Spark into Marketing

Small business marketing ideas and inspiration

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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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National Stationery Week 2014. Enjoy stationery!

April 4th, 2014 · Marketing, Words

National Stationery Week is the perfect time to give yourself permission to buy some beautiful stationery!

I have lost track of the number of ” We love notebooks” conversations I have had with small business owners.

It seems although we also love technology and wouldn’t be parted from our smartphones, nothing quite beats the look and feel of real paper.

I think there is a direct connection between the brain and the hand holding a pen and touching paper.  It brings a more satisfying sense of touch than a keyboard, and in my experience people write better.  They are more relaxed and better able to access the whole of their brain.

Paper has gone out of fashion so has far more novelty value.  A lovely notecard or letter – maybe with your own initial – is a memorable way of staying in touch with clients.  Most people I talk to love the feel of the paper, and also enjoy having a card to put on the mantelpiece.  Especially if you are a service business and you like your clients writing cards can be a real pleasure.

Jacqueline Rogers of The Athena Network sent me a card yesterday which was a real pleasure to receive. She told me

” I love writing cards of thanks to the members in my groups.  Each card is different and it is a real pleasure to write, not a chore.  Plus a beautiful image helps me to feel even better about it.”

Another idea is to send a card or note with your own or a relevant initial.  A more relaxed version of a logo which could help to contribute a feeling of exclusivity .  WolfandInk have some special designs for National Stationery Week and a competition to win a notepad.

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International Women’s Day – which writers do you admire?

March 6th, 2014 · Inspiration

International Womens Day is a great opportunity to think about women we admire. We can learn from their success but also from their setbacks.  In fact, failure or difficulties overcome can often be more powerful motivators than success.

This International Women’s Day I am choosing to acknowledge women who write.

One of the biggest disadvantages of being taken seriously as a writer can in fact, be about being female.  Probably the best-known English writers who published as men were the Bronte sisters. Anne Bronte (“The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”) became Acton Bell, Emily Bronte (“WutheringHeights”) published as Ellis Bell, their sister Charlotte (“Jane Eyre”, “Villette”) published as Currer Bell.  They could have published under their own names but in the 1840’s the books of lady novelists were taken less seriously.  And anyway they didn’t probably think of themselves as “lady novelists” at all.  They had the disadvantage of growing up in a remote village in Yorkshire and had a tough life.  But they turned that into an advantage, and large parts of Jane Eyre are based on their childhood.

The other Victorian woman who published under a male name was of course, George Eliot (best known for “Middlemarch”) whose real name was Marianne Evans.  I also admire George Eliot because she was a very clever woman who lived (unmarried) with a man who was described as a “barbers block” .  He was almost too good looking for his own good. I would imagine in the 1840’s it took a lot of courage to live – “in sin” – with a good looking man, especially if you are more of an intellectual.  The equivalent today might be if you are a woman running a successful business and your partner is a cute looking drummer in a not very successful band.

The other writer is really admire for her determination is Sue Townsend who first came to fame with the Adrian Charlotte BronteMole books.  When she first started writing she used to hide the paper she wrote on under the cushions on her sofa.  Her then husband would not have approved.  Living with disapproval is not easy, but she didn’t let that define her.  Sue later married happily and has been supported by her husband, but has had diabetes for many years and her vision is impaired.  She cannot actually see enough to write, and dictates her books to a member of her family.  So Sue has continued to have obstacles but has not let that hold her back from writing.  She has now published over 10 books and counting.

So if you have full use of your eyes and hands, nobody disapproves, and you can be yourself the question is “Are you writing what you want to?”  A blog can be set up quickly and you can get your message out there without even having to contact a publisher.

Sometimes what hold us back is difficult to identify.  Often the equation involves permission to write and the realisation that the only permission we need is from ourselves.

Thinking about the difficulties that someone you admire has gone through can often be the catalyst to get you going.  Who do you admire?  Have they had to overcome a disadvantage?

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Ever felt unromantic in a romantic situation on Valentine’s Day?

February 10th, 2014 · Marketing

You’ve even been given roses, chocolate, champagne but somehow you don’t feel “right.”  If you are out for a meal you sneak a look at the other couples around and notice some look happy and some are distinctly miserable.

Your expectations were high, but they were not met.

And that is the trouble with Valentine’s Day – with life – and even business.  High expectations that others will play their part in the way we want often leads to disappointment!

Your clients can feel the same way.

If they have been promised something amazing and you don’t deliver they feel let down.  Not only in the products and services you offer but the way they are treated.  If you have promised something and you go beyond their expectations they feel wonderful.  Plus they are more likely to think you are wonderful, too.  You end up with that precious thing: customer loyalty based on good customer service.

So take a tip from Valentine’s Day without the whole commercial bit.  Be the best partner you could be – without judging what you receive.  Give something unexpected to your clients.  If you feel it is appropriate maybe flowers or chocolates could be just the thing.

