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how to boost your business with market information
Market Information


Do you understand marketing trends in your business industry?
Information on market trends and competitor intelligence
Getting a good understanding of market trends is important if your business is to make the most of its opportunities and remain competitive.

You will also need to understand your competitors and keep an eye on what they are doing in order to predict their next moves and exploit their weaknesses.

Try to get information on:
  • Demand for your product or service - is it growing or shrinking?
  • General economic and market trends.
  • How customer requirements and buying behavior could change in the future.
  • What new products are in your competitor's pipeline - could they make yours look outdated?
  • How competitors are changing - what are their plans?
  • What competitors offer and the prices they charge.
  • How your competitors advertise and promote themselves.
  • Any forthcoming legislation, which could affect your market.
Using market reports and other data
Once you have identified the information you need, you can start to draw it together. Initially it's worth looking at information that's already been published, e.g. market reports, official statistics, trade publications, etc.


Some of this information is free, but some you'll have to pay for. You can obtain market reports and other information from a wide range of sources:
  • Your local business reference library is a good starting point.
  • Your trade association will have information about your market sector and about any relevant trade publications. .
  • Reports  in  business  magazines  and  the  business  pages  of  national newspapers can be informative.
  • Local  authorities  and  Chambers  of   Commerce  can  provide  local information.
  • The internet contains a wealth of business data. Search engines such as Google and Ask can aid searching, while directories such as Yahoo! make it easy to look for information by sector.
  • Commercial publishers of market  reports include    KeyNote, Euromonitor,   Mintel,    Datamonitor, The Economist  Intelligence Unit, and  Market  &  Business  Development.  Reports  can  often  be purchased from the publisher's website.
  • Don't neglect your business' own data. Analyzing your sales records or levels of enquiries can provide useful insights. Finally, talking to customers and monitoring their buying habits and how they behave is one of the best methods of market research.

 Interpreting market information
Though there's a lot of readily available market information, you need to be careful how you interpret it. External data might not be in a useful format to use easily. It may have been collected for other purposes or be from a range that doesn't tally with your target market.
Beware of out-of-date market information. This can be misleading, as the market may have changed significantly since the information was published.

It can be particularly hard to tell how recent any information published on the internet is. Some information on the web can be unreliable or biased. Remember that statistics can sometimes mask the true picture. For example, an 'average' income for the population in your area might conceal a high proportion of low earners - meaning fewer people can afford your product than it appears.

The same principle applies to your own sales records - one or two major customers could distort the picture.
Most importantly, don't make up your mind in advance. Finding market information that simply confirms what you already believe is easy - but only a realistic  picture  of  your  customers  and  markets  will  be  useful  to  your business.



The Internet
Do you feel comfortable using a computer or other technology to improve business operations?

It is part of nearly every business. It enables businesses to work more effectively or take advantage of new opportunities that wouldn't exist if it were not for the development of new systems and services.
This means that you need to understand the ways in which technology can make your business more effective and how to go about selecting the right system to meet your business needs.
You also need to select systems that grow with your business.

Introducing computers to your business
If you haven't used IT systems in your business before, you will probably be moving from paper-based systems to electronic processes.
If you're starting a new business or you feel that you can benefit from using IT and e-commerce in your business, make sure that the solutions you choose suit your needs now and can be adapted and extended where necessary in the future.

Communicate more effectively using IT
Effective communication is central to most IT and e-commerce systems. Most of these technologies are developed to make communication between buyers and sellers faster and more reliable.

Integrating telephone and IT systems
Computer telephony integration (CTI) links IT and phone systems so that numbers can be dialed automatically from your computer, and customer records can be automatically presented to staff members taking calls.

Equipment required
The equipment required to introduce CTI varies according to the size of your system. To connect a single PC and telephone all you need is a special modem and software to retrieve database records. For CTI systems with more than one user, you will need a network server. This can either be an existing server or a separate one dedicated to managing your telephony.

Other uses of CTI include:
  • Sending and receiving voicemails as emails so they appear in your email inbox
  • Using the internet to make outward calls
  • Consolidating all  messages  (including  email,  voice  mail,  fax,  phone messages) into one inbox using unified messaging technology
Benefits and costs
Businesses in which employees spend a lot of their time on the phone may be able to considerably increase their efficiency by automating these routine tasks. Busy sales and customer-service departments in consumer-facing businesses are the most likely to benefit from CTI productivity gains.

However for many small businesses the cost of implementing CTI isn't justified by the benefits it offers - call volumes or manually retrieving customer records is not found to be a significant drag on resources.

Improving your internet access
Broadband connections make electronic information-transfer between your business, and customers and suppliers faster and more reliable. The facility is always available, unlike older dial-up connections that require you to connect when you want access.

One of the key elements to the success of any business is the ability to communicate effectively and efficiently. Anything that can speed up the rate at which communications take place has to be given serious consideration. Using broadband technology is one such way that data communications can be radically improved.

Broadband gives you a high-speed, always-on connection to the Internet, which is typically at least ten times faster than dial-up connections. As well as being fast it can be highly cost-effective. It can save you time when using email and the web, thereby helping your staff to become more productive. In addition, it also allows you to build online links with customers and suppliers, as well as with off-site and remote workers.

