Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Article: Ethical Trading

Despite appearances I don't like getting involved with politics, but the fact is that the political landscape affects us all, all the time. In a democracy it is a landscape that is shaped by our demands upon it. It is not helpful to merely criticise, nor is it helpful to stay silent when things that have been introduced then turn out to cause more difficulties. Just as no business can correct mistakes if it is not aware of them nor can any government. I wholeheartedly advocate not only highlighting the difficulties we all face but to use our imaginations to think up more viable solutions too. The one without the other is no solution at all. I certainly don't have the monopoly on solutions, no one does. Collectively I believe we can and do find them and always have and will. They we always need amending though, because progress never has had a reverse gear.

Over the past year I have encountered many organisation that are not wholly organised, or ethical in how they trade. If it their administration right, it slips up on it's customer service, marketing, budgeting or how it treats it's staff. While that could be true of any time - enterprises, like government reforms, take time to evolve - it seems more prevalent during an economic crisis. I strongly feel therefore that resolving these challenges requires time out to do so if we are to get on a better financial footing sooner rather than later. Hasty, knee-jerk emergency measures without due research, careful planning including contingencies and a thorough and detailed understanding of all the elements that are in play will only ever result in a deeper and more complex mess to unravel.

Information is the key to all matters, but in a time when goalposts seem to be whizzing about at hyperspeed it is perhaps no surprise to find so many enterprises struggling to function at all, even at a basic level. Take comfort though as throughout history, people will eventually slow down, calm down and stop acting rashly, it's just a question of when.

Do not assume that silly edicts will last - they never have. Do not assume they have been instigated from a sense of malice or cruelty - they seldom are. They arise mostly out of ignorance and fear due to there being little time to think clearly or collect information while the demand is for change. It's as if change of any kind will do, when in fact change at all could be the worst thing to do. Changes only help when they have been well planned and all the information has been collated to restructure a business and/or lead to government reforms that are sensible, logical and wise. I believe we can learn much from history, but what we learn and what ideas we come up with do need to be adapted to factors that we are encountering in the here and now to be effective and for the good.

From where I am sitting, the key change of our times is the growing demand for ethical trading. While it has always been in most people's psyche, it seems to have gathered momentum and a stronger voice in recent times - hence my interest and passion for social enterprises as it seems to yield more solutions than anything else on offer. That is not to say though that it has a monopoly on solutions though.

Why ethics is becoming more influential
In the UK in recent years we have had the scandal of cash for honours and politicians using their power for the betterment of themselves as individuals long before the economic crisis actually hit. It is not surprising therefore that many are still calling for parliamentary reforms to correct such things even now when such things have been reported to have been improved and fixed. The level of trust from individuals and businesses alike in any government has been seriously damaged by these things. It's led to all manner of petitions, protests and new movements starting. Add to mix the struggles that always ensue during a recession and it's no wonder at all that any government will have a hard time of it trying to effect sensible reforms while people are less inclined to trust and therefore talk to them.

What is true of our governments is also true of the world of business and industry. People are much more informed about scandals and corruption in those circles too thanks to the development of the internet and in particular social media and there is no going back on that now. With more information comes understanding of what is unjust, unfair and of how these things have come to happen but without full details again no viable solutions will be found. It has led to a growing sense of unrest and dissatisfaction with how things have been run.

Add to that how the Paralympics and the Time to Change campaigns etc have given disadvantaged people a platform to have a voice this year and it starts to become obvious why morals are becoming an element of social structure which will have to be factored in. I cannot see how such sections of our society can ever go back to being forgotten, overlooked or silenced now. For myself I think that's a positive step so long as we can avoid extremist reactions which could result in a reversal of discrimination against people who have not been so disadvantaged.

Ethics is complicated
We are all products of the societies in which we live. The smaller the circle of influence we move in the more insular we become and the less informed we are. Again the internet and media can help us to be informed but we can only ever make decisions based on the information we obtain. The maxim of 'we only find what we seek' holds true. People do not tend to believe anything that does not suit their own agenda, belief or ambitions unless they actively make an effort to understand and be considerate of their opposition to improve communication and negotiate. When it comes to social issues (which without exception helps form who we are and our opinions), we find the intensity of emotion at it's peak.