Your clients have reached out to connect with you.  And having a meaningful connection with another human being is a form of love.

Spread the love without raising the temperature of romantic lurve.


→ 5 CommentsTags:customer loyalty·customer service

What is the point of blogging for your business?

January 17th, 2014 · Words

Blogging is no longer the latest internet must-have.  Does this mean there is no point in blogging? Does a small business get a return for their investment of time?

As blogging is (mostly) low cost or free, money is not the issue, but time. As a small business your time is valuable and you should never spend time on something just because other people tell you it “should” be done.  A blog will take time to plan, to create blog posts and to help them out into the world.

To make blogging work for you, and give you a return on your time, the real question to ask is

How can my blog help me with my business goals?

So of course the first question to ask is about your business.

Where is my business going?

When you are clear about where you are going, your time is spent in a more focussed way.  You are less likely to be confronted by the demon distraction, more likely to get results, which builds confidence so you keep going! This applies to blogging as well as everything else in your business.

Once you are clear on your goals (and just for fun give yourself a number there somewhere) what next?You need customers to reach your business goals.  As well as peers and mentors. Who are these people?

Then when you have got that worked out you can ask yourself the juicy question:

How can my blog help me with those goals?

Blogs are an amazing two-function powerhouse.  Both the platform for your way of doing business, and the link when you read and comment on other blogs.  Your signature includes your blog reference so readers can easily click through and read your blog.

Let’s say you have had success in a particular industry and would like more clients in that sector.  Your blog can provide advice that is special for that sector to help people overcome their problems.  You demonstrate that you understand what is going on for them, and that there is a solution.

You can answer questions, write about the problems that are special for that sector, provide advice and examples about the solutions, and comment on the trends, the events during the year, as well as the well-known people at the top of the tree.  While you may already have pages on your website relating to your services, your blog can be more informal and friendly – and in many cases is easier to write.  Once your blog has relevant content on it you can go out and connect with other blogs and be able to comment and contribute authentically.

On your blog you offer an easy way for people to find out more, to stay in touch, to buy a product, attend a webinar which could lead to a sale.  (ideally you want a good relationship leading to many sales.) Or ideally, many sales and a good relationship.)

The final question is more about you.

Who do I want to be?

The world tends to see and value you the way you see and value yourself.  Your blog gives you the chance to have your say, and actually to know your own thoughts more fully. You may not initially see yourself as an expert, but realise that your views and opinions are valuable to others.  Then it will become clear that it is not just your knowledge but your personality that is being valued.  You may be able to say things in a way that people “get” for the first time even if they have heard something similar before.

Listen for feedback when people tell you what kind of person / accountant / therapist etc you are.  Very often other people see things in us we fail to see. So give yourself permission to “be” in a more distinctive way.

Once you write more easily, you may see how your blog posts could turn into a book or an ebook, or become authoritative articles or the basis for a speech or presentations.

There are many examples of where a simple blog led to book publishing deals and fame.  that might happen for you.  Even if it doesn’t, provided you have thought through these questions your blog can raise your profile and help you achieve your business goals.

To kickstart your blog to meet your business goals and get help answering these important questions join Jean Wolfe and Alice Elliott for a onc-day workshop.


→ 2 CommentsTags:blog·blogging for business·spark

Writing for your business … 7 things that can stop you

November 1st, 2013 · Words

What stops business owners writing more for their business?

Most business owners know they have a fantastic opportunity to write and publish.  The barriers have gone: you don’t need a book deal to publish a book, you don’t need lots of money to start your own publishing empire.  You can write in a whole variety of ways on the internet .. virtually for free.

What holds a business back from moving forward with writing?

Lack of quality time.  Small businesses in particular have very little free time.  The need to create revenue can mean an endless flurry of actions and to-do’s.  Once you find yourself in “doing” mode it can be difficult to get into a more reflective space.

First steps are daunting.  Literary history is littered with stories about authors staring at a blank page.  And they are people who earn a living by writing!  So what chance does a business owner have.

Perfectionism.  Aha the dreaded creativity killer.  Also known as the inner critic.  You compare yourself with somebody further up your industry tree and look at your own work in despair.  This can often be so dispiriting it can stop you from even starting.  And sometimes what you thought was good seems dreadful when you read it back, so it is easy to give up.

You were no good at English at school … or you disliked the English teacher.  So you don’t feel good when you think about writing.  This is surprisingly powerful even though it may have all happened long ago. Just the thought of it takes you back to those days and you feel inadequate.  So why should anyone ever listen to you?  Your teachers never did, and they of course knew what they were doing.  After all, they knew the difference between a verb and a noun – and for the life of you you can’t remember now and don;t care much, either!

You loved reading and writing when you were younger but it doesn’t quite fit with what you feel you need to write for your business now.  After all, your clients don’t want stories.

