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Why now is the best time ever for a small business

We would like to kick off this week with some encouragment for you if you are thinking of starting a small business, or you are already running one.

USA Today in its ask the expert section recently published an article outlining all the reasons why now is the “greatest time ever — and I mean ever in the entire course of human history — to start, own, run and grow a small business.”

Although the article, written by small business expert, Steve Strauss, is aimed at the US reader, he makes it clear that it is relevant to all of  those of us who are operating small businesses anywhere in the world.

Five different seminal events/factors/changes have combined to transform the landscape into one where small business grows ever more dominant, both here at home and abroad.

Steve outlines these changes as follows:

1. New markets

Facilitated by growth in the internet.

Never before in history have small businesses had the ability to work and sell globally, and so inexpensively. And the online, virtual marketplace is limitless.

2. Attitudes

The idea of owning your own business has become much more acceptable, indeed, desirable. Small business is on the march because, among other reasons, people now get that supporting small business is good business.

3. Technology

This may be the most important reason and change. The ways in which technology has fueled the small business revolution are almost too numerous to mention, but a short list would include:

  • Software to run your business
  • Email and texting for new, instant, global communication
  • Websites which allow us to look big and be global
  • E-commerce
  • Social media
  • Smartphones that allow us to work anywhere, anytime

And when you add that all of this technology has, in many cases, dramatically lowered the cost of entry, starting a business today can be incredibly affordable.

4. Help

There once was a time when small business people were on their own. No longer. Today, there is an abundance of help available and among the resources Steve mentions are websites (like ours) which teach small business skills

5. Tide of history

All of the above combined means that the wave of the future and tide of the present are all headed in one direction: Toward the ascendance and dominance of entrepreneurship and small business in the global marketplace.

Can we help you?

Would you like to talk to us about how we can help you leverage your business and participate in the growing area of social networking through business blogging?

Contact us for a free consultation.

Public Speaking Tips

We’ve all been there – attended presentations that have effectively been ‘death by powerpoint’ or watched dizzily as a lecturer paced the length of the stage like a caged lion.

What is it that makes a presentation successful? That people learn from it, enjoy it, pay attention, leave with intention to change?  Is that success down to the content or the delivery or is it a mixture of both?

I would argue that no matter how wonderful the content is, if the delivery isn’t good, it just won’t be communicated effectively.  The speaker may be the most intelligent and knowledgeable person is their field but if they can’t present effectively, the audience aren’t going to be much the wiser.

Attending Charisma Bootcamp last week for 2 days, I saw a number of outstanding presenters, some of whom just blew me away with the standard of their presentations.  Apart from taking notes on the content, I was watching their presentation skills critically and taking notes for my own learning as I’m now speaking more to groups of different sizes. While I’m relatively comfortable now doing public speaking, I still have a lot to learn and yes, some of my failings come down to a lack of confidence.

(Note – this is a long post – pour yourself a cup of tea first 😉  )

Eye Contact

I’ve often attended presentations and the speaker has just looked at those seated on one side and those on the other side can start to feel a little neglected. I’ve also noticed speakers only looking at those in the front rows. This is particularly noticeable if the room isn’t that large. I tend to sit near the back if I’m going to be tweeting so perhaps it is more noticeable to me.

When I attended a previous workshop by Owen Fitzpatrick, there was approximately 200 people there, I was seated about half way back to the far left and just as I’m sure everyone else there did, I felt that the speaker made eye contact with me a few times and knew I was there.

Asking him about it, Owen said that he does try to make eye contact with everyone in an audience up to about 400 people and I’m guessing that if you are looking at a small group of people, they will all think you are looking at them.

I remember when I first started giving presentations during my MA, I used to practise in front of my old teddy bears which I dotted around the room – the advantage  was that most of them smiled encouragingly and none of them looked bored!

The largest audience I’ve presented to to date has been about 150 people and the next time I’m presenting to a large audience, I’ll be practising in the haybarn by standing on top of a straw bale and making eye contact with every cow or calf in there!

Effective eye contact really does make a difference.

Practice Makes Perfect

One aspect that many of the speakers emphasised was that they practise, practise, practise and that didn’t just apply to their presentation skills but to what they were teaching too.  I think many of us presume when we see someone is really good at something that it came naturally to them because they are very clever or talented. It might come easier to some than others but at the end of the day, practice makes perfect and will improve your presentation.

Too Many Slides

As I mentioned above, we’ve all been to see speakers/lecturers who have used too many slides or have too much text on the slides and it seems like it is just information overload.  People often give up trying to concentrate on both the voice and the slides and switch off.

