small business

How to build a successful email marketing database that delivers

The first and obvious step to developing a successful email marketing strategy starts with building a quality contact list - but don’t just think of your database as names on a spreadsheet. Your list could potentially generate thousands of pounds worth of income.

Quality over quantity

It’s easy to assume that the more contacts you have, the more likely it is that you’ll achieve results. But, in reality, the opposite is true. You need your database to be filled with people who have an interest in your business. If nobody is interested, your list won’t convert. By having a quality database, full of engaged customers, you might be able to entice your readers to make an enquiry or spend their hard-earned pennies.

Engage, engage, engage

The key to achieving a quality list is to first engage customers on a one-to-one basis, or ideally in person. Subsequently, you should then build upon your customer’s positive experience and ask if you can continue your conversation over email. The more information you have on your customer (interests, recent purchases, requirements), the more able you can be in tailoring content and offers to suit their needs.

Here’s some ideas to attract sign-ups:

·         Ask for sign-ups at the end of a transaction. Your customers are more likely to want to find out more after they’ve already done business with you.

·         Insert a link in your email signature and social media bios so customers can automatically subscribe. Avoid forcing customers to fill out long forms and questionnaires.

·         Add a sign-up form on your Facebook page.

·         Create a “reasons to sign up page,” featuring feedback from customers and post it on your website.

·         Include a text-to-join feature so people can easily sign up through their smartphone.

·         Include multiple sign-up forms on your website (and not just on the footer). More forms generally equals more sign-ups.

·         Entice your subscribers by giving something back. What offers or materials could be valuable to your customers? Perhaps a discount or a free eBook?

Keeping hold of your audience

Getting someone to give you an email address is only one part of building a contact list. Once you have subscribers, you need to find a way to hold on to them. If you’re not sending out interesting content, your database can soon deplete via the dreaded 'unsubscribes' if you’re not careful. Ensure your tailoring your content as much as possible. Every single reader will be different, so sending the same email to everyone is unlikely to achieve results.

But how many emails should you send? The advice is to find a good balance. You should be sure that you are sending out enough emails so your subscribers don't forget who you are, but not too many that you are bothering them. Once per month is usually a good starting point, as a minimum (industry dependent).

In summary, it all comes down to your messaging. The more you can engage your subscribers with information they're interested in, the more likely you are to build a database that will deliver.

5 staff training ideas that actually work

Regular training and learning experiences can help employees refine their skills and continually improve their talents. A fulfilling job is usually one that evolves with the team or individual, so it’s important to keep your workforce moving forward.

But, here's the rub. When you're trying to engage your team, how do you get them interested in you, rather than their mobile phones?

Creating training goals is relatively easy, but the hard part is finding a training method which is actually going to work. Whilst a Powerpoint and handout is often the quickest way to convey your message, chances are it's normally a waste of everyone's time.

Here are 5 alternative training ideas to help inspire:

1. eLearning

With busy diaries and shorter attention spans, finding the time for learning and enrichment activities can prove tricky. That's why eLearning, and particularly micro-learning, can prove so effective. By breaking down training into segments from between 3 and 10 minutes, you will be able to engage employees to learning at their own pace and in their own time.

The CPD Certification service is naturally a big backer of eLearning and says that; “online courses provide flexibility and convenience, allowing an individual to plan their learning around their other work priorities, instead of the other way around.”

2. Hands-on shadowing

If you’ve ever read anything about being a good teacher, you’ll have heard this before: If you tell someone how to do a task, you may not be as effective as if you ask that person to do the task themselves, whilst you run through it step by step.

By using a shadowing process, you can ask employees to apply learned skills in real time and translate them to their daily tasks very quickly. This will help new team members find confidence with bigger responsibilities, all whilst controlling the risk.

3. One-on-one meetings

Structured, regular meetings between employees and managers can be a very effective training method.

By showing that your management staff have time to dedicate to more junior members, you’ll be helping to build trust and an acknowledgement that the team as a whole is worth the investment.

By committing time to help your colleagues, they’ll start to appreciate that you are not just out for yourself.