For example, is is right for governments to spend large amounts of money on trying to reform convicted criminals and less on supporting victims of crime? The hope is that by making such efforts there would be no victims as there would be no crime if they were wholly successful. Add in the fact that many people turn to crime because they are illiterate and the solution might seem simple at least for illiterate types. You might think it would it be right to say criminals are all mentally ill but by doing so you'd make it more difficult for victims of crime to be treated fairly and NOT be tarnished as criminals by mistake. Yes, we want to contain the worst offenders and punish them, but even some of them have become offenders because of what they have been subjected to. I often confuse people because I refuse to come down on one side of the fence or the other without access to all the facts.

A law has to apply to everyone regardless of circumstances but it should in my opinion have discretionary powers to allow for individual exceptions e.g. parking on double yellow lines to save someone's life, but you'd have to prove that that is precisely what you were doing. Ethics is extremely complicated, so it follows that governments and businesses alike have a hard time of it in attempting to be fair to all.

Gearing up in business and industry
Fortunately in business and industry, away from public and community services (including charities), ethics are far more easy to get right. No sweat shops, no excessive hours of work, rest and meal breaks, and a fair wage that reflects the value of worker's skills are all a good start. Paying staff promptly so they don't have to struggle with finances to get to work, allowing them time off to look after relatives in an emergency and providing good training to help both parties develop and succeed all help too.

It's my guess that those businesses and organisations who are already supportive of their staff AND the community will be ahead of the game for the future. Those who provide work for disabled and disadvantaged people, who support public services through giving a slice of their profits will be the most profitable by growing ever more popular and therefore successful. The one common factor all people respond to, is giving more to those who support them in their hour of need and this is something all employers would do well to invest in as their greatest asset will always be their own staff and the broader community, as working or not we are all a part of it. Employers could, and I think eventually will, change not just our current economics with regard to trading, but the political landscape too. For me, it's just a question of when, however, now seems to be as good a time as any to start trading ethically if you are not already doing so.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Research File: Three essential preparations for success in marketing

Following on from 'The lynch pins of efficiency' I thought it might be worth sharing and extolling the brilliance of a few another group of highly skilled and helpful professionals if you're budget will stretch to be able to afford the employ them. Namely marketing professionals which often double up as sales reps and customer service professionals too.

Customer Services and Marketing departments should, in my opinion at all times, be working closely together. Be aware that although there can be and often is much crossover in smaller companies the knowledge base and skills are very distinctive in what they do. Do not confuse the two disciplines. Both can increase or reduce profit margins of the best of strategic plans for any type of organisation, it all depends on whether you have selected, invested and instructed wisely. The rule of Garbage In = Garbage Out (GIGO) applies to any and all.

For the purposes of this article, I will concentrate on Marketing and follow up with a separate one on Customer Services. For the small enterprise it is debatable as to which you start employing staff to do first. My advice is to go with personnel with who will cover your weakest area in skills, knowledge and interest. As ever it is pointless to employ anyone if you are then not going to trust in what they are employed to do and end up doing it yourself. So if you enjoy marketing and are less comfortable with customer service issues or simply find you don't have that much time for them employ a customer service person, and vice versa.

As a business you should already have identified your target audience for the products and services you offer. You should already have done at least some basic research on the demographics of that (client/customer base including location, ethnicity, age, gender etc), and above all have a realistic idea of what they could afford by way of price. If in that research you discover your target audience cannot afford your pricing it would suggest that you are targeting the wrong people or quite simply pricing yourself out of the market. It suggests you might be trying to promote the wrong thing entirely.

