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Riding the digital behemoth

The world of digital marketing has become a complex one. Even specialists need to keep their skills constantly primed with the latest technology and practices. So it’s no surprise that the average small business often finds itself struggling to keep its digital footprint well-primed. So why not engage a digital media house? After all the most savvy of digital media houses are surely better equipped than the average business owner, what with their talented teams of young creatives and energetic tech-geeks, working around the clock to strengthen the online brands of their clients.

But with the demand for digital skills ever outpacing the talent, prices for quality digital services have shot up. In this sense the daunting digital dilemma for the average business owner can present an insurmountable challenge. But hold on, before you press that ‘x’ on the top left of your browser window, I have a message of hope. A bunch of suppliers out there have been working on solutions to simplify processes and empower small businesses. Today I’ll delve into two of my favourite options, which I believe can easily give a business a powerful, eye-catching web presence with a bunch of clicks.

Ride the digital behemoth

An effortless route to setting up a website: WordPress.com

WordPress.com has created a user-friendly solution that even the more digi-clueless business owner can easily muster. With a bunch of clicks you can sign up for one of its plans and get going with your very own site. Choosing the right plan is an important part of the process. The Premium plan allows you to access better themes and customisation than with a personal plan. But for access to SEO features, removal of WordPress branding and to integrate your analytics with Google you’re really going to want to sign up to the Business Plan. The Business Plan is going to cost you around €300 per year, but will give you most of what you need. The Business Plan also allows you to install plugins, which widens considerably the options and functionality of your website. Even though many basic users might at first see this as an unnecessary feature, I find that the restrictions of the Premium Plan quickly lead to the conclusion that the Business Plan is not so much an optional upgrade. While WordPress.com will easily allow you to upgrade from Premium to Business at any stage of your subscription, the point is that you better factor in the Business package into your costings because if you’re basing your decision to go for a WordPress.com subscription on the pricing of a Premium Plan you’re soon going to feel shortchanged.

Pros:

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Business plan gives you unlimited storage space, SEO tools, ability to install plugins and easy Google Analytics integration
  • Very good customer support
  • Allows you to export site if you decide to move to another platform

Cons:

  • Any plan that costs less than the Business Plan contains significant restrictions, particularly relating to SEO. This can significantly hamper web presence.
  • No ftp access and no access to source files in general.
  • It’s a bit of a closed box. This could be a plus if you’re not interested in seeing what’s inside, but if you’re going to need customisation at some point this will be a problem.

Verdict:

If you’re after a simple process to quickly setting up your website, and consider the 300€ price tag for a Business Plan acceptable, then we’d highly recommend WordPress.com. However if you’re thinking your site might require coding customisation at some point, or if you’d prefer to go for a cheaper option, even if it might take you more time to customise, then WordPress.com might not be for you.

 

A user friendly solution with more power and flexibility: Siteground.com

Siteground rank as having the best customer support in the hosting market. Their hosting services also allow for one-click WordPress installation. So if you’re looking for a simple way to set up your site but aren’t afraid to go that extra mile, Siteground gives you much more flexibility and functionality than the WordPress.com option. When you sign up for one of the plans on Siteground their support will help you get started. They will basically install WordPress on their server and can also assist you in setting up the domain to make sure your site is fully up and running. From there on its up to you whether to log in through the wp-admin page of your WordPress instance (i.e. just type in your domain plus /wp-admin to access your WordPress back-end), whether to enter through the cPanel and edit the files directly from there, or whether to use an FTP client to manage the files.

Pros:

  • Incredibly great support
  • Good speed as long as you respect the plan parameters.
  • Access to source files means you have complete control
  • Relatively easy to setup

Cons:

  • Might seem a little more complicated for the less internet savvy user. The look and feel of the user panel is also more clunky
  • The plan is not automatically scalable as with other alternatives such as Amazon and Azure.

Verdict:

Siteground is currently our favourite WordPress hosting option. The ease-of-use complemented with the great support and the customisability of the site make it a great and cost-effective option.

 

Disclaimer: We’ve shared our honest views about each of these platforms and we receive no payment for the reviews above. But if you’re thinking of signing up to either of them we’d appreciate if you’d click on the following affiliate links to help support this blog: Siteground WordPress.com 

 

A superhero takes a lesson in leadership from a supervillian

In case you’re a DC Comics fan I’ll refer you to The Flash (Netflix edition) Season 1, episode 4. With the Flash lying on the floor, seemingly defeated, Captain Cold, pointing his gun at him tells him: “Thank you”. “For what?” Captain Cold’s reply: “You’ve forced me to up my game. Not only with this gun but how I think about a job. It’s been educational.”

Leadership Lessons from Flash the superhero

Because Captain Cold is a supervillian he obviously doesn’t prevail. But he does leave the Flash with an important lesson about leadership. And that’s the importance of challenging your current competencies and seeking feedback. Seeking feedback and applying it to generate improvement however requires in itself a whole other set of leadership traits. In particular I’ve taken the following most potent four from Professor Ronald Riggio’s work at Claremont McKenna College:

  1. Develop your emotional skills: Emotional intelligence is crucial to understanding the situation and reading your own as well as others’ emotions. Understanding emotions is an important step to controlling them. Your ability to improve on the basis of feedback from others depends highly on your ability to understand the emotional environment within and around you.
  2. Develop your cognitive and social skills: Being smart or streetwise is an important skill that helps leaders manage situations around them. It allows the leader to gauge and adapt to the environment making it more likely to achieve your goal and reach success.
  3. Draw on your motivation to develop: Ultimately willingness to improve is crucial to make the most of feedback you may obtain (whether solicited or otherwise). The will to constantly improve is a key part of improvement itself.
  4. Develop character: What’s the point of being smart and competent if you lack the character to stand your ground and march toward the goal you believe in? An important part of being a leader is the strength to pursue ones beliefs despite the challenges and tribulations you may encounter along the way.

