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A marketing strategy will help you identify your best customers, understand their needs and implement the most effective marketing methods.

The internet has transformed business marketing. No matter what you do, the internet is likely to be at the heart of your marketing strategy.

Social media is firmly established as a marketing tool. Having a presence opens up new lines of communication with existing and potential customers.

Good advertising puts the right marketing message in front of the right people at the right time, raising awareness of your business.

Customer care is at the heart of all successful companies. It can help you develop customer loyalty and improve relationships with your customers.

Sales bring in the money that enables your business to survive and grow. Your sales strategy will be driven by your sales objectives.

Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, competitors, products, marketing and your customers.

Direct marketing can be a highly successful way to generate sales from existing and new customers. Find out how to target them in the best way.

Exhibitions and events are valuable for businesses because they allow face-to-face communication and offer opportunities for networking.


Favourable media coverage can bring a range of business benefits. But how do you attract the attention of editors, broadcasters and journalists?

September 2016

30 September 2016

Mixed picture for retail sales but outlook is goodRetail sales slipped in September but growth is expected to return next month according to analysis by the CBI.

The monthly Distributive Trades Survey by the CBI shows that the volume of retail sales fell, despite expectations just a month ago that they would be largely unchanged. However, it says sales volumes look set to grow slightly in the year to October and sales volumes for the time of year are above seasonal norms.

The survey also reveals that online sales volume growth has slowed. However, wholesalers had a more positive year with 52% reporting that sales volumes were up on last year, and just 13% said they were down, giving a balance of +39% - the highest balance since July 2015.

The key findings of the CBI retail survey are:

  • 30% of retailers said sales volumes were up in September on a year ago, while 38% said they were down, giving a balance of -8%. This was a decline on the previous month's balance (+9%);
  • 27% of respondents expect sales volumes to increase next month, with 20% expecting a decrease, giving a balance of +7%;
  • 21% of retailers placed more orders with suppliers than they did a year ago, while 29% placed fewer orders, giving a balance of -8%;
  • 19% of businesses reported that their volume of sales for the time of year were good, while 12% said they were poor, giving a balance of +7%;
  • Sales volumes grew in clothing (+41%) and hardware and DIY (+55%). Sales volumes fell markedly for grocers (-29%), specialist food and drink (-34%), footwear and leather (-38%).

Rain Newton-Smith, CBI chief economist, said: "September is normally an important month for retailers and it's encouraging to see that sales of clothing, DIY goods and hardware are above seasonal norms. However, consumer confidence has been dented since earlier in 2016 and higher inflation is likely to squeeze household incomes over the year ahead. With margins remaining tight, retailers are set to continue to operate in a fiercely competitive environment for some time."

30 September 2016

The small business confidence conundrumConfidence levels in the UK's small businesses community are falling and yet the proportion of businesses planning to grow in the next 12 months has gone up.

The findings of the Q3 Small Business Index from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) tally with other recent reports that highlight a yawning chasm between small business confidence and actual business results.

The FSB reports that small business headcount, growth and exports have all risen in the past quarter and access to finance has hit record levels. And the share of small businesses aspiring to grow over the next 12 months has risen to 55%; while the share of businesses expecting to downsize, close or hand on the business has fallen to 11%.

And yet small business confidence has now dipped into negative territory for the first time since 2012 and confidence has now fallen for the last three quarters in a row.

This is the first data gathered by the FSB since the referendum. The FSB says there are signs that businesses are "getting on with the job in hand" and, it says, many firms may have "priced in" the impact of the EU referendum result in advance of the vote.

In addition, the FSB report shows that small businesses are hiring, with a net balance of 7% of SMEs increasing headcount this quarter. This is the first time that smaller firms have reported an increase in hiring this year.

A net balance of 15% of small businesses reported an increase in revenues this quarter, up from 7% at the start of the year. However, this net balance is expected to decline to 9% over the next three months, in line with indications that economic growth is likely to slow later this year.

