The Apprentice Insights: Expert tips for building your SME’s brand online » SMEInsider

The Apprentice Insights: Expert tips for building your SME’s brand online

Neil Dagger NominetAs part of our forthcoming series of features on the new series of The Apprentice we’ve teamed up with Bianca Miller, last year’s runner up, and Nominet, the UK internet domain registry. In the weeks ahead we’ll be providing week by week commentary and insight as the series plays out, and lessons today’s small businesses can draw from the weekly business tasks.

We spoke to Nominet senior product marketing manager Neil Dagger about the digital opportunities that have emerged for SMEs since the show began in 2005, and how small companies can make a bigger impact online with a strong branding strategy and domain name.

A lot has happened in the 10 years since The Apprentice aired for the first time. We’ve weathered a double-dip recession, found a new way of procrastinating in our smartphones and been thoroughly confused by the conclusion of Lost.

Meanwhile, the internet has fostered a new generation of entrepreneurs, and the emergence (and now omnipresence), of social media has provided businesses a flexible platform for brand promotion.

Throughout its history, The Apprentice has reflected these online developments, welcoming contestants interested in setting up digitally focused businesses. However, a study earlier this year found that more than a million small business owners are failing to learn digital skills. How can they keep themselves up to date with the skills they need, including digital marketing?

“Online marketing never stands still,” says Neil. “Many skills learned while studying are often outdated within one or two years.”

To stay ahead of the crowd, you have to make time to keep abreast of any developments in digital marketing, he adds.

You have to maximise your online visibility to your customers, and always be present where and when they are searching.”

One way of doing this is by building an impressive online brand. A strong online brand presence gives your company credibility and inspires customer confidence. Neil says it’s also important to show solid evidence of the business providing successful solutions to satisfied customers.

One important element in the online brand package is your company’s domain name. Choosing the right domain name for your company’s website around which you can build your brand is crucial, Neil says.

Your domain name is so important to your business’s visibility and image, how it is found through organic online search, its presence and what it says about your brand. A great brand is not built overnight but with the wrong domain name it will certainly take a lot longer.”

He adds: “One thing to think about is who is linking to your website. Who refers to it through cross-links helps build reputation. Good digital PR linking through to your domain name helps search but is often neglected and an important element of brand building.”

It’s worth considering the .uk suffix for your site. In the UK, four in five people prefer.uk websites when searching or buying online, Neil says. “UK domains are a well-established and trusted element of the UK internet infrastructure.

“Great domains like the UK domain family, such as .co.uk, and the new shorter .uk are an essential part of establishing a strong credible identity. It shows where you operate, that you are a British business or individual, and that your business addresses UK customers who expect prices in pounds sterling, support staffed from the UK, local fast delivery and trusted local service.”

But what if the domain name matching your company name has already been registered by somebody else?  There are often close variations available that are equally good, Neil says, and with a little patience, you may even find a domain name even better suited to your company.

“I’ve recently been involved in several programmes searching for the optimum new domain names and have been pleasantly surprised to see how many great .uk web domains are still available to buy. I’d encourage any prospective new business to go to www.agreatplacetobe.uk and see if the web site or email address they want is still available and register it before someone else does.”

The digital revolution has made it easier for younger people to launch businesses, creating a new brand of entrepreneur with an entirely different range of skills from their predecessors. With some collaboration, these two generations can learn a lot from one another on The Apprentice, Neil says.

“The more experienced business person brings insight and clarity to the planning process, distribution of tasks and maintains a clear focus on the business objective, avoiding the distractions, arguing and time wasting that have often caused past tasks to go off the rails.

“The younger team members would maintain the speed and drive to make rapid decisions and ensure that high energy tasks were completed quickly and on time, with their goals clearly defined. I think the ultimate teams contain a mix of skills and experience that complement each other and work as one toward an agreed strategy.”

Don’t forget to tune into the first two episodes of The Apprentice on Wednesday 14th and Thursday 15th at 9 on BBC1, and to join us on Friday for ex-contestant Bianca Miller’s take on the show.