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small business, law, legal advice, IT advice

3 things all small businesses need to know about the law!

When you’re running a business or working as a freelancer it’s easy to overlook how the law effects your business. You can form a company or become self-employed without consulting a solicitor, and many of us successfully run our businesses without ever falling foul of the law. However, whether we like it or not, there are things we do need to know about.

Next month (June) at the Bordon Hub we’ll be exploring legal issues in more detail; providing Hub members with everything they need to know to ensure their businesses (and themselves) is compliant.

You can come along too on a free Hub pass! Just register for one of our Bordon Hub meetings here, and choose the ‘It’s my first visit, it’s FREE’ option.

Legal issues small businesses need to be aware of

Without further ado, here are 3 things you need to know about to protect you and your business:

  1. Terms and Conditions

Your Ts and Cs act as a legally binding contract between you and your customers, contractors and suppliers. They set out what the customer can expect from your business, and what they need to do to use your product or services.

Without Terms and Conditions you and your business are vulnerable. Customers may not settle their invoices in an acceptable timeframe; they may request a refund even when they use your product incorrectly; they may allow other people to use your digital services when your services are for one user only; they may even take you to court if they believe you haven’t delivered the product or services they have purchased.

Whatever you do, T&Cs should apply. That doesn’t mean you have to get customers to sign a contract, you just need to signpost customers to them. For example, if your customers access your services online, T&Cs should be on your website and a link or digital copy provided when an order is made.

Chris Hunter from RHW Solicitors in Guildford will be sharing the dos and don’ts of T&Cs at the Hub next month, book this session here. You may find it useful to think about the following so you get the most out of this session (and for setting out your own Terms and Conditions):

  • List all the key commercial terms you are offering your customers
  • Think about what could go wrong and what you would do in each scenario
  • Imagine the worse possible customer and what they might do to damage your business

 

  1. Data protection

All data that you handle and store as part of running your business is your responsibility to protect. Data breaches can have a devastating impact on a small business; disrupting your services, damaging your reputation and potentially involving large fines for non-compliance.

Small businesses are particular vulnerable because although you may not have large volumes of valuable data (for example customer’s financial information), generally your defences are not as robust as larger corporates. Many hackers and cyber criminals are deliberately going after the little guys as they can get access to systems and data quickly and move on to the next.

How do you protect your business and data? Best practices include:

  • Audit all the data your business handles – where is it and what is it, then protect it using the most appropriate security measures
  • Good password hygiene – using strong passwords and reset them regularly
  • Only store essential data – only ask for data that is essential for you to provide your services or fulfil an order. When you know longer need it, destroy it securely

For more advice and practical tips Ben Fielding from IT service provider Blucando will be at the Hub to share all – book this session here.

  1. Protect your employees

It’s not just your customers’ data that is your responsibility to protect. It’s also your employees, suppliers and anyone else. Last year the General Data Protection Regulation came into force, and for the first time many small businesses realised the extent of the data they hold on employees, contractors etc.

Is your business compliant? Ben Fielding will cover off the IT side of GDPR and how to protect IT systems that store personal data, HR expert Rebecca Labram will explore the people side and what documentation you need to have in place to be compliant.

Book her session here.

Remember too that your employees also need to know how to protect your business and avoid non-compliance. Our Hub speakers will be able to help you communicate best practice and develop security and data protection policies and procedures to ensure they are. Come along with your questions to get the most out of these Hub meetings!

You can also post your questions in our members-only Facebook group. This group is for Bordon, Farnham and Guildford Hub members and includes many people with specialist expertise and personal experience of legal issues. If you’re a member and haven’t joined the group yet – click here.

join the bordon hub

customer testimonials

The importance of customer testimonials and how to get them

We recently had a concerted effort to get some customer testimonials from our Hub members. The results you can see in the video at the end of this post with an intro from Stu Morrison explaining more.

Customer testimonials are so important for small businesses like us. They validate everything we say we do and help potential customers (Hub members) see the value of using our services and joining the Bordon Hub. That’s because instead of us telling you how great we are, someone else is doing the job for us!

In fact, a few words from the right customer can have a much bigger impact than all the carefully crafted messages you use in your marketing and promotional content. Those few words are also free, all you need to do is ask for them.

How to use customer testimonials

It’s useful to understand where customer testimonials sit in your marketing funnel so you know where to use them. Generally, customer testimonials are ‘conversion’ messages. They’re most effective when a potential customer needs a little help making that decision to buy.

A great testimonial can make someone who doesn’t know you and your business feel more comfortable about buying, and also help them to decide whether your product is right for them.

