I started a business with kids: Sarah Cooper of Black Zest Solutions

My name is Sarah Cooper and I am the Director of Black Zest Solutions, a marketing and design agency aimed at providing strategic marketing consultancy, idea generation and graphic design solutions. The organisation was launched in September 2010 discovering the need for innovative, up to date marketing advice, focused on creativity.

We also offer website design in Lancaster and the surrounding areas, aiming to use state of the art technologies to make a business stand out from the crowd.

My business you might say is far from crazy and outlandish however, the story of how I got there was far from normal!

At the age of 14 I fell pregnant with my first child whilst still at school studying my GCSE’s. This was definitely a low point in my life. Continue reading “I started a business with kids: Sarah Cooper of Black Zest Solutions”

Freebies you can use to get people to sign up to your mailing list

It’s not easy to get people to sign up to your mailing list these days unless you give them a freebie as an incentive. This article looks at ways you could create your own freebie e-book, plus audio and video.

And it’s not as difficult as you may think.

By the way, if you’re not sure why why you need a mailing list, I have the perfect post for you here: Why you must have a mailing list.

I have a free e-book and it does bring in subscribers to my mailing list (have a look here). But e-books have been floating around the internet for a long time now, so it’s well worth considering something different, like video or audio, to pull in your audience.

Creating freebie e-books

A word of warning, though. Any freebie is better than no freebie at all, so if you find yourself procrastinating because creating your freebie is just too daunting, just get stuck in and get an e-book done. Continue reading “Freebies you can use to get people to sign up to your mailing list”

Sales: are we giving it the attention it deserves?

I read a lot of small business blogs. That means I read a lot about marketing, especially marketing online.

But it’s unusual to find much written about sales or selling. Don’t get me wrong, marketing is important – sales is part of the marketing process after all – but I’m surprised how little attention is given to sales compared to how much I read on marketing.

Last week I picked up a copy of Sales On A Beermat from my local library. (Yep, despite being a Kindle fan, I do still read paper books and visit libraries. Mostly for toddler story time, though!)

The Beermat books were written a few years back now, about ‘beermat enterprises’ – that’s the kind of business that starts out with a few mates having a great business idea in a pub.

According to the Beermat business model, three things must be defined straight away:

  • The elevator pitch – what you intend to do, for whom and why they should buy it.
  • The mentor – a senior person to give advice and open doors.
  • Your first customer – start-ups should have a customer in mind from day one, and be actually speaking to this person.

The business then needs a team with specialists in these areas:

  • Sales
  • Finance
  • Innovation
  • Delivery

As most of us mums with business are ‘solopreneurs’, we don’t usually have a team.  But even if you do all these roles yourself, it does show the areas where we need to focus your attention. However, I’d strongly recommend anyone that wants a business to succeed to consider reading up on the subject at a minimum or getting some expert help from a  professional sales training provider.

So sales is there, but why is there no mention of marketing?

Authors Mike Southon and Chris West explain:

Note we say ‘sales’, not marketing. The strategic ‘who are we selling to?’ aspects of marketing should be understood at the start and encapsulated in the elevator pitch. Once that has been sorted, the start-up needs relationships and actual customers and these are best created and sustained by good salespeople. Marketers who have a sales instinct are, of course, ideal for this job, but they should call it sales and do it with pride.

So are we just not ‘doing sales’? Are we promoting our products and hoping that the  sales part will sort-of-happen at the end of it all? Looking on the positive side, maybe we are ‘doing sales’ but calling it ‘marketing’ instead. If that’s true, wouldn’t we make more sales if we, as the authors say, “call it sales and do it with pride?”

Many of us have a problem with the the concept of sales – it feels pushy, like we’re trying to convince people to buy stuff they don’t need. Maybe we’re letting that squeamishness, fear or whatever it may be get in our way? Perhaps if we face up to it we’ll make more sales and therefore more profit?

What’s your opinion? Please do leave me a comment (better still, leave me a comment AND tweet this!)

Image: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Build a marketing campaign

For mums running a small business, it can be challenging trying to find the time to effectively reach your audience as well as making ends meet. Part time jobs can supplement your income temporarily until you find your feet, particularly if they are in the evening and you have a partner to look after the kids at this time. Additionally if you need to find staff you can always try advertising for them online.

Once you have decided who you are selling to, whether your focus is crafts, childcare, or business services, you will need to try and plan an effective marketing campaign. You may believe that your products will sell themselves and in an ideal world this could be the case but unfortunately people usually have to do some advertising and marketing.

Initially you need to understand your position in the marketplace and do some research. Once you know this you can begin to build a plan – which doesn’t have to be expensive as many mums often believe.

If you live in a small community that frequently runs small events you can use these as a way to communicate to people. Perhaps they already know you but didn’t realise you were providing this service. Friends and family will be more trusting of your products so be aware that this can be very effective. It’s all about networking, showing examples and highlighting why you are different to other similar competitors.

As soon as you have a few frequent customers, get them to refer you to their friends. Client reviews are often deemed more trustworthy than your own opinions about your business as these are people who have actually benefited from what you have to offer.

Try sending out some free samples or handing them out at the community events. Everybody loves getting something for nothing, particularly after Christmas when they are short of cash, and this can generate future orders for your product or service.

If you haven’t already done so, set up a facebook page – even if you don’t have a full website yet or can’t afford one, facebook will allow you to engage with your customers, responding to queries, informing them of special offers and basically getting people to interact about your services. The more ‘buzz’ you create the better your company is likely to do. If you don’t have time for this, you could just try blogging as this could avoid you having to respond until you expand and can afford to pay somebody else.

There are many easy ways that you can market your products and services in order to get your small business on the right track in 2012. Monitor what proves most successful and try to do this a second time if it’s suitable to do so.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Infrogmation

From Tweet to Telegraph

Proving that PR is possible on a tiny budget (in fact no budget at all!) Business Plus Baby guest contributor Frances Weir had her children’s book box featured in last week’s Telegraph Magazine, as the direct result of a Tweet…

“I had read the ‘Children’s Notebook’ column in the magazine before and thought it was beyond my wildest dreams to ever feature there” says Frances. “But out of interest, I decided to Google the name of the columnist, and I saw she had a Twitter account. So I Tweeted her, asking if she would like to receive a sample. She sent me a Direct Message in reply and I posted the bookcase to her”.

After receiving the box, the columnist contacted Frances to ask for more information about how she came up with the idea. Two weeks later, Frances had an email from the Picture Desk of the Telegraph asking for a cut-out product shot, and a lifestyle shot for the 22 October issue…

This demonstrates what a powerful PR tool Twitter can be for small businesses, as it gives immediate access to journalists (and celebrities) with just a click of a mouse.

Congratulations Frances!

If you’d like more top business tips like this, why not join my mailing list?  Sign up and I’ll send you copy of  my e-book Running a business around a family: 9 steps to success