When offering community services this becomes an extremely complicated and complex equation to get right and perhaps goes some way to explain why so many private sector companies would rather steer clear of actual service delivery as the profit margins and therefore sustainability and development prospects are simply not profitable enough (if at all) to be of much interest to them. I personally think that is precisely why they shouldn't take control of such services, advice and experience though are always welcome. The private sector are when all is said and done in business to make money first and last. Products even to disadvantaged groups however are much easier for the private sector to make a profit from.

If you doubt that, just think how successful the private sector is at marketing and selling any and all household items let alone standard office materials. Be warned though... Do not be tempted to mimic their marketing campaigns if you are a small enterprise because such campaigns work precisely because they have the budget to indulge in full-blown saturation marketing techniques across all forms of media... extremely costly and skilled! That said an intelligent bit of wording and imagery makes all the difference between winning an audience or alienating them and potentially losing them forever. Know your target audience or service users inside out!

Selling ice to penguins

The most talented of marketing people could literally sell ice and snow to penguins if it wasn't for the fact that penguins are more intelligent than human beings. Penguins happen to know that ice and snow are resources freely available from nature and know where to go to find it. Indeed no other species needs money to be able to eat, rear young, educate them or house themselves which is why I often find myself getting jealous of them. Sadly, as yet I haven't found a way of becoming another species during a recession! Mind you, other species don't have the time to develop interests and hobbies as we do so I guess it evens out.

The big boys invest phenomenal amounts of time, energy and money in research not least in understanding human psychology. They use that to shape how to communicate with their target audience, which is how they end up seducing us into believing we need or must have things that actually we don't. They create interest in things that have never occurred to us, fear of things that we shouldn't be worried about at all and above all a demand from us that we have never desired before. A good example is of this is chunky bars of chocolate. The exact same chocolate can be and is used to produce a myriad of shapes and sizes and it can only ever taste the same but we are seduced into choosing how we like it presented even as far as having it segmented to make it easier to break.

Every day I try my best not to be tempted by things I don't actually need or never had an interest in, but everyday I fail! That, dear readers is what is it is to be muggle in a sophisticated, complex, dynamic, often maddening and frustrating, fascinating, developed, free market social structure. Like it our not, we all contribute to it and we all seem to have a love/hate relationship with it. If nothing else you have to give these people credit for their ingenuity. So, what lessons and tricks can a smaller enterprise learn and use from all this to help them earn a healthy crust?

Three basic marketing essentials

1. Surveys - As outlined above get to know your audience, what they like, dislike, the language they use - how they tick. We are all customers so think about what how we like to be communicated with as a starting point and this should help you avoid some of the bigger pitfalls if you do nothing else. Before starting any enterprise though you should do two forms of research the first of which is to test if your idea will be of interest to anyone at all by conducting a survey.

Top tips for customer surveys

  • Remember everyone is extremely busy, so phrase questions simply  
  • Keep the survey short and to the point - ask only things that you absolutely need to know and ditch any that are just too detailed, complicated or that are off the primary issues you want to find out about 
  • Never have more than three priorities to enquire about in any survey. 
  • Never bombard people with dozens of surveys and always provide a simple comment box at the end for your sample audience to elaborate and speak freely as learning what people hate is as valuable to you as learning what they like 
  • Always make comment boxes optional and supply contact details should you strike lucky for people who might well be your first clients.

This you can easily compile a survey manually via hardcopy/paper, but remember there's no guarantee people will mail them back especially if you are expecting them to pay for the privilege - hence incentives such as freebies can be useful but it's more expense to you. Email surveys tend to get higher levels of response, or on the spot surveys for feedback after inviting people to attend an event. There are dozens of online free to use survey programs these days, but be aware they don't usually provide the analytics (breakdown of results) so you will have to work it out for yourself. It's why even the free services are often enticers to those analytics which you then pay for. Be careful some of these links may charge from the outset.

Seven random links to online survey programs

2. Market research - It is essential that you know your market to gain knowledge of where you will fit in and to help identify your Unique Selling Point (USP). Questions to consider asking yourself include who are your competitors or who offers similar products and services if you are a charity, public service or social enterprise.

