Creating an author platform

If running a business, or being a self-published author, is analogous to spinning plates (which, incidentally, it is), then marketing is like catching rain drops.

If you’re a self-publisher, then you just have to accept that you’re also a business person and a marketeer. Once you make that mental leap, you’ll be in a better and stronger position to promote your novels not as something merely personal — important as that distinction may be to you — but as a product, one that you package and deliver to the correct demographic profile of people, which is to say your ideal reader.

Now, I’m not here to prescribe what I have done as the definitive approach to building an author platform for your novels. No, because I just can’t be so sure what I’ve done is the correct thing to do. The fact is, these things are fluid, and it may be that in time, I need to change things around. What I can say is, what I’ve created is — to the best of my knowledge and abilities — what I believe to be the best approach for me.

I say this as someone who’s been designing and developing websites since 1999. I’ve also been an aspiring writing for much longer, but only a published author for little over a year.

In this article, I’m only going to discuss what I did, with what tools, and with which services. Yes, alternatives exist. But since I’m not using them, I don’t think it would be appropriate to recommend something I have no personal experience in using.

A website as a foundation

Whatever you choose to build — physical or otherwise — you need to begin with the correct foundations. When considering an author platform, you begin with a website.

WordPress

I specifically chose WordPress, so that I could manage things myself. WordPress is an excellent content management system (or CMS), that is simple to install, configure, manage, and extend via Plugins. Plugins are — as their name suggests — things your plug into WordPress, which offer capabilities above and beyond what the default software is capable of achieving.

WordPress gives you two options: you either host your website with them, or; you host it yourself. In principle, if you’re not technically literate, it’s easier to allow WordPress to host your website. But that simplicity comes at a price; if you want to use your own designs for your website, you’ll need to pay extra for that.

Because of my background, I host my own version of WordPress, which allows me maximum flexibility. But it also means I have to do everything myself, with zero assistance from WordPress.

As you’ll no doubt notice, the Wayne Smallman website has a very distinctive style. You’ll also notice I have a list of my Novels & Novellas at the top of the home page. You won’t find any option in WordPress to allow you to do that. I wrote the necessary code to permit that.

I wanted to create a style that had the appearance of being busy, but in reality be quite bare and stark. I think that’s worked.

Creating stickiness

I know, stickiness conjures up some odd connotations. But the fact is, your author platform should aspire to be an exercise in creating a man-size fly trap; once a person is lured in, you want to ensnare them with your charms, talents and charisma. Or at least that’s the plan. But, crucially, you don’t want your intentions to be obvious, annoying, or [HEY, I’VE JUST PUBLISHED MY LATEST NOVEL!] .. distracting.

For instance, on the left of my website, you’ll see a search option, positioned just above buttons which allude to myself on Twitter and Facebook. If someone performs a search, they’re usually looking for something quite specific (obviously), which is typically indicative of a repeat visitor searching for something they read previously. Always a good sign.

At the top is another button, alluding to my Newsletter. Why at the top? While it’s great to have people follow you on Twitter or Facebook, a newsletter is something more personal, because the visitor has given you something very valuable; their name and email address, and their permission for you to send them messages. Once people begin to subscribe to something like a newsletter, you have a captive audience, ready to absorb your knowledge, whit, whims, and experiences. Again, a good sign.

Another major benefit of WordPress is the ability to make comments on articles — or Posts, in WordPress parlance. Firstly, you need to understand that you are going to receive a truly glacial slab of crappy and stupid “spam” comments. No escape. So just manage the best you can. WordPress offers some tools to deal with it, but ultimately, you’ll have to trudge through gazilions of moronic comments riddled with links to porn, fake watches, illegal drugs, and no end of other appallingly written offers.

Newsletters

A newsletter is an invaluable resource for any type of business, and authors (aspiring or otherwise) are no different in that respect. I chose MailChimp and their Forever Free plan. Initially, I’d built my own newsletter with freely available software. Why do this? Because I didn’t like the idea of paying. However, when I thought about it, the Forever Free plan is hugely accommodating, and should I exceed their 2,000 subscriber limit, I’d most likely be an established author by that stage anyway, and paying a monthly fee wouldn’t be so onerous a thing.

