Monthly Archives: September 2017

Business for the First Time

One of the biggest challenges currently facing small business owners is dealing with the decrease in demand in their home market. Exporting is clearly one option, which can significantly help increase turnover and enhance business performance. For a first-time exporter, trading in Northern Ireland is the perfect place to begin, writes Thomas Hunter McGowan from InterTradeIreland.

Northern Ireland holds many advantages for businesses based in the Republic of Ireland (and vice-versa). It is geographically closer than our other European neighbours, and there are no language barriers. Cross-border trade is currently valued at €3.048bn – so substantial opportunities exist in both jurisdictions.

Here are some tips to get you started:

 

1. Take stock of your performance in your home market

  • Identify the challenges and opportunities (SWOT analysis).
  • How do you perform at home?
  • How well have you the home market covered geographically?
  • How do you compare against your competitors?
  • Do you supply all the multiples – are any markets closed to you?
2. Discuss with your team the opportunities and challenges of entering a new market
  • Lead the exercise yourself unless you really believe someone else in the team is better equipped to do this.
  • Discuss why you want to extend and grow (have facts and figures to hand).
  • Identify your readiness.
  • Fix any blockages.
  • Identify all challenges.
  • Set ambitious but achievable targets.
  • Identify rewards that will arise from new markets.
3. Visit your target marketplace
  • Spend time in your target marketplace.
  • Meet and talk to as many relevant people as possible, even if they are unlikely to be immediate clients or customers. They are all sources of invaluable market information.
  • Understand the retail or distribution channels for your product.
  • Examine competitors closely.
  • Get as much detail on “price” as possible: End or retail price, wholesale price, discounts
  • Understand the marketing and promotional approach of suppliers and retailers.
  • Estimate volume.
  • Size the work (the scale of the task in hand).
  • Note any differences from your home market.
4. Engage an experienced market research consultant based in the target marketplace
  • You or your team are best placed to carry this out and will learn a lot from the research process.
  • However, a professional marketer based in the new market can assemble facts and figures and reach sources quicker than you may do yourself.
  • An independent professional can also provide realistic feedback on the opportunities and challenges.
  • InterTradeIreland’s Acumen programme offers a number of tailored supports to help you with this research.

The Irish eCommerce Market

The 2015 Global Retail eCommerce Index ranks markets from big to small and highlights the growth rate of eCommerce worldwide. While the US, UK and China are e-Commerce giants by virtue of their size, smaller countries like Ireland are holding their own albeit growing at a much smaller rate, writes Liz Fulham from SalesOptimize.

It is at times easy to forget that the while the internet may be 30 years old, it is only in the past 16 years that major brands have begun to utilise the opportunities that eCommerce presents.

Although the eCommerce market is growing at a phenomenal rate, over 94% of retail goods are still sold on the high street and just 37% of the European population are online shoppers. There is an incredible opportunity for expansion and continued growth, as is very evident in this infographic.

The big question for us: Is the “Irish Business Community” ready to take full advantage of these opportunities?

Where there are opportunities, there are also challenges. Successfully addressing these challenges will help enable business owners to leverage the opportunities.

  • Search Engine Challenge
    The single biggest challenge for all online retailers is how to attract customers to their website. Everyone is chasing the elusive first page search result, first entry position on Google, Bing etc. Harnessing the power of deep web analytics reveals that less than 500 Irish online retailers have turnover in excess of €5m a year. Using our own advanced research algorithms, we have established that 90% of Irish online retailers have an annual turnover of less than €1m a year, with 60%+ generating less than €250K annually. Cracking the search engine nut will be the key to success for many eCommerce businesses.
  • MarTech Challenge
    Marketing in this ecosystem is beyond any one solution, with over 3,000+ products available in this sector alone, each claiming to have some aspect of the secret formula to SEO, content management, mobile advertising etc. Choosing the correct technology to achieve your marketing goals and objectives is critical to driving your business forward.