You can do this quite simply but searching the net, saving the links so you can refer back to them and assessing if you will be duplicating (therefore in direct competition) or offering something original, new or different in style or delivery. From both your customer survey and your market research you can start to think about pricing, but never before. Even then you have a long way to go to get it right as you have to factor in costs of materials, hours worked, overheads, staff etc. 

For any new enterprise this can all seem extremely daunting and arduous, but it is vital to do this if you are to succeed. Luckily there are excellent business advisory services to help you every step of the way.

As mentioned before in previous blogposts on here, any organisation dealing with the delivery of services and products to the community should try to avoid duplicating what is already out there to provide a broader range to the community. I happen to think that's not a bad approach for private sector too as no matter what you do, we humans are determined to remain fickle so will ultimately choose from whatever the range of options happen to be available at any given time. The broader the range, the more choice we have. In a recession I think it prudent to bear in mind that diversity can only help as it could mean the difference between recovering from an economic crisis quickly or it deepening.

You can back that bit of research up with exploring what the current trends are for any given industry sector, again online and some are free er... at least initially! Most will offer a 30 day trial period to get you interested in purchasing their services, but my advice is don't until your budget can sustain such a cost comfortably and until you business is sufficiently developed to warrant it i.e. you've employed your first marketing person who should understand how to get the most out of such services.

At the end of the day, even global marketing service companies don't want to waste time and effort on customers who cannot afford to pay for their services or products. They should all be delighted for you to test drive them though as word of mouth and feedback can only help them. Expect lots of emails if you sign up to any of these things, even if you close your account. Fair warning, I feel. Most of these cover global markets, but the more precise you are when you ask your search engine (google, yahoo etc) to find something, the more of a match the results will be.

8 random links to industry trend and analysis information

In addition there are countless blogsites, website, books, magazines etc on what is 'hot' and what is 'not'. It is what you will eventually need to learn about if you are successful enough to make it big, but even for the smaller business, small snippets from such sources of information can make all the difference between avoiding launching something at the wrong moment or not. Timing, in marketing can be everything. Here are three more examples of some other online resources useful for research, again at random, note that Mashable is industry sector specific therefore there is bound to be something somewhere on the net for your industry sector I would hope.

3. Unique Selling Point (USP) - arguably the most crucial moment in launching a new enterprise, product or service. Identifying your unique selling point needs careful consideration and should not be rushed if you want to succeed. You will find, as I am right not that it will need refining as you develop. It is, if anything an evolving beast because you should always be aware of trends and changes in what your target audience likes, dislikes and develops new interests in. You might trigger those things or you might not. That in essence is the difference between success and failure - the ability to adapt and change when those two key elements do.

Three golden tips on identifying your USP

  • Do not based it on price and leave it at that. Yes price matters but has been categorically proved not to be the ultimate deciding factor to winning customers and clients
  • Do not base it on customer service alone. As above!
  • Do look at the detail of what your are proposing to offer, the how, what, why, when, who and how as that is what will make all the difference in the world

In conclusion, I hope this will help you to understand why it is that charities, public services, community organisation and social enterprises all have such a hard time of it to just get themselves noticed in any marketplace. I hope this will help explain why so much money now has to be spent on marketing for global charities such as The British Red Cross and why what salaries are paid are actually really good value for money as they seldom reflect the skills - let alone the man hours - of those making these things happen at all.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Operations File: The lynch pin of efficiency

It is never so important than in a recession to ensure that administration services are working. It is almost pointless to invest in marketing and sales teams if once you've secured customers, clients and orders there isn't the manpower or hours to deliver your products or services because of poor or inefficient administration. The knock on effect will be an increase in complaints on from customers, a bad reputation and a loss of business. Get your administrative department right though and absolutely everything can become possible.

From databases, correspondence, supplies to processing of orders and passing on details for billing, it falls to your administration team to hold the whole thing together, to action absolutely everything and keep track of every single detail of your enterprise's endeavours. 