Many small businesses hide their customer testimonials on a webpage or even in a file, only to be seen when someone asks for a testimonial or actively searches for them. If you have your customers’ permission to use them, be proactive about sharing their messages to help you convert new customers! Here are a few ideas of how to do it:

Websites – the front page of your website is the perfect place to feature a strong testimonial. Make it prominent, don’t hide it at the bottom of your page, and make sure it’s accessible – a clear and concise line of text or a video like we’ve done. Then stick a testimonial on other pages of your website, ensuring that they’re relevant to the content on that page. For example, if you have several different products or services use a testimonial that actually refers to that specific product or use one that talks about your customer service on your ‘about us’ pages.

Social media – if you can get a customer to speak on camera, short video clips are perfect for social media. It’s worth bearing in mind that many people view social videos with the sound off, so caption your videos with keywords that show viewers exactly what the content is about. Phrases like ‘fantastic customer service’ or ‘high quality product’ will also help reinforce what your customers are actually saying (with the sound on too!). If you have testimonials in the form of text create graphics to add to your social media feeds. We recommend using canva.com to design really effective social media graphics.

Email marketing – customer testimonials are also a useful addition to your marketing emails, giving potential customers a compelling reason to take the next step and either buy a product or contact you directly.

Case studies – customer testimonials and case studies are slightly different as a case study should outline the customer’s requirements and what your business did to fulfil them. However, including a testimonial in a case study is an excellent idea as it can enable you to share more than just the nitty gritty of your services. A great testimonial might talk about the added value your business provides, how helpful your team are or what a difference you’ve made to that individual or business; all helping you to differentiate your business from your competitors.

Printed marketing materials – another place to use your customer testimonials is on your printed marketing materials. If you’re advertising in the local press, a testimonial from a local customer is a great way to engage prospects. Even include one on your business card if it’s appropriate, it will certainly make it more engaging than most business cards!

How to get customer testimonials

It’s usually quite easy to get customer testimonials, all you have to do is ask. However, it’s worth considering which of your existing customers is likely to provide the best testimonials for your business. Key things to consider include:

  • The customer – if you want to attract a certain type of customer to your business a testimonial from a similar customer avatar will be most effective. For example, if your ideal customer is a 50 year old man with a job in the city, use a testimonial from a customer that fits this brief.
  • The product / service – similarly if you want to increase sales in a particular area, make sure your testimonials are relevant to that product range or service.
  • The platform – as with all marketing messages it’s important to understand how your customers like to get their information and be communicated with. Choose the most appropriate platforms (like video) to increase engagement with your business – you can always repurpose a video to create other forms of content.

To get really effective customer testimonials make it easy for your customers. A few prompts are helpful to steer them in the right direction, such as by asking them about specific products or their customer experience. If you’re requesting a testimonial via email or a messaging app, provide a few questions to help them. You can always combine their responses into one concise message and then ask them to approve it. Alternatively you could end up with a variety of useful quotes from the same customer.

If you’re planning a video testimonial give your customers time to prepare! Again, share some questions with them beforehand so they can think about their responses and give you what you need.

Here’s our video sharing several different customer testimonials, we’ve also edited these to create short videos clips for using on social media. Let us know what you think!

corporate social responsibility

How corporate social responsibility can work for micro businesses

If you’ve ever worked for a large organisation you’ll probably be aware of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and how businesses and public sector organisations give back through CSR programmes and volunteering.

But when you’re a sole trader or run a small business with just a handful of staff, corporate social responsibility programmes may not seem like something you can afford to get involved in. Large organisations will often invest significantly in the charities or organisations they support, match fundraising by employees for causes that are important to them, or give staff time off to do voluntary work. For the micro business this may not be so easy. However, many micro business owners are actively involved in the local community and donate a huge amount of time and resources to make a difference. Why?

The benefits of corporate social responsibility for small businesses

  1. They live and work in the local area
  2. It’s good for business!

Many local business owners live in the area and are very aware of what makes their town a great place to live and work. They understand the challenges a town like Whitehill & Bordon face, and the benefits of living in this part of the country, and therefore have a good idea of how they can make a difference and why they should.

Supporting local community initiatives is also good for business. Not only can it raise your business’ profile and provide you with promotional opportunities, it also helps to build a thriving local community which ultimately has a positive impact on everyone’s business and trade.

That’s why many of our members are already involved in local community groups, volunteering and giving their time or expertise for free. They might not think of it as corporate social responsibility, but they’re doing just as much (if not more) as some of the larger businesses in the area.