The Outlook

Are we facing an eCommerce future of “the internet of giants” vs “the internet of the world”? Ireland needs to face the next big wave of innovation. And this wave is eCommerce and Big Data. We have to recognise the challenge posed by the current search engines and their advertising practices and search algorithms. With a natural entrepreneurial culture inherent in us and a thriving start-up nation, is it only a matter of time before we harness the power of our nation, own our intellectual property, and unleash the opportunity that is business online?

Enterprise Ireland does a great job, at home and abroad, supporting and helping start-ups, but we need a whole community approach. Banks are looking to help start-ups, while schools and colleges should prioritise science and computing so our knowledge capital keeps pace.

Establishing Your Online Presence

The face of the digital landscape in Ireland has changed dramatically over the past two decades. We’ve come a long way; our Grannies are now using iPads! Let’s put it simply: if your brand has no online presence, you’re doing at least one thing wrong, writes Danielle O’Connell and Lauren Higgs from Good as Gold.

“I’m stuck with a website that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, I’ve already spent a ton of money and am being told that I need to spend more to fix the situation. I’m totally trapped.” Recently a client called us for some advice regarding her business. She owns a medium-sized company and has spent over a year moving from creative houses to marketing agencies in the hope of finding someone who she can trust. False promises, a badly designed website and a lot of frustration led her to our door, and unfortunately she is not alone.

The question often asked by business owners is: “How can I increase my conversions?” and although this is ultimately the goal for every business, it opens the digital Pandora’s Box of hefty retainers for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), content management and Google AdWords campaigns – all of which are detracting from the more fundamental issue of: Your Brand.

The digital bandwagon has been jumped on by so many at this stage that it’s hard to know what advice you should follow. If, like us, you’ve just started your own company, there are a number of points to be aware of to avoid getting lost in the digital abyss. Setting up a Facebook page because you “probably should” or publishing a website that no one can find is just going to waste both your time and money.

 

1. Don’t rush: “I need a website quick!”

You’ve spent months, maybe even years, working on establishing your business. It’s your baby. The biggest mistake you can make now is to rush. You may think that the most important thing is to be live on the World Wide Web, but remember, as soon as you hit “Publish” you’re exposing your brand and company to a global audience. Your brand is your public face and you need to be sure it’s ready to entertain. It shouldn’t take forever though, so we suggest you focus on finding out as much as possible about your audience, and then make a plan. This will make the most out of your schedule, save embarrassment and ultimately increase sales – both now and for years to come. The same applies to your social media accounts. If you have paid a graphic designer to create a brand for you that eloquently represents your business, it is a travesty then to upload a stretched or blurry version of your logo, not to mention a total waste of billed design hours.

Don’t mistake speed for precocity: the world doesn’t need wrong answers in record time.” – Cennydd Bowles, digital product designer and writer

 

2. Don’t just tick the boxes:  “That’s me done then!”

The check-list when setting up a business is quite a long one, particularly when it comes to the digital world. There are social media accounts to be set up, a website to build and populate, SEO and –  if you thought there was light at the end of the tunnel – there’s digital marketing to consider. If you have these items neatly ticked off though and are still no closer to creating a loyal fan base or generating interest, what’s going on?

Often we see businesses with beautiful websites that click through to social accounts that are anything but. It is vital that you have a clear and consistent voice across all relevant digital channels, not just one. If a potential customer’s first interaction with your brand is through a Facebook page that poorly represents who you are and what you do, why would they hang around?

Specialising in digital design, we’re regularly asked to provide graphics for various platforms and to add links on websites that bring users to sad and empty social media accounts. The mistake here for business owners is completing a task without really asking the question, “Why?” Is it better to have a page that has not been updated in months or to have none at all? For example, a blog is a clever way of giving a personal touch to your brand, and a healthy, relevant blog will contribute to both website traffic and SEO. However, if you dislike writing and are burdened by a blog section you know won’t be updated, don’t have one!

Boost Your Sales and Marketing Results

The economy is recovering. Now is the time to get your sales and marketing plans in tip-top shape to take advantage. Small to mid-sized businesses are the ones that fuel our economic growth. So, as you plan your campaigns for 2016, here are some tips to help you optimise your results.