With goalposts moving continually it is essential that they can stay calm under intense pressure and most of all efficient. They can only ever hope to achieve those goals with a constant stream of updates on the latest information from staff at all levels of the enterprise. Sadly it is often at management level that log jams occur so vital details don't get passed on succinctly and clearly. Overcome that though, and miraculous things can happen.

The job title of Administrator covers perhaps the broadest range of levels and duties in any office environment, from those who do little more than open mail and take outgoing post to a post office, to full blown secretarial and PA skills who require speed typing, advanced knowledge of every conceivable office program, short-hand, audio typing and even managerial skills. Too many are under-valued for what they actually contribute to any operation. It is not uncommon for them to assist marketing or finance teams, book travel, meetings, venues or undertake all manner of final checks. They are the lynch pins to all business operations precisely because their stock in trade is co-ordinating and distributing information that enable the enterprise to function at all. However, lower wages and vague job titles that seldom reflect their versatility are common for a multitude of strategic reasons which can make the difference to them having employment or not. Sometimes it's a fair deal, sometimes it is not.

In medium to large organisations, is it now common for administrators to have a good level of database experience along with MS Office suites and/or the Mac equivalents, although for charities and social enterprises Open Office (which is free) is not uncommon. All systems claim to be compatible with each other, however to ensure they are in some instances can be er.... 'challenging'. 

Competition for anyone seeking a role at any level of administration is fierce at any time. If you're an expert in one database system alone, expect only employers who use that database program to be interested in employing you, regardless of how quickly you learn. However, this can be a bad move on the part of the employer, because a good administrator needs above all to be adaptable, able to grasp new concepts, procedures, systems and programs quickly given how rapidly technology advances, and that's besides whatever trends and economic forces are prevalent at any point.

In extremely general terms, there are I think only a few types of administrative 'styles', so the answer is to choose the style or type that suits your immediate needs - but look out for candidates who show promise for longer term development. There is a distinct advantage to keeping a good administrator on board for many years - they will come to know the company well and how it needs to work. Chopping and changing administrative staff can lead to all manner of missed items, confused files and lost information simply because each will organise things according to what makes procedures work most efficiently for them. This if fine if you keep them but can be disastrous if you don't and keep changing staff. Best to find out at interview stage what their preferred procedural style is to see if they are a match for your business or not.

Key types of administrators

Clerical organisers - Don't be fooled by this category of administrative support. If WildeHeads had, as originally intended set up as a business, this would have been the first member of staff I would have employed. The reason is simple - they would have handled the proof-reading, the drafts of letters, post, archives and retrieval of data for me as well as scanning, photocopying, collation of documents, invoicing, basic research, some tweeting etc etc. In effect freeing up my time to network and secure contracts. It is in my opinion, a waste of time employing any member of staff if you do not trust them to do what you have employed them for. If you are constantly breathing down their neck and checking up on them it becomes counter productive and results in two people doing the job of one. 

There is an exception to this, and that is when you enter the world of using volunteers and social firms who develop disadvantaged people (including the unemployed) to give them training and skills which will hopefully result in paid employment. Some social firms pay staff from the start so that they earn as they learn - very much the same idea behind modern apprenticeships schemes.

Data entry masters - those who are accurate and at least moderately fast at typing (50wpm is average) and/or possess a comprehensive knowledge of office suite programs. Taking the example of a clerical organiser, this is what you should hope to develop them into, but be fair - increase their salary or expect to lose them to another employer. If that happens you have to start afresh and you will usually end up paying more in time spent settling them in if nothing else. 

Detail masters - those who are meticulous but not at the expense of too much extra time finalising work. They are usually excellent proof-readers and often highlight additional items that need to be incorporated into large and complex project plans with regard to documentation.

