small business

Ideas On Demand // How To Be Creative When You’re Stuck In A Rut

By Alice McKenzie

For those in the creative industries, it’s a familiar feeling—you can almost hear the clock ticking down to to your deadline, but there’s just nothing going on upstairs. I’ve dabbled in writing in all of its glorious forms, with a background as a copywriter for the advertising industry.

While musicians have songs, and authors have books, my ‘creative currency’ was ideas. If I didn’t come up with a strong idea, then I wasn’t bringing the goods. Talk about pressure. But this wasn’t a problem that I was alone in facing. The more advertising folk I got chatting to, the more I realised that everyone had their little secrets to trick their brains into coming up with something surprising.

You see, the first thing to understand is what an idea really is. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every campaign. You don’t have to come up with an entire app that’s going to change the way that people see/use/buy x.

Ideas are just new ways of looking at the world, or specifically, new connections between known things. It’s the ‘known things’ part that few people appreciate. In order to really click, to get people to get it, ideas need to be partly familiar. They need to share a common thread with an audience, a requisite base from which to introduce something new.

So, what do these insights mean?

a) You can draw inspiration from the world around you.
b) Fresh stimulation is going to help you find new connections.
c) Those connections could already be lurking in your untapped subconscious.

It should be noted that while these tips lend themselves to creative copywriting, there’s wiggle room to adapt these ways of thinking to solve just about any business or branding problem. After all, advertising is just solving businesses’ problems, right? Before you can implement any of these methods, you need to be armed with a robust creative brief.

Knowing about the product/service/company is great and all, but at the heart of it should be a unique selling proposition (USP). You know the ones:
X car brings families together.
Y cologne makes you irresistible.
Z paint lasts a lifetime.

One ad or piece of writing should equal one selling point.

1. Just get it down
If you’re not afraid to feel like a total idiot, and can accept that seemingly silly steps are all part of the sacred ‘creative process’, then this one is for you. I’m a fan of the good old Sharpie and A3 sheets of paper, but use whatever brainstorming materials that work for you. Draw 10 blank boxes on your page. Don’t worry about a ruler; these are for your purposes only. Write your USP at the top of the page. This should always be displayed prominently so that you never veer too far off-brief.

Now you want to fill your boxes with the first things that come to mind for this brief, no matter how obvious or stupid. If your mind is racing, fill out 50, or 100. They could be words, drawings, whatever. Your boxes don’t need to resemble print ads; this is just to segment your trains of thought. This method has a number of benefits. Most obviously, it flushes out the cliched first thoughts. It’s a well known truth that you can’t get rid of these niggling thoughts by just ignoring them; after a few hours they’ll return and start to seem like good ideas. Just get them out and put them in the pile.

Secondly, by drawing or writing your ideas, you’re helping your mind to see them as physical things. Shape, colour, texture, spelling, placement—these things can all be the springboard for new connections, which would otherwise have been lost in the depths of your mind. By forcing yourself to fill all the boxes available, you are encouraging yourself to look at things differently. Time restrictions can be a useful (albeit stressful) tool in coming up with new connections.

2. The dictionary method
Flip open the dictionary to a random page. Close your eyes and drop your finger somewhere on that page. This word, no matter how bizarre, is now your central focus: one of your known things. Within thirty seconds of finding your word, start writing. Anything. First person, third person. Fiction, non fiction. Don’t let your pen leave the page for 5 minutes. It will feel dumb. Your writing will most likely be completely senseless, but sometimes that’s all it takes to find something new.

Wade through that shocking excuse for writing, and just see where your brain goes. A slight twist on this method is a personal favourite of mine. If you’ve been given an impossible brief, vent it out through a pen rather than bashing that precious brain against the wall. Using the same non-stop writing approach, write about why you hate your client, what they want you to do, why it’s difficult with that product etc. There’s no greater motivation to write quickly than pure rage, and you might just find that letting emotion in could be the new perspective you needed.

3. Stimulate the senses
It’s quite remarkable how much of a role our senses play in our thinking. If you’re trying to market a particular product, it is a worthwhile idea to see it, touch it, smell it. Use it how it is intended to be used. Try to understand why the USP was chosen. Reading a brief can only give you so much information. It takes a little on-the-ground research to make up your own mind, and come up with genuine ideas. If you want to help the process along, introduce new things into your routine. Walk home via a different route.

