YORKSHIRE businesses should get to grips with their online activity in 2011 – or risk losing valuable business, according to an internet marketing consultant.
Steve Harvey-Franklin, who runs Holmfirth-based internet marketing services company WSI Yorkshire, says that firms in the region can significantly improve their sales and boost business in 2011 by taking up the opportunities presented by being online.
And he says they should not be frightened of adding social media – such as Facebook, tweets and blogs – to their armoury if it helps bring in business.
“Everyone is looking for exceptional value this year as the recession bites and people tighten their belts, but it doesn’t have to be all gloom and doom,” says Steve.
“Any business can give itself a boost by simply getting online and embracing the technologies and opportunities that are out there.
“It always amazes me how many companies do not realise the impact the web can have on their business, especially when it comes to using social media sites or blogging.
“Most companies have some sort of website, but few have any sort of internet marketing strategy. Companies will manage and measure their sales teams, but few pay the same attention to their website.”
As managing director at WSI Yorkshire, Steve regularly speaks at conferences to advise firms on the benefits of effective internet marketing.
He believes that a social media presence on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can benefit any business providing firms use them correctly.
“Many people are dismissive of social networking sites, but used correctly, they really are a simple, cost effective and successful way of promoting your business,” he says.
“Some think social networking is just for kids, but most Facebook users are over 25. Firms have this idea in their heads that their target market doesn’t use social media or blogs – but blogs are incredibly successful when they are used properly.
“Similarly people discount Twitter because they think its all about people providing a status report about themselves – ‘I’m walking the dog’ or ‘I’m having a bath’. But company blogs get thousands of followers and can be used to provide company news, product reviews and so much more. It’s a great way for firms to boost their internet ranking and attract new customers and clients.”
Steve, whose business has worked with companies ranging from Black Cat Fireworks at Crosland Hill to the massive Novotel hotel chain and construction giant Costain, said clever use of social media had been known to double sales conversion rates.
Steve says: “There isn’t a managing director of finance director who couldn’t get more out of their existing resources.
“The website is a great place to start. Making some small changes to the company website can make a massive difference in conversion rates.
“Company bosses should put themselves in their customers’ shoes and ask whether their website is easy to use and bringing in results.
“If you hired a sales person you would want to know what they were selling and who was buying, how many calls or visits they made to customers. That’s the kind of information you should be getting from your website.
“Bosses should also take time to look at their competitors as part of efforts to appraise their own strengths and weaknesses.”
Sadly, manufacturers seem in particular need of help.
“Many manufacturers say they don’t need to worry about marketing online because they get work from referrals,” says Steve. “But if they had a lot of scruffy old brochures in reception, they’d replace them. However, they leave the website looking worn and tired for the whole world to see.”
Helping firms get the most of their online presence, WSI Yorkshire has a team of 10 at Holmfirth, but is part of a franchise organisation of 1,000 businesses around the world.
“Globally, we are considered to be among the top 10,” says Steve. “I am on the international marketing committee for WSI and we have a web meeting every month to discuss best practice.”
Steve was born in Beverley and lived in Rotherham for 10 years before gaining an accountancy degree at the University of East Anglia.
”I took accountancy because I felt I was good at it, but I did not have a passion for it,” he admits. “However, it has provided some good foundations for my subsequent career.
“At the time it was the only BSc in accountancy – rather than a BA – because the course had a high level of computer content, which in the 1980s was quite rare. That has been tremendously useful to me in my career.”
Steve went on to work in London for 20 years, including a role as financial director for a photo library. He helped grow the business from about £250,000 turnover to £10m before it was sold and Steve moved into management consultancy.
“When family came along I didn’t fancy continuing to live out of a suitcase,” he says, “I wanted to get back into business.
“I rang up my old company for a reference - and I was offered a job, My referee became my employer.
“This was in 1995 when the internet was happening. The photo library was one of the first products to go online because it could be viewed, ordered and delivered easily. Ours was one of the first e-commerce sites.”
Steve worked for other similar companies at managing director and chief executive level before deciding to set up his own business.
And he chose to base that business in Huddersfield, having worked as a consultant in the area from time to time.
“We moved here eight years ago and began the business seven years ago,” he says. “I have friends all over the world and when they come to visit I love showing them the countryside around here.
“We also had a ‘guys walking weekend’ when a group of eight of us went walking parts of the Kirklees Way and in the Holme Valley.”
Steve also discovered a taste for playing tennis. He took up the sport two-and-a-half years ago and is a member of Thongsbridge Tennis Club.
“I play three or four times a week during the winter and five or six times a week in the summer,” he says. “I am still learning!
“When I lived in London I did a lot of running. I have done the London Marathon and the Berlin Marathon.
“I loved to go running around the hills here, but I picked up too many injuries.”
Steve says tennis is a far more exciting sport. “I did a couple of triathlons, which was great fun because – when you are training – if you get tired of running, you can go swimming or bike riding.
“But running is generally a solitary pursuit. I love the social aspect of tennis.
“I also enjoy walking. A group of us have gone on the Trans-Pennine Trail, the Castle and Coastline and Lochs and Glens walks. It’s great exercise until we get to the cream teas and pubs. We usually end up weighing more than when we started!”