Using the Internet to Grow Your Business
The National B2B Centre’s SME (Small and Medium Enterprise) clients have
enthusiastically adopted a range of internet technologies to help grow their businesses.
In most cases simply having a website has not been enough though. Success has been derived by making the technology work within existing business processes or to take advantage of key business strengths. Sometimes the technology has been used to create completely new businesses. Gareth Edwards, B2B Centre Associate, examines some SME success stories to see how real businesses are doing it.
You can teach an old dog new tricks
Internet technologies provide many different options to support business growth for small and medium sized business whatever sector they are in, new or old.
SMP Plastics represents traditional manufacturing industry. For SMP Plastics (whose MD Mark Gibbs has been seen providing a compelling story of success at a number of B2B regional events recently) the internet has enabled a doubling of turnover in just 12 months. The initial focus of activity was just getting a website up and running but sustained improvement is a function of the company’s understanding of how its market operates.
Mark knew that his SME audience would use trade directories to identify suppliers. So, with the help of the B2B Centre, SMP Plastics evaluated a range of on-line directories to see which would provide the best visibility to the target audience. A number of free listings were made but a decision was made to pay for inclusion in Applegate because it showed a very high awareness and use amongst prospects.
Quite a bit of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) has been carried out too but directory referrals are the main driver of growth for SMP Plastics.
Cutting edge development
Where SMP Plastics is a traditional company exploiting market knowledge in combination with new ideas, Office Lifeline could only really exist with the help of innovative technology. Anna Isaacs, owner of Office Lifeline, wanted to use her experience as a PA in a variety of leading firms to provide secretarial and office services directly to end users. One of the problems with this type of business is the difficulty of balancing resource availability with the high levels of customer service required.
Anna contacted the B2B Centre to explore the idea of creating a virtual PA and office services business which would highly scaleable (to cater for fluctuations in demand from clients), very responsive and operate with the lowest possible cost base.
The recommendations have been revolutionary in helping Office Lifeline to hit the ground running. Collaboration tools (more later) help Anna integrate her services with client’s business processes but the greatest benefit comes from its incorporation of VOIP (Voice Over IP) communications. The precise details will have to remain confidential (they are being used in a very clever way) but the benefits are that Anna can manage multiple clients very easily and direct calls around her team, wherever they are, with a few clicks on her PC.
For Office Lifeline internet technologies aren’t just an engine for growth they are the source of business life itself.
Collaborate to accumulate
The concept of using associates or stronger supplier links to enable fast growth without incurring the immediate overhead of full time staff is becoming increasingly popular with small businesses.
Viretec is an example of “practice what you preach” in this area. The company specializes in helping its clients to manage dispersed associate and employee teams through the use of improved working practices and the adoption of a variety of internet based technologies.
Denis Pelych, Viretec’s MD, recognized his own need to manage dispersed teams and for him it was a “no brainer” to establish a Viretec Web Office. This collaboration tool (and others like it) provides a range of functionality to help groups of people to work together even if they are separated by thousands of miles. Document Sharing and Instant messaging are basic capabilities but other applications are available or can be developed to provide, for instance, online time sheets, expense claim forms and sales order capture.
The technology allows Denis to move the business forward at the pace he wants and, of course, provides a real life showcase for what he can do for other people.
Ready, aim, fire
The B2B Centre constantly promotes the need for its clients to be focused when it comes to
promoting products and services on the internet. That focus can be on the products themselves or on who they are being targeted at.
Juliettes Interiors is an example of how product focus can pay great dividends. Juliette Thomas specializes in classic French hand painted furniture. Her diligence in selecting quality pieces has earned her a great reputation as a seller. Her website and eBay presence projects this reputation to a worldwide audience of discerning buyers: buyers that can easily locate Juliette’s Interiors because its focus supports keyword optimization. This has resulted in a massive increase in monthly revenue!
Gillian Wesley Designs has used focus differently. While her stunning bridal corsets are hot ticket items around the country most of Gillian’s marketing efforts are West Midlands focused. There are more than 3 million people within an hour’s drive of Gillian’s Kenilworth studio which presents more than enough opportunity for sales.
She has combined off-line marketing such as events and active use of press and radio with
geographically based search engine optimization to generate leads and commissions. This
approach doesn’t shut off buyers from further afield. On the contrary being a bigger fish in a smaller pond has allowed Gillian to generate web presence disproportionate to business size.
Which way to turn
For other clients the path to growth has been the ability to choose different routes to market. Kick Maternity Wear sells designer maternity wear out of a shop in Leamington Spa and is the exclusive Midlands outlet for a number of designer labels. Kick needs a retail outlet because discerning customers want to see, feel and try on the garments. For Kick the growth challenge is to take advantage of the exclusivity it has negotiated with the well-known brands.
Kick has achieved this by leveraging the association between itself and the brands in website content, and using the geographical boundaries of exclusive deals to drive keyword definition. This takes advantage of the attempts by search engines to provide local content to searchers and the sophistication of the public in qualifying searches with town, district or regional names. In other words a search for “brand x maternity jeans” made in Coventry or Birmingham has a good chance of returning the Kick website.
Manage to manage
Managing the business through growth is a key challenge for small and medium sized firms.
Some of the technologies that the B2B Centre advocates are ideal for supporting the
Rainbow Signs implemented the Zen Cart™ open source (i.e. free) eCommerce platform to help it create and promote its catalogue of safety signs products. This innovation has, in itself, generated a large uplift in sales. It has also made it much easy for the company to maintain its product catalogue and respond very quickly to market opportunities, for instance the ban on smoking in public places in July. More than that Rainbow can now track customer spending patterns and consequently support more effective inventory and purchasing decisions.
This management capability is also available to help build and maintain your relationship with
Groundwork West Midlands Environmental Business Services , a business helping companies become more competitive with minimal impact on the environment, has introduced a CRM system to manage leads in its office. This has resulted in the team having better visibility of leads; being able to allocate leads immediately; and recording all sales and marketing activity, whether they are at the office or not. This online system will make the team more informed and coordinated, hence improving the standards of customer service.
For Groundwork growth is dependent on building rapport with clients and making sure that the maximum amount of time is made available to support their needs within the existing cost
These case studies highlight the ability of internet technologies to support business growth in different ways. In our experience success for our clients depends on their deep understanding of their own business model and the way that their target market operates. That knowledge allows them to exploit specific technologies or technology components in a particularly focused way. A way that is hard for competitors to copy but that ends up providing superior value to end customers.
We look forward to hearing about your plans for growth and seeing if the B2B Centre can support them. If you think we can help call us on 02476 574384.
Gareth Edwards is a Director of Arrowsmith Marketing and an eMarketing Associate of the B2B Centre.