Go to a different shopping centre to do your grocery shopping. We tend to filter out the everyday parts of our lives, so stimulating your mind and body with new places can help to spark creative thinking.

4. Give up (briefly)
Only recommended after a few days of solid brainstorming, this is less of a method and more of a necessary step. You’ve been furiously scribbling, and you have piles of paper to show for it. You may have hallucinated once or twice. You’re no longer sure of the difference between a good idea and a bad idea, and oh God you need sleep.

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the point where you’re officially allowed to give up. It might be a few hours, it might be a day, depending on your deadline. You’ve tuckered out your little brain with product overload, so now you need to trust it to do its thing. Do something totally unrelated to your brief. Take a shower. Read a book. Draw. Work on a menial task.

The theory here is that while your brain takes a much needed break on the surface, the cogs are still turning in your subconscious, ready to burst forth with your idea.

Alice loves ideas and hates incorrect apostrophes. She’s the one woman army behind Beetroot Creative, a copywriting service for little brands with big stories to tell. Stalking is encouraged on Facebook and Instagram, or make yourself comfortable at beetrootcreative.com.au.

How To Choose The Best Web Designer For Your Small Business

By Ange Hammond

Whether you’re just starting out in business or you’re looking to take your business to the next level, there comes a time when you’ll consider getting professional help with your website. When you’re swamped with a growing to-do list, hiring a website designer can be just the lightbulb moment of clarity you’re looking for. Or it can be an experience you’ll want to forget, big time.

I’ve heard all the stories. The small business owner who paid top dollar for a simple 5-page website designed by a large creative agency. The freelancer who paid a deposit to a website designer who started out doing a good job on their design but then seemed to fall off the face of the earth, never to be reached again. And then there’s the entrepreneur who wanted to save money and signed up for a fiverr-type gig only to be bitterly disappointed with the results.

The problem is there are just so many web designers out there! In a time when starting your own business has become the new black, everyone with a bit of computer know-how is giving the ‘web designer’ label a spin around the block and it’s difficult to spot the good from the inexperienced.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the options, let’s explore some things to look at when trusting your beloved online home to someone. You want to look for someone who’s the right fit for you and the type of small business you’re running. You want someone who knows SEO and will implement this on your website while they’re building it. You want someone who has both design sense and functionality in mind, not to mention your ideal client.

Judge a web designer by their website
Just like any other service or product we want to invest in, visiting a web designer’s website gives you valuable insights into their skills before going ahead with them. Have a think about the following questions when browsing their website:

  • Is there a logical flow of information?
  • Has the content on each page been broken up by photos and graphics to make it easier to read?
  • Is it easy to navigate around the website?
  • Is the website visually appealing to you?
  • Do their blog posts demonstrate the knowledge and expertise they possess?

Have a good look at their portfolio and get a feel for their design style. Each website they’ve created will be different of course, but there’ll generally be a consistent style to their designs. If their past projects resonate with you, it’s a good sign you’ve found your match.

Word of mouth
Rather than googling for a website designer, which will more often than not just expose you to the world of big design agencies, ask some business besties who you trust to give you some recommendations. There’s nothing better than word of mouth to find the best people to outsource to. If you’re still struggling to find the right fit, put a post on your favourite Facebook business group and see who’s out there in your community. Perhaps it goes without saying but do not engage with website designers who spam-email you, telling you that they can build your website on WordPress for $100. Only place your trust in a website designer who leaves you feeling that they understand you and your business.

The quote
When receiving a quote from a website designer, there are a few things you’ll want to make sure are included:

  • Your website will be both designed and developed by them.
    There are graphic designers who design websites but do not build them. If this is the road you want to go down, just make sure you’re aware of this and that you’ll be paying website developer fees on top of their quote.
  • Some SEO tasks are included.
    These tasks might include some keyword research, keyword placement for your pages’ titles and descriptions and your images being optimised for web. If there’s no mention of any of these things, ask them. These tasks form the basis of your website’s SEO and really are a no-brainer that they’re included.
  • Check the platform your website is being built on.
    I recommend doing some research on the platform of your choice (eg. WordPress, SquareSpace, Shopify, etc) and finding a web designer who specialises in it. There are many platforms to choose from so it’s important to choose the right one for the type of business you’re running. Keep in mind any website functions you want to include in a year’s time… plan ahead so you’re not having to change platforms down the track.