It can be quite tempting for the speaker to look at the slides on the screen too but try to look at them on your laptop in front of you unless you want to draw attention to one particular aspect of the slide. As Paul Borass mentioned, looking at the slide means that you won’t see the reactions of the audience and you may miss something that you need to react to.

Keywords are sufficient text on the slide – enough to act as a prompt to remind you what about the important points and as an indicator to the audience too.  I noticed a couple of the speakers would change position to change the slide and pause for a second (didn’t have many slides in whole presentation). As a speaker, I personally would have felt this pause was a negative and that I should move on as quickly as possible but in fact, I thought it worked well to give everyone a couple of seconds to gather their thoughts before moving on to another area. Deliberate pause can be very effective.

The other disadvantage of using too many slides with too much text on them is that if you run out of time, the audience may feel cheated if you decide to zip past a number of slides to get to the all-important final ones. Whereas, if you have minimum keywords on each slide, you can decide there and then how much you say about each slide, cutting them short if need be.

Use a Lectern?

None of the presenters at Charisma used a lectern and I noticed the difference when I was at 2 presentations the other morning where a lectern was used. A lectern is handy as you can put your notes behind it, and having them there can be like a safety blanket. Also, if you are the type of person who tends to pace around the stage, it can help to keep you in the one place.  However, I thought the large wooden lectern also worked as a barrier between the speaker and the audience. One of the presenters was quite short, although she was wearing high heels and her gestures weren’t really apparent to the audience, gestures that could emphasise her points.

As Paul Moussoulides pointed out, standing still with your feet and posture balanced will make you feel more confident and by staying reasonably still, with gestures such to emphasise your points, the audience will concentrate more on your eyes and mouth.

Cybernetic Loop

Smile – Many of the presenters mentioned the need for your body language and your tone of voice to be congruent with your topic.  7% of your message comes from the actual words you use – the rest is your body language and tone.  If you smile and look happy, not only will your voice be more agreeable to listen to but you’ll be showing that you are happy to be there and that you like the audience. Like them first and then they’ll like you back!

Telling Stories

Listening to a short story that explains a point in a lecture or a long presentation goes a long way towards helping the attendees maintain their concentration and increase their engagement. Make the story personal and people will listen even more attentively.

I missed Owen’s ‘Compelling Storytelling’ module so I don’t have his full wisdom on this. One point I picked up was his claim that humiliating yourself within a story works well, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes but exaggerating it really gets the point across. This is where lots of practice comes in because I feel that unless you are really confident and go over the top, I would be nervous that the audience would believe I was really ridiculous so this is something I’m really going to have to work on and practise!

Check out Owen’s youtube video showing him tell stories about how he ‘loves’ himself in order to encourage the audience to do the same- he told a similar story at Charisma and it was even more fluent, funny and accomplished while getting the point across and hence, being memorable to everyone in the audience. (Warning – it does contain bad language)


You need to practise your presentation to perfect your timing, bearing in mind that you may speak more quickly in the real situation and that if you are asked questions from the floor during your talk, that will put you over your allotted time. However, don’t keep referring to the time by asking how much longer you have or apologise for going over.  Arrange with the chair beforehand that they alert you in some way a few minutes before the end by holding up a pen or another signal that you will recognise but won’t be obvious to everyone. If you do go over time and they want you to stop, they will glare at you to make eyecontact or will come and hover!

Your Attire

Unfortunately, I missed Sonya Lennon’s module so I can’t impart any of her wisdom so this information is just from my own observations. All the speakers I saw at Charisma were male and I noticed that although the room became warm at times and must have been very hot at the front under the lights, all of them except one managed to keep their jackets on. They all had open necked shirts with no tie but they were all dressed smartly in a suit (apart from Leopi but from what I saw, that guy is in a league on his own). If my memory serves me correctly, none of them wore a black suit – they were navy or grey.  Personally I think black is too severe. It makes us look slimmer but it also makes speakers recede into the background. I’m not suggesting that speakers wear bright red or a motley of colours but variants of navy or greys can look impressive as can adding a little colour.

Mix Old and New

Karl Spain gave this tip – you will have your stories/jokes/content that you’ll have practised and have word perfect but to make your presentation sound more ‘off the cuff’ or up to the minute, include some content that is evidently recent. For example, if I was giving a talk on twitter, I may have stories of tweeting success that I’ll have used as they’re my best examples but I’ll also include an example from last week to show a recent example. If you can work in something that was mentioned by a previous speaker, all the better.

