Spark into Marketing

Small business marketing ideas and inspiration

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Less cash more online payments and cheques

May 29th, 2015 · Marketing, Technology

Apparently for the first time we are spending less physical cash and using “virtual” payments more.

I am surprised it has taken this long, to be honest.

Why would you want to use cash?

It helps you to budget.  When you are out of money and the wallet is empty you can’t spend any more.  Simple.  It also helps to feel “real” about your money.  If you are a kinaesthetic type of person this is probably the way you feel happiest.  I remember having a French client and we discussed the fact that money in went into his right hand jacket pocket, and if there wasn’t enough there, he wouldn’t buy.

Why should you accept online payments as a business?

Because people will buy the course or service they want because they intend it to be an investment.  It is a business purchase, very different from paying for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake.

Last month for the first time two of my clients made payments to me via their mobile phones.  They had set up payments before and it was easy to simply pay the same amount again.  We are all getting more confident with online payments, and smart phones and tablets have made it easier when out and about.

I was at a craft fair at the weekend and wanted to buy a lovely vase.  Luckily the potter was able to take cards so payment was easy as I had a card but not enough cash and no chequebook.

Then we moved to a stall of wooden turned product and my friend wanted to buy a bowl.  The wood turner did not have the facility to take cards, so it had to be cash or a cheque.    As it happened it was not very expensive, and the cash was found.  If it had been a lot of money, however, the purchase would not have happened.

So we talked about taking payment (well, I did!)  and discovered that the stall holder was thinking of taking up the new option from paypal. We had a big discussion with the neighbouring stall holders, too, who were also in the same situation.  Paypal makes quite a low initial charge then a percentage on top but it may well be a cheaper option than taking cards with a card reader.   However it does require customers to have a smartphone, internet access and a paypal account but all those things look increasingly likely these days.

So if you do not have the option to take easy payments from your clients, now is the time to take the step.

Money is on the way out, and of course helps your clients to budget and resist those impulses to impulse purchase!

What business owner wants that?


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What can business learn from the General Election?

May 8th, 2015 · Bit of a Rant

What can business learn from the General Election?

Despite all predictions that this would be a close run election and difficult to predict, in fact one party has done much better than the others.  So what can we learn as business owners?

People don’t do what they say they will do!

All the opinion polls got it wrong.   The only polls that were predicting a conservative win were the polls tracking the record of what people had done, rather than asking what they were planning to do.

We often hear that the foolproof way to predict what your customers will do is to ask them.  The big problem here is that you are asking questions in a vacuum.  When it comes to actually paying very often the story is very different from what people say they will do.  It can work both ways, however.  Sometimes even though you may have received negative feedback about your product or service, in fact you can find that people will buy!

My own experience was in offering product and packaging to potential customers.  I was told that nobody would ever buy it, and the colours we chose were completely unacceptable.  In fact in both cases the product was incredibly popular, and the colours chosen were adopted by the customers for their own branding!  Seriously you can’t preplan for both success or defeat.

Social media is important and may become more so.

There was a comment allegedly by Nick Clegg put on twitter by a Liberal Democrat which actually made the mainstream news.   Social media is increasingly important and is unlikely to go away in the near future.

UKIP are saying that a lot of their voters are younger and that social media was an important part of their campaign.  When you think that traditionally it was all about door to door canvassing politics is moving more towards using social media.  Even if you don’t get the “Win” the support is very important.  Staying in touch with your “supporters” with social media, email etc means that maybe the win can come later.

 Strategy is key. 

Patching things up and moving forward with a quick alternative is not the answer.

Labour’s losses both in Scotland and in England and Wales are being attributed to the loss of direction.  Traditional Labour voters were not sure what Labour stood for, and Labour was not appealing to new voters.  It is important to get the strategic vision right.


You are only as strong as the people who believe in you.

Your voters, your customers are what you are all about.  David Cameron has used the word Serve in relation to becoming Prime Minister again.


It is tough when things don’t go right.

The people who have failed to get re-elected : Nigel Farage, Danny Alexander, Vince Cable, Ed Balls, for example have by and large been dignified in defeat.  It is extra tough in politics when your failure is so public and quite so brutal.  In business you can spring back after failure – even bankruptcy.  But it is always tough.

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Profit from success and failure

February 6th, 2015 · Inspiration

Whenever we want to move forward it is vital to look back as well.  At the start of a new phase – a new year, a new quarter, a new month a new day- time spent reflecting helps to create bigger changes for the future.


The first thing to do is to look at your successes.  Listen to the audio to help you.   It  was recorded at MarlowFM  and has the music edited out for legal reasons.  Choose some music you love so you give yourself time to write out your own successes.

What can you learn from your successes?  I talk about my biggest success which was the intention to turn a difficult situation into something far more enjoyable.  Having been flooded I decided to turn the fact that I had to move out of my house into a positive experience.  In fact turn it into the equivalent of a holiday and give myself some ease and peace.  What was your biggest success?

