Chris Nkwonta, founder of VROOMO, discusses the fast-track journey in to the business world, what more can be done for others in his position and advice for those thinking of making the plunge.
Your years at university are often seen as the most defining in a young person’s life. Trying to figure out which career path to take, trying to perhaps figure out yourself, and attempting to make new friends and all while doing your best to stay on top of exams and essays. They are formative years that are incomparable to anything else in life that we go through – and for the most part, we love it. Graduating and getting used to not seeing your friends on a daily basis as you approach the ‘real world’ can be a tough adjustment for some but others can revel in it.
There are definitely three very different schools of thought upon leaving university. Getting on the rung of the ladder that you want to climb and progressing through the ranks is certainly one. Finding a job, any job is unfortunately one that many fall in to. The third possibility, seldom presented as a viable option, is to take an idea and a passion and make it work for yourself in whatever guise – the fast-track method to the top of a company, which is far more of a risk but can be hugely rewarding.
I actually set up VROOMO in January this year while in my third year at university. A risky strategy given that I had my exams to prepare for but I was keen to get things moving so once I could give it my full attention we had already built up some momentum. Of course, there was the odd occasion when I had to turn down a trip to the pub but it has been so worth it and I would implore others in my position thinking of doing the same, to just take the plunge. For me, the approach of universities is far too heavily focussed at getting students to graduate job schemes or internships rather than empowering them to start their own ventures. I appreciate that this will be useful guidance for a majority of students but for those who have an idea and an entrepreneurial spark, more should be done. There should be more avocation & support for entrepreneurs at these institutions. At the moment it’s more like ‘you come up with the idea and then we may support you’.
This is not to say that current students should enter the world of starting their own business blindly! A lot of planning and strategy needs to be put in place before you embark on looking to secure funding and support. Naturally, there will be sceptics, be it family, friends or lecturers but this is where sure-mindedness and the entrepreneurial grit is worth its weight in gold. If you have full faith in your idea and yourself then trust your gut instinct and make it happen.
- Validate your idea – It might be a billion dollar idea to you but worthless to your target market so validation is crucial.
- Build a support network – gaining the support of experts is a great asset to any entrepreneur- they will bring in-depth market knowledge and critical analysis to anything you lay before them.
- Be meticulous with recruitment – You are only as good as the people around you but you can be even better by hiring people who are extremely competent in specialist roles.
- Count every penny!
The journey from lecture room to becoming CEO has been an incredibly enjoyable one but tough to say the least. I didn’t expect it to be easy but it has taken me hugely out of my comfort zone, which has brought the best out of me. It certainly has been an opportunity to challenge the boundaries of what I would have once described as pressure – immensely motivating though when all your work is going towards your brainchild. I think graduates now are wise enough to see through CSR schemes and now want a job which has a purpose and is truly making a difference. Making buyers and seller’s lives easier in the used car market is something I am passionate about and being at the helm of VROOMO is a challenge I am enjoying.
Studies, natural skill, experience and upbringing all go in to making an entrepreneur and it isn’t for everyone. I do wish greater support could be offered to those who want to start a business either during university or straight after. Too many graduates get shepherded in to unfulfilling roles to make sure they don’t increase unemployment stats. The UK is the tech hub of the Europe and a great place to start a business, it is time that the brightest minds and the best talent are encouraged to follow their ambition through guidance and financial backing. Young entrepreneurs making the lecture room to CEO transition can only be healthy, allow them to flourish.
Creating an engaging email marketing campaign that avoids the junk folder
By David Wharram, CEO of Coast Digital
With more than 280 billion emails sent every day, email marketing is a tried and tested marketing method with a multitude of benefits. In addition to resonating with those looking to save on their marketing spend, email marketing generates significant ROI for businesses. Statistics have shown that email marketing significantly outperforms social media when trying to reach customers, while also proving more cost-effective. Additionally, Mckinsey found that email marketing is 40 times more successful at gaining customers than Twitter and Facebook combined.
As business owners digest these facts – low cost, high return – it can be tempting to plan a barrage of untargeted marketing emails to both prospective and existing customers. Yet, this “spray and pray” approach may not generate as many sales leads as you’d hope. In fact, this method often tends to deter prospective customers and impact the relationship with existing clients, resulting in your emails consistently making their way into the junk folder. The key to a successful email marketing campaign is investing in the right tools to plan, automate, track, and analyse your outreach.
Like other marketing channels, email marketing takes effective planning and the right strategy to make it work. Rather than trying to sell a product or service from the outset, you need to engage with the customer and build trust with them first. To do this, you need to consider who the customer is, how to reach them and what information they are likely to want. For example, returning customers will be much more receptive to an email presenting discounts and timed offers. However, new or prospective customers would most likely prefer to familiarise themselves with your businesses first in order to understand how your product or service will benefit them.
