Monday, 22 May 2017

Unusual trends ... What's the reason?

We've had a few clients from the past (i.e. from two to four years ago) who have recently called to ask why there has been a sudden change in their visitor numbers or sales patterns. We don't know, of course. They didn't expect us to know but hoped we might.

Sometimes, it's easy to guess. For example, a client selling high value home-improvement products had a dip in orders just around the Brexit vote. Once people realised that there was no immediate change in their circumstances, orders resumed and, in fact, the past few months' enquiries and sales performance has easily surpassed the same period of the previous year.

Another client, whose biggest seller for years was knee-length riding boots, has barely sold any recently although sales of other products are still buoyant.

Sharing or Downsizing?

Recently, a company selling urns for funeral ashes has noted that sales of full size urns have dipped whilst sales of mini-urns have quadrupled. Could this be a result of downsizing or decluttering? That seems a bit heartless so we're exploring the theory that a loved one's treasured ashes are being shared more widely instead of being passed around the family in a traditional sized urn.

From a business viewpoint, determining whether this is a passing trend or a permanent shift in customs is important for replacing stocks held. Similarly, the boot suppliers had re-invested their money in stock which is currently dormant so they need to find new customers.

Both these companies are family-run small businesses, the like of which have been the mainstay of Britain's economy over the past ten years. Currently, with an election in the imminent future, such companies are holding their collective breath.

Are Internet giants influencing people's choices? 

Are internet giants (Google, eBay) influencing people by determining what they are fed? An interesting factor (which might be a red herring) is that both companies noticed a change in sales from their websites after they began selling through their eBay shops. Fewer standard urns and fewer boots, via both eBay and direct sales. We can factor out Brexit and other political influences because these changes happened a year apart.

It could be said that, by setting up as eBay shops in direct competition to their own websites, they were feeding the beast. Theoretically, search engines should address that balance. The thing is, I don't know the answer but I'd be happy to hear other people's opinions.

Newlight Cremation Urns Sherwood Equestrian Supplies - Shires boots

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Google+ and Tumblr Users

Having spent considerable time and effort trying to use Google+ and Tumblr, I'm wondering who else uses them.

I'll deal with Tumblr first as it's the least complex. Tumblr is a popular blog tool, supposedly, but in my opinion it is rarely used for business. I have struggled to find interesting posts, despite trying a variety of search terms. It seems mainly full of images and these are mostly from photographers and the leisure crowd. I dip back in now and then but find no significant improvement. If anyone can guide me on this from a business perspective, please do!

Now, Google+ seems to be an untidy sock drawer, with it's links to Circles, Reviews and Business Pages. I blunder through it as best I can because it's part of Google and may have an effect on clients' website rankings - but I just don't get it. Secretly, I don't think Google does either.

For example, this is The BPc's Google+ page. It has 5 followers. FIVE, compared with our three figure following on Twitter. We have a number of people/businesses in our Circles (i.e. we follow them) but, with three exceptions, they rarely post, the exceptions being: Hitchin Town FC, Novelties Direct and Blogging Tips. None of these have me in their circles (i.e. follow me back), I just have 4 overseas followers and an unknown - not especially useful for business promotion in the UK!

Do I conclude that nobody uses Google+? Pretty much.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Changes in Social Media

smiley faces & thumbs up
I'm rambling a bit here, thinking out loud, pondering the recent changes in Twitter and Pinterest.

Social Media Strategies
Following the success of Google and Facebook money-making advertisement strategies, social media companies invest heavily in offering and honing their free services to hook people. They then use their popularity to bombard users with ads which turn the huge investments into huge profits. That's OK, it's a sound business plan that has been proven over the past twenty years.

Twitter and Pinterest are two services that have more recently changed the way they present themselves to users and have begun to add in 'promoted' posts for people who pay. Again, that's OK, their money has to come from somewhere and, as long as it's not from users, there shouldn't be a problem.

I use Twitter a lot. I have a personal account with around 500 followers and I follow almost 600 accounts that interest me - a mix of interesting personalities, people with similar hobbies and local tweeters. This is what worries me... following Twitter's recent changes, the number of interactions has plummeted. With the exception of 1 tweet last week and 1 on April 8th, none of my personal tweets/retweets during the past month were acknowledged (ie, liked, reweeted or replied). Maybe they were boring? Or maybe it's the way that Twitter is reshuffling tweets now (which is what Facebook does).