Feel the Fear but Do It Anyway

Apparently many people fear public speaking more than death but with more of us having to make presentations in work or attend interviews, it is becoming a necessity in many roles.  I joined Toastmasters a few years ago when I felt that my presentation skills needed some work and found it to be a great source of fun and support as well as providing plenty of speaking practise. If you are looking for some courses or individual help, check out The Reluctant Speakers Club by Eamonn O’Brien who also writes a very good blog.

Another point – more and more people will be tweeting during presentations or typing up their notes. If someone looks like they are texting, it doesn’t mean they are bored. They are probably so struck by the information they are listening to that they are tweeting to share it with their followers. However, an important note to those tweeters is that it is important to look up occasionally and look interested and smile. Don’t look bored or the speaker will think you are texting. I’ve been in both scenarios!

Always remember too that some nerves are good, you need to control them but you do need a few butterflies in your stomach to give you the adrenaline to perform well. As long as I have practised my talk sufficiently, I’m rarely nervous going on to do a presentation, however, I’m very aware of the heightened adrenaline flowing through my veins.

Top Tips – Getting Free PR From Your Blog

How can your blog work more effectively to generate more credibility, more brand awareness and more sales for your business? Yes, we all know blogging delivers in terms of improving your website’s search engine optimisation and thereby, improving the ranking for your website. However, blogging can also improve your brand awareness by providing you with free press coverage in various magazines and newspapers.

I’ll start off by providing you with a couple of examples of how blogging  helped me to achieve considerable PR with my online business and how your blogs can have a synergy between them which means that one blog can improve the recognition and scope of another blog.

My Garrendenny Lane blog was less than a month old back in early 2008 when I received a telephone call from a journalist writing for a national weekly newspaper supplement (Irish Country Living of Irish Farmers Journal).  Initially she was wondering if I could provide her with some of my photographs but during the course of our conversation, she realised that I was married to a dairy farmer and within 3 weeks, she had visited to interview me and the photographer had called and I was featured in a full page spread.  That call came because an influential interiors blog at the time had placed me on her ‘Favourite Blogs’ list and the journalist followed the link.  It was my first piece of free press coverage.

Sending out a press release giving news of a new exclusive wallpaper supplier resulted in press coverage in a number of Interiors magazines but perhaps more importantly, it meant that I could now build a relationship with these journalists, sending them information of new products that I was stocking, products that were not available elsewhere in Ireland and as a result, many of my products were featured in various Interiors magazines and weekend newspaper supplements.

Journalists are constantly looking for news angles for stories hence, try to phrase your blog topics or blog pages in such a way that they will find the answers to the questions they are asking.  I recently delivered a talk on my use of social media to a business group in Wexford and during the course of my presentation, I mentioned my three blogs.  Last week, I received a phone call from a journalist at the event, she had visited my Irish Farmerette blog and read my page ‘Why Farmers Should Blog’ and felt it fitted into an article she is writing for the international edition of the New York Times and rang me for a telephone interview.  That page could have been written for any business type but I had moulded it to suit my personal blog and it spelt out something I felt strongly about which happened to suit the angle for this journalist’s article.

10 Tips – How To Get Free PR Via Your Blog

  1. Write about newsworthy topics.
  2. Think ahead – what events will be covered in the news in the coming weeks? Do you have a story that can be manipulated to tie in with a newsworthy story or event – write about it in your blog.
  3. Report on important events so that you become the go-to blogger for that particular event. This will strengthen your credibility as an expert in that area and you will be contacted for your opinion.
  4. Posit interesting angles on topics.
  5. Be slightly controversial.
  6. Write about a product that you are stocking that is exclusive or not readily available within your area.
  7. Promote your blog post on other social media channels – you never know which journalists might be following you.
  8. Identify questions that customers and journalists may ask and answer them within your blog posts.
  9. Use good images, particularly if your product/service is visual.
  10. Ensure your contact information is easy to find.

5 Tips For More Press Coverage

  1. Remember to thank them. Just as everyone does, journalists appreciate being thanked and they will be more likely to remember you and use you again.
  2. By sharing links to the press coverage, the journalist will know you are also working to ensure their piece is read by a large audience and is successful.
  3. Maintaining a good relationship with even one or two journalists will mean that they will refer you to others.
  4. Following journalists on twitter and engaging in conversation with them will get you noticed. However, ensure your replies or comments are meaningful and never overdo it.
  5. Be helpful.  Journalists are often working to a tight deadline and need everything within a short space of time so by providing them with high resolution images or quotations quickly usually transfers into a higher likelihood of being included in their feature.