How you can get involved

SiGNAL, where the Bordon Hub is based, was founded to help local businesses thrive as part of the Whitehill & Bordon regeneration programme. Our believe is that by supporting small businesses we can help bring more opportunities to the area and be part of a vibrant and successful local community. However, just providing office space and facilities for businesses is not enough, we all need to support the local community by getting involved. If we do, we might be able to accelerate the growth of the local economy and help to make Whitehill & Bordon a really attractive place to live and work.

There are lots of ways you as a sole trader or small business owner can get involved. You could donate a percentage of profits to a local charity, or donate vouchers or products to charity auctions and raffles. You could host coffee mornings, run marathons or hold fundraising events to support a local organisation. Or you could offer sponsorship, helping to fund essential equipment or sponsoring a specific event.

You don’t have to give a financial contribution, you could give your time or expertise instead. For example, a graphic designer could produce free artwork for their chosen community group, or an accountant could do an organisation’s books. If you don’t think your skills are needed, donate your time and labour by volunteering. That could be a regular commitment such as volunteering with a local community group or by getting involved in one off event like a Business Volunteering Day.

In fact, there’s a great opportunity to do exactly that coming up in June when Community First will be holding a Business Volunteering Day in the Bordon Inclosure! Local businesses and individuals can come along to help the Deadwater Valley Trust clear the invasive Himalayan balsam from some of the woodland areas. No skills are needed, just a willingness to get stuck in and make a difference.

Click here to sign up now!

Joining this working party will help improve one of our most prized local amenities – the Bordon Inclosure which is popular with families, dog walkers, runners and anyone who enjoys the great outdoors.

It’s also an opportunity to find out more about volunteering with the Deadwater Valley Trust or with other local organisations. Community First can help you find a good fit for you and your business, whether you want to donate time, skills or funds.

Coming along to the Business Volunteering Day will also give your business some publicity and could even be a useful networking opportunity. The event will be covered by local media outlets, so wear a branded T-shirt! Lots of other small businesses will also be volunteering, working side-by-side, so it’s a great alternative to normal business networking events.

We’ll be there too, so please join us and see how you and your business can make a difference in Whitehill & Bordon.

Sign up here.

Janet Duggan from Community First will also be at the Bordon Hub next week to talk about volunteering and what Community First does. If you can’t make the Business Volunteering Day in June, come along to find out how you can still get involved in the local community.

business volunteering day

What’s your story? Storytelling for small businesses

Next month the Bordon Hub has a focus on content and communicating your company’s story. Whether it’s through PR, publishing blog posts or writing engaging copy, telling a story about you and your business is the most effective way to engage customers. We’ve got PR gurus, blogging experts and copywriting maestros delivering talks and workshops throughout May, so if you need support book your seat at the Hub!

All Bordon Hub events are listed here.

 

The importance of storytelling for business

When asked about your business what do you say? Do you go for the “what” approach, explaining what your product or service is; the benefits, the stats, and how your offering works. Or do you take the “why” approach selling your business through your unique story of why you are here.

The thing is that most of us aren’t all that interested in what your product or service does on first point of contact. Save this until you’re actively asked for details. This is true in all kinds of scenarios. For example when someone visits your website, you meet another business owner at a networking event or a potential customer walks through the door of your premises.

We all want to hear a good story. We want reasons to engage with a business and the people behind it, we want to make a connection. But why? If someone asks you “what do you do?” surely they don’t want a story about the inspiration behind your business? Well, I think they do. Not necessarily the whole story, but enough for them to want to know more.

Storytelling for business owners

Many of us sell products or services that are a solution to a particular problem. Here at the Hub we provide business training and support, designed to solve specific issues small business owners have.

Essentially, my story is that I have run a number of small businesses, some successful and some less so, but all could have benefited from the services we provide at the Hub. Secondly, I am passionate about my local community; being an active member of it, getting involved with local causes, making it a better place to live and do business in, so my story combines the two in the creation of a local business hub.

From the offset this story (the reason why I’m here) has driven the business. I have got tremendous support from others because they have “bought into” my story; whether they have shared similar experiences, are motivated by the same goals or are inspired by the Hub concept and want to be part of it.

As the Hub has become more established I can retell my story for the benefit of business owners who find they need our services, even when they don’t know they do! By explaining what makes me tick and why I’m passionate about what we are delivering at the Hub, they can clearly see the benefits of our services and that we provide a solution to the problems they face.