What is broadband?
The term 'broadband' is used to describe any high-speed connection to the internet. However, there are in fact several different types of broadband connection.

The main difference between broadband and traditional telephone communications is that broadband is based on digital technology, and the telephone is based on analogue technology. While analogue technology is fine for voice communications it has limitations when it comes to transmitting data. Digital technology is much more precise and accurate, which enables both higher speeds and greater reliability. Currently one of the most common forms of broadband is asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), which uses existing telephone lines.

With download speeds of 2,000kbps (kilobits per second) to 20,000kbps, the key feature of broadband is that it is around ten times faster than a standard

Telephone dial-up connection to the internet. This means that, in general, WebPages load almost instantly. It also makes sending and receiving large emails far quicker, making it viable to transfer vast amounts of data in the form of attached files.

In addition, broadband connections are known as always-on connections. This means that when you want to visit a website, or send an email, you can do it straight away - there's no need to wait for your computer to make a dial-
up connection.

What broadband can do for your business
The speed of access and constant connection of broadband allow businesses to take greater advantage of the internet in a number of ways, including:

Efficiency
Permanent  connection  to  the  internet  opens  up  opportunities  for streamlining business processes. You could link your online shop with your other essential business systems - known as back office systems - to cut administrative costs and improve efficiency.

For example, linking your accounting and stock control systems to your website can help you do business more quickly and reduce administration costs. You could also automate tasks like transaction processing, order tracking, and stock reordering.

Cost savings
Despite paying a flat fee for broadband access together with any additional charges, businesses can save money while also making more use of the internet. The cost of broadband will be balanced by saving time and resources- thanks to a more streamlined and efficient way of doing business.

Customer service
Broadband can get you closer to your customers and suppliers. You can use it to  offer  customers  round-the-clock  access  to  account  information,  order status and project details.

It can help you to improve customer service, allowing you to respond within minutes to emails from clients or orders placed through your website. You can link your computer systems with your suppliers, so you can place orders more quickly and efficiently.

Communication
Staff will be able to communicate increasingly via email, which means phone and postage bills can be reduced. You could use broadband to set up VPNs (virtual private networks) to allow off-site and remote workers access to key data.

Greater collaborative working and video conferencing may be possible, which could reduce courier and travel costs.

Broadband can also be used to make voice calls over your computer network using   voice   over   internet  protocol  (VoIP).  The   major  benefit  of   this technology is that all calls to other VoIP users are free - all you pay for is the internet connection.

Broadband can help your business become more flexible and more able to adapt to your staff, customer, and supplier needs. For example mobile or remote-working staff can access your network.

Security and related issues
Because broadband provides an always-on connection, there's a greater risk that your PC could receive viruses or be vulnerable to hackers.

Ask your internet service provider (ISP) what security systems it has in place. For example, it may provide an email virus-screening service.


You can also take some basic steps yourself to reduce the risks, such as:
  • Installing firewall software or adding a hardware firewall to your system to help prevent outsiders from accessing your system. Many broadband routers include basic firewall functionality
  • Installing anti-virus software to reduce the risk of computer viruses
  • Keeping  your  operating  system,  firewall,  virus  protection  and  other software up to date
  • Drawing up and enforcing policies setting out how employees should use email and the internet
Once you have a broadband connection, it's easy to check for updates and download them. Windows operating systems and a range of software - including anti-virus software - can be set up to do this automatically.

Virtual private networks (VPNs)
If you want to give off-site workers or remote offices access to your network, you can use your broadband connection to set up a VPN. This is an extremely secure way of transferring data because it uses the most powerful encryption technology available.

It is also a comparatively cheap way of securing data, because you don't need to hire a system of private leased lines - instead encrypted data is sent over the internet.

Mobile networking technologies
You may have staff working remotely from your office, for example sales staff out on the road or engineers working on customer sites. It is important that they can access your IT systems from wherever they are in a secure and effective manner.

Cost-effective marketing
To get your sales message out to customers and potential customers. Marketing by email offers speed and cost benefits over traditional mail marketing. You can target specific groups or interests more easily - although you must make sure that the messages are focused directly at the recipients. Other types of online marketing such as search and social media also provide a cost-effective way of reaching customers.

Collaborating online
Setting up an extranet can allow customers and suppliers access to relevant areas of your IT system, so they can update key information or directly obtain relevant files. An extranet can save time and minimize transport costs for data that your business needs to share.

Supply chain software can help you to collaborate with business partners online, which can reduce your costs and speed up your processes. Make sure your systems and data are secure

Having the correct information available to your staff at the right time can make the difference between profit and loss, and success and failure for your business. However, the threats posed by hackers and viruses mean that you must protect this information.

Start by identifying the threats posed to your IT systems. Risks that are IT- related have become much more important as technology use increases. Having identified the risks to your business, you can implement effective information security measures. These help your business to continue to operate effectively and profitably.

Your IT security policy should take account of the common risks to the information that your business relies upon. This policy might include secure login identification for using IT systems and logical access controls that limit access to information.

