New Dell Center for Entrepreneurs created by and for entrepreneurs

By Ingrid Vanderveldt 

 

Yesterday, the launch of the Dell Center for Entrepreneurs was announced, a community designed by and for entrepreneurs to be a one stop shop for resources founders need to start and run and grow a business. Backed by the power of Dell’s online presence the site was created to serve as a gateway to the knowledge, solutions and opportunities to make this possible.

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Five cost-effective ways the internet can help you to test your business ideas

By Martin Bysh, chairman of Usurv, a new online service which uses the power of the web to let small businesses conduct their own quick, accurate, low cost market research.

The ability to make informed decisions is a key skill for any successful entrepreneur, especially when starting a company or launching new products and services. Does your offering have a viable market?  What product attributes do people value – and how much are they willing to pay for them? Understanding your customers and making sure what you are providing appeals is notoriously difficult (and expensive) to do. Previously there was a choice of backing a hunch, asking friends and family or investing in expensive and time consuming market research.

The internet has changed this by making research easier, faster and more cost effective. Here are five ways you can use the power of the internet to understand what customers and potential customers really want:

Survey your own customer contacts

Self-service online research tools such as Polldaddy let you create surveys in minutes without the need to invest in specialist help from market research agencies. You can direct customers and partners to the online survey page, and receive the results back for your own analysis. These platforms automate research and are usually very cheap, but they do rely on you providing the details of the people you want to survey. This can work if you’ve already built up a database of customers or targets, but for most businesses, especially any fledgling startups looking for initial feedback, it’s probably not the answer.

Survey the general public

If you don’t have a handy database then traditional online research companies rely on paid panels of respondents who complete surveys for cash – which can get quite expensive.  Now a new generation of self-service online survey platforms like Usurv are bringing down costs by getting people to complete short surveys while they are surfing on popular websites (in return for free access to the web sites’ content). Surveys are inexpensive, starting from £10. They can be completed by respondents, who don’t have to leave the web page they are on, in around 30 seconds, so response rates are high. You can target specific demographic groups and the high response rates means it is very fast – it can take as little as an hour for 1,000 responses. So for entrepreneurs who want valuable consumer insights quickly, easily and at a very low cost, this is a ‘no brainer’.

Ask and listen on social networks

Social networks provide an opportunity to find out what customers think by posting specific questions or monitoring conversations related to you, your competitors or specific areas of interest. Posing questions on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn allows you to get direct feedback from your target audiences, although it does rely on your having a large enough and relevant enough base of followers or fans. To identify and monitor what people are saying you can search on specific key phrases or use one the new generation of third party ‘listening tools’ such as NetBase to identify trends in social conversations that spark ideas for developing and enhancing products or services.

Get detailed feedback with an online focus group

Focus groups are great for getting in-depth qualitative feedback and exploring specific product or service ideas in detail, but they can be very expensive.  Online audio or video conferencing software like Skype has helped to bring down the cost by cutting out travel and venue expenses and making the whole process easier for participants who can log in wherever they are. And sometimes  participants open up even more when they are in familiar surroundings and are not meeting others face to face.  Bring together a small group of 8-10 target customers and lead an online discussion about the specific product enhancement or idea you want to test. A real-time conversation in which individuals in the group share their insights can spark new ideas and promotes deeper and more meaningful feedback. And you can make for a richer discussion by sharing images and product demos.

Create a concept site or blog to invite online feedback(and funding)

The internet allows you to test your idea with potential customers – and even get them to fund it. At a basic level, entrepreneurs can create a blog or website that describes the hypothetical product/company and invite feedback – provided you can attract people to the site. If enough people register their interest, it indicates that there is sufficient potential demand to progress to the next stage. And the rise of crowdfunding sites such as KickStarter also allow entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas without having to create a prototype. If people like your pitch they’ll sign up to invest and potentially buy your product.

 

So the good news for entrepreneurs is that the internet is making it a lot easier and cheaper to get under the skin of your potential customers. While it doesn’t guarantee that your idea or company will make you a millionaire, these techniques provide cost-effective ways of testing your plans without breaking the bank.

Top tips for internet entrepreneurs

Starting up an internet business takes a lot of planning, preparation, research and thought and needs to be a carefully considered decision, it’s a bit like marriage – not something to be rushed in to.  Here, Olivier Chameyrat, managing director of Pixmania-PRO.com, one of Europe’s leading online B2B retailers and drop-ship suppliers, lists his top tips that all budding online entrepreneurs should consider before anything else.

1. Know your customers and interact with them
Small businesses should always keep in touch with their customers; find out what they want, what they don’t want, what they like and importantly, what they don’t like.  You can do this through quick online surveys or speaking to them when they place an order with you.  Before going into a different business direction, devote some time to understand your customers’ needs and how your actions can meet, and exceed, their expectations.

2. Take advantage of expert advice and continue to learn
It’s not just your customers that can help steer you and your business.  Chat to your suppliers, peers and staff to get invaluable insights.  Equally, independent expert advice can be just as helpful to your business – speak to your bank, to Business Link or to the FSB.  Just like when you start a new job and are still learning the ropes, it is better to ask someone when you’re in doubt.