4. ‘Lunch and learn’ sessions

Not everybody learns in the same way. And some employees could associate learning with being at school and being ‘talked down to’. Therefore, you might consider making the teaching less formal by introducing a relaxed environment.

Many business are adopting ‘lunch and learn’ sessions as a method of more casual teaching. In these events, you might provide some food – not even a whole lunch – and invite a speaker to engage with your audience. Often these sessions will invoke group discussions and brainstorming techniques to get the ideas flowing.

5. Video recordings

Whilst live training sessions can certainly be engaging, you can run the risk of the employee forgetting what they've learned after it's over. Recording any of the above sessions and and making them available to your team can serve as a great refresher, or as a convenient ‘catch-up’ for those who missed the meeting.

Making your training stick

It’s important to convince employees that training programs are for their benefit, just as much as yours. The best method of doing so is by asking them for feedback on your initiatives and tailoring future programs to suit your different audiences. By adapting your training to your employees, they are much more likely to retain the information you are trying to share.

How to make the most of your marketing plan on a limited budget

Creating an effective marketing plan can be a conundrum for many small business owners, particularly when the budget is on a real shoestring. As a business owner, you’ll need to work out which activities will draw the most amount of leads for the least amount of your precious pounds.

They key to marketing success will generally be down to understanding your audience and customers. Without knowing your audience, you will struggle to market to them and to get your sales messages across. It’s also vital you don’t throw money down the drain and throw good money after bad.

Measuring ROI

Although there are endless ways to measure the results of your campaigns and decipher whether your marketing is working (or not), in its simplest form it’s wise to stick to marketing methods that work for you.

If you are consistently spending money on marketing that isn’t yielding results, then stop it immediately and review if there’s something you could change to improve your return on investment. Just because something should be ‘tried and tested’, if it’s broken and expensive, there’s little point in continuing. Nevertheless, don’t discard it forever. It might be that with a little tweak to your campaign, you’ll start winning those all-important leads.

Utilise low cost options

Channels such as social media may seem like they wouldn’t produce direct results, but if they are utilised correctly, they can be extremely cost effective.

There are so many advertising options with excellent segmentation tools available on platforms such as Facebook, that you can reach your most likely customers with relative ease. You can set yourself a daily budget and target a set number of people depending on their likes and demographic; a tool which is almost unbeatable in certain industries.

With careful monitoring, you can listen to your audience and understand what they say about a particular product or service, helping you to revise and improve your strategy and maybe even your business model.

Traditional marketing isn’t dead

Of course, whilst social is cheap when compared to Pay Per Click and advertising, there’s a reason that businesses are still spending millions every day using more traditional channels. Don’t ignore things like weekly emails and direct mail, just because they are viewed as ‘old hat’. Anything you can do to make yourself more visible is likely to breed success.

You are your business

If you are sitting in your office waiting for the next customer to walk in or ring up, you may be waiting a long time. Your marketing plan needs to revolve around your skills and expertise.

Showcasing your talents becomes a lot easier when you are also active outside of your place of work. Joining networking groups such as BNI and your local Chamber of Commerce will do wonders to help you generate interest in your business. Your customers are far more likely to be engaged when they speak to you directly about what you do and why you do it, rather than reading your emails or watching your ads.

Top 5 recruiting tips for SMEs


It’s likely that virtually all hiring managers have had a similar problem at some point in their careers: attracting the perfect candidate for a new job vacancy that they are desperate to fill. This challenge can be exacerbated for those at smaller companies, who may find that they are losing out to bigger brand names when looking for the best talent.

For the majority of people looking for a new job, it’s expected that they’ll want to work for a business they’ve heard of. This is because, ultimately, people need job security. And bigger companies are perceived to be more secure than smaller ones.

However, there are lots of people out there who would prefer to work for a smaller business, and not just because of it might be less ‘corporate.’

Here’s our five top tips for attracting (and retaining) the people you need in your business:

1. Find out what the going rate is for the position and match it.

It might sound like a simple tip, but a common mistake that small businesses often make when creating a position, is to base the salary on their budget, rather than on the market. If you want the best people, they are almost guaranteed to chase the best salaries. So, make sure the salary you are offering is going to be enticing to potential applicants.