Mike Cherry, FSB national chairman, said: "Small firms are resilient and will survive the current fragile economic outlook, but to avoid an economic slowdown this data should be a wake-call for our elected politicians. We look to the party conferences and upcoming Autumn Statement to green-light infrastructure projects at local and national level, to simplify the tax system and to help reduce the costs of doing business."

Commenting on the FSB report, Dominic Allon, Europe VP and managing director of Intuit QuickBooks, said: "It was inevitable that the referendum vote would put many small businesses on edge. Small firms have to become even more determined to grow over the next year, and this is the kind of spirit that will help carry them through any testing times ahead. The Government needs to play its part too, however, and planned initiatives to ease tax processes and tackle late payments will prove more important than ever to help small businesses thrive."

30 September 2016

Consumers don't trust businesses with their dataAs news of the massive Yahoo data security breach hits the headlines, two new pieces of research show that consumers are deeply worried about how their data is used by businesses.

The latest research conducted by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) reveals that 92% of consumers "do not fully understand" where and how businesses use their personal information and data; and one third (31%) say they have "no idea" how their personal data is used.

The CIM study, Whose data is it anyway?, surveyed more than 2,500 consumers and marketers. More than half of all consumers (57%) said they do not trust an organisation or business to use their data responsibly - the biggest issue being that their information may be passed onto others without consent (40%).

The CIM research found that 51% of consumers have received communications from organisations they feel have misused their data. Most consumers (70%) still do not see the benefit of sharing their personal data at all.

Chris Daly, CIM chief executive, said: "Our report shows that people are nervous about sharing personal data - fears of data breaches and misuse has them on high alert. However, two-thirds (67%) of customers actually say they would share more personal information if organisations were more open about how they will use it."

Businesses need to improve their data handling processes, he said. "Marketers need to brush up on the rules, demonstrate clearly the value-add personal data offers in delivering a more personalised experience and ultimately reduce the fear by being open throughout the process."

Meanwhile, research conducted by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) reveals that data handling is the single biggest issue that consumer worry about when making decisions on who to do business with.

Its poll of 2,000 UK adults found that 44% are concerned about how businesses handle sensitive client data. Aggressive tax avoidance was the second most important issue to the public, cited by 42% of respondents.

Rob Alder, AAT head of business development, said: "All businesses are reliant on their good reputation in order to survive and thrive, and this research shows the things businesses need to do to strengthen their reputation."

30 September 2016

As news of the massive Yahoo data security breach hits the headlines, two new pieces of research show that consumers are deeply worried about how their data is used by businesses.

30 September 2016

UK business population hits record highThe number of VAT registered businesses in the UK has hit an all-time high of 2.1 million, up 4% from two million last year.

These are the findings of research by accountancy network UHY Hacker Young. It also reveals that the number of businesses per capita in the UK has reached 32.7 businesses per 1,000 population, close to the pre-crunch level of 32.8 businesses per 1,000 population.

The rise in the number of businesses is being fuelled by the UK's "thriving start-up economy" says UHY Hacker Young. Many of these new companies are founded by entrepreneurial millennials in their twenties and thirties. Last year, there were 26,420 companies with a director aged 21 or under.

Another key reason for the increase is the "ease of doing business"; the UK is ranked 6th out of 189 countries by the World Bank on this measure and has the lowest corporation tax in the G20 group of countries.

UHY Hacker Young's analysis also highlights the fact that the UK Government offers a range of grants, loans and tax reliefs for entrepreneurs, such as innovation vouchers and Entrepreneur's Relief.

Marc Waterman, partner at UHY Hacker Young, said: "The UK's thriving start-up economy has driven the number of businesses to its highest ever level. The recession showed that working for big business is no longer a guarantee of job security.

"The UK Government is aware that a large proportion of millennials want to start their own businesses and has put a range of schemes in place to support new companies," he added. "This has given young people the confidence to strike out on their own. In the past, many would-be entrepreneurs might have thought that starting their own business was too risky, opting for the security of a full-time job. This is no longer the case."

30 September 2016

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Fear of failure is the main reason other people don't start their own business according to 71% of UK entrepreneurs polled by YouGov for Weebly. However, while 31% of business owners said that starting their business was the scariest thing they had ever done, most of those that have taken the plunge (55%) said starting a business is actually much easier than people think.