One of the things I liked about Twitter was its simplicity - a list of tweets from people I follow, in the order they were tweeted. Not so now. Using my business persona (different set of priorities, I follow clients, industry-related accounts, local business & community) I shall now open Twitter in another tab...
  • 1 tweet from someone I follow
  • 1 promoted tweet
  • 8 tweets from hours ago "while I was away"
  • 1 promoted tweet
  • 1 tweet from 2 hours ago
  • 1 list of "who to follow"
  • 6 tweets from hours ago
  • 1 promoted tweet (dated December 2015)
  • followed by several tweets from hours ago
But WHAT'S HAPPENING *NOW*? Well, I have to refresh the page to get current tweets - and there they are, good.

Not being a total idiot, I realise that you can change settings, so I have. Details here: Twitter Settings. While I await the outcome of this, I'll pose another question...

What's the obsession with the number of followers on Social Media? 
This has always puzzled me. I can understand that, from a business persective, you want to reach a large and expanding audience but if you are a person using social media to be, well, sociable, does it matter how many people click to follow you? Is it an ego thing?

What matters is whether those followers are actually seeing your tweets. If your followers are following 1,000 people and receiving 2,000 to 10,000 tweets per day, the chances are very slim that they are waiting to hear from you. Some astute tweeters may be using lists to separate their favourites - are you in any lists? (You won't know about the private lists.)

Which brings us back to the point that people are not interacting like they used to. Not publicly, anyway. And as things change, so we must adapt. Off to tweet this now - feel free to comment!

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Business Relationships

meeting - pixabay image cropped
The BPc has been assisting Signcraft with SEO since 2010. Recently, when Signcraft decided to review their marketing strategy, they asked for a meeting, so we got together at their premises last week, to discuss the way forward. This is the first time we have met, despite working together for almost six years.

The journey was particularly tiresome, waiting in traffic on the M25 for almost an hour, almost doubling the anticipated journey time. The round-trip took over six hours, which works out to about one hour a year, which is a really good ratio compared with most client meetings. We all felt that it was worth the effort as we often wandered off-topic, filling in gaps that would not be covered via email.

The meeting was a great opportunity to fill in knowledge gaps on both sides for a greater understading of how we can work together, better. Typically, our clients are proud of the quality of their work but don't expect others to find it interesting. Signcraft creates signage, which can sound flat but the projects are so varied - this is why there is a section on their website for case studies. These include giant wall coverings, giant hoardings and wraps around buildings, printing backgrounds for box-office films and more 'ordinary stuff' such as estate agents' board service and shop fascias... and more... plus their company news.

Many of our clients are south of our mid-Herts base; we have been recommended to them and contact has been mainly via email or 'phone. Word of our cost-effective services has spread amongst the small businesses of Watford and North-West London, which is the main reason that we do not meet often, if at all (although there are good links via the A1, M1 and Great Northern Rail).

We write blog posts for a client on the North London / South Herts borders who we have never met yet he has introduced several new clients to us over recent years.

We have some loyal local clients, too. For example, Keelings (Accountants) have been a client since the turn of the century! At the time, they were based in Hitchin, Herts., but have been based in Old Hatfield for more than ten years. The BPc designed Keelings' first website and redesigned it a few years later. We still update it with quarterly newsletters but would love to bring it up to date, technologically, as soon as possible. We have met with this client to discuss their website just once in all that time.

We have designed a number of interim websites and supplied various graphic design services for a client in Welwyn, since their business start-up in 2006. Millers Cleaning Services expanded to Millers Property Services and is now trading as MPS Facility Services. In those ten years, we have met with Millers just three or four times.

The BPC has designed a commemorative '10 years trading' graphic in the MPS Ltd company style for display on their website, social media, emails and stationery.

MPS Facility Management, Welwyn, Herts. Trading for 10 years

Further afield, we have a client in the Provence, South of France, who we met once around the year 2000 and who subsequently used The BPc for a new website for their new venture, almost 15 years later. Visit for a family holiday and you could meet them too!

