Being in a position whereby people come to us for help to grow their business, I personally hear a lot of stories from companies of varying sizes, all with one thing in common – they are ambitious companies looking to grow. Wanting to increase sales and revenue for their business. Businesses come to us to support these ambitions with strategic digital marketing support that they can rely on.
With big ambitions from many companies, we often hear many of the same problems related to digital opportunities. The first being the lack of understanding in this area. The second being the lack of funding available for projects which are often a reasonable sum of money for many companies. This is not related to small businesses of less than 5 employees, this applies throughout the whole range of the traditional SME bracket (<249 full time employees). Companies with over 150 employees, still come to us asking us “So what is this Twitter thing?”, using the wrong limiting technology and worried about spending any money due to the possibility of this being the wrong decision. In summary, this all comes down to a lack of understanding about technologies and the opportunities it brings along with lack of grant money available for investing in digital assets.
Looking at the range of funded projects available, many of which are European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) backed, one has to ask the question if they are suitable for the modern digital world we live in? To date, of the many funded projects that I am aware of both locally and nationally, none support serious investment into digital for ambitious companies. I believe this is a huge failing area that needs serious attention. Funded projects/schemes generally fall into a few categories; strategic business support; coaching; workshops; capital grants. None of which help companies with ambitions to invest seriously in digital. Digital is not a sector to invest in, digital in an enabler for businesses to increase sales, grow and become more profitable. It’s time to shift thinking away from the usual funded categories and start to fund valuable areas that help companies grow.
Living in a digital world allows companies to sell products and services globally in a much more efficient way than ever before. We trade internationally and it is easier than ever to trade internationally through the internet. Speaking with one company only yesterday, a fabrication company specialising in manufacturing a wide range of large metal container type products, managing to accidentally generate enquiries through their website (which quite honestly, is a website that belongs in 1996). If a company in this situation can manage to accidentally generate enquiries from overseas, imagine what they could achieve with the right help, support, guidance and serious investment into digital. This is not a lone example, I hear many similar stories from a lot of companies.
When I talk about digital, the things that I am talking about is; cloud technologies, websites, ecommerce, international growth through online enquiries/sales, email marketing, strategic social media (not simply playing around on social media which many businesses are doing), search engine optimisation, pay per click advertising and more. Digital technologies are advancing at a faster pace than ever before, yet we are still in a situation whereby many large companies aren’t getting the basics in place when it comes to their online presence.
So what is the solution? We have seen fantastic projects recently throughout the country as part of the rollout of fibre broadband, yet these have unfortunately come/coming to an end. This is a real shame that this has happened and one that needs to continue in one way, shape or form. Businesses not only want support in this area, but they need support in this area. Digital technologies, marketing opportunities and online social interactions are what is going to drive business growth in the years to come. Yet we are still in a position whereby these types of activities aren’t funded for ambitious companies.
The solution here is for funding support programmes to look beyond the typical capital grants and strategic support areas. Businesses sometimes need some hands on work that will take them to the next step related to their digital presence. Think about this, what is the difference between a capital grant to purchase a new piece of equipment to increase turnover, or, a website grant to purchase a new piece of technology to increase turnover? There isn’t one. They are aiming to achieve the same thing. Unless of course, capital grants aren’t actually designed to increase turnover and create jobs, but they are designed to increase balance sheet assets. Let’s not touch on that topic any further though.
Personally, I believe funded projects, funded support and grants are failing ambitious companies looking to grow and utilise the opportunities digital provides. It will be interesting to see how/if this changes over the coming months. I do hope that we see a serious uptake in investment into projects that can deliver real value within a business beyond the typical capital grants that are handed out.
Recently we were invited to the historic Lancashire County Hall in Preston to receive thanks for a community based charitable organisation we are involved with, Jackhouse Nature Reserve. The chairman’s dinner was a way of Lancashire County Council to say thanks to all those individuals and businesses who get involved with volunteer work related to maintaining the beautiful nature throughout Lancashire.
We believe the outside space around us is vital to maintain and encourage people to enjoy the wonders of what is on their doorstep. Which is why we work with Jackhouse Nature Reserve on a voluntary basis, to promote the place for local people to enjoy. The journey so far has been an exciting one that we have been involved with for quite some time now, where the group of volunteers running the group have managed to generate a good sum of money to fund the development of paths around the nature reserve to make it easy for anyone to access, from families to people of all generations.