I cannot stress the importance of consistency. By that, I’m referring not just to design but also your message and self image. As you’d expect, I eschewed the free Templates for MailChimp’s various Campaigns and I designed my own so that they match the design of the website. Also, because I’m a programmer, I was able to build a Page within WordPress (akin to a Post, but with subtly different options) and embed the MailChimp sign-up form, accompanied by my very own blurb.

What goes into your newsletter is up to you, but I’d think carefully. Don’t just re-use what is already available on your website. Consider giving your subscribers something they might find valuable. As an example, my “Continuum” approach to writing means I have a vast and sprawling universe within which characters, places, technologies, and events exist. I can’t explore or explain everything I write about in detail; some things need to remain vague for the purposes of what is yet to come. But in some instances, I can elaborate, and it’s these excursions into the Continuum that I’ll be offering to my subscribers, giving them access to things money literally cannot buy.

Creating social media satellites

Facebook and Twitter are your friends. Firstly, grab yourself a Facebook Page, and choose your type wisely. “Artist, Band or Public Figure” is probably the way to go on that one. Secondly, sign up with Twitter and choose a username that’s your name, assuming the name faeries haven’t already swooped in and taken that one. If so, consider using first name initial and surname, or something similar.

Please, give some serious thought to the names you chose for both your Facebook Page, and your Twitter username. If you’re serious about becoming a successful author, people are going to search for you by your name. So calling your Facebook Page something philosophical / pretentious, like: “The Journey”, or using something spurious / sad, such as: “ilikecats” as a Twitter username are both beyond the realms of unbelievable uselessness and adrift in an ocean of irredeemable irrelevance. Incidentally, “ilikecats” is gone, so you’re out of luck on that one. Sorry.

Collectively, you may have heard people refer to Twitter and Facebook as social media, and / or social networking. While broadly interchangeable, they’re slightly different in purpose. But for the sake of this article, I’m not going to delve into the minutia, because you just won’t feel the difference at this stage. If you’re still curious, give me a shout and I’ll talk specifics.

Of course, there are other places you could join, but the trick is to not spread yourself so thinly that your presence is so gossamer thin and tenuous, reaching out to you is as burdensome an exercise as it is akin to hosting a seance. Be realistic.

Facebook Page

Because I’m just starting out as an author, my personal Facebook Page isn’t exactly the bustling epicentre of modern literature. But popularity aside, you need to build something with the expectation of tens of thousands, rather than ten. Or 9. So think Manhattan tower block, not two-birth tent.

First, choose a photograph of yourself, or a logo and use that for the Profile Picture that appears in the square on the left. Second, choose an appropriate and specific picture for the Cover. Ideally, the cover of your most recent novel and not a picture of your favourite pet cat, or your children.

Depending on the type of Page you’ve chosen, if you have the “Event, Milestone” option, choose Event and include your previous works with their corresponding publication dates. Why do this? You’re building a new Page that has history to it. That sense of provenance gives gravitas and reassurance to any would-be reader who might otherwise think you just came down with the last shower of rain.

If you’re not on Goodreads, you’re some kind of insane masochistic author who wants to feel the pain of continually struggling to gain exposure. Oh, you are signed up with Goodreads? Excellent. Now while you’re in Facebook:

  1. first, connect your Facebook account to Goodreads;
  2. then navigate to the Goodreads App Page;
  3. now, click the “Add to my Page” link in the menu on the left below the Goodreads photo and confirm;
  4. and finally, click the “Setup your Goodreads tab.” link.

Assuming everything went according to plan, you should now see the Goodreads Tab on you Facebook Page.

When people “like” a Page on Facebook, it is — in my opinion — one step away from (or closer to) them being a subscriber to your newsletter (in theory if not practice), in that those people are happy for you to bring things to their attention at your discretion. Don’t bore them with personal trivia and minutia. Do provide them with meaningful and worthy sources of knowledge and resources.