Why the daily commute is a waste of time

Commuting is a "waste of time" for 31% of those that travel to work, according to research by Regus. Despite mobile technology, almost one-third of commuters say they are unable to get anything productive done on their journey to and from work. According to the TUC, the average commuting time is now 55 minutes. Richard Morris, Regus UK ceo, said: "The stresses of the daily commute - particularly train travel - are well documented. The bigger question for British business is: why persist with the commuting model? Alternatives exist, and businesses of every size are investigating flexible work options."

No going back for self-employed

Four in ten self-employed people say there's nothing they miss about working for someone else according to a new survey by Markel. The three things most enjoyed by self-employed professionals are: being their own boss, freedom in their working life and being able to fit work around other commitments. The worst thing about being self-employed is uncertainty of income, with 35% of respondents saying money is their main worry, followed by job insecurity and lack of structure.

Disability still seen as barrier to career progression

More than a third (37%) of UK workers say disability is still a barrier to career progression, despite anti-discrimination legislation. A study by PMI Health Group found that 17% of respondents also said their employers don't make adequate provisions to accommodate their, or their colleagues', disabilities. "Companies have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments, where necessary, to ensure employees with disabilities are not disadvantaged in the workplace," said Mike Blake, PMI director. "In light of these findings, it would be advisable for businesses to ensure they are not falling foul of this legislation."

23 September 2016

Why more mums want to be their own bossMore working mums are choosing to become self-employed in order to improve their work-life balance, according to new research.

A report from Nominet, which runs the .uk domain, says that so-called "millennial mums" are looking for more flexibility when they go back to work after maternity leave.

It reveals that 17% of millennial mums expect to set up their own business within the next 12 months, and a further 21% expect to be their own boss in the next five years. Almost one in twelve (8%) of new mums are already running post-baby enterprises in the UK.

Flexibility is the big draw, the report finds. Over half (54%) of mums who returned to traditional employment after maternity leave say they have struggled to juggle family life with a nine-to-five job and 22% say they have felt anxious about working as a result. And 78% of mums say flexibility and control over working hours is the main reason why they are choosing to work for themselves.

The high cost of going back to work is also a key factor. Prohibitive childcare costs are the number one financial concern (89%) followed by travel costs (41%). In addition, 71% of new mums feel guilty about leaving their child with someone else and over half (54%) worry about time spent commuting.

Millennial mums are positive about the value of maternity leave, with the majority (94%) saying parenting skills such as multi-tasking, time-management, forming relationships and keeping calm under pressure give them a competitive edge in the business world.

The work involved in setting up a business has not put off this group of would-be entrepreneurs. One fifth of those polled have already carried out some market research, 28% have set up a website and/or a professional email address and 13% have drafted a business plan.

Russell Haworth, ceo of Nominet, said: "I think that we're seeing an entrepreneurial shift in the UK workforce - and women with young children are at the forefront. There is real enthusiasm amongst millennial mums to be their own boss to ensure they can achieve the all-important work-life balance, while still generating an income to support their growing family. Advancements in technology mean it's never been easier to set up your own business online and to quickly develop a space for yourself and your ideas."

23 September 2016

Three in ten self-employed people work long hoursMany self-employed people in the UK are working excessively long hours without taking any holidays but most say they have a good work-life balance according to the findings of a new poll.

Almost a third of micro-business owners work more than 48 hours a week according to research from cloud accounting software company FreeAgent.

Its survey of more than 500 freelancers and micro-business owners has found that 30% said they worked more than 48 hours per week on their business, while 6% admitted that they spent more than 64 hours each week working.

In addition, 44% of respondents said they had not felt able to take a week or more of holiday in the past six months.

However, the poll also revealed that many micro-business owners are content with their working life - with 74% saying they felt they had a good work-life balance.

Ed Molyneux, ceo and co-founder of FreeAgent, said: "Many people start their own business because they see it as an exciting opportunity to escape the nine-to-five life and be their own boss. But although those who have taken the plunge generally say that running a small business gives them a good work-life balance, it's important to remember that self-employment can be very hard and challenging."

