An interview with Ann Hawkins

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Mammoth Infographics caught up with Ann Hawkins to discuss growth strategies, effective web design, sales copy, relationship building and more!

Ann started her first business in 1986 and has been inspiring and supporting owners of small businesses through workshops, online training programmes and networking events since 2005. She was a founder of The Business Hub Radio Show where she produced The A-Z of Business Success, and helped present the show for four years before it was taken over by Lloyds Bank. A long time blogger and early adopter of social networking, she also founded The Social Media Show, a weekly podcast of cutting edge interviews. 

Jack: For a startup with a limited budget, what strategies would you recommend in order to drive traffic and boost brand exposure?
 
Ann: Most potential buyers will find you and make a decision about whether to buy from you before you’re even aware of them. The means that every bit of content you produce has to speak directly to the people who are most likely to want your service or product.

Who are these people? You need to know what makes them tick, what delights them, what keeps them awake at night and, most importantly, what problem your product or service solves for them - on an emotional level.

The best way to attract traffic is to give away information that is useful to your potential customers. This creates a bond and establishes you as an expert in your field and starts the process of Know Like and Trust that comes before any transaction. The information can be in many formats: blog posts, e-books, white papers, seminars, networking events, podcasts, parties, tastings, shows, etc.

Use social networks to distribute this information, choosing just one or two where your potential customers are most likely to spend time and always linking back to your website.
Use the same networks to listen, research and get to know your market better, never, ever to sell.

The main purpose of this activity is to build your own list of people who are interested in what you do and to get their permission to market to them. At the same time, make it as easy as possible for “fans” to share your information with their own networks. Always have a signup box on your website and social sharing buttons on web pages and blog posts.
 
Jack: When it comes to websites, first impressions are incredibly important. What are some of the best ways to lower your bounce rate and encourage people to engage with your site?
 
Ann: When I land on your site I need to know within seconds if you are speaking to me and what problem you’re going to solve for me. There are lots of psychological studies about the impression that colours and styles give and the important thing here is to remember that you are not your audience. Test what works best for your market and use it even if you personally hate it. Lings Cars is always quoted as one the worst, yet best websites. The business turns over £3.5 million pounds a month (approximately $5.3 million).

Eye tracking software reveals lots of useful information, including:

  • Images keep people on the page.
  • Big headlines work.
  • People like to look at other people - especially faces where the eyes are clear - and, as a result, stay longer on the page.
  • People are more likely to believe you, trust you, and do business with you if they see what you look like. (Fake pictures and avatars make it look like you’ve got something to hide.)
  • Your call to action works best at the bottom of the page.
  • Pop ups annoy more people than they attract - have a prominent sign up box instead.
  • Make it easy for people to keep in touch. On blog posts a simple “Like this post? Sign up here to stay connected” will help you to create your own mailing list.
  • Have social sharing buttons on all posts.
  • Get your audience to help create content - ask them for their opinions.

Jack: What are some of the most common mistakes you see regarding sales copy?
 
Ann: “We-ing” all over your readers is not a good idea. Copy should talk about what “you”, the customer, will get, not how great “we”, the sellers, are (let your testimonials do that). Let your audience know that you understand their problem, that you share their values and can be trusted.

Use the language your audience will expect from someone providing your service. If that means perfect spelling and grammar and you don’t have that, employ someone who does.
All sales are emotional. Don’t sell athletic footwear: sell winning.

Ask for the sale and make it easy for someone who is ready to buy to skip straight to the “buy now” button. While you don’t want to sell on price, adding prices to your copy will allow people to know if you are within their budget (saving them and you a lot of time).
 
Jack: For digital businesses such as ours, the lack of a physical product makes it easy to do business with clients based in faraway locations. However, with no face to face interactions, building relationships is definitely more challenging. What are some of the best ways to build a relationship with a client (or partner) who you only interact with online?
 
Ann: Nothing beats interacting face to face, even if it’s via a screen. A video call can cut through months of relationship building. Having a really good “about us” page on your website with good photos and bios that reveal a bit of your personality is also a big advantage.

People feel more comfortable with one another when they have something in common (however trivial), so they will explore interests until this common ground is established. Sharing the same values is the most important thing in establishing trust - social networks are the perfect channel for doing this.

In a B2B situation, most customers will check you out on LinkedIn to see your qualifications, what connections you might have in common and to look at your testimonials and recommendations (not endorsements, which are worse than useless). When you see that someone has looked at your profile, connect with them and ask if you can help them with anything.

Always check to see if your customers are on Twitter. It’s best if you have a personal as well as a business Twitter account since many people won’t follow corporate accounts and it’s easier to have conversations with people from a personal one. Businesses sometimes get round this by saying “Tweets by ...” or adding a name at the end of each tweet.

Following people on Twitter gives you great insights into their personality, likes, dislikes and values, and makes it much easier to establish an ongoing, trustworthy relationship. People buy from people - liking and trusting is much more important than price in closing a deal.

Jack: In the early stages of growing a startup, it can often feel that the vast amounts of time and energy you’re putting into the business aren’t adequately rewarded. What are some of the best ways to stay motivated when it feels like you aren’t moving forward fast enough?

Ann: Get a mentor or advisor to help set realistic goals and action plans. Founders are often too close to things to clearly see what needs to be done and have an emotional perspective that clouds their judgement. Businesses work on logic and progress relies on people doing the right things at the right time - irrespective of how they feel so make sure that every member of the team is contributing, irrespective of whose idea it was in the first place.

Don’t compare yourself to any other startup. You never know the real story of what goes on. Business should be a part of your life, not your whole life. Keep things in perspective and make sure you do lots of other things and mix with a wide variety of people. Your best ideas will come when you’re relaxing.
 
Jack: In your opinion, what are the key elements of a winning brand?
 
Ann: One of the best definitions of “brand” that applies to all sizes of business is that it’s all about what people say about you when you’re not in the room. There is a lot of nonsense talked about creating brand loyalty. Customers are only loyal for as long as you are giving them what you want. Ask Kodak, HMV and Woolworths. 

Brands like Patagonia, Wholefoods and Toms all set out to create social and environmental change and they attract customers who share their values. Other brands like Salesforce and Facebook have brought this in after making huge profits and their motivation is often questioned. People use Uber, Ryanair and Amazon despite all their bad press, because they provide a service that is convenient, good value and it works.

Innocent drinks dropped a massive 97% in profit in the first year they sold out to Coca Cola. The product hadn’t changed but their fans hated the thought of buying from the corporate giant instead of the eco-friendly, off-beat, ethical company they loved. Every business needs to decide what it wants to be known for and then live up to the promise it makes to its customers.

Jack: Thanks Ann, it’s been a pleasure!

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Ann was commissioned by Pearson plc to co-author the book New Business: Next Steps, aimed at helping businesses to grow and survive beyond the first critical five year period. The book was published in January 2015 and has received five star reviews on Amazon. Ann’s current project is an online training programme “Work Smart, Not Hard”. To get free tips on how to work smart, not hard, subscribe to Ann’s blog at www.annhawkins.com and connect with her on Twitter @AnnHawkins or join in weekly interviews on Blab every Wednesday at 10am BST/GMT.