If you’re out and about, take relevant photographs and post them to your Page. If you have a book launch, make that an Event. If your hit the Amazon best sellers’ list, make that a Milestone. If someone wrote a glowing review, or you wrote an article or a guest post on another website, post that as a Status update:

  1. first, paste the link;
  2. after a while, Facebook should detect the link and grab the title, introduction, and — if present — a graphic or photograph;
  3. select the link and begin typing to replace the link with something more appropriate — don’t worry, your link is safe;
  4. and finally, click the “Post” button.

By all means, tease with suggestions, ideas, and anything else you think might entice and invite inquiry. Give them an insight into what you’re presently working on. Work to engage your followers and make them a part of your journey towards literary fame and success. If they like you, they might just help you along the way.

Twitter

Twitter is your uninterrupted stream of consciousness laid bare. But that isn’t an invitation to repeat any of the aforementioned nonsense, like boring the crap out of people. Most of what I mentioned previously for Facebook is transferable to Twitter — with the obvious exception of the technical specifics.

Twitter has a certain immediacy and reach that should allow you to make contact with other authors, your readers, and visa versa. Don’t continually push your novels, or you’re just going to annoy people and look like an over eager, egomaniacal fool. Not a good place to be.

When writing your Twitter profile, think about the consistency of your approach, be concise, and include a link to a specific Page or Post on your WordPress website (which I have yet to do for me personally, but have done for Octane). Why specific? Because we love measuring our success, don’t we? Of course we do. And one of the best ways to measure is to funnel people according to the various channels through which we present ourselves.

Similarly to Facebook, Twitter permits a certain level of customisation. You’ll notice that my author profile has both a background image (which is taken directly from my website) and a logo graphic behind my profile details.

You & I, fellow authors

So, Goodreads again. You are an author, correct? If so, make sure Goodreads knows about this and begin the process of including your books. And that’s as far as I’m going to go with Goodreads, because it’s an article unto itself. However, what I can do is point you to a template I’ve created for posting on Goodreads Groups.

Marketing

Like any marketing campaign, when you funnel people towards a particular goal, you’re essentially pointing them to a “Landing Page“, which is where your offer is to be found. I know this must sound dreadfully prosaic and clinical, but if you don’t approach writing with some kind of business mentality, you are — to paraphrase the Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman and dramatist Lucius Annaeus Seneca — a person who knows not which port they sail from, where no wind is favourable. Or you could just be spectacularly fortunate and hit self-publishing gold at the first attempt. However, to quote Forbes Bingley — a recurring character in many of my as-yet to be written novels — hope is for the unprepared.

Measuring success and failure

As an experience, failure is perhaps more valuable than success, assuming you’re able to learn anything from either. To derive value from failure you must firstly know where you went wrong and then formulate a methodical approach to avoiding any such repetition. To enjoy success, you must plot a course through the wreckage of previous failures and formulate a methodical approach to repeating the journey again and again and again.

I use Google Analytics to track people moving around a website. Google offer a massive and sprawling service, one that some might find intimidating. I also use Clicky, which is much more human scale and offers a simpler window to your website. I do recommend using both, and both offer a means of including their code within WordPress in a relatively pain-free way.

I use Clicky’s Spy tool, which allows me to see traffic to my website in real time, which is great for when people make comments. Clicky can determine the name of the person who made a comment and then recognise them on subsequent returns, which allows me to react in a timely manner and respond accordingly. Just to be clear, when people make any comment on WordPress, they must first provide a name and email address, so there’s so privacy chicanery at work here.

So, let’s say you write a Post, or do a guest writing spot somewhere that provides an author link to a Post about one of your books. Unless you’re tracking the visits to your website, you won’t have the first clue where the visits came from. More to the point, you won’t have clue one whether you had any visits in the first place. So that sudden spike in visitors you had a week ago? Yes, that one you have no idea about at the time. How unfortunate, and a mistake you’re doomed to repeat, unless you use Google Analytics, or Clicky. Or both.

Also, you could be running a promotion on Smashwords or Goodreads, and that traffic is your measure of just what kind of success (or failure) your campaign is experiencing. Similarly, you could just be trying to figure out where the subscribers to your newsletter are coming from. Or, you’re just trying to determine which of your novel Posts or Pages is the most popular, and at what time of the day, or even which day of the week, or in which country! Yes, you have that much control it’s almost obscene.