3. Open up your own ‘shop’ – create your own website
If people don’t know your business exists, they won’t be able to buy from you.  Creating a website to sell your products is like opening up a shop – just online and a lot cheaper.  If you don’t want to open your own online ‘shop’, you could use online platforms, such as Ebay or Amazon, to sell your products.  Think of them like a department store – just online.

4. Finding the right suppliers

Do your research, read online reviews, choose your supplier based on yours and your customers’ needs.  Are they going to give you the best price?  Are they going to deliver when they say they will?  If your suppliers do not work efficiently, your business reputation may be negatively impacted through their behaviour.

5. Use a direct delivery service
If your business focuses on selling products, using a third party supplier that delivers direct to your customers can drive down your costs, therefore increasing your profit.  Using specialist suppliers like PIXmania-PRO means that you avoid the costs of logistics, inventory management, investment in large numbers of stock and monitoring the delivery of your products in good conditions – essentially taking away a lot of the potential headaches and freeing up your time to focus on expanding your business.

6. Develop an adaptable pricing policy
Knowing what is the “right” price for products requires a thorough study of the market, of competitors, and an analysis of how your company can stand out. It is not enough to ensure profits from your sales, you must also be competitive to get the sales in the first place.
7. Add a personal touch
Sometimes it is neither the traffic nor the product, or even the price or the customer that makes the difference in sales. The originality of the business and the web space created is what drives someone to buy products from a particular site. Creativity and details that reflect your personality may be key points in your business success.

9. Enjoy what you’re doing!
Do something that you like – that way you’ll stay motivated. Think about your hobbies and what you enjoy doing in your spare time. You may be a good photographer and want to spend your free time selling photographic equipment.  If your business focuses on selling products, Pixmania-PRO.com has over 35,000 different products to choose from that you could sell direct to your customers.

Tips For Internet Businesses And Entrepreneurs

The UK Internet economy is growing at a rate of 10 per cent per year (source: Boston Consulting Group, Jan). Estimated to be worth £221bn by 2016, it is a lucrative market for entrepreneurs and Internet businesses provided their offering is unique and future-ready.

With the rise of the Internet comes saturation. Those individuals/businesses operating in the Internet market face heavy competition, and to get ahead of the curve need to ensure they are addressing SEO, mobile developments, social media and hosting head-on.

Exploiting a niche

Applicable to any successful business, the offering needs to be unique. The Internet is a competitive arena and setting your business apart from competitors is a logical starting point. At the end of the day, if your product or service isn’t any good or any different, you are already on a back foot. Take advantage of the fact the Internet allows people to be specific in what they look for, so catering to a niche market can be a worthwhile investment. Back in 2003 when I set up WhiteLabelDating.com with my business partner, to differentiate it from Match.com and eHarmony we adopted a white label approach, meaning we could offer our software and services out to companies. It proved to be very successful; in a saturated market it can pay off to take an alternative approach.

Hosting

Reliable hosting is essential to any Internet business. A scalable option is always best, as it caters for peak times, as well as less busy periods, without costing you an arm and a leg. It can be damaging to any business if its website experiences downtime. Not only can you miss out on potential revenue, but users could be put off in the future. Don’t let a simple challenge hinder your business.

Mobile

58% of Britons are now accessing content via apps or mobile Internet (source: comScore, Jan 2012). That is nearly two-thirds of potential Internet traffic you are missing out on if your business is not mobile-ready. If mobile isn’t already a key part of your strategy, change it. Companies with any significant Internet presence are certain to miss out and get left behind if they ignore the inevitable.

It doesn’t have to be difficult either. A mobile site can be constructed using an existing website, and then modified if needed. By just having a mobile presence you can begin to see a real ROI. We are currently rolling out our mobile offering allowing partners to cash in on a 26% increase in mobile traffic.

SEO

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is crucial in getting that all-important traffic to your website. Google is the hub of the Internet and is the go-to place for many end-users looking for information, an answer, product or service without necessarily having a business or brand in mind. Getting higher up the Google ranking, with the aim of appearing on the first page, is one of the most important revenue drivers for many businesses. For start-ups and challenger companies especially, properly marketing a company through SEO is virtually the only way to be found on the Internet.

Thinking where to start? Ensuring keywords relevant to the core of your business are included and keep track of your campaigns through Google Analytics; you can then help get your website up the Google rankings and in-front of the right eyes.

Social Media

Endorsement is gold dust to any business. Whether by PC, tablet or smartphone, people now share content and opinions about brands/companies online in the public domain for all to see. Social networks are where this occurs, and businesses can build brand loyalty and monitor opinion if they use them effectively. Engaging with people is becoming increasingly common and opens up dynamic opportunities for businesses with limited marketing budgets but who are willing to invest the time. Whether you opt for Facebook or Twitter, Google+ or a dating site, social networks can add a third dimension to a business.

It is clear the Internet economy is evolving and diversifying at a rapid pace. From shopping to publishing, dating to broadcasting, the scope for entrepreneurial minds is vast. Get ahead of the curve with technologies/techniques such as mobile and SEO and your Internet business will be well on its way.

By Ross Williams, CEO and co-founder of WhiteLabelDating.com