1. “You don’t have to role play or be an actor.”

Make sure every message that your customer sees from you is focused on how your product or service benefits them. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask, “What’s in this for me?” Make sure that the message is communicated clearly and consistently in your promotional materials, in your sales presentations, in your email campaigns, and on your website.

 

2. “Process makes perfect.”

That is certainly true when it comes to sales. To achieve success, you need to have a good selling process in place in your business. A sales plan – by media channel, by product line or by service – is essential to insuring your sales operation will function smoothly and be successful.

3. “I can see clearly now.”

How much do you know about your customers? If you don’t have a clear picture, then a customer profile analysis is what you need. By matching your customer file against a national consumer or business data warehouse, you can develop a profile of your customers that is a powerful tool for more targeted marketing and sales campaigns.

 

4. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

And neither was your customer list. Your customer list is your gold, but it takes planning and attention to detail to create a really powerful customer list. Be sure you have a good CRM system to store data on customer contact information, purchase history, marketing preferences, and personal attributes. Put someone in charge who will make sure all the input is accurate and thorough. Clean your list regularly with the help of a marketing services provider.

 

5. “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

But you can get a lot of mileage out of good publicity. Every business has a story, and every media outlet is looking for one. Send newsworthy press releases to your local media, your VIP list, your trade journals, and even the national media if the news is big.

Opportunities Amongst the Challenges

Amid all the noise about Brexit, it’s worth looking at exactly what businesses can do about it. Not much, you’d think, because only the people of the United Kingdom can decide their fate. When they vote in the referendum on 23rd June, they’ll determine the fortunes of many others, around them and after them, for years to come, writes John McGrane from British Irish Chamber of Commerce and Dublin Chamber of Commerce.

The EU is such a good idea that if we didn’t have one, we’d have to make one – for peace, security, fairness and achieving the ambitions of our parents, ourselves and our children.

The EU certainly needs fixing and it would be far better for Britain to lead than leave so we can fix it together.  But it’s their choice.

For business, life will go on, either way. Every day, business owners and their staff get on with buying, selling, hiring and taking care of customers, come what may.

In an island economy, we’re natural traders across our borders – we make too much of some things locally and we don’t have enough of some others. So the rules about trade are actually important: when a tariff or a levy is imposed on our exports, they’re less competitive and we sell less. When a tax is put on an import we need, our costs go up. So we do less business and we face increased unemployment. Clearly not a good idea. Which is why it’s good for everybody to have the UK remain in the EU and complete the job of building the largest open market network in the world. Because open markets grow trade and that grows investment and jobs, and that grows wellbeing and security for all our citizens. That’s an ambition worth standing for. And if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

Plan Ahead

But, don’t let an unambitious Brexit put you off your ambitions. Larger firms face barriers in many parts of the world and may have the resources to cope. But smaller businesses, often family-owned, can be pragmatic and adaptable. A little forward thinking may prove useful now. Change may be opportunity as well as threat. Trading between Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is filled with potential (which is to say we do a lot, but still not nearly as much as we could). Manchester is five times the size of Dublin and there are still thousands of firms in both cities that haven’t yet connected, let alone traded. And the time it takes between Cork and Liverpool is as fast as between Cork and Dublin.

Trading in your next country is as easy as trading in your next county. The only difference is the currency and you’ve plenty of ways to manage that. Most of the trading rules today are the same and we get on pretty well together. You should also be looking at exporting further afield and technology makes that easier too, but not as easy as trading next door.

No doubt, Brexit messes things up – it immediately creates uncertainty so businesses can’t plan clearly. Some, indeed, will do more business from Ireland and that creates more opportunities for their suppliers. Becoming Norway or Switzerland or Canada (or even Albania) is not an answer: most of the so called Free Trade Agreements aren’t. They restrict important things like Food trade, they require free movement and payment to the EU and full compliance but no say in the rules, so that’s not what the UK will leave for. And there will be no quick Special Deal with Ireland – why would the rest of the EU states, most of which don’t have big trade surpluses with the UK, give a concession to a leaver and one small country that remains?