More importantly, you’ll get to see where people are coming from, like your Twitter or Facebook Page, your Goodreads Author profile, or just about anywhere.

Your goals, channels, and funnels

Look, I’m not a professional marketeer, nor do I purport to be, either. Instead, I work in conjunction with professional marketeers within the organisations I provide web design and web application development services to. In an effort to keep things simple, your goals — in order of importance — are:

  1. books;
  2. newsletter;
  3. Goodreads Author profile;
  4. Twitter and / or Facebook Page.

Your channels are everywhere you’re to be found. Your goal funnels are the routes to those books you keep writing, and their efficacy relies entirely on how you build and manage them. Each time someone “likes”, follows, or elects to sign up with something you offer, they are one step closer to either buying and book and becoming a reader, or a worthy and known admirer of your literary works.

I’m hoping you’re kind of overwhelmed, but in a buzzing-tingling sort of way, where the empowerment you feel is likely to point you in directions you hadn’t previously considered. Feel free to include me in the acknowledgements of your next novel. No pressure, honest.


Microsoft’s adCenter Editorial Guidelines rank highly for “arbitrary” and “spurious”

So far, this week has been a swirling cloud of some very perplexing and challenging, comprised of the bizarre and the preposterous, and by way of Microsoft’s adCenter Editorial Guidelines, and I have the proof!

Welcome to Microsoft Advertising live chat, an Ad Specialist will be with you shortly.

Wayne: Hi [Agent name redacted]!

[Agent name redacted]: Thank you for contacting Microsoft advertising, how can I help you today?

Wayne: I’ve created an advert and received an message informing me it’s been disapproved: “As part of the editorial review process, we have reviewed your ads and keywords. Unfortunately, we were unable to approve one or more of them.”

Wayne: But there’s no guidance on why or for what reason. Do you have an specific advice there?

[Agent name redacted]: I’d be happy to assist you with that.

[Agent name redacted]: To confirm, your ad has been disapproved and you would like to know why, correct?

Wayne: Yes.

[Agent name redacted]: I’m going to ask you some questions, so that I can verify and access the account, ok?

Wayne: I can see there is a help topic on the subject, but I’d prefer to know specifically why.

[Agent name redacted]: What is your username, email address, and account number, please?

Wayne: [Personal details redacted].

[Agent name redacted]: one moment please

[Agent name redacted]: Thank you for verifying the account

[Agent name redacted]: Have you ever contacted us about this before?

Wayne: I’ve chatted with you guys twice this week, but not regarding this issue.

Wayne: This being the third time.

[Agent name redacted]: one moment please

[Agent name redacted]: Let me take a look at your ad

[Agent name redacted]: If you click on the little arrow next to the word disapproved, there is information there on why the ad was disapproved.

[Agent name redacted]: You can’t use an amazon site unless your are an affiliate of some kind

[Agent name redacted]: are you?

Wayne: I don’t see any arrow. Where should I be looking?

[Agent name redacted]: Are you on the page where you see your ad?

Wayne: Ah, right. The “Delivery” now says “Disapproved”, where it didn’t before.

Wayne: Hold on.

Wayne: Okay, so this is because of the Amazon link. Yes, it’s an affiliate link, but it doesn’t in any way change the visible behaviour of the page, in so far as what the potential customer would see.

[Agent name redacted]: Your landing doesn’t meet our quality requirements

Wayne: So you’re saying Amazon aren’t good enough?

[Agent name redacted]: One moment I’m going to send you a link

[Agent name redacted]: Relevancy & Quality Guidelines

[Agent name redacted]: We have a lot of information here on what is required to advertise with us.

[Agent name redacted]: If you are an affiliate of amazon you should contact them to get a usable url – you will not be able to use amazon.co.uk

Wayne: I’m guessing your interpretation concerns points 3.1-3.2, yes?

Wayne: Oh, so it’s not the website, it’s just the URL?

[Agent name redacted]: It is the url and the website. You must use a landing page that you own.

Wayne: I tried that with my own website via Google AdWords but they would neither let me use that or explain why, which is why I came to you guys!