Program masters - those who can adapt to any new program within a reasonable amount of time, learn their tricks and their pitfalls. I have never come across an administrator yet who could not improve upon the facilities and functions provided by any database program if you ask them what would help. The reason for this is simple, every business is in effect bespoke. No universally available commercial program can be. Time spent allowing new staff get thoroughly acquainted with the programs they use will always pay dividends in the end. A month of intensive learning should determine whether they can get to grips with them or not should be sufficient if not ample for each program. Much depends on what you, as their employer want them to achieve.

Speed masters - Those who either can speed type, audio type or are proficient in shorthand are the obvious administrators of this category, but they can also include 'program masters' and the next category...

Strategic organisers - those would possess an above average understanding of how administration fits into the whole operation of any organisation, business or enterprise and who use that knowledge to make all administrative duties run super efficiently. Job titles tend to reflect this knowledge, but not always. In effect they are at the top of the scale as it is their comprehensive understanding of the logistical requirements that can save many a manager, director or CEO from missing something vital. 

Of course there are also administrators who are any combination of any or all of the above too. 

Finally... GIGO
Whatever happens to be your administrative requirement, the most important thing to note is the acronym GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. It is of paramount importance that you ensure that administrators at whatever level get clear and precise instructions in order for them to be able to be productive, effective and efficient. If you garble instructions or only hint at what you want from them; if you fail to provide all the information they need to perform the tasks set, the result will cost your enterprise time and probably money.

It is far better to invest time in ensuring that administrative staff have a full understanding of your requirements at the outset to the point that you are assured that they can perform it, than dump things on them as you rush to another meeting. If you don't do this then you will only have yourself to blame for the loss of time spent correcting errors which can and does at times run into days and weeks of work having to be unpicked and done again.

The same is true of instructing any member of staff of course, but never more so than of your administrator(s). So if any of them ask you for more information or a moment of your time... my advice is make sure you make time to support them. They could possibly save you from many an embarrassing or awkward experience, not to mention costly ones.  

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Operations File: Connections for business and other things

A while ago I promised an article on further social media tools that people can use for business, but it's useful for all manner of things from research to new connections. There is a huge difference between using these tools for personal use and professionally. Always remember that children may have access as well as unsavoury types. This is a follow-up from one of my first blogs 'Connecting you'.

Inbetween I confess to having got in a huff as I found myself thwarted from all sides from the very systems that were supposed to help all and concerns over family welfare and health. The result? I closed my accounts to put my family's needs (and mine) as my top priority. The break from social networking was rather refreshing as it gave me time for living, breathing people in person. It reminded me that people do function without social networking tools. They might be unlikely to be highly successful in the world of business perhaps, but not necessarily. Usage comes down to a matter of personal choice i.e. is it the right tool for you to use? Other questions begin to arise from that one including: Can you be consist, have you time, money etc

There is, I feel much to be said for face to face contact and the old fashion methods of communication to do business. After all emails have not made the need for postal systems redundant, nor eradicated hard copies on paper; many would argue that computers have increased such things. The computer age is also arguably responsible for an increase of stress and pressure for while computers can process information at the click of a button, we mortals need more time to do so - computers are still not capable of independent thought, I think it would be frightening if they were.

The point is that these marvels of the modern age are supposed to tools and aids that we command. We should never let ourselves be driven to becoming little more than plug-in devices for the any device or system. I recommend that everyone remembers that if they wish to avoid burning out due to stress and pressure of what would otherwise become unrealistic and unattainable deadlines. Far better to take more time to get administrative records right than risk batting something out to a deadline only to find your time is later taken up with weeks or months to rectify a mistake missed. It is not cost effective in any sense to adopt any other approach. Get it right in the first place and you immediately free up time to do more things in the long run.

Six examples of Social Media tools
Here are a few more social media tools I have come across and used myself that I have found useful.

1. Googledocs - I'd be surprised if other search engines don't do something similar (or will do), but whichever you use, they are a way of sharing documents via the internet to the world at large or just to your own customers/clients.