Has a journalist contacted you after finding your blog? I’d love to hear more stories of how blogs generated free press coverage.

Image: Free Digital Photos

If you are struggling to think of newsworthy topics for your blog, why not book a ‘blog consultation‘ with Marie or I where we can help you come up with a blogging strategy for the coming months.

Don’t miss out on this simple branding opportunity

Are you missing out on this branding opportunity?

This quick branding tip comes via Brian Jeffrey and I had one of those now why didn’t I think of that moments when I read it.

When I’m presenting, the back of my laptop display is usually facing the audience, so I made a large color copy of my company name and logo and pasted it on the lid of my laptop. Not only does the audience get to see it during the event, but my laptop stands out when going through airport security and no one is likely to mistake it as theirs.

Would you use your laptop as an opportunity to brand your company?

Opportunity for business start-ups in Ireland

Are you in the early stages of starting your business? Would you like to feature your product on TV? Then this could be just the opportunity for you!

RTE are filming the next series of  The Business with George Lee and are looking for a startup with a visual product who would be willing to discuss their idea/business on TV. They are ideally  seeking an early stage sole trader or small business who have decided that 2012 is the year that they will go out on their own.

If you (or someone you know) are interested, then please email me asap with the following details:

  • Your name and phone number
  • A brief description of your business/product

You must be free to be in the Dublin area on Monday 16th January 2012.

Good luck!

Why Tweet at Conferences

I have been to four very different conferences lately and 3 of the 4 were not using twitter to its full beneficial use at all.  These three did not announce the hashtag, I had to ask what it was (one didn’t have one!) and in my opinion, they missed out on valuable free publicity.

First, just in case you don’t know what the hashtag is, I’ll include a brief explanation here.

What is the hashtag? Well, a hashtag is a word used to summarise the conference after this symbol # and if tweeters click on it, they can see all the tweets related to that hashtag. The conference organisers should test the hashtag beforehand (to ensure it isn’t been used for other purposes) and should announce it. The hashtag at the women in agriculture conference was #agwomen which was a good one – short and succinct and anyone could guess what it was about.  At the Towns of Excellence conference the hashtag was #servebesttoprofitmost which was way too long.  We use #klck for all our KLCK meetings and for generating interest in the run up to our monthly meetings.

Benefits of Tweeting at Conferences (for the organisers)

  • It is free publicity.  Those who follow the tweeters will notice the hashtag and might engage. They might be so impressed by the reports that they will sign up to your next conference.
  • It provides you with feedback on the conference. Most conferences use evaluation forms but the tweets will also give you good feedback.
  • Announce the hashtag at least a month before the conference and get all the speakers to use it – this is an easy way to generate interest in the conference and increase ticket sales.
  • It keeps attendees happy – they feel they are engaging with the speakers, they can network with fellow-tweeters and especially important for anyone who is there on their own and doesn’t know anyone else, it serves as a useful icebreaker at coffee and lunch breaks.
  • You can monitor the effectiveness of the conference – are people getting bored if they have stopped tweeting or are they so engaged they’ve forgotten to tweet. Are they getting hungry? Do they need a coffee break before the next speaker – this is important if your schedule is running late. Do you need to cut some speakers short or eliminate some Q and A.

Benefits of Tweeting at Conferences (for the attendees)

  • It is great for networking and you can meet up with fellow-tweeters during the break, having already ‘introduced’ yourselves
  • If you don’t know anyone else at the conference, it is a good icebreaker and conversation starter.
  • Some people may feel that they would prefer to solely listen rather than listen and tweet but I find I concentrate more when tweeting,  I use the tweets as succinct notes to look back on later.
  • Limiting points to 140 characters is excellent for effective note taking.
  • Be sensitive though – don’t tweet anything that may be sensitive or confidential to the attendees in the room. Don’t be contentious or personal, be respectful to the speaker as they can’t respond in real time.
  • You can share the main points with colleagues or friends who weren’t able to make it to the conference.
  • It is a lovely way to engage with the organisers and thank them at the end of the day.
  • I wanted to speak to two specific people at yesterday’s conference and I wasn’t able to do so but I was able to tweet with 2 people in similar roles which may lead to business in the near future.
  • Using the hashtag does get you noticed.  You will also gain more followers from the conference or from others following the hashtag.