Many businesses use wireless local area networks as they are convenient, cheap, and easy to install. However, they can also be very insecure unless you take appropriate precautions.

Help with planning
In order to plan effectively for both your current and future IT needs, you must specify your requirements correctly and acquire the appropriate technology.

Going online
Before you put your business online, consider all the options and make sure that it's as simple as possible to make the move when you decide to. For example, you may at some stage want to create and manage a website to promote your business or have a fully transactional online shop.

If you have got staff out on the road or working from home, you may want to consider mobile solutions and the ability to connect to your systems remotely. For example, sales people on the road can instantly check stock levels or people who work from home can access internal documents, making communication more effective.

There are several issues that you should consider before selling your goods and services via the internet. This site provides a number of specific guides that will help you through the entire process.

First steps
From the outset, it is important to plan for the development of your e- commerce system. You need to be aware of opportunities and how to exploit them.

Investigate your options for getting online. Make sure you choose the right website and email addresses so your customers and suppliers can find your online presence quickly and easily. Consider the different ways to connect your business to the Internet, ranging from dial-up through to ADSL, cable, and satellite.

Pay attention to the design of your site. The overall look and feel will play an important role in its usability. There are also legal issues to consider in the design of the website. You must comply with the Disability Discrimination Act.

If you want to sell directly through your website, you'll need to have the infrastructure in place to showcase your products and services and process orders electronically.

To complete your e-commerce solution, you'll need to set up the facility to accept payment through your website.

Once your shop is online, consider how to monitor its effectiveness, make it more powerful, and ultimately sell more through it. Think about how you can drive traffic to your site -  Also look at how you can build a community around your brand through the use of social media and other Web 2.0 technologies.


Maintain and develop your e-commerce services
Your work doesn't end with setting up your initial e-commerce system. You need to maintain the site, constantly review how well it is operating, and consider new opportunities and ways of working that it may present to you.

Maintaining your e-commerce site

As the website owner, you must ensure that the content of the site is accurate and updated regularly. This will help in promoting a positive image for the business, and attracting and retaining visitors to the site.

As your e-commerce presence grows, so you must protect yourself against the threats posed by hackers, viruses and fraudsters. Identify the risks that they pose and implement appropriate security controls to counter them. Identifying new opportunities

Mobile commerce (m-commerce) is a type of e-commerce conducted through mobile devices such as mobile phones, personal digital assistants and other devices with a wireless connection. M-commerce brings new opportunities to small businesses both to sell new services and to operate existing businesses more efficiently.

Extranets can enable your business to communicate and collaborate more effectively with selected business partners, suppliers, and customers. They can   play   an   important   role   in   enhancing   business   relationships  and improving supply chain management.

An e-marketplace allows you to use a variety of online services such as electronic catalogues, business directory listings, and online auctions to sell your goods and services more effectively to other businesses.

Remember that not all e-commerce developments are a  success. You can learn  a  lot  from  the  experiences  of  other  e-commerce  providers  and, hopefully, ensure that you don't make the same mistakes.

Understand IT regulations and policies
There are a number of different regulations that you need to be aware of, particularly if you store customer or supplier information, or if you sell goods or services online. In addition there are internal policies that you are recommended to implement if your staff make use of the internet, or email.

Data protection
If you store details about customers, suppliers or potential suppliers on your systems, you must comply with the Data Protection Acts of whatever country you reside in.

Website notices
To comply with both regulations and good business practice you should include a variety of notices on your website. Typical examples include the terms and conditions under which your site operates, a privacy policy, any disclaimers that are appropriate, and a copyright and trademark notice. For examples of what such notices should include see our guide on.

Internal policies
If your staff have access to the internet and make use of email, then you should be aware that there are some associated concerns. These can range from excessive personal use through to potentially opening your business up to the risk of prosecution. Consider introducing policies that clearly state what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in terms of internet and email usage.


Make the most of your IT and e-commerce
To make the most of your IT and e-commerce investment, there are several points you need to observe:

Focus on the business benefits, not the technology - you may want to make your finance team more productive by eliminating repetitive processes. All you need to know about the hardware and software is that it will achieve this - its technical specification isn't important.

Only approve projects when you're confident that they support your business objectives - if you're looking to get products to market faster it's worth investing in supply-chain management software. But if your customers prefer longer lead times, there's little benefit to making the investment.

Plan to achieve measurable improvements - e.g. if you start an online shop, it's a good idea to set sales targets and monitor their effectiveness.

Don't leave the planning to your suppliers or consultants - only you know what your business really needs from IT. Suppliers and consultants may have their own interests in mind - they may suggest you spend more than you need to achieve your goals.

Recognize that there is also a requirement to provide ongoing support to your staff to ensure that problems are quickly resolved and system performance issues addressed.

Get your budgeting right - including future expenditure or maintenance, replacement and upgrading. If you have made provision for your IT systems, you won't be looking around for cash when you need to boost your system or take advantage of new technologies.

Review projects regularly to ensure that the planned benefits are being realized - e.g. if your finance team are still carrying out repetitive tasks your IT upgrade should have eliminated, you'll be paying twice, once for the IT and again for the staff costs it was supposed to have replaced.


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