Monthly Archives: May 2016

Getting the basics right

The growth in the use of the Internet in recent years has led to a huge shift in marketing activities to the online space. This article explains some of the key things for you to focus on to help you market effectively online. Secure that domain name early. The natural starting point is the creation of a website. Once you start your business it is important to secure the domain name in the markets you intend to compete in. We at Palo Alto Software, Inc and Palo Alto Software Ltd have lots of domain names ranging from PaloAlto.com (global), PaloAlto.co.uk (U.K.), and PaloAlto.ie (Ireland). These help ensure that prospective customers can find us easily by typing our name directly into a Web browser.

There are numerous ways you can build a website, from doing it yourself using available software tools, to hiring website specialists. Regardless of the method chosen you need to be completely clear on the main purpose of the website. Is it to sell products or to generate leads? Once the primary purpose is clear, you can then decide on the layout, alongside the look and feel.

Ensure your website is optimised

Given the hundreds of thousands of websites out there, it is worth reviewing a number to get a feel for the type of design and user interface you would like. Finally, when it comes to a website it needs to be ‘search-engine friendly’. This means that searches initiated from the likes of Google (using repetitive software, called ‘bots’) can find your site, scan it and identify the keywords associated with the website. Many firms offer Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) services which are designed to help you achieve high rankings on the search engines, such as Yahoo! and Google. Most of the techniques they employ are widely known so you could choose to do it yourself. However, be aware: anyone promising top place listings on Google should be treated with caution. There are techniques (so-called black hat techniques) which can be used to game the system – however, Google has been known to punish sites known to be using such techniques, as BMW® found, to its cost, when Google delisted them in 2006.

As it takes time for a new website to get indexed by the search engines, it is likely that traffic will be low at the start. New sites tend not to feature in organic search returns for some time, but there are ways to drive traffic to your site using some of the methods described below.

Use Web analytics to improve your site

Once you have set up the domain name and site, you will want to understand how many users you are attracting, where they are coming from and how they are behaving on your site. Google Analytics is the most popular tool to manage this. It is available free from Google, easy to implement and even easier to use. If you want to see where people are going on your site, tools such as Crazy Egg® will help you improve the design of your site by showing you where people are clicking and where they are not.

Once the basics are in place it is now a case of creating awareness of the existence of your site and generating traffic to the site.

Get traffic to your site on day one

The quickest way to get traffic to a website is signing up for Google AdWords’ Pay-per-click (PPC) service. In the U.K. the vast majority of Web searches are via Google so this is the best one to focus on. This service lets you create adverts that appear when people search for certain keywords. You then pay according to each click you receive (hence the name ‘Pay-per click’). The main attraction with this option is that it is a highly targeted form of advertising, and you only pay when the prospect clicks on your advert and lands on your website.

Create unique landing pages

You need to decide where you want to bring the prospect when they click. Dropping users onto a homepage can be confusing, so you need to create a number of landing pages that are highly relevant to both the search term and the AdWord copy. For example, if a user searches for marketing plan and the advertising copy is for Marketing Plan Pro ® then the landing page needs to feature Marketing Plan Pro prominently. The beauty of running Analytics in the background is that you can measure conversions so you can identify which combinations of advert copy and landing pages are the most successful. After that it’s a case of testing, testing and more testing. A/B testing is a popular method where 50% of the audience is randomly assigned to see page A, and 50% to see page B. Whichever page results in the most conversions ‘wins’ and that then becomes the new default page.

Business Plan Template

Looking to write a business plan?  Considering using a business plan template?  Think again!  Here at Palo Alto Software we make Business Plan Pro- the fastest and easiest way to write a business plan. There are a number of reasons why we believe Business Plan Pro is the best option for writing a business plan as this article illustrates- The Easiest Way to Write a Business Plan.

Business plan templates are increasingly common, but they are often very basic, consisting of just a few headings and a spreadsheet. These business plan templates are typically Word Documents and do not offer any assistance with the business plan content. The result is often a poorly crafted business plan.