Long hours are part of the job description for many business owners that have to juggle lots of different tasks, he said. "Although many freelancers and micro-business owners enjoy more flexibility over when and where they can work, our research shows that they are actually likely to work just as many hours as people who are not self-employed - and sometimes a lot more. That's because they have to manage all of the admin and behind-the-scenes parts of their business, not just the parts that they get paid for."

A recent survey into SME wellbeing suggested that business owners that don't take holidays risk burnout. "For some people, running a business can also be so consuming that they don't even manage to take a proper break," said Molyneux. "We found nearly half of the people we spoke to hadn't felt able to take a week's holiday in the past six months - which means they could potentially be risking fatigue through being overworked and, as a result, putting their businesses in jeopardy."

23 September 2016

SMEs doing well but want more Government supportA new study of SMEs across the UK, Europe and the United States finds most small firms enjoying solid growth and feeling positive about the future but there is widespread dissatisfaction with levels of Government support.

The eighth annual DNA of an Entrepreneur report from Hiscox surveyed 4,000 small businesses in the UK, Europe and the US; the findings show there has been solid growth for small businesses in the past year.

However, just 28% of small business owners and managers consider their Government supportive of entrepreneurs. The lowest figure is in France (14%) while in the UK the figure has fallen from 45% to 35% in the past year.

More than half (51%) of UK small business owners or managers agree with the statement "Our taxation system does not favour someone wanting to set up their own business", up from 47% a year ago.

However, more than half of UK small firms say Brexit will have no impact on their business, though a significant minority (31%) see it as a negative. In fact almost as many Spanish firms (29%) are worried about Brexit as British SMEs.

Other key findings from the report are:

  • All six countries surveyed (UK, France, Spain, United States, Germany and the Netherlands) show similar growth rates, with two-thirds of SMEs saying they had increased revenues;
  • Optimism levels are down marginally in all but Germany, but remain high by historic standards;
  • 22% say bank funding has got more difficult to access, up from 19% a year ago;
  • The proportion of firms taking on new staff has fallen from 21% to 13%, and one in ten firms has cut staff levels;
  • For the year ahead, 21% are planning to increase headcount and only 4% expect to reduce staffing.

Asked which country "has the greatest entrepreneurial spirit", respondents in five of the six countries put the United States top. Only the British beg to differ - they picked themselves.

Bronek Masojada, Hiscox ceo, said: "Our study provides a unique insight into the mood and financial wellbeing of the small business sector and there is a strongly bullish tone to this year's report. It is notable that small businesses in all the countries covered are now enjoying a positive growth phase, with several indicators pointing to another good year ahead."

23 September 2016

Small Business Saturday hits the roadSmall Business Saturday is taking to the road in October with a bus tour of 29 UK towns and cities to inspire more small firms to get involved with the campaign and encourage consumers to "shop small".

Small Business Saturday, the annual campaign that promotes small independent businesses in communities across the UK, takes place on 3 December this year.

Ahead of the day, the Small Business Saturday campaign is organising a UK-wide bus tour, taking in 29 stops in five weeks, with the theme, "Small Business, Big Difference". The tour will promote the campaign to both consumers and small business owners and will host workshops and seminars at its daily destinations. The tour starts in Aberdeen on 24 October and ends in Bournemouth on 25 November, also crossing the Irish Sea for three stops in Northern Ireland.

Michelle Ovens, Small Business Saturday national campaign director, said: "The bus tour is a very visible way for us to meet small businesses around the UK and show them how they can become involved as well as drumming up consumer interest, support and enthusiasm. We are really looking forward to welcoming small business owners and consumers to the bus to get information and find out ways in which they can support small businesses and make the day work most effectively for companies in their own communities."

Now in its fourth year, Small Business Saturday is the UK's most successful small business campaign. Last year an estimated £623 million was spent with small businesses across the UK on the day itself - up £119 million on last year and an increase in spending of 24%. The majority of local authorities actively support the campaign, from staging small business events to offering free parking.

Logos, digital banners, a social media guide and toolkits are available to download from the Small Business Saturday website.