Do read my other post on how to tweet at conferences (for organisers and attendees) too.


Image: Free Digital Photos

What do you think of tweeting at conferences?

How to increase your Facebook Fans – Part 1

Have you set up a facebook business page and you are wondering how you can get more fans? Well, I’ve tried and tested a few different ways with my facebook page and will share my thoughts on various methods over two blog posts.

1. Ensure that you have set up a business page that people can ‘like’. So many people are under the impression that they are doing the right thing setting up a ‘friend’ profile as a business.  Countless businesses have sent me friend requests and I won’t become friends with a business page as I don’t necessarily know who is ‘behind’ that business page all the time, whereas I would be very happy to ‘like’ their business page. Get it right from day one and set up a business page.

2. Ask your friends to ‘like’ your page. When you send the request, they will sporadically see a little box in their right side bar asking them to like your page and it seems to appear every now and then until they actually do like it.  Their friends will see it on their profile too or in their newsfeed and may like your page then too.

3. Ask a couple of good friends to share it on their page or recommend your page by linking to it and adding some words of recommendation.

4.  Set up a facebook widget in the sidebar of your blog (see our one in the right side bar), then those who read your blog posts and like them can like your page from there – this is an excellent method as if they are reading your blog, they are your target market. Facebook  provides you with another method of engaging with them.

5. Create interesting content and write some updates, linking to blog posts, uploading pictures or highlighting content of interest to your subject area. Don’t leave your page almost blank (this may sound silly but it is surprising how many businesses neglect to create content).

6. Interact with fans – do respond when fans write updates on your page. Have a strategy in place in case an irate customer writes on your page (decide beforehand how you would deal with it) but that is a very rare occurrence generally.  Remember to check your page daily and respond to any comments or questions left by fans.  It is surprising how many big brands have put money into television advertising and yet neglect to communicate with fans on their facebook page.  Chatting with fans on facebook has to be one of the easiest ways to build a relationship, create a community and encourage repeat business.

7. A Welcome Landing page – is this important? Yes and no, I personally think that good content on the main page is what is most important as well as good communication with your fans.  If you have a large brand, then an impressive landing page outlining what you do is imperative so visitors to your page can see what you sell at a glance.  You can use Pagemodo for a free landing page too. Do see Amanda’s post on how to make ‘Landing pages work for your business’ for her suggestions.

8.  Social media platforms such as facebook, blogging and twitter will bring you business – all it takes is some knowledge and application. See Niall Devitt’s recent case study of how a small Irish business grew using such platforms. As outlined by Niall, it is the interaction between business and customer and the generation of sales that really determines the success of a facebook page, not the number of likes.

Don’t beg for likes. If your content is good, the fans will come as people will recommend you. By all means, ask for them in the early days and then relax, if you follow many of the tips above, your facebook likes will grow steadily.

Part 2 will suggest some means of growing your fan numbers quite quickly, the debate however, is whether numbers equals sales.

Dublin Web Summit offer for Irish SMEs

Last October, I attended the inaugural Dublin Web Summit – two days of inspiring speakers, (including the founders of Twitter, Youtube and Skype)  aimed at the Irish start-up and business communities.

The Summit was covered by leading international media including Bloomberg, The New York Times, TechCrunch, Wired,  CNBC, The Telegraph, The Irish Times and many more. 

This year’s Summit which takes place October 27, will feature over 70 speakers and numerous practical masterclasses. 

I can tell you from my experience last year, that the standard of this conference is very high indeed and  so we would like to offer you the opportunity to attend and learn for yourself.

We have a voucher worth 150 euro towards the price of attending the Summit* and all you have to do is leave a comment below to avail of this discount.  The winner will be selected at random from your comments.

Learn more about the schedule, speakers and attendees at

*Please note: The value of your voucher will reduce from €150 to €100 at 6pm tomorrow, Friday 12th.

Are you marketing to your target audience’s needs?

Your audience is crucial to your marketing efforts!

Seems obvious but it is amazing how often the audience get left out of a company’s social media efforts.

Social media is a conversation with your audience.


Can you truly say that you know and understand your audience and their needs?

Who are you aiming your blog, your website, your marketing communications at?

Pam Moore is asking this question on her latest post 8 Things You Must Know About Your Audience to Inspire and Connect in Social Media.  She has some great questions you really should be asking yourself about your audience so that you can establish if you are hitting your communications targets. The fundamental question she asks is are you serving up what your audience really needs and wants? It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you are, but check out Pam’s post to see if that is really true of your efforts.