Several members of the Jackhouse Nature Reserve group attended the chairman’s dinner at Lancashire County Hall to receive personal thanks from senior council officials including County Councillor Kevin Ellard, County Councillor Margaret Brindle and County Councillor Tony Martin. While the council are facing an extremely hard time at the moment with the budgetary cuts, it is great to see that volunteer groups and those individuals and businesses involved with preserving Lancashire’s natural environments are being recognised for the work that is being done. People involved in projects like Jackhouse Nature Reserve and other projects don’t get involved for fame and fortune (they would be waiting a long time for that!), people get involved because the projects that are being run by volunteers are important to them in one way or another. So it’s nice to have some official recognition from Lancashire County Council.
May the good work continue for all community based volunteer projects running throughout Lancashire.
And just to finish off, where would we be without some pictures of the chamber where all Lancashire County Council councillors meet to discuss the changes that are happening. Very interesting architecture, which these photos from my mobile phone don’t really do justice.
We do get involved with charitable organisations, community interest groups and more to help out where we can. There is clearly only so much time in a day that we can devote to such projects, although do get in touch if a group that you are involved with needs some kind of support and we will be more than happy to have a coffee to see if there is anything we can help out with.
Being part of Manchester Digital, we get access to exclusive events talking about the serious changes in digital and current trends. We recently attended an event talking about online fraud and cybercrime, and honestly, this is much more serious threat that most businesses even realise.
At the event we heard from DC David Stott from Cheshire Police force and Raoul Charlett, a Complex Fraud and Corruption Investigator. Talking about cybercrime and fraud proofing your ecommerce business. Also speaking was Gareth Williams from Metapack who covered various tips and advice about how businesses can protect their-self online.
Traditional Business Fraud
Some of the more common business related fraud relate to long term frauds within organisations, invoice diversions and even internal fraud related to BACS, accounting and false invoices being processed. These clearly have serious consequences for businesses beyond the obvious monetary costs. From data loss, disruption within your business, the branding and PR nightmare if this information gets released and more.
What is more worrying is around the lack of capability for a lot of digital fraud to be investigated. As you know, the UK has borders and so does the capabilities of the law enforcement organisations who can pursuit such fraud. Typically speaking, a lot of digital fraud is instigated overseas which means that the efforts involved in bringing criminals to justice required a lot of work and often never actually happen. This is a huge issue for businesses, particularly those running ecommerce websites as you can lose a lot of money in the process with little chance of getting this back.
Data Commissioners Office
One point reiterated at the event was about how all organisations storing personal information that is used for specific purposes must register at the Information Commissioners Office. If you aren’t sure if you need to register, then it is recommended to complete the self-assessment on the website, and if you do need to register this is only a nominal fee of £35 per year.
With data breaches on the rise, it is essential that businesses treat data security seriously as it is a criminal offence if you don’t do this and are required to do so. Over recent years we have seen literally billions of customer details stolen from only a small handful of companies storing personal information for their customers.
Digital Fraud and Cybercrime
Moving onto some of the more modern frauds that happen, it is often the ones you may not even have thought about, yet are a serious problem for businesses. We are increasingly speaking with clients and other businesses about how to mitigate the risk for their businesses related to cybercrime and we are able to provide key recommendations on this topic.
Intellectual Property Theft
How secure is your intellectual property within your business? As a digital organisation, your intellectual property isn’t likely to be in the form of manufacturing processes, secret recipes, physical designs or some of the other traditional areas that you would generally relate to intellectual property theft.
When looking at digital businesses, how secure is your data, your databases, your software code and other sensitive information about your business, your customers, products and services? In our experience, for many small to medium sized businesses, there is often quite a significant opportunity for fraudulent activities and cybercrime to take place due to lack of procedures, understanding and internal training.
This is way beyond our level of expertise at Contrado Digital, although we like to keep our ears open to the news related to hardware security. Specifically around open source and freely available software called Reaver which is designed specifically to hack into WiFi routers using WPS, WPA and WPA2 passwords using a brute force style attack.