Here at Bplans our site contains a selection of free sample business plans as well as sample business plan outlines. One of the difficulties of relying too heavily on free sample business plans is that the quality of the business plan may be suspect. Our sample business plans on the other hand are designed to give you, the reader, the opportunity to read a sample plan so you can get a feel for the structure, the content etc as well as gaining an understanding of important concepts such as sales forecasting, executive summaries and cashflow.

In short, free business plan templates are no substitute for the real thing. A business plan is for your business idea, not some one else’s.

If you want to get a sense of what a business plan for your industry might look like:

1. Click the link below to access the free sample business plans
2. Browse through the sample plan categories, or enter your business type in the keyword field

Plan for Startups Your Business

Business advisors, experienced entrepreneurs, bankers, and investors generally agree that you should develop a business plan before you start a business. A plan can help you move forward, make decisions, and make your business successful. However, not all business plans are the same, not every business needs the same level of detail. You might develop a fairly simple business plan first as you start a small business, and that might be enough for you. You can also start simple and then elaborate as you prepare to approach bankers or investors.

For a simple example, imagine a woman making jewelry at home and selling it at a local flea market on the weekend. A business plan could give her a chance to step back from the normal flow and look at ways to develop and improve the business. The planning process should help her understand her business. It should help her define what she wants from the business, understand what her customers want, and decide how to optimize her business on her own terms. She might benefit from developing a simple sales and expense forecast, maybe even a profit and loss, so she can plan how to use and develop her resources. She might not need to create detailed cash flow, balance sheet, and business ratios. A simple plan may be just what she needs to get going.

This first stage of a plan, that we call the Concept Kick-Start, focuses only on a few starter elements. The Mission Statement, Keys to Success, Market Analysis, and Break-Even Analysisgive you a critical head start toward understanding your business.

However, not all start ups are that simple. Many of them need product development, packaging, retail fittings and signage, office equipment, websites, and sometimes months or even years of payroll before the sales start. Unless you’re wealthy enough to finance these expenditures on your own, then you’ll need to deal with bank loans or investors or both; and for that you’ll need a more extensive business plan. Startup company or not, the plan has to meet expectations.

One suggestion for getting started is to develop your plan in stages that meet your real business needs. A few key text topics might be enough to discuss the plan with potential partners and team members, as a first phase. You may well want to add a basic sales and expense forecast, leading to profit and loss, as next phase. Adding business numbers helps you predict business flow and match spending to income.

Ultimately, the choice of plan isn’t based as much on the stage of business as it is on the type of business, financing requirements, and business objective. Here are some important indicators of the level of plan you’ll need, even as a startup:

  • Some of the simpler businesses keep a plan in the head of the owner, but every business has a plan. Even a one-person business can benefit from creating a plan document with ideas written down, because the process of producing a plan is useful and valuable.
  • As soon as a second person is involved, the need for planning multiplies. The plan is critical for communicating values, goals, strategies, and detailed implementation.
  • As soon as anybody outside the company is involved, then you have to provide more information. When a plan is for internal use only, you may not need to describe company history and product features, for example. Stick to the topics that add value, that make you think, that help support decisions. When you involve people outside the company, then you need to provide more background information as part of the plan.
  • For discussion purposes, text is enough to get a plan started. Try describing your mission, objective, keys to success, target market, competitive advantage, and basic strategies. How well does this cover your business idea?
  • Can you live without a sales and expense forecast? Sometimes the one-person business keeps numbers in its (the owner’s) head. However, it’s much easier to use some tools that can put the numbers in front of you, and add and subtract them automatically. That’s where a plan helps.
  • Do you really know your market? A good market analysis can help you see opportunities that might not otherwise be obvious. Understand why people buy from you. What are the needs being served? How many people are out there, as potential customers?
  • Do you manage significant amounts of inventory? That makes your cash management more complicated, and usually requires a more sophisticated plan. You need to buy inventory before you sell it.
  • Do you sell on credit? If you are a business selling to businesses, then you probably do have to sell on credit, and that normally means you have to manage money owed to you by your customers, called accounts receivable. Making the sale is no longer the same thing as getting the money. That usually requires a more sophisticated plan.
  • Do you do your taxes on a cash basis, or accrual basis? If you don’t know, and you are a very small (one person, maybe 2-3 people) business, then you’re likely to be on a cash basis. That makes your planning easier. However, most businesses big enough to work with an accountant and have separate tax statements use accrual accounting because they want to deduct expenses as they are incurred, even if they aren’t fully paid for. By the time you are using accrual accounting, you’ll probably need more sophisticated cash flow tools, and a more extensive business plan.