So, how important is it to meet up? It doesn't seem to be important to many businesses - as long as you keep in touch by other means. We have a good business relationship with our clients because we get on with things, keep them informed and don't put demands on their busy schedules.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Comments on Blogs

Whilst researching ideas for a client blog post, recently, I came across an interesting post and commented on it. I added some brief information about my interest, including the url of the client's site which hosts the blog I was working on.

The initial response to my comment was negative, suggesting that the url was a spammy 'plant' for a website link. I can understand this, as I manage several blogs for clients and I think one comment in approximately 200 is genuine. We resolved the misunderstanding amicably, I'm pleased to report, as it's a blog that I now enjoy following, as it has some humorous posts.
"a spammy plant"

All comments on blogs that I manage, whether WordPress or Google Blogger, require approval before publishing. I will sometimes approve comments that are 'planted' as long as they are personal responses that add value to the post subject and do not promote products or services that compete with a client's products or services in the same targeted sales area.

For example, if a client specialises in repairing vintage cars in the UK, there is no problem in a single link to a similar service in New Zealand - or a service in the UK that specialises in supplying (say) tyres for vintage cars - or a service that repairs newer sports cars.

In fact, good comments are to be encouraged, as they demonstrate that the blog is active and is valued by readers. Mass produced spammy comments are usually easy to spot...
  • they often don't make sense;
  • they are usually generic "hey, great blog, I'm looking forward to more..."
  • if you copy/paste a phrase from the comment into a search box, there are often several identical results on other blogs; they are not specific to your post.

Blog writers generally love genuine feed-back, even if it states a contrary viewpoint. Please feel free to leave an individual comment on this or any of The BPc's blogs:

Thank you!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Any Old COBOLers Out There?

In a previous life, I used COBOL, provided technical support to COBOL programmers and marketed RM/COBOL compilers throughout Europe. I'm sure that statement will be a load of 'cobblers' to most people but others might be interested to know that there has been a short documentary made about Grace Hopper.

Amazing, Grace!

I would barely recognise COBOL source code now. During the early 1980s, desktop computers were launched and business software was generally in Basic or COBOL. The IT industry went through a radical shake-up in the late 1980s with a new generation of screen-based applications aimed at a growing number of users.

The BPc was originally launched to provide marketing and design services to small businesses and has recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. The ability to adapt to the changing needs of our client base has kept us buoyant. Whilst we can still provide graphic design and marketing services, these are mainly logo/corporate design and internet marketing, such as writing website copy, news and blog posts. The main demand for our skills is website related - creating, redesigning, optimising web sites - and social media related - managing blogs, Twitter, Facebook pages and Google, including analytics and PPC management - all generally lumped together under the label 'SEO'.

In our spare time, we update our own blogs! Company blog TheBPcUK & Client blog MyPortfolioLtd

Thursday, 23 January 2014

How Important is Internet Anonymity?

First, let's split this into two areas: public anonymity and internet anonymity.

Public anonymity is for people who don't want the world to know who they are. Don't judge them for not wanting to be 'famous' as there will be thousands of people with different legitimate reasons, perhaps not wanting to be bullied for their opinions or not wanting to openly discuss something they can't come to terms with from their past e.g. they may have been abused and want to give support to other abused people without public admission of their own embarrassing secret.

Internet anonymity is where people sign up for a service, such as email, and don't want to register all their irrelevant personal details as this could be open to exploitation. It's bad enough that large service providers, such as google and facebook, monitor browsing habits and feed through adverts from the browsed pages or similar.

Yes it's important for people to remain anonymous, for hundreds of reasons. But it's also important to protect users from idiots (a collective term for anyone who persistently uses the internet for illegal, immoral, uncivil or just plain nasty abuse). I say persistently because anyone can make a mistake or two and such errors of judgement should be treated accordingly, with an apology and good behaviour forever after being a suitable means of punishment.

I'm not a god or the brainiest person on the planet so I don't have an answer for how to sort it all out. There are even levels of acceptable behaviour from one person to the next: some people are offended by swearing, others by bad grammar. Tips: on social media, choose contacts wisely, and where there is an opportunity of moderating content, use it.

Whatever the answer is, let's try to work it out without 'Big Brother' restricting what little freedom an ordinary person has.