To keep this into perspective, once someone accesses your internal network, they often have access to a wide range of other data within your business if your data isn’t locked down and secured well. This is beyond simply having a more secure password on your router, this comes down to how you and your staff access the files, data and systems within your organisation. To the point that you not only have the internal security of only allowing access to data from an internal IP address, but also only allowing access to data for staff who have the authority to view this data, regardless if they are within the internal office IP or not.
There are a lot of technical ways and some common sense methods which you can use to protect your business from cybercrime and online fraud. Have a think about some of these questions to see how they relate to your own business;
What is your fraud policy?
How are individual members of staff managed in terms of the data they can access?
Do your staff understand how Trojans, malware and phishing scams work, specifically related to clicking links and opening emails from unknown sources?
How do you mitigate risks from updating your accounts, specifically related to invoice fraud?
How do you investigate new customers to check that they are genuine? A note on this topic is that you can be legally responsible and open to jail time if you have not performed detailed enough checks and your customer ends up being identified as part of a criminal organisation. This could have serious implications for your business
How do you thoroughly vet new and existing members of staff? This sounds obvious, but have you spoken to their references?
A note on background checks related to companies is rather interesting, as the data that you will often be researching on freely available company check websites and companies house is only as accurate as the data that is entered by the company. This is really important to understand because this data does not state that the data is accurate, the information you see on these services states that this is what the company has said is accurate. This can be significantly different, particularly when online fraud and cybercrime is taken into account. Do you honestly believe a companies that is not legitimate would submit legitimate data? The same applies when another company could be created with a very similar name to your business which could confuse people trading with you, or you viewing another company.
An interesting service that was recommended included WebFiling Protected Online Fraud (PROOF) which helps companies, i.e. yourself, safeguard your information and protect against corporate identity theft and fraudulent filings. The short video below explains this in more detail;
Another check point discussed was The Gazette which allows you to check company information from an official source. When checking details of a company you are either working with currently or about to work with, it is essential to check through as many sources as possible to get a good understanding of who you are working with.
Hackers for Hire
Thinking hacking and cybercrime isn’t that much of a threat? Think again. There are services popping up such as HackersList which allows you to actually rent hackers for a specific project and pay for their services. And this is just the public face of what is happening. Within the underground there is an awful lot more happening that most people simply aren’t aware of.
Hacking is always seen as this big bad term, yet often hacking isn’t that difficult. Hacking can be extremely simple, particularly when companies employ sloppy web developers and leave their customer details wide open for anyone to access. This isn’t difficult for anyone to access with half a brain cell and a small bit of technical knowledge. This isn’t cyber criminals working away, this can be simply equated to finding a hidden link on a page that happens to be the same colour as the background. The technicalities behind this aren’t much more complex than that.
London Met Fraud Advice
The London Metropolitan Police are very much leading the way when it comes to cybercrime and security prevention in an official sense and have a very valuable website on the topic to help individuals and companies protect their-self. If you aren’t too familiar with some of the basics of protecting yourself and your business, I’d suggest you spend a bit of time researching this and understand what you can do within your own business.
MetaPack is a service designed to track ecommerce deliveries from end to end while looking to reduce fraud at every step of the process by using smart technology. Interestingly, 80 of the top 100 online UK retailers use MetaPack which managed around 50% of the online orders in 2014 (excluding Amazon).
Another interesting fact is that between 1-3% of sales are classified as Goods Lost in Transit (GLIT) which is actually an extremely high amount when you think about the scale of online orders within the UK, some of the highest per capita in the world. Some of the common problems related to this simply comes down to different departments within larger organisations simply not talking to each other, whether this is people or systems, think sales, website, warehouse all using different spreadsheets, databases and platforms with no centralised system.
A prime example of this is for items with a higher value which is often simply not worth the ecommerce retailer collecting the item from the customers. Imagine, as a fraudster, ordering a bathroom suite, 5 items, from 5 companies (bath, toilet, bidet, tiles and basin). When each arrives, calling each company to inform them that the item has arrived damaged. Then when they ask if you would like another item delivering, you say no and they simply issue a refund without ever collecting the apparently damaged item from you because it is too expensive to collect or verify. This is clearly an issue if you don’t have the correct procedures in place for your business and happens more than you could imagine.