Optimised Your Business Model

A business model is a description of how your business intends to operate and make money. At the most basic level, it involves a producer making something and selling it directly to customers at a profit (but this simple model has propagated into numerous diverse models in recent years).

The development of a business model is essentially a strategic perspective rather than an operational assessment, and focuses on how you capture value i.e. it includes a description of the value proposition. Deciding upon a business model becomes particularly important as a concept when it is not a simple ‘make and sell direct‘ model and you are looking to create value through a non linear route.

The Business Model – An Introduction

In days of old, business was arguably a lot simpler; you produced something and sold it for a profit, building up a good reputation over time so as to ensure ongoing patronage. Before the industrial revolution most sales were essentially local, and you had a much greater steer on competition, demand levels and pricing. You probably sold your products directly to consumers as the butcher, baker or candlestick maker.

Fast forward 200 years and business has changed considerably. A lot more creativity is needed to get noticed in a time-pressed world (not to mention in making a sale). You are probably facing global competitors, and in many instances a widely dispersed audience who are increasingly difficult to reach in a cost effective manner. As a result, numerous alternative strategies have emerged to get your product to market, safely into the hands of the consumer and business model innovation has become increasingly popular.

In many respects the emergence of business model innovation started with Gillette and razor blades. They worked out that if they sold the razor at low cost, consumers would happily pay for the blades. Given the resultant switching costs and customer inertia, the result was often a lifetime of patronage (despite the fact the initial transaction was a loss-making one for the producer). In essence, by providing something at below the market price (the razor); you can create a market for a secondary product (the blade) upon which you make ongoing profits. A second characteristic of the model was that the mark-up on the secondary products were often disproportionate relative to their cost so were highly profitable for the manufacturer. Anyone who has had to buy replacement ink cartridges will bear witness to this!

Plan Layout or Business Plan

The first point to make with regard to a business plan layout (also known as a business plan outline) is that there is no one typical layout. Business plans are unique and the layout will be dependent on a number of factors, not least the purpose of the business plan, but also whether the plan relates to a new start up or an existing business. In Business Plan Pro, for instance, we ask a number of targeted questions as the planning process starts which then serve to shape the subsequent business plan layout.

Although the layout itself can vary, every business plan needs a number of crucial components.

It needs to start with an executive summary (typically written at the end of the process) so as to whet the appetite of the reader (often a prospective investor).

It then needs to follow a particular structure which will include details about the opportunity, those tasked with delivering the idea, and the financing required to bring the idea to market.

Within Business Plan Pro, you get a recognised business plan layout which can be fully customized so that you can tailor it to meet your own individual requirements.

A second common theme is for people to abbreviate phrases so we get biz plan, bizz plan, biz plan pro or even bizplan. Perhaps I’m a little old fashioned, but again I find these abbreviations lazy, annoying and by extension I feel they reflect poorly on the author.

A business plan is a formal document, whereas a text or an email are typically less formal and I feel therein lies the crux of the issue. We undertake these activities daily and brevity is accepted in these exchanges as an acceptable trade off for grammatical and spelling accuracy. A business plan however is not only used as a means to describe an opportunity but is also used to assess the competence of the author. I am sure I am not alone in the view that no matter how good a bussiness plan is, I will have serious doubts about the person entrusted with delivering the business plan if the document contains basic spelling mistakes.