Not only do you need to identify different audiences and identify how to engage them, but you should also consider the frequency of communication. Too often, and your emails could appear as spam. Too irregular and there’s a risk the customer might forget about you or turn to a competitor.
A crucial part of planning the overall strategy is considering the ideal outcome. Whether this is to attract new customers, send product or service updates, or retain customers through offers and discounts, the objective will determine the scope of the entire campaign.
The results of a well thought out email marketing strategy can drive brand awareness, boost lead generation and increase revenue. The results of a poorly planned strategy often lead to disgruntled recipients and a high number of unsubscribes.
Keep content relevant, personal and useful
In addition to planning the overall strategy of your campaign, you need to consider the content you will push out to your audience. From our experience, this will largely depend on which goals have been determined during the planning process.
It’s essential to ensure you’re providing something of value. While you want to make sure that your email marketing campaigns generate ROI, you also need to make the recipients feel that they’re not always being sold to. The key to this is by building a level of trust with the audience, which can be achieved by providing relevant advice and insights, or by asking for feedback.
Additionally, audiences are more receptive to content that is personal to them. It’s easy to spot a generic email that has been created to cover all bases for an entire mailing list. Therefore, making the emails more personalised to recipients tends to strengthen the overall campaign.
According to recent research by Econsultancy, personalisation remains a top priority for marketers as 67% of those asked said that was the main focus for improving their campaigns. Also, a study by Salesforce found that 84% of consumers prefer to be treated like a person not a number. That’s why taking the time to make content more relevant to the receiver could make or break the campaign.
Evaluate and evolve
Once your initial outreach has been complete, you need to take the time to reflect on your efforts. One aspect of the planning process should include setting clear metrics and KPIs so that you can be clear on whether these were met or not. There are several metrics that businesses should consider when it comes to the success of their campaign – including clickthrough rate, conversion rate, bounce rate and email forwarding rate. Each KPI will depend on the overall goal. Companies need to invest in the right tools and resources to evaluate email marketing campaigns, especially if this is new territory. Measuring the success of your outreach will enable you to determine what worked well, what needs refining or what needs to be completely overhauled. What’s more, if the initial campaign didn’t generate the outcome you were hoping, don’t be deterred from using email marketing altogether and instead use it as an opportunity to learn and improve.
Email marketing remains one of the most effective methods to engage with your audience on an ongoing basis. However, far too many businesses try to run before they walk and could be spamming their customers with irrelevant, uninteresting content. To ensure your outreach is successful, you need to effectively plan your outreach – considering your audience and delivering helpful and engaging content to them will help your emails avoid the dreaded junk folder.
How to communicate when the world is in crisis
By Callum Jackson Account Executive at communications agency Cicero/AMO
Across sectors both private and public, the coronavirus crisis has brought with it a list of overused yet unavoidable tropes. Phrases such as ‘rapidly changing times’, ‘the new normal’ and the king of COVID clichés ‘unprecedented’ have been deployed by communications experts of all ilks to engage audiences, linking their products and businesses to the pandemic however they can. In fact, amongst online news articles from January to September this year, ‘unprecedented’ received about six times more column space than over the same period in 2019. The financial services sector is far from immune – a quick scan of the 21.9 million Google results which the search term “unprecedented banking covid” throws up reveals a distinct preference for the platitudinal over the insightful.
But as often as this is said, it bears repeating: communication plays a central role in all of our lives and all of our businesses. In the banking and financial services sector, one PR misstep can mean the difference between an investment round succeeding or failing, between a challenger being awarded its coveted banking licence or having its reputation demolished, between a fintech app appearing on every other smart phone in the country or dying an obscure death.
While communication is vital, however, it is not a straightforward science or art at the best of times. Below are some key approaches for comms professionals to consider taking when communicating during a crisis.
- Start with the bank in the mirror
In all sub-sectors of the comms industry, from in-house external comms to agency PR and everything in between, inauthenticity stands out like a sore thumb, and badly thought-through messaging or imagery can reek of it. Take Pepsi’s heavily pilloried 2017 ad campaign featuring Kendall Jenner, the imagery of which attempted to position the soft drink – and the business producing it – as a saviour of divided and oppressed communities. Accused of seeking to capitalise on the Black Lives Matter movement, Pepsi rightly pulled the commercial and apologised for missing the mark entirely. Interrogating what your business stands for, what it does well, what its goals are and, most importantly, what it is not in the business of (in the case of Pepsi, saving the world) is essential to communicating with your stakeholders authentically. This has been conventional wisdom amongst banking and finance grandees for a while. In 2015, Tesco Bank’s then CEO Benny Higgins noted, “Authenticity [is critical] – we all have strengths and weaknesses but being authentic gives a consistent notion of what your leadership is about.” By all means, talk about doing good but make sure it’s good you’re actually doing.