While I hate to say this, the authorities are too slow to adapt to the changes within digital to keep up with the ever changing technologies, threats, knowledge and information with an ever decreasing budget for public services. When you compare the resources and knowledge the official sources have on cyber security and online fraud in comparison to what is actually happening, this is worrying. To the point whereby Stuxnet managed to go unnoticed for quite some time. If you haven’t heard about this, read up on it if you don’t want to sleep at night.
This is going to change over time within the authorities, although as a business you need to take responsibility and protect yourself to avoid any serious issues within your business.
Online fraud and cybersecurity covers a lot of topics from user behaviour, training, IT hardware, physical security and more. This blog post isn’t designed to be a resource covering all of these topics, instead more of a warning to companies to take online fraud, cybercrime and security seriously.
We do our part related to website security which is why we offer services designed specifically to help businesses manage their online security through our WordPress Security and Maintenance packages along with providing industry leading web hosting solutions for small to medium sized businesses.
Online fraud, cybercrime and security needs to be taken seriously by businesses within the small to medium sized range. Do not take the threat lightly and assume that it will not happen to you. Cyber criminals will be targeting non-corporate businesses as these are the businesses who often have the least security policies in places throughout their website and internal procedures.
If you would like to talk through how business could be impacted, get in touch to discuss your specific business needs and how we can help protect your business.
Digital is global. Customers can access the products and services on your website from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. This is no different for us. We have recently boosted our client base to take clients on from international markets, specifically the tropical country of Costa Rica.
This brings us onto international growth through digital which we haven’t covered a great deal before, yet one where we have a lot of experience with to help clients increase international sales. Having personally worked with multi-national clients to drive orders from foreign markets over the past few years, I can say that there is a huge opportunity for growth for businesses of all types.
Traditional Thinking for International Growth
When looking to export goods and services to the international market, the traditional process is to think about how things worked 30 years ago. Decide upon a market, visit the market, find a distributor or partner, speak with the UKTI, go on their Passport to Export programme, find out about shipping, taxes, logistics and try and make a few key meetings in your chosen international markets. Yes, this clearly works.
But wait. The world has changed. Significantly. The world is digital, customers are digital and people live digital lives. There is such a huge opportunity to increase exports without ever having to leave the country. The traditional approach is still highly valuable and one which clearly does add a lot of value, but it isn’t telling the whole story. The story that is told with traditional thinking is one of a non-digital world. So let’s start to think digitally.
Digital Thinking for International Growth
So if we take ourselves as an example on the small scale. Did we visit the country, run through the whole market research process or find a local partner? No. It would have been nice, although the cost of visiting is a little more than an EasyJet flight to Paris, and most importantly, it wasn’t necessary. The technology we work with is ubiquitous and location independent. Digital products and services can be provided globally from the comfort of your own office which puts digital exports into the high value, low barrier to entry segment.
Digital products and services are a little easier to export than physical products that require shipping, so let’s take a look at some of the finer details here. Sure, you are going to need to go through all of the traditional areas for international growth we just talked about for this. But then what? How else are you going to get your products to market internationally? With digital. Connecting directly with the customers in those markets who are already searching online for your products. So what do you need to be thinking about then?
So you are ready to export your products and sell directly to end customers through your ecommerce website, but is your website actually capable of selling products directly to the end consumer? Does your website have multi-lingual or multi-location functionality available?
What about local taxes, local shipping options and other legal and logistical things you need to consider? Is your website capable of scaling with your needs and customising product prices based on location and taxes? Generally speaking, this is your first port of call to review the capabilities of your current setup to check for suitability to scale internationally.
What about the structure of your website and domain name(s). Do you use sub-domains, http://en-gb.your-website.com, directories, http://www.your-website.com/en-gb/, or do you use country specific domain names such as http://www.your-website.co.uk? There are many considerations for each option which fully depends on how your plan to grow your business and the amount of active marketing you are planning on doing. Considerations that span technical areas, SEO, PPC and Social.
Search Engine Optimisation is as powerful in international markets as it is in the UK. Although there can be significant differences and challenges to overcome. For example, if you are looking to target English speaking countries around the world as a first port of call, how to you handle the duplicate content issues that this brings? There are ways of informing search engines about what you are doing to avoid any penalties.