Even as I was writing down successes, my mind flipped to things I hadn’t done.  There is no point avoiding unpleasant experiences because they are often the place where we gain most insight.

So the next part of the process is to look at things that didn’t go right even if they cannot officially be called “failures”.


Write down what didn’t go right in the past.  There is a lot of information you can use for the future when you simply look at the things that didn’t happen.  Get past any feeling of failure and see whether in fact you want to do that thing anymore. Sometimes the timing was wrong and in fact it was a good thing it didn’t work out.  Sometimes you decide that it is no longer appropriate and you can let go of it altogether.  It may have been too difficult and you had not factored in the learning, the time  or the support that you needed in order to achieve it.  Very often we don’t want to let somebody else down more than ourselves, so finding a partner to share what you want to do will be invaluable.

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Looking back on the year ask yourself this question

December 21st, 2014 · Internet Marketing

Looking back on the year is the first important step in creating what happens in the New Year.

This was recorded by Jean Wolfe for the Biz Buzz show on Marlow FM 97.5 .

Reproduced by kind permission of MarlowFM.

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Reality TV shows conclude

December 12th, 2014 · Branding, Marketing

The weeks leading up to the end of the year are always full of TV shows coming to an end.

In addition to a drama series of, say, 12 parts we have the added excitement of reality television.

Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor are approaching their finale, I am a Celebrity finished last week, and The Apprentice has two more shows to go.  The most interesting part for me towards the end of these shows is where we start to understand more about the contestants as people.It is their authenticity which is on show after we see how they perform their task.

In”Strictly” so often a poor dancer is kept in the show by the public simply because they warm to him or her.  That is the ingredient that non-dance specialists can see.  Most of us can’t tell a tango from a foxtrot, but we can tell if we like the person, if they get on with their dancing partner, and if they are attractive.

In” I am a Celebrity” I am always more responsive to someone who does not like all those bugs but does the task anyway. Oh yes and they should’t rant about others behind their backs.

In” X Factor”  we know that it is not always the best singers who win.  Even more to the point those who don’t win can often do well in their career after In contrast,  the contestants often simply express gratitude  for the experience and that they felt it was good even though they did not stay to the bitter end.

These shows thrive on

  • Scarcity
  • Definitive timeline with a deadline
  • Authenticity (or not) of those involved.

All these are relevant for small businesses, too.  Scarcity doesn’t have to be some faked thing, it can genuinely reflect the fact that you only want to work with a certain number of people.  The defined timeline is a great aid to getting people on board – it can help them make a decision, and helps you to punctuate your activities. To start a campaign, to end one.   Of course authenticity is the big opportunity for a small business.  We don’t have to pretend to be something we are not.  Who we are is probably perfect!

My favourite Apprentice show is always the interviews.  It seems that the candidates make up all kinds of stories on their cv and the rather dour interviewers ask very simple questions and the contestants  walk happily into some kind of trap.  I can’t wait for next week’s show!

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Eating an elephant – an expression I would like to ban

November 26th, 2014 · Face to Face Networking, Words

When I first started face to face networking I heard many expressions which were intended to help understanding of the way to network.

One of these which I heard frequently was the question ” How do you eat an elephant?”

The supposedly correct answer was ” One bite at a time>”

The principle was excellent: don’t rush into networking relationships you have to take it a step at a time.  The wider message is all about finding out about the other person, seeing if you can help them, and not expecting direct results from the person in front of you, but connecting to their wider network.  Once you understand the joy of having a network and helping other people the What;s in it for Me attitude disappears.  And usually that is when the results do appear.

But what about that poor elephant?  I didn’t even like to think about eating an elephant at all.  In fact I was so revolted by the idea of eating an endangered species that only eats vegetation and does not kill other animals that I found it difficult to listen to the message at all.

I would like to consign this distaseful expression to oblivion. I hope I never see it again in a book, and certainly hope I never hear anyone saying it.   Do you agree?

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EU changes affecting UK small business VAT for digital products

November 25th, 2014 · Internet Marketing

Small businesses who are under the VAT threshold in the UK and sell digital products may have a problem in 2015.

Digital products sold in Europe could attract VAT which will then be charged on all products and services.

To find out more go to and if you feel motivated to take action sign the petition.

From 1 Jan 2015, the new ruling means that should you make a sale to the EU (how one can prevent that with online services is not clear) from the first £1 of revenue your business earns you will need to be VAT registered in the UK and under the VAT MOSS Europe-wide scheme – meaning that you will immediately have to apply VAT to all your services, including those in the UK.

Digital products are the solution for small businesses to expand and make more difference.

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How to find the Big Idea for a small business.

November 25th, 2014 · Branding, Inspiration

finding the big idea

Where is the big idea?

