There will be many an entrepreneur familiar with standing in front of a mirror checking their appearance and reciting prepared conversation before a business meeting or dinner invitation. These are skills we have learned over a lifetime to present our best selves to partners, peers and colleagues.
But according to new Nottingham University Business School research we can use roughly the same criteria to make our businesses more attractive to customers, suppliers and talent.
Boosting your appeal
Dr Zsofia Toth, assistant professor in marketing, has created an ‘Attractiveness Toolkit’ working with Nottingham SMEs, mainly B2B, to boost their online and offline appeal. “It’s applicable both for start-ups and high-growth firms. We are focusing on SMEs because they have less market access, finance and skills to make them attractive,” Zsofia explains. “We want them to improve their appeal to existing and potentially new suppliers and partners.”
The SMEs begin the project with an attractiveness audit. This involves an in-depth discussion with Zsofia about their social media and online presence and what has been going well in existing business partnerships and where they see potential for development.
“We look from the partner’s perspective as well, because attractiveness is in the eye of the beholder,” says Zsofia. “We then look at a range of different approaches that will work with a particular partner. It is not a one size fits all solution.”
One key suggestion is for firms to make the most of online referrals. This can include publishing business partners’ logos, case studies and client testimonials on their website. “Research shows that a lot of potential suppliers and partners look for referrals,” Zsofia explains. “They want to check your knowledge of your industry, your experience, successes and the scale of your network.”
She also encourages SMEs to keep their Google profiles up to date. “An outdated address, faulty links and incorrect contact details can impact negatively on your attractiveness,” she warns.
Another online tip mainly directed at B2B businesses is to dare to be boring with social media. Zsofia urges firms that focus on these markets not to be ‘too social’ on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as this might reflect poorly on their professionalism and invest this time and money on other growth areas instead. Conversely, B2C businesses should focus intently on social media with articles, blog posts and images to make them more appealing and dynamic.
Try the personal touch
SMEs also need to develop their face-to-face networking skills to create “word of mouth attractiveness”. This is done by attending events, conferences and making the effort to personally visit partners at their offices.
SMEs supplying to overseas markets, aiming to expand their activities there in the future or looking for collaborators for innovation projects should learn to globalise their business etiquette. This means noting the different dos and don’ts when interacting with overseas clients either in a formal meeting or informally.
One of the participants on the project who wouldn’t struggle with the latter is language tourism group Forte Academy. Founded by Florence Forte in 2018 it combines study courses in Classics and Italian history and language with trips to cities such as Florence.
“We struggled to attract people in the first year because we didn’t have the funding to build our online presence. Not enough people knew about us,” explains Florence. “Zsofia’s team began with an MOT of our business which was valuable as I have been very close to my idea and perhaps wasn’t seeing the scale of opportunities I should have been.”
She explains that suggestions for increasing attractiveness included benchmarking its website against competitors, developing blog posts from its tutors and ex-students and more call to action buttons on its website enabling users to get more information or to register interest.
“They identified university students as our target group, encouraging us to use flyers to get our name known and do face to face workshops. I’ve had a number of emails from students following these events,” she adds. “We are also seeing increased site visits.”
Zsofia hopes to now share the toolkit more widely but generally encourages SMEs to adopt best practice by regularly reviewing how attractive they are to clients and suppliers.
“Look at your partnerships and determine whether you can do more to work better together or develop new strategies to keep that relationship alive. It is like a long marriage – people often forget to make an effort to appeal to one another.” she says.
The opinions expressed by third parties are their own are not necessarily shared by St. James’s Place Wealth Management.