- Read the room
Being aware of your audiences’ needs is two-fold. First, it is about identifying the topics that consumers of news (be they your customers, your suppliers or the general public) want and need to hear about, and secondly, it’s about being sensitive to audiences’ anxieties and preoccupations. Our current environment is characterised by companies asking staff to take pay cuts, having furloughed others at 80% of their salary, all while social distancing or staying home. During these – yes, unprecedented… – anxiety-inducing times, money saving advice, working from home tips, and information on the best cost-saving financial products are subjects of interest and necessity to journalists and readers. Listicles of the best luxury summer getaways are not. Think about what your business or client is doing that might directly help those who are worst affected and use that as a springboard for your communications messaging.
- Look ahead
In late 2019, few of us could have foreseen the sheer magnitude of a potential pandemic, nor indeed its short-term and residual effects on the economy, society, and individual financial institutions. However, as professionals in charge not only of spreading the good news but also of putting out reputational fires, it is the duty of financial services PRs to game various scenarios – sorted by likelihood and impact – pre-empting possible outcomes and preparing for the negative fallout as well as the positive opportunities a situation might present. Looking ahead to identify these ‘opportunities’ is not per se a cynical attempt to boost business reputations or commercial outcomes. It can and should involve looking ahead to ascertain the potential silver linings, gifts in disguise, and diamonds in the rough that come along with a crisis. One unforeseen consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a reminder of the warmth, appreciation and even love we feel towards the frontline workers of the NHS. If yours is the company that finances the manufacture of their uniforms, insures the production of their machinery, or invests on behalf of the factory that makes their PPE, you should be proud of that and should let others be proud too. All this requires
foresight, however – the ability to identify both the risks and opportunities of a dire situation.
- Adapt your offering
Shouting from the rooftops about something you do well, especially when it has a net good impact on the world, is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, a surprising number of businesses are actually quite bad at telling us what’s good about them – particularly those that need to the most: banks. Cue the PR professional. But that quality of self-promotion – not in the sneering, braggartly sort of way; but rather the recognition that telling your story is how people get to know you – only stands up when what you’re promoting really is good, both morally and commercially speaking. If you are planning a campaign showing that your customer, The Big Bad Oil & Gas Company Ltd., is doing wonders for the planet, it had better be investing heavily in wind and solar, offsetting its carbon output and cleaning up natural areas affected by its commercial activities, and not just paying lip service to environmental conscientiousness. And if your customer or your own business isn’t doing those things, it is time to re-evaluate the corporate strategy. Too many heads of comms are cautious of recommending product and operational changes that require significant investment for fear of CEOs’ eyes rolling back into their heads with ‘dollar shock’. But if you want to be known for doing something good, you had better do it well.
- Take advantage of digital
It comes as no surprise that shares in videoconferencing services such as Zoom (NASDAQ: ZM) just about doubled between late January and mid-April (up to $142.80 from $70.44). As demand for online services increases due to prolonged social distancing and isolation measures, so too does the need for journalists, and therefore PRs, to produce quality digital content that speaks the language of technology. Rather than asking how your logo will change or about the latest appointment to your board, media and the audiences that read them are increasingly asking, ‘How does your company’s offering help us do business, manage our money, or lead better lives by harnessing smart data, open finance, AI, etc.?’ Or more generally, ‘How can I do all the things I’m used to doing and need to do without leaving my house?’ Most banks provide online banking, most insurers allow digital policy purchases and claims, most lenders enable virtual applications or use digital ID to confirm affordability and suitability. If your business is lagging behind, it’s time to catch up.
- Put a relevant twist on business as usual
“Well, our business doesn’t do anything to do with viruses,” is a natural reaction to a crisis that no one saw coming and that stands to affect the global economy in a meaningful way for years to come. But, as well as being natural, it is also limiting. Thinking creatively about the ways our product offerings and operations do, in some way, affect the outcome of a crisis does not have to extend to preventing the spread of a disease or accelerating the creation of a vaccine. It may be that your lending platform can offer mortgage holidays for those financially impacted by the pandemic or that the insurer you work for can interpret policies leniently and with compassion – especially important in light of the FCA’s recent finding on business interruption insurance. Showing your worth in a crisis does not require you to be a central cog in the machine, nor does it require you to dominate the narrative in order to have cut-through. Do your bit, however small, and then tell us about it.