Telling your story humanises your business

Whatever stage your business is at and whether you are looking for investment, suppliers, retail outlets, staff or customers, people want to know about you. A business can’t be trustworthy, reliable, creative, flexible, innovative (pick your adjective), only the people in it. And to demonstrate these qualities you have to do more than make grandiose claims, you need to be able to back these up. Your story can do this.

So what’s your story? Does your website, marketing and other communications tell your story and engage those people you would like to do business with? If not, perhaps it’s time to clarify in your own mind what your story is and how to change the way you talk about yourself, your team, or your product in ways that people can really relate to.

There are many ways you can tell you story, from changing your ‘elevator pitch’ when networking, rewriting your ‘about us’ page on your website, regularly publishing blog posts and finding PR opportunities to get your story in front of prospects. If you need help with this, make May 2019 the month you develop your storytelling skills and come along to our Hub meetings!

Find event details and booking here.

business plans

Q1 is almost over, are you on track with your business plans for 2019?

It seems like only a few weeks ago when we were hosting our Jumpstart January events and meeting business owners who wanted to kickstart 2019! It’s now almost the end of Q1 and a great opportunity to see whether you’re on track, celebrate what you’ve achieved and give yourself another kick up the b**t to get going…

If you’re a member of the Bordon Hub I hope that you feel like you’ve made some progress. Regular attendees will have participated in our ‘Organising for success’ sessions back in January, have gained some useful new skills in ‘Marketing month’ in February, and will now be thinking about pricing, tax and spreadsheets as we explore ‘Know your numbers’ this month. Those members who’ve taken advantage of a Your Business Growth Plan session with Stuart Morrison will also be taking steps to reach their goals as identified during the session.

BTW, it’s not too late to join the Bordon Hub and kickstart your business growth plans! You can pick up our programme at any time of the year and will get access to all the workbooks and resources we’ve shared so far. Join the Bordon Hub here.

The Q1 business growth review

Before the end of March, let’s all take a few minutes to see how 2019 has gone so far…

Step 1: Are you on track?

If you set yourself some specific goals this year, and broke them down into achievable smaller steps, how’s it going for you? Have you achieved what you set out to do and are you on track to get where you want to be?

Well done you, if you’re on track! Move on to the next step ‘celebrate what you’ve achieved’! If you haven’t quite achieved what you hoped to, think about the following to see where you can move forward:

  • Where your goals realistic? In the excitement of making business plans you may have overestimated what you could feasibly achieve. If that’s the case, inject a bit of realism into the next quarter and align your goals and next steps with what you can realistically manage.
  • Have things changed? Are there any factors that have impacted your business plans? For example external factors like a competitor setting up in the area or internal factors like a member of staff handing in their notice. If something has changed make sure you assess how that will affect your ability to achieve this year’s targets and adjust accordingly.
  • Did you get distracted or demotivated? As with any goal setting there’s always a danger that our own human fallibilities will derail our plans. Own up to it and change that mindset from prevaricating, making excuses or blaming others for our own mistakes and reboot your plans for Q2 instead!

Step 2: Celebrate what you’ve achieved

Rewards are a great way to motivate yourself and your team. If you’ve hit all your targets (or most of them) for Q1 take the time to celebrate, even if they feel like quite modest achievements. We want to keep those motivation levels high, and that’s difficult if you’re playing a long game where those big goals are going to take time to achieve. So give yourself, and your team if appropriate, a reward to keep you on track throughout Q2 and beyond.

Step 3: Give yourself a kick up the b**t

Everyone can benefit from a little kick up the b**t whether we’ve achieved our targets this quarter or not. For those of us who found it easy let’s up the ante a little and adjust our goals and targets to make us work a little bit harder. You could get to where you want to be a lot faster if you challenge yourself a bit more.

If you didn’t achieve those goals because you prevaricated, got distracted or simply found it hard to motivate yourself, a really effective way of getting out of this rut is to find yourself an accountability partner. That’s someone who will kick your b**t for you – not too hard – and help you get motivated and focused on what you need to do.

The Bordon Hub can be your accountability partner if you haven’t got a business coach, partner or a friend / family member that can offer this support. That’s what our mini-Mastermind sessions at the end of each month are designed to do: we check with our members to see whether they’re on track, address any challenges they have, and give everyone a motivational warm hug to encourage them to stick with it and continue putting in the hard work!

Don’t forget that members of the Bordon Hub can also join our members-only Facebook group where our network of Hub members (Farnham, Guildford and Bordon) hang out. This is your tribe of people who are all routing for each other’s success, offering support, asking for help, collaborating and building connections. You can request membership of this group here.

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