be delivered to you (each sender only has to be done once). While this can be an effective method for reducing spam, it’s worth bearing that such methods might be inconvenient for genuine senders and hence might result in you not receiving some genuine emails.
  10. Do no post your email on your website – it is better to either use an online form for people to contact you. If you need to post your email address for some reason, either post it without using the @ sign (e.g. example_email [at] exampledomain [dot] com) or, even better, use an image to display your email address (i.e. do not post your email as plain text).
  11. When registering online even on legitimate sites, look out for any option along the lines of ‘Share my contact information with selected 3rd parties’ and ensure that you do NOT opt-in for such schemes. Although this is technically not spam in itself (since you are giving your consent), in practice you will have no control of which companies your email is passed/sold to and what their email practices are and could lead to your email address eventually falling into the wrong hands.
  12. Always have an updated anti-virus and firewall installed on your computer and conduct frequent spyware checks to detect and remove any suspicious/malicious programs.
  13. Do no install software if you are unsure of its legitimacy/source. A lot of the less well-known browser toolbars these days (or other freeware) also install software on your computer that will result in a spam mail. In general, be particularly cautious about 100% free software (if it’s free there is probably some other way for the author to make money, which is possibly related with advertising/collecting data).