You don’t know how to “be” or who you should “be”.  In fact you didn’t realise this until you started writing.  When it stopped flowing naturally you suddenly realised you had lots of decisions to make and no guidelines about what the answers should be.

You don’t know what to write.  Everybody says you “should” do social media but you hate the thought of adolescent spelling and telling everyone about your cups of coffee.  You would rather create something more thoughtful.  You found writing your website difficult enough, why on earth would you want to write an article or a longer report, and anyway who is going to read it?  You have the ideas for a blog post but no picture to go with it, so you can’t do that … etc.

Procrastination is normal!  Even successful authors feel it, so it is hardly surprising that we mere humans do as well!

Did these things hold you back? Or was it something else?


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Your Signature Article .. and beyond

October 12th, 2013 · Words, Workshop

Write your signature article on a face to face workshop with Jean Wolfe

Write your signature article on a face to face workshop with Jean Wolfe

Your signature article opens doors to new clients and opportunities.

But it can be difficult to find the time – or the motivation – to write.

Join Jean Wolfe for a face to face workshop series where you write your signature article easily and naturally and feel proud of the result.

You discover (or re-discover) your writing talent, and become confident to write more for your business.

“Your Signature Article … and beyondwill help you

  • Banish procrastination once and for all!
  • Get your signature article written (and edited)
  • Discover successful writing techniques and use them for your business
  • Understand your brand, your message and your clients from a new perspective
  • Be authentic at all times

Place: Bourne End library, Wakeman Road, Bourne End, Bucks    Time: 2:00 for 2:15 – 5:45

Dates: Monday afternoons in November 2013 Monday 4th, Monday 11th, Monday 18th, Monday 25th.

Cost: £ 47 per session.  You can attend individual sessions.  Book your place for each session
Eventbrite - Workshop - Write your Signature Article

To make a saving of £ 41 pay for all sessions in advance. Email jean at for an invoice for £ 147.

“ You have helped me improve our website massively.  But I also think of you when I hear the famous quote from Nelson Mandela (written by Marianne Williamson). You naturally give other people permission to let their light shine.”

Jenny Yung Tally Ho Stables.

Faced with a blank sheet of paper and tangled thoughts, Jean’s wordcraft sessions are a creative approach to pulling ideas together with clarity and meaning.  Jean inspires writing with impact and purpose, and because it is Jean it is also a great deal of fun.” 

Janie Grover Brunel University

Eventbrite - Workshop - Write your Signature Article

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Amazon – warm tone in customer service

October 12th, 2013 · Marketing, Uncategorized

Amazon have just emailed me to tell me that a book has arrived earlier than anticipated,

Warmest regards from Amazon

Warmest regards from Amazon










What struck me about this was:

1.  They were letting me know that their previous estimate of arrival time of the book had been brought forward and that they had not taken payment until they knew they could despatch the book.    Not that the products I ordered hadn’t arrived or that it had been delayed.  How often do you get such positive customer update service in the bricks and mortar world? Or provide it?

2. I do not for one minute imagine a real person has typed this email individually to me.  So Amazon are on top of all their automated processes.  Not just the obvious … “customers also bought “which we know is their effective way to an upsell.

3.  The words “Warmest Regards” were what made the biggest impact.  Basically the computer was programmed with warm personal words.  How many companies send warm regards when a real human being types an email to real customer?

Small businesses are not the only ones who can provide warm and personal customer service ..


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Warm cuddly branding continues for Google as it becomes 15.

September 27th, 2013 · Branding

Happy 15th birthday Google! I am enjoying the interactive doodle.  Thanks.

Google's 15th birthday doodle

use your space bar to enjoy Google’s 15th birthday doodle.

Like any 15 year old teenager Google is continually reinventing itself.  The latest evolution is – like most teenagers – in search of more meaning.

The latest update is called Hummingbird and is apparently an attempt to improve searching on the web for more complex ideas.  The old days of a keyword or two leading to a relevant search result have long gone.

From a marketing perspective it is interesting to note how Google is making use of “friendly” branding to encourage us to warm to the latest developments.

A hummingbird is a beautiful, tiny bird.  It is rare in that it is the only bird capable of flying backwards and with an incredible number of wing beats per second.  No threat but something to marvel at.

What do you think of Pandas?  They look soft warm and cuddly and so appealing when young.  We love to see them in the zoo and on video.

Penguins look quirky and engaging in their black suits with their staccato walk.  They are tough, live where very few life forms can flourish and yet have almost-human qualities.

Who could possibly take offence at an update called “Panda” or “Penguin”?

Do you remember the “Caffeine” update? Caffeine as a brand has a harsher and more artificial feel.

It is as though the teenager has slammed the bedroom door and later reappears all smiles with a petition to save the planet. How can you resist?

Good branding, Google.


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