2. Facebook - If you are promoting a service for or an event it can be an excellent tool. I am considering it for promoting a few creative products. I personally can't see the merit or sense of using it to promote insurance or banking products aside from via adverts that sponsor and finance Facebook so that it can be free to all. To me it is more ideally suited for things such as sport, games or the arts as it is pre-dominantly something people use in their free-time to enjoy themselves, away from work and chores. It is also extremely powerful for community concerns and to help families round the world connected when there is a crisis. In my opinion, any leisure service including holidays and such things as cycle repairs, recycling goods or balloon rides should be perfectly suited to using Facebook for business purposes. There are less savoury uses of Facebook which I'd rather not go into, but you can use it for business to keep people updated on offers and information for all manner of things.

3.  Pinterest - A relatively new kid of the block, but it seems to be taking off. I use it for inspiration for my own creative work, I am less keen to share that work there unless and until I can ensure things like photographs won't just be stolen and palmed off as someone else's work. I don't happen to like having the word 'copyright' over images and there sadly always a few naughty people who spoil such things for the many so be careful. What is great about Pinterest is very much about sharing images, ideas and their source (originator). Great for shops to promote their wares and possibly it will expand into the manufacturing industry given time if it hasn't already.

4. Vistaprint, Blurb, Snapfish etc - Too many of these to name and they do vary enormously, mainly in price but also in products offered. From publishing photobooks to offering publishing and a sales service for your own books and all things written, there is a wide choice of options available for the small business person. However, hard copies over 1000 I would recommend using a local printing service as the price is likely to be better and you will have more control over the finish that way. On-line printing services are ideal if you are less certain of how many people will purchase your product or if you have a very small budget and want a only a few copies in a hurry. I'm currently test driving a few of these. You might also consider using these for targetting selected clients by way of a thank-you 'special offer' or for any organisation offering membership services. There is of course Kindle and photo sites that you can not only source materials from but sell them to as well but don't expect to get much profit from these unless you happen to be a larger enterprise.

5. YouTube - most of us are used to using YouTube for our entertainment, relatively few small enterprises think about using it for their own promotional video which could then be imported into their blogsites etc. If you choose to use it this way, do your best to get the best video made for this. Quality of sound and image will always help. I've not yet used YouTube myself... but I have plans to do so.

6. Spreaker etc - Fancy a live radio show of your own? Well here's one option complete with catch-up facilities. Again quality will aid uptake so plan content and rehearse it beforehand and it can aid other promotional tools.

Keeping informed
Here are just a few sites that may help you build your profile on the web too. - If using Twitter (mentioned in Connecting You) this site will keep you informed on what the latest buzz is. This can help you time or word your own marketing, enter discussions or promote training services etc. and - these helps identify what people are looking for on the internet by location, subject and over time etc. Type in any subject e.g. Performing Arts and see what comes up! In effect it can help you to see what the demand is.

If you don't have time for much analysis of what's happening minute by minute (who does?), just focus on one or two things to watch out for.  and can help aid manage your social media, but be careful not to be too tempted too soon to automate things, there are many pitfalls to avoid.

For further information on using Social Media for personal or professional reasons, your best bet by far is to enrol in a short course to guide you through it. Sadly, despite appeals I only have a few such course deliverers following me on twitter, but hey, that's not bad considering I am a beginner. You really would profit from their guidance and advice... I did!

Apologies to all the other enterprises who provide social media products, there are just too many of you the mention in a blog. To readers and followers I suggest you go and explore to find those that suit your needs best, feel free to leave a comment on which you like and why.

Big business
The range of social media tools available is vast and the larger your business the more complex it gets. So my final suggestions for sources of information is specifically for the big boys. - should help guide you on (as it's name suggests) Return on Investment. which leads me to something I stumbled upon while exploring... - On this site you will find a book advertised on the subject of ROI as it's referred to. I have no idea if it's good, bad or indifferent on the subject as it is way above my league and not my top priority to investigate further at the moment. So I end with a warning...

Don't run before you can walk. The information is ever changing so my advice is go at your own pace to acquire only what you are ready learn. Better to learn properly than quickly and risk missing something vital I feel. Bit of a challenge for me!