[Agent name redacted]: I don’t know what your website looks like, but if Google disallowed it then I’m sure we would as well.

Wayne: Okay, let me quickly edit this advert with the URL for my own web page and let’s see what happens there, because even if it’s disallowed, at least I’ll know why.

[Agent name redacted]: what is the url of your website?

Wayne: [URL redacted].

[Agent name redacted]: one moment please

[Agent name redacted]: You are asking users to put in personal so you need to have a prominent link to a privacy policy that includes an opt-out statement.

Wayne: I’m not asking them to do anything other than click the link.

[Agent name redacted]: You have a form on your site do you not?

Wayne: No, it’s a comment box.

[Agent name redacted]: Name, email

Wayne: It’s a comment box for a web log.

[Agent name redacted]: If they can put that in, you have to have the privacy policy

Wayne: But what’s that got to do with the CTA, at the top?

[Agent name redacted]: CTA?

Wayne: Call To Action — “Buy NOW from Amazon Kindle.”

Wayne: Whether anyone comments is of no concern to Microsoft or anyone else.

[Agent name redacted]: I am pointing out what is required for you to advertise. If you meet the guidelines than you can. If you do not your ads will not run.

Wayne: So if I understand this correctly, because of a secondary action, that has nothing to do with the buying process in any way, shape or form, you won’t allow me to use any page on my web blog? Keeping in mind, that a principle purpose / function of a web blog is to solicit comments.

Wayne: This I find almost too bizarre to believe.

[Agent name redacted]: If you ask people for there information you have to provide them with a privacy policy

Wayne: No wonder Google wouldn’t tell me why!

[Agent name redacted]: It applies to all advertisers

Wayne: It’s arbitrary.

Wayne: I don’t think this is going to work out, if your guidelines are this spurious. Honestly, this is incredibly weird.

[Agent name redacted]: I can provide you with a generic privacy policy and you can plug in your information.

[Agent name redacted]: Do you know how to add a link to your web page

Wayne: [Agent name redacted], the point I’m making is, whether I have or have not got a privacy policy has nothing to do with Microsoft or anyone else. That has nothing to do with the buying process.

[Agent name redacted]: It has to do with you collecting personal information

Wayne: Which has nothing to do with the buying process. Look, if someone clicks the CTA, they go to Amazon. Yes, they go to the very website you also won’t allow me to use.

[Agent name redacted]: I’m am not here to argue with you. I am just here to show you how to advertise with us

Wayne: And I’m making it clear, either for your benefit, or for the benefit of whoever you’re beholden to, that your policies are both spurious and arbitrary, and I can’t proceed on those terms.

Wayne: You’re essentially interfering with my personal practices.

Quite why anyone would devise such bewildering guidelines is something of a complete mystery. But I shall not dwell, for fear of going mad!


An overhaul to Under Cloud

Under Cloud is the summation of an idea I had about two years ago, which solves a couple of problems for me; cataloguing the web pages I find, and sorting those web pages in a meaningful way. After a day-long meeting yesterday, Under Cloud is ready for something of a re-invention.

So what is Under Cloud?

While the web is a deeply connected shared space, the relational structure of any web page lies in the hands of the authors and not the reader.

What I propose is a web application that allows the reader to create relationships between web pages that goes beyond the hyperlinks within the very web pages they discover and read.

By allowing the reader to create annotated relationships between those web pages they find, they then build a referential catalogue of interlinked web pages that builds towards a store of not just meta data, but meta information, organized chronologically.

Additionally, because this is a social web application, people can share their store of collated, curated and annotated web pages with friends, colleagues and family, or everyone else.

So that’s Under Cloud, in simple terms. However, having had the chance to share my ideas with Keith Evans of CIDA yesterday, Under Cloud clearly has potential, and that potential is clearly as an assistive aide to those performing research.

Under Cloud is a working web application, but it’s essentially just a fancy way of bookmarking web pages. Over the long term, the aim is to turn it into a substantial venue for aggregating and sharing research, either publicly or privately.

And to that end, I have a few choice questions to ask. First of all, a few disclaimers — Under Cloud will:

  1. allow you to bookmark web pages, add tags, as well as link to other related web pages.
  2. not assist in the actual process of finding research materials.