Being alive to developments in politics, society, culture, science and business, and remaining nimble and ready to adapt to those developments sensitively are the cornerstones of good communications. The ancient Greeks knew this before we did; it was no storytelling accident that Olympus’ divine messenger, Hermes, wore winged sandals. The metaphor may be ham-fisted, but the sentiment is sound: sensitivity, fleet-footedness and boldness are the communicator’s greatest weapons. Don’t be a Pepsi, be a Hermes.
Efficiency vs productivity: how to maximise the output of streamlined teams
By Julie Lock, commercial director at Mitrefinch
With the furlough scheme heading towards its conclusion over the coming weeks, the words ‘redundancy’ and ‘company restructure’ are sadly going to be commonplace across various industry sectors and regions of the UK.
Of course, the biggest challenges will fall to those that have lost their jobs, but another obstacle lies for those that are ‘left behind’; remaining within organisations that have lost colleagues and support staff. In addition to the emotional turmoil, questions remain around how reduced teams will be able to produce the output of work delivered pre-pandemic especially with significant workplace anxiety on the rise as it is.
For managers, the next few weeks could be pivotal to the short and long term success of their teams in terms in productivity as well staff satisfaction and retention. While companies might feel that choosing to hold on to certain members of staff is enough to recognise their value, it’s integral that moving forwards managers set clear and fair expectations to their teams that following the pandemic are likely to be operating at increased capacity.
Setting fair and attainable benchmarks
When done correctly, goal setting remains one of the most effective ways to maximise motivation amongst teams and setting these effectively over the coming weeks will be critical to understanding expectations and outcomes for both staff and management.
However, it is important that objectives are agreed amongst all parties before being put into action to ensure expectations are fair and realistic. For example, a team that’s had its headcount cut by 50% is unlikely to achieve the same level of overall productivity pre-pandemic, however there’s no reason it couldn’t be more than 50% with the correct strategy, tools and collaboration.
Pressure – while effective for some – also needs to be used carefully over the next few weeks. It’s no secret that many are struggling with some degree of anxiety as a result of the pandemic and for those returning to work it’s important this isn’t exacerbated further in the workplace.
Whether your full team is back in the office, all working remotely or a combination of the two, ensuring everyone is on the same page through effective communication is critical. There still remains so much uncertainty across different industries and surrounding Covid-19 in general that businesses cannot afford to not update staff as regularly as possible.
One of the main reasons cited amongst staff for messages getting missed is due to the fact they hadn’t seen it in their emails, on the company intranet or instant messenger etc. and this is why streamlining the software or overall means of communication can be an effective way to ensuring all staff don’t miss any updates.
The easiest way to do this is to agree with your team on the core methods of comms and ensure everyone sticks to this for core business discussions. At a time where you have the added barrier of not being in the same physical location, using one programme alone mitigates the risk of messages getting lost, and for emergency updates that may come out of hours, there remains a place for communication via SMS where 90% of messages are read within three minutes of being sent.
Collaboration is key
For those that are fortunate enough to keep their positions following rounds of redundancies and may still be working from home, work might feel like a bit of a lonely place right now. Collaboration, in whatever form is possible, will be instrumental to ensuring staff feel valued and remain motivated in the final months of 2020.
During challenging periods of the week, where stresses could normally be offset through a chat or conversation with a colleague in the offices, it’s important to ensure that staff talk to one another throughout the days to remind each other we’re all in this together.
Don’t let remote working limit your ability to collaborate – encourage your team to reach out to each other through conference calls or video chats. It’s often a good idea for management to instigate such collaborative sessions from the outset to get the ball rolling, then contact employees on a regular basis to ensure that they are still taking place.
For those who have been working throughout the pandemic this should no longer be a concern but for those returning from furlough you must ensure staff have easy remote access to any data and documents that they may need and that adequate security measures are in place to mitigate the risk of breaches. Ensure that some form of file-sharing system is in place and accessible to everyone before the remote working period begins – this is where brands should utilise cloud-based hosting where possible.
Identify and provide progression opportunities
Despite the ongoing challenges surrounding the economy and for many businesses, it is vital that personal development and career opportunities are not stunted as a result of the pandemic. While goal setting can help with this, it’s also crucial that realistic progression pathways are put in place for all members of staff.
These could be in the form of quarterly or annual objectives that encourage staff to develop their skill sets to allow them to progress their careers and ensure they feel as though they are still learning and developing even if this means that salary increases or promotions are out of the question at the moment.
However, regardless of the situation regarding pay rises or more official progression opportunities, it’s crucial that staff are kept in the loop with these conversations taking place at a higher level. While it’s likely that the general trend amongst businesses right now will be to maintain and stay afloat, there are still high growth businesses looking for the best talent so companies cannot afford to be complacent and assume staff will stick around.
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