Category Archives: SMEs

Business Links to go

Real Business reports that Business Link is yet another UK government service due for the chop. In an exclusive interview Mark Prisk, the business and enterprise minister, told Real Business ““We’re going to wind down the Regional Development Agencies, and as part of those, we’ll be winding down the regional Business Link contracts.” (Business Link to be axed

Mark Prisk went on to say “The regional Business Links have spent too much time signposting and not enough time actually advising.” and that he envisages a “21st Century service” co-funded by the private sector and delivered online. The interview has been picked up by numerous blogs and the regional press, and comments have been both negative and positive. Some people have nothing but praise for their local Business Link whilst others report that the advice they received was useless and a waste of time. This reflects the mixed feedback I get from people who attend my business information workshops: the quality of the service varies widely depending on which Business Link you use and who you speak to.

Also worth reading is Real Business’s analysis of Business Link at “Business Link: never fit for purpose” at

So what is going to replace Business Link if anything? Mark Prisk is reported as saying that he envisages private-sector business support agencies, such as those linked to their local Chamber of Commerce, taking on a bigger role in providing face-to-face advice and networking. In addition the “21st century” approach will include an improved and easier to use desktop and mobile online service and a call centre that will provide “that little bit of extra advice”.

Oh joy! We can now look forward to being held in a call centre queue for half the day before we reach a “consultant” who then works through the mandatory script. Some questions are easy enough to pre-package and include in an FAQ, for example where to find information on a company or the latest changes in VAT regulations. But, to be honest, if you do not already know the answer to either of those the chances of your business surviving are slim. Would the call centre be able to handle more complex enquiries, though? How about explaining why information on a particular company is NOT available at Companies House and should you be worried that it isn’t, or where to find a list of the 100 best selling books on mind, body and spirit for the years 2005-2009?

I must admit that I have never used Business Links myself. They were not around when I started my business in 1989 and as I have worked in the information industry for over 25 years I know where to find the main sources of reliable business information. More importantly, personal and professional networks play a significant part in my intelligence and news gathering activities as they probably do for many other business people; and the use of social media is increasing. I wonder, then, how much impact if any the demise of the Business Links will have on SMEs and UK business in general.

Guest Post: Top 10 Tips for Marketing a Small Business Online

Guest post by Joseph Eitan founder of Photo Paper Direct.

If your small business depends on Internet traffic for its revenue or if growing your small business during 2010 has to be done hand in hand with the Internet, you’ll need to know how to market it online. If money is no object you could hire an agency to create your online marketing strategy, but for most of us as small business owners it’s a luxury we cannot afford. Here are 10 tips for marketing a small business online.

Free is the magic word – There are a few online marketing activities which are both free and worthy of your time. Be sure to use them.

1. Register with Google Maps – Google allows local businesses (big or small) a chance to register their business address and phone number in its local listings. If for example someone searches for a keyword together with a location e.g. ‘nw11 plumber’, the search results will include listings from Google Local displayed on a map next to the normal search results.

2.  Upload products to Google Product Search – To start selling your products on Google Products all you need is to prepare a data feed and a Google user account. Also known as Google Base, this free service from Google allows businesses to list products or services on its first page results. In most cases these will appear just below the paid results and will include an image, title, price and direct link to the product or service

3. Get a voucher for AdWords – Google’s AdWords is by far the biggest paid ads medium. If you search hard enough you may come across a free voucher which will charge your account and let you use Adwords at no cost until the funds run out. Your bank might offer such voucher when you open an account or when you attend a Google university course (which is free and managed by Google).

4. Use social marketing – The key to dominating the social landscape is to become an authority in your industry. To achieve this status consider using services such as Twitter to share relevant information, Yahoo Answers to answer industry questions and so on.

5. Create a blog – Blogging can go hand in hand with a social marketing strategy and is considered very effective. There are a few blogging platform which are free such as WordPress and the key is to integrate the blog within your website so it looks and feels apart of the brand, for example
Consider paid services
– Most online marketing activities are unfortunately not free, however most could be executed within a small budget so you are able to test the waters and quickly stop or pause.

6. Register with niche directories – Most industries have a few directories which will drive qualified web traffic to your site. Try not to register with directories which offer little value or are unrelated to your industry because you really want to generate web traffic which is likely interested in your products or services.

7. Start an affiliate program – Affiliate Marketing is an Internet-based marketing practice in which a business rewards another for each sale which the other business generated. You can either self manage the program by buying an off the shelf affiliate tracking software or use a type of middleman service to link between you the affiliate. Each has it’s pros and cons, and each case is different.

8.  Email marketing – Newsletters, product updates and email promotions are fantastic to keep in touch with customers and ease to manage. The key is to communicate relevant messages, at the right time and at the right frequency. There are a number of web based email software providers, some such as Mail Chimp even offer a free plan.

9.  Improve search engine ranking – The most cost effective marketing channel with the lowest cost per acquisition is the natural traffic channel also known as seo. By optimising your website in accordance with the search engine guidelines you will notice that with time organic traffic will find its way to your site. Although this channel is technically ‘free’, it does require a lot of your time, hence similar to a paid service. For more on search engine optimisation, head to Google.

10. Use 3rd party sites – Sites such as eBay, Amazon, and will allow you to list your products for a small charge.  Because they already have high levels of quality traffic and you don’t (yet) you are able to put your offers in front of the right target market quickly.

What are your online marketing tips for small businesses?

Joseph Eitan is founder of Photo Paper Direct. Joseph started the business a few years ago which now sells a selection of Inkjet media from large format paper to cartridges.

Flexible Support for Business to become “supersite”

In February 2010 the Welsh Assembly Government’s Flexible Support for Business ( will become a “supersite”.  The aim is to provide Wales’s businesses with “an unprecedented level of tailored online information and support”. The site will supersede the current FS4B web site but will remain at the current web address.

According to the press release:

“The FS4B Supersite is designed to be integrated with the Assembly Government’s other business support services to enable businesses and citizens to move as smoothly as possible between online and offline support.

The Site will also provide a raft of guidance, tools and directories which professional advisors, relationship managers and customer service staff can use to enhance the support they offer to their clients.”

The supersite will provide information and advice on investment funding, doing VAT online, and local government (e.g. applying for licences). There will also be news of start up events, free information and advice for small businesses, and access to investment and specialist support for larger companies.

I’m intrigued by this so-called supersite. The existing FS4B web site is excellent and appears to already do much of what it is claimed the new one will offer. I assume more “seamless”  integration with online services for business  – for example VAT – and perhaps personalization options. My main worry is that super-sizing the site might make it more difficult to find relevant resources and help.  I look forward to the launch with interest.

    Health for Work Adviceline for Small Businesses

    This new service is part of the UK government’s initiative to help people stay in work or return to work more quickly when they develop a health condition or impairment. The free Health for Work Adviceline for Small Business (  helps small businesses to quickly and effectively address the issue of employee health, minimise the impact of staff illness, and provide essential support to staff with physical or mental health issues.

    The adviceline provides expert support to help:

    • get an employee back to work after long-term sickness
    • manage the impact on the business when an employee takes time off work through ill health
    • support an employee and benefit from their abilities if they are at work with health issues
    • encourage and support an employee who is off work, yet wants to return and contribute to the business
    • develop a working culture where work-related illness is less likely to occur

    The adviceline is an 0800 number (0800 077 8844). If you are based in Scotland, you can obtain free advice at Healthy Working Lives ( or their adviceline on 0800 019 2211. For  businesses in Wales the Health at Work Adviceline Wales is on 0800 107 0900, web site