Dear researcher…

You, and what you do:

  • What kind of research do you do? Such as industry, for example.
  • Do you conduct pure (basic) or applied research?

Doing what you do:

  • What is your present workflow? In terms of process, procedures, software et cetera.
  • Do you collaborate in a team, and if so, how do you share things?
  • What (if any) mobile technologies do you use to assist in research? Such as a mobile phone, camera, dictaphone or dictation software, notes software, for example.

Sharing what you do:

  • What kind of documents do you use in your research? Either as an aide, or as actual reference, like web pages, PDFs, spreadsheets or photographs, for example.
  • Thinking about your research once complete, how do you present that body of research to the intended audience?

In an ideal world:

  • What would be your ideal workflow? Thinking about collating and storing your research materials, including notes, as well as the web pages you’re bookmarking and the documents you’re using.
  • Again, assuming things aren’t ideal, what would be your ideal way of presenting your research? As as example, perhaps in the form of an interactive discovery tool, sharing your findings via a web presentation, or within Microsoft Office.

Please reply to the above questions as a comment, and if you wish your opinions to be kept private, please say so in the actual comment.


Why I’m staring at clouds (cloud computing, that is)

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re falling behind, no longer at the sharp end of technology if, like me, you’re a bit bewildered by the idea of so-called cloud computing, drifting slowly by. For me, “the cloud” is just a new riff on an old way of doing things.

Before I begin, let me just say this isn’t going to be some in-depth analysis of cloud computing, simply because I’m not that IT literate. And, for the most part, I’m sure such a review would have an exceptionally narrow audience. Instead, I’m going to skip the technicalities and offer my opinion on the cloud.

I have various parts of my digital life and work on the web, scattered hither and yonder. Mostly, these electronic excerpts of my life are to be found in the form of profiles, bookmarks, portfolios, with websites and articles representing the more substantiative end of the electro-content-centric spectrum.

What I don’t have on the web is anything specifically work related, in so far as archived data. Why? Two reasons, the first of which being that I live in a rural area and sit at the end of what’s called the “last mile”, a telecommunication euphemism for having a rubbish broadband connection, while secondly, I just don’t trust the internet that much.

A security storm cloud for Sony

To some, that final statement must appear like an unusual admission coming from someone like me, a business owner who builds web applications for a living. But let me just quote a message I saw on Twitter earlier, written by Adi Kingsley-Hughes:

“Before everyone pours their financial information into Google Wallet, let me just say one thing … Sony.”

Remember the Sony fiasco, where, firstly 77 million user accounts for their PlayStation network were illegally accessed, followed by an additional 24 million? Yes, that Sony. And the truly tragic irony is, the attack was actually launched from Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing platform.

So, for myself at least, if the likes of Sony can’t keep customer data safe, I really don’t hold out much hope for anyone else, Google included. And that’s just the security side of things. Then there’s what I call the all-or-nothing aspect of cloud computing.

It never rains, but it pours. Even for Google?

Let’s say you’ve taken the Google shilling and you’re using one of their Chrome OS laptop computers, that shoves all of your stuff up into the magical ether. Now, while Google will claim they can keep you going while you’re away from an internet connection, storing some of your stuff on your computer, for how long can you work like this when that all-important spreadsheet is presently residing on a server somewhere in the North America Mid-West?

And this is Google, arguably the most well resourced company in the world. From this perspective, you can easily see the cliff edge at which most other companies offering similar services would immediately drop off when their vastly smaller resources are included into the equation of you requiring access to your stuff. In the world of cloud computing, you either have everything, or you have nothing.

But cloud computing offers another potential problem, because we have Google and Amazon offering similar cloud-based services for their music offerings, too. Apple have something similar lined up, but crucially, they have seen the potential problems with the cloud and have a hybrid in mind, where you keep your music and movies on your computer, but will also be able to access them remotely from some other location, away from your computer.

This all kind of reminds me of that real world all-or-nothing situation, when the power goes out.

“Hmm, no TV. Oh well, I’ll make a cup of coffee.”

And then you realize you need power for that.

“Okay, skip that. I’ll listen to some music.”