2. Offer an employee benefit program.

It’s surprising how often candidates will have multiple job offers on the table at the same time – especially if they are experts in a niche industry. In these times, an employee benefit program can move from a candidate’s wish list to their necessity list. Core employee benefits such as medical, dental and life insurance can really make your business attractive to a job hunter, particularly if your competitor isn’t offering the same deal.

3. Be creative with your perks.

Employees are usually just as concerned about the quality of their work life as they are about the amount of money they receive each month.

As a small business, you may not be able to offer the perks that larger companies can – but you may be able to offer decent alternatives. E.g. where a big corporate is offering an on-site gym, could you offer local gym membership?

4. Offer employees progression.

Most employees aren't looking for jobs where they’ll do the same thing for the next thirty years. They're looking for positions that offer opportunities for advancement.

Are you offering staff training programs? Or a clear pathway to progression and higher earnings? Whatever it is, in terms of attracting employees, be sure to get the future possibilities on the table.

5. Widen the scope of your advertising.

The days of placing a small job ad in a newspaper are long gone. You’ll receive a better response to your advert if it’s visible in more places. Recruiters such as ourselves can help do this for you, but if you don’t want to use a recruiter, it’s vital that you make an investment to advertise on large job boards and consider advertising on social platforms such as LinkedIn.

If you’d like to hear more, email Dan Heathcote at

Your job descriptions could be hurting your hiring pipeline


Finding great people is a top concern for businesses across the Midlands. Waheed Nazir, Birmingham City Council’s strategic director, recently cited that the one thing that keeps him awake at night, is the lack of necessary skills that could potentially stop the city’s firms from growing.

In most industries, it’s therefore crucial that businesses hire (and keep hold of) the talent they need to expand and develop.

Yet for all the worrying about keeping a high-quality candidate pipeline, many of us are making the similar mistakes: Writing job descriptions that turn off a large percentage of the candidate pool.

With that in mind, here are four areas to look at:

Use caution with qualifications

The qualifications section of a job description tends be treated as a wish list: everything that would be “nice to have” gets thrown in. Why not? Setting a high bar for talent is good, right? Won’t making it tough to qualify ensure we find the best candidates?

Unfortunately, not all the time. Even though there might be wiggle room on qualifications (unless you’re a doctor / lawyer etc) that’s not always how candidates interpret it, particularly women. While men apply for a job when they meet 60% of the qualifications, women tend to apply only when they meet 100%.

Therefore, a long list of ‘must haves’ will actually deter female candidates from applying. Problem!

Also, watch out for one word in particular – ‘expert’. Some candidates will consider themselves experts, but many qualified, talented candidates won’t identify with that descriptor, or might even be intimidated by it. Do you really require an inbound marketing expert or do you require someone who has the potential to become an inbound marketing expert? Importantly, what is an ‘expert’ anyway?

Check for gendered language

Gender also plays a big role in how language is interpreted in job descriptions. Certain words and phrases resonate with men more than women, and vice versa.

Many people write job descriptions as they would talk, and normally that’s a good thing, but not when it comes to job descriptions. Phrases and jargon like “killer business instinct” might feel fun and colourful, but they send subtle messages to the applicant about the kind of team they are signing up for.

Highlight benefits for all ages

Annual trips to Vegas might be a dream come true for a 20-something graduate, but when you’re starting or growing a family, paternal leave and healthcare are probably a lot more important at work than boozy nights out.

Be careful when highlighting “shiny” perks. You may be missing the opportunity to connect with candidates who bring years of experience to the table, as well as recent university leavers.

Watch out for corporate-speak

Insider language is a quick way to make someone else feel like an outsider, but if you’re not careful, acronyms and jargon will inevitably creep into your job descriptions. Job seekers reading descriptions are usually still in research mode, so feeling like they don’t speak the language of a company makes it easier for them to cross that company off their list.

It’s understandable that you’ll want to put some candidates off applying, particularly if the quality of CVs coming through your door is generally low – but by putting yourself in your candidate’s shoes and taking the time to reflect on your job descriptions, you’ll inevitably enable more of the most talented individuals to click that submit button to apply.