It is also important to understand the different search engines that are in use around the world. In the UK, Google has around a 90% market share for search. In other countries this can be completely different, for example in Russia the leading search engine is Yandex, in South Korea it is Naver and in China it is Baidu. Each of these behave completely differently and have their own nuances that you need to be aware of.
What about Pay per Click Advertising? How are you going to target your key customers when they are searching online? This totally depends on the way your customers are searching in each individual market, which can often be quite different online than how they behave in the real world. For example, some countries may prefer to purchase items from a .com domain name, whereas others may prefer to purchase from a local domain name such as .com.au. Which is best? Online market research will be able to tell you this.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, right? That’s all we need to be focusing on, isn’t is? Well, no, not necessarily. In Germany they use Xing as their equivalent to LinkedIn. In China they use RenRen as their version of Facebook and Sina Weibo as a micro-blogging platform somewhere in-between Twitter and Facebook.
Never assume anything in the digital world when looking to export your products and services. Everywhere in the world is different and quite considerably.
Imagery and Content
Selling online in multiple markets has it’s challenges. Translating your website and adding another currency simply isn’t going to cut it. You need to localise your website for the individual markets. For example, what may be quite normal in one culture could be offensive in another and put people off from purchasing your products.
Imagine you are selling items for the kitchen, you may have an image with a family around the table, a bottle of wine in the middle and a steaming hot meal. Sounds about right? What about if you are selling to a country where alcohol isn’t consumed by the masses due to religious reasons? Now maybe this image isn’t the most suitable.
How are you actually going to be paid? Is your current payment gateway used by the masses within your target country, or is it unknown and distrusted. I have experienced this personally when booking a flight with a foreign airline directly through their website. To cut a long story short, their payment system didn’t quite work, so I got the flight unknowingly for free at the time, until they contacted me 12 months later requesting payment. Absolutely fine as this was paid, although the method was a little challenging as the payment gateway they used I had never heard of, nor would it allow me to pay through it due to restrictions in place for international payments.
That is a personal experience as an end customer, but what about for markets where other payment methods are used? For example in China, a platform called Alipay (similar to PayPal) accounts for over 50% of the online payment transactions. In India, around 75% of ecommerce payments are based on cash-on-delivery according to this report [PDF Link] from a couple of years ago.
In summary, there are a lot of considerations for international growth that need careful thought about how you are going to proceed. Thankfully we have been there and done it on multiple occasions with businesses ranging from small to large. The key message of this blog post is that the traditional methods for looking at increasing exports are just the starting point. The key next step is to look at how you are going to increase exports through the many digital marketing channels that are available to you, which will often be different for each country you are looking to move into.
Not sure where to start? Get in touch to discuss your requirements and we can work with you over time to increase exports for your business through global digital marketing. We also run regular courses on how to break into international markets through digital marketing with our Digital Passport to Export workshop.
High quality web hosting is the lifeblood of business websites which is why we’ve selected UKFast as our hosting partner. Based in Manchester with a team of over 140 people and some of the most highly qualified hosting specialists and engineers in the market, they were the natural choice for us.
What this means for businesses like yourself is that we can work with you to migrate your web server away from any poor performing systems you have in place currently and over to one of the most robust infrastructures in the UK with the use of Black Metal Kards. We take web hosting seriously which is why we selected UKFast as our hosting partner. Their hosting infrastructure is highly redundant, meaning that your website will be constantly available with downtime kept to an absolute minimum. The robust infrastructure can be seen here;
To learn more about the web hosting solutions we can offer for your business, head over to the web hosting page. Here you will find out about why our hosting solutions are some of the best in the industry.
2014 has been an exciting year where everyone has taken to social media to share their experiences in life. Let’s take a look what the world has been doing this year, how many of these do you remember?
Top 10 topics discussed on Facebook in the UK in 2014;
Ice Bucket Challenge
Premier League title race
Conflict in Gaza
Louis van Gaal takes over at Manchester United
Ebola virus outbreak
Champions League Final
First World War Centenary
Top 10 places discussed on Facebook in the UK in 2014;