And then you realize you need power for that, too.

“Damn it! Right, I’ll read a non-electronic book of the paper variety!”

But it’s now dark, and you need power for the lights.

Looking back, from the future

In fifty years time, this article will probably be ensconced in academic literature, highlighting the quaint concerns of the early internet, before becoming self-aware and omnipresent. For now, it isn’t and it’s not, and I’m here staring at clouds, while I work on my computer, reasonably safe in the knowledge that I have access to my stuff whenever if not wherever I am.


Why small businesses should make you think

Let’s hear it for the little guy! Seriously, small businesses are, well, the business. So here’s my take on why it’s a good idea to think big but act small when choosing who’s going to fix your boiler, install broadband at your office, replace your car exhaust, unblock your drain, mend your leaking roof, provide mobile phone coverage…

Trust in small businesses?

I can count on one hand the number of businesses I can rely on. Let me clarify what I mean — I want to be able to call them, speak to someone who actually knows what they’re doing, and get a straight answer, with some novel lateral thinking thrown in for good measure. As soon as you apply that kind of criteria to the broader swathe of businesses out there, you find yourself clearing the field of candidate businesses very, very quickly.

Arguably more importantly, how many businesses can you really, genuinely trust? And that’s the thing — trust is an invaluable quality you can neither beg, steal or borrow, or buy for that matter.

The biggest problem will small businesses is their lack of scale; they can’t service a huge number of clients. But what small businesses can do is provide an excellent personal service. It’s this attention to detail and the attention to the customer that makes dealing with small businesses so appealing to me. In fact, I often go out of my way to find the equivalent small business, who provides a service I require, even if they charge more.

A word or two about why small businesses are fantastic!

So what makes small businesses better than big businesses? Well, first of all, let’s define what I mean by big business — here I’m thinking about the likes of Orange, British Telecom, British Gas et cetera. Let’s look at what makes small business so good, by way of the words we all love to hear:

  1. “Yeah, I can do that!” Knowing they really do know what they’re doing and not having to worry any longer is just priceless — from Lynne Foster of PoLR, an internet marketing agency based in Glasgow, Scotland.
  2. “Oh, that sounds like the [insert name of broken gizmo here]. Yeah, I can sort that out for you.” You often deal with a decision maker; someone capable of handling your request in a meaningful way. They thrill you with their instant insight, and you know they know what they’re doing.
  3. “Go on, call it a tenner”. You walk away with a smile on your face, they get cash in hand, everyone is happy. And you remember them all the more for your dealings with them.
  4. “Well, if you pop in right now, we can fit you in!” The sheer convenience of ad hoc arrangements, without having to wait days or even weeks is just bliss, which means you can get on with your life.
  5. “Yeah, I saw the problem earlier. I’m working on a fix right now.” Getting the right level of support can be a monumental challenge. Being able to speak to the very people dealing with the problems you encounter, and being reasonably certain they’re already fixing those problems fills you with a certain warmth.
  6. “What’s your deadline?” Having some demonstration of their awareness and ability to plan is also a good indicator — from internet marketeer Nikki Pilkington.
  7. “Sorry, I can’t do that, because…” Maybe they don’t have the time, or they simply don’t have the necessary skills. Either way, they’re being honest, which allows you time to move on and find someone else. You’d be surprised just how empowering say “no” can be.

And here’s some more thoughts from the world wide web:

“I need my suppliers to be honest and do what they say they’ll do. If they’re nice too, so much the better!” — Rob Griggs-Taylor.

“”Yes sir, you are right. I will get that done immediately, free of charge” Is my favourite response.” — Steve Williams, IT security expert.

Conclusion

As a small business owner, I’m passionate about my business, Octane, by default — if I’m not passionate, who the hell else will be? And so it goes that many similar small business owners make their businesses passionately personal and personable.

We don’t have the luxury of shrugging our shoulders as customer number 77,596 walks away in a huff because we didn’t give them the service they expected. Instead, we work damn hard for all our clients and customers because our reputation and, by natural extension, our livelihoods rely on this attention to detail.

So when you’re thinking of renewing a service contract, or buying something and you’re planning big, try thinking small for a change.