I am sitting here with the light on in the middle of the day as the rain pours down outside. It could easily be autumn already so I am in the mood to be thinking about important forthcoming dates and anniversaries:

Mon 2nd Sept School term begins*
Thu 12th Sept Fifth Ashes Test between England and Australia begins
Fri 20th Sept Rugby Union World Cup starts
Mon 23rd Sept September Equinox
Sat 5th Oct The first ever episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus aired on the BBC 50 years ago
Fri 25th Oct Last day before school half term holiday begins*
Sun 27th Oct Daylight Saving Time ends – clocks go back
Sun 27th Oct Diwali
Thu 31st Oct Halloween

I have no doubt that you are well aware of the dangers that the internet can pose for us. There are the obvious ones, such as your lovely uncle the Nigerian Prince, but there are also plenty of scams that are more difficult to detect, especially if you are quickly scanning your emails at a busy time.

Here are some things to look out for to help you avoid scammers, phishing attempts and fake enquiries:

1. Fake phone numbers. An email asking you to call a premium rate number is an obvious ploy. These numbers usually have one of these prefixes: 0944/0843/0844. If you have any suspicions, Googling the number may well show up community websites whose members have been scammed.

Let’s hope we have dodged the worst of the winter weather and can get ready to welcome Spring. It often pays to get a promotion or two in at this time of year as people are generally feeling a bit more optimistic.

Here is a note of some significant dates coming up in the next three months:

Fri 1st March St David’s Day
Tue 5th March Shrove Tuesday
Wed 6th March Ash Wednesday
Tue 12th March Cheltenham Festival starts
Sun 17th March St Patrick’s Day
Sun 31st March Mother’s Day

I saw a Facebook post last week that struck a chord. It read:

“Don’t use a big word when a singularly unloquacious and diminutive linguistic expression will satisfactorily accomplish the contemporary necessity.”

As we move into a new year, you may well have been thinking of ways of improving your business. You might have decided that you want more customers, for instance. My question to you would be, “How many?” If you in turn say “I don’t know”, then you’ve got a problem.

You can’t hit a target unless you have a target to aim for!

Just saying you want more customers won’t work because it has no real meaning without an actual number attached to it. You need to decide instead that you want, say, twenty new customers in the next twelve months.

That’s the football season finished and the May Bank Holidays out of the way – it must be nearly summer. Here are some key dates for you:

Mon 3rd June Schools first day of term*
Fri 7th June Women’s Football World Cup starts
Fri 14th June Cheltenham Food and Drink Festival weekend
Sun 16th June Father’s Day
Fri 21st June Summer Solstice
Mon 1st July Wimbledon Tennis begins
Sat 13th July Gloucester Carnival
Sun 14th July British Grand Prix, Silverstone
Tue 23rd July Schools last day of term*

If you are looking for some quick and easy ways to increase the number of enquiries you receive and sales you achieve, I have got some tips for you.

1- Be there when they want you. This might seem a no-brainer but you would be surprised at the number of businesses who set their working hours by the strictures of their own industry and merely copy competitors, such as 9.00am to 5.00pm Monday to Friday. That is making life easy for yourself, not necessarily for your customers.

2- Flexible payment methods. It has never been easier for companies to accept payment via credit, debit or charge card and from services such as PayPal. Providing you factor any charges into your prices, these transactions won’t cost you anything.

Marketing has always been a contentious subject. For many people just the mere word makes their hackles rise and there can be no doubt that at a lot of marketing can be viewed as intrusive and unwanted.

Let’s look at the Ugly side first off. There has been a lot of recent debate about the promotion of sugary high energy drinks to youngsters and a lot of the advertising for unhealthy foods is aimed at sites and TV channels that specifically appeal to children. There is also talk of banning in-play betting adverts which can lead to or aggravate gambling addiction.

Well I’ve got my Xmas tree put up – put up in the loft, that is! Nevertheless it will soon be time for those seasonal decorations to make an appearance.

Time then to be thinking about the important dates for your promotions over the Xmas and the New Year:

Fri 21st Dec Schools break up for Xmas* & Winter Solstice
Mon 24th Dec Xmas Eve
Tue 25th Dec Xmas Day
Wed 26th Dec Boxing Day
Mon 31st Dec New Year’s Eve
Tue 1st Jan New Year’s Day
Sat 5th Jan FA Cup Third Round weekend
Mon 7th Jan New school term begins*
Fri 25th Jan Burns’ Night
Tue 5th Feb Chinese New Year
Thu 14th Feb Valentine’s Day
Fri 15th Feb Schools break up
Mon 25th Feb Back to school

* These are the recommended Gloucestershire school term dates. Individual schools and colleges may differ.

I expect many of you are aware of Checkatrade and use their site. I spotted a useful blog recently which I thought I should share with you as it concerns ways in which small businesses like yours can save money.

1. Switch your energy supplier and save pounds. Business energy can be a huge expense. If you stick to the same supplier year after year you run the risk of paying outdated rates. If you use a site such as Love Energy Savings you can compare rates and potentially save pounds.

2. Shop around for business insurance. The same applies to business insurance. Studying the market and regularly switching helps you get the best deal and saves your business money. Take a look at the Simply Business website for a starter.

I expect you know from your own experience that reading online is different from reading print. It therefore follows that writing online needs to be different to the way you were taught to write for print.

To get technical for a moment, research has come up with the concept of the bi-literate brain. This describes the differences between reading print, known as deep reading processes, and online, described as non-linear reading.

So how do digital readers differ from print readers?

• Online people read up to 25% more slowly.
• They tend to scan text looking for key words, hence writers need to use SEO (search engine optimisation) techniques and include these key words.
• Online readers tend to have a specific objective and to want to complete that objective quickly. They want relevant information, so put it at the top of the page.
• If your page doesn’t provide what a reader wants easily and quickly, they will search for one that does!
• Online reading is not linear. Readers will be jumping about from site to site, topic to topic, so bear in mind that interactivity is the key.

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