If you are a small business – or a solo entrepreneur – you may think your big idea is your product or your service.

You have spent a long time getting the design right, getting it manufactured, or creating a one off face to face experience that your clients love, or even a programme.

Or you may have decided you could reach far more people with an online course so you can make more difference.  This has taken a lot of time and effort and you are justly proud of it.

But is it your big idea?  No. Your big idea comes from something far more nourishing.

How to find your big idea

If it has not occurred to you that you have a big idea, you may be being very busy. Busyness can get you through the day but it won’t ultimately satisfy you. When you look back at the end of the month, the year, the decade the busyness with be less important than your big idea.

Give yourself the luxury of a 15 minute break, something to drink, pen and paper, no phone or internet, and ask yourself a question.  This should help you to stop just being busy for 15 minutes and connect with something that is fulfilling.

Ask yourself “why am I creating this product, this service”?

Answer it with Because …… and ramble round the answer.  You may have lots of ideas so get them all out of you.

When you have finished your line of thought add in “so that”….and go off on more explorations of what it is all about for you.

Keep on saying” So that” and filling in the response until you feel you have reached something complete and satisfying.

Then just sit for a few more minutes and let your answers settle inside you.

Over the next few days notice notice notice what conversations you have with people, what you overhear, or see, or what other ideas come into your head.  Collect them and add them to your ideas.   Don’t force your ideas but let them develop.


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3 contestants fired from The Apprentice in one episode!

October 30th, 2014 · Marketing

I admit I don’t go out of my way to watch “The Apprentice” these days.  But last night’s episode was all about creating a video and putting it on to YouTube which seemed like a welcome change from selling in the street.

There were many interesting factors to note – the first being the small gap between winning and losing. Just like life – there can be a hair’s breadth between the two.  If you are on the losing side you can learn from your mistakes and get up to fight another day.

Not on The Apprentice.  Once you are on the losing team you don’t often get compliments.  It seems a rather black and white in the television boardroom.

Last night was no exception.  They got little praise from each other or Nick or Karren.  Their behaviour was very poor: a complete inability to listen, and the wish  to simply tell Lord Sugar how bad the other candidates are and how good they are.

It seemed as though having decided to fire the first person, the remaining two thought they were safe and failed to simply keep quiet.  Lord Sugar then went on a bit of a firing rampage and got rid of the second, and then when the leader thought she was safe and was still talking her fired her.  She couldn’t believe it and continued to explain why she needed a second chance.

Rules is rules.  If you are playing someone else’s game with someone else’s rules they can do what they like.  Running a Care Home means exhibiting some caring qualities, having an online dating site would involve some web experience, having a film business would seem a more natural activity if you have uploaded videos to YouTube.  Each of the candidates lacked some basic experience in actually taking an approach that showed some graft and the wish to get started. Lord Sugar of all people, favours in-the-trenches experience over academic qualifications.

Three people have never been fired before in one episode in all of the 10 years that the programme has been running.

The business take away is that your customers may not have behaved in a certain way before, but don’t assume they won’t.

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Your blog is a gateway to your readers

September 24th, 2014 · Inspiration, Uncategorized


Your blog is a gateway

Your blog is a gateway

Your blog is a gateway to your readers.  They don’t want to get to the gate they want to go through it and have a fantastic journey.

In fact they don’t really want the journey at all they just want what they want at the end of it.

What is that?

The solution to their problem.  The answer.  Presented in the right way exactly for them.  At this point they are unlikely to care about you at all.

They need to know you know your stuff and that you care enough to help them.

They will check you out.  Test you.  See if you have the answer.

If you have, you will have a reader who is likely to want to know your take on their problem.  The specific ways in which your experience and expertise can help.

This photograph was taken in France.  We turned up at the gate because there was a sign on the road advertising crepes / pancakes and we were starving.

The sign was not inviting but it was a Sunday night and we had been told there was nowhere else to eat within 15 kilometres.  We wanted food and didn’t really care what it was.

What a delight to get to this gate and realise we were going to have a more interesting experience than simply eating a crepe.

What an intriguing view.  We couldn’t wait to walk into the garden. This looked like an adventure we wanted to have.

We were’t disappointed in any way.  The garden inside was sensational.  Something beautiful wherever you looked. Lovely old trees.  Rambling roses rambling.   Little tables tucked into exciting nooks and crannies.  And the thing we had originally gone for was amazing.

It was all organic.   They were the best crepes I had ever tasted!  We ate inside as it was not very warm in a small room and we exchanged friendly snippets of conversation with people at other tables.

Would I go back?  Definitely!  I will positively organise my time so that we go there again!

The gateway was inviting… as you can see.

How can you make your blog the equivalent of a beautiful gateway that will appeal to your readers?  Don’t hit them over the head with information but provide an element of intrigue to satisfy curiosity, so that they want to walk, skip or run along the path!

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