But I’m not a born leader. Can I become one?

Flash is a superhero, true. But he was not actually born with his superpowers. An explosion in the particle accelerator is what gave him his powers. In a real world parallel, Rich Arvey at the University of Minnesota, found that, based on a sample study, only 30 per cent tend to be natural leaders while 70 per cent tend to get their leadership skills from environmental factors.

Bruce Avolio from the University of Washington argues that leaders are made not born and that followers can be turned into leaders. How, you may ask? Avolio’s answer to you would be to embrace the following four principles:

  1. Individualized consideration: this is when you assume responsibility for leading your followers to their full potential
  2. Intellectual stimulation: its not about being smart but about leading your followers to come up with best ideas and solutions
  3. Inspirational influence: this is about getting out the visionary and positive energy of leadership
  4. Idealized influence: leaders are supposed to set high ideals, values, and ethical standards. Idealized influence contrasts strongly to idolized leaders where the leader wants to be seen as the Almighty. Chose idealized over idolized influence.

Embrace these lessons in transformational leadership and you may well be one step closer to achieving your leadership goals.

Drop shipping- The ecommerce solution that will make your retail business go global

Have you ever told anyone that you’re thinking of starting a business in Malta? And did you meet with that expression of incredulity, mixed with admiration: “really”?

Let’s try and understand this a bit better. Living on an island is a disadvantage for most traditional product-based markets. We’re not only small. We’re also insulated.

But aren’t we, as some like to argue, “right in the middle” of it all? Geographically we are “right in the middle” between Europe and the Middle East may. But being “right in the middle” of two major population hubs also means that we are equally far away from both. This means shipping costs are higher than for most of our competitors. Supplier lead times are longer than for most of our competitors. And the scale of it all means that our cost per unit ratios are higher than for most of our competitors. We are “right inthe middle” of it, all right. Right in the middle of the arid insulated plains of Mediterranean garigue!

Dropshipping as a business concept

Enter the internet, saviour of all things distant and isolated. Imagine for a second that we could overcome the logistical and market limitations of living on an island. In other words an electronic retailer in Malta, sourcing products from his Chinese supplier could hook up with clients in Germany and deliver directly to them, without the products having to set foot in Malta. This would not only reduce lead-time but would considerably lower shipping costs. This solution is known in the business world as drop shipping.

To be fair, drop shipping was not invented with the Internet. Since the beginning of commerce, sales agents would travel to other countries where they would sell products that would be delivered to them directly from other destinations. But besides making drop shipping a million times easier, the Internet has also made it more accessible.

Companies such as Chinavision have made it easier for European online retailers to source products and drop ship them to European customers without having to first import them into the warehouses of the online retailer. Becoming a Chinavision wholesaler requires no upfront fees and there is no need to invest in stock inventories or meet any supplier MOQs. Companies such as Shopify and Oberlo are making it ever easier for new entrants to set up a drop shipping business.

Sounding a bit too good to be true? In reality drop shipping is not without its challenges. Firstly the fact that its so easy to set up means everybody’s doing it. And that in turn means that competition is squeezing margins. Overspend on marketing to drive traffic to your electronic store and you will soon see your drop shipping venture dropping off the edge of a financial cliff. Ease of entry into the drop shipping business also means that you have to think harder to come up with a differentiated brand. What reason do costumers have to click on your website instead of the thousands of others that have already established themselves?

Drop shipping is primarily about ceding inventory control to your suppliers. This in itself  can lead to problems such as shortages and backlogs, both of which could damage your business model. Losing control over inventory also means losing control over shipping. So you will have situations where suppliers dispatch multiple products to fulfil a single order via multiple shipments. This will result in higher shipping costs and lower margins.

Managing your customer experience is crucial. Start by picking a dependable supplier and then make sure to carefully handle any customer complaints. Mishandling customers can lead your brand to receive a plethora of negative reviews that in themselves could drive you out of the market.

If the downside doesn’t dampen your enthusiasm and you still think drop shipping could be for you, then the following are ten steps to get started:

  1. Decide what you want to sell
  2. Determine your business model
  3. Source a supplier and order samples
  4. Calculate pricing
  5. Set up your online store
  6. Take photos of your products or get them from your supplier
  7. Create your social media footprint
  8. Launch your drop shipping store
  9. Drive targeted traffic through social media
  10. Make sales

 

First it was home sharing, then bike sharing. Perhaps garage sharing could be next…

Parking your car with the shared economyHailed as the Airbnb of parking, Justpark provided the UK with an effective solution to the parking problem. In 2006 Anthony Eskinazi founded a service through which people can rent out parking spaces on-demand. Initially called ParkatmyHouse.com the service brings together owners of parking spaces with average drivers who simply want convenient parking. Whether it’s a driveway, a garage, a school, a church or a car-park, their website helps “take the stress out of parking” by allowing you to search online and instantly book an available car park in the vicinity of your destination.

The idea seems to have been well-received. With investment funding from BMW iVentures, a CrowdCube crowdfunding campaign and Index Ventures the startup seems to hold promise. According to FT as at 2014 JustPark had raised more than $5.7 million in funding.

Nextbike seems to think that the sharing economy can also work in Malta. The German bicycle sharing company set up shop in Malta last year and seems to be gradually picking up. Airbnb has also gone from strength to strength with Maltese listings picking up. Everything seems to indicate that the sharing economy is taking off also in Malta.

Malta has a profound car culture. With a car stock of 358,947 as at December 2016 one of the major issues is the availability of parking spaces. With more vehicles per capita in Malta than the UK JustParks business model may yet prove to be the next business venture hitting the local economy.