And then there’s the price. If your instinct is telling you that the website designer is the perfect fit for you but they’re a little bit out of your price range, have a chat to them about it. Chances are that they will be flexible and can give you a suitable payment plan so that you can pay off the project price in instalments. There may be some of the website features that you’re wanting that aren’t super urgent and they can be done at a later date when you have more funds to invest in your quality website.

Your website is one of the most important assets you possess when it comes to your business. It’s where your desired clients go to find out whether they want to work with you. It’s where your customers window-shop your latest products and purchase them online. Your website is just like a brick-and-mortar shopfront, only it’s on the internet, and it deserves the right person to create it and it’s also worth the investment. Taking the time to consider the options, coupled with trusting your intuition will ensure your future website takes your business to new heights.

Ange Hammond is an inspired web designer at Resonant Imagery who loves creating vibrant and easy-to-navigate websites. She’s most at home when helping clients attract more of the very people who can benefit from their valuable services and products. Using an intuitive design process, Ange creates beautiful, informative and professional websites that’ll do wonders for any small business.

How To Expand Your Business Into Overseas Markets

By Jennifer Robson

Going global is a significant undertaking for any business but can be even more significant for small businesses.  So getting it right is vital.  Undoubtedly going global will disrupt your existing business activities in some way; your resources and team will be affected. So its crucial that business owners determine the full impact of an international move before jumping in feet first.  You need to determine if the rewards outweigh the risks. 

Taking your small business global is a complex process, which requires planning and research. Before you begin you need to gain a better understanding of your target markets.  It is useful to conduct market analysis and comparative market analysis to help you to understand the pros and cons of your strategy.  You also need to understand your best route to market and analyze different approaches to understand which is the best fit for your company.  You may find that you need to take a different route to market in each new target country. 

Before going global, it is critical to understand what the full impact on your business will be.  Due diligence is critical.  Think about the impact of the new venture on your whole business.  If you suddenly get an increase in sales can your manufacturing processes cope? Do you have an internationally focused sales team? Will you need to change your office hours to accommodate new time zones? How will you deliver customer service across borders?

Planning tips

  • Prepare a market segmentation analysis to determine if your product will sell in the local market.
  • Prepare a product gap analysis against local products. Is there a demand that is not satisfied by a local company?
  • Your product will likely be higher priced than local products. Will the market buy your product
  • Consider market opportunity/sizing. How big is the market and how long will it take you to capture your targeted sales?

Each market has its own nuances due to economic, cultural, governmental, and market conditions.  Before you begin working in a new market create a business plan.  The business plan should integrate with your existing business plan and outline the impacts and how you intend to mitigate against any threats.

One of the major factors to consider is your team.  Who is going to run the new business venture for you? How will they work with your existing team? What skill sets do you need? Do you need to recruit locally? How will you do this?

During your research you should have analyzed your products fit for the market.  Now’s the time to make any necessary adjustments. Be sure to review government and industry-specific regulations to ensure that your product or service is compliant.  You may need to obtain country specific certifications. Pay close attention to the translation of the name of your product in the local language. Do you need to make adjustments to your branding and packaging? Consider a local logistics and distribution network. Who will sell your product and how will it get to them?

Next you need to determine how you will sell your product or service in the new market.  What’s the optimum sales model? What’s the best marketing channel? Do you need an Omni channel approach?

As part of your country business plan you should also develop a finance strategy and predict your profit and loss.  Develop key performance indicators, which can be owned by your local team.  Also develop KPIs for your existing team to encourage the two to work together and support one another. 

Expanding your business overseas is not for the fainthearted, but for most businesses it offers far greater opportunities for growth than limiting yourself to your domestic market. With the right strategy “going global” can produce great results.

For more information about how Routes and Branches Limited can help your business go global please contact Jennifer Jennifer@routesandbranches.com.