Friday, February 27, 2009

Tracking responses - a cautionary tale

If you're involved in advertising or marketing in any form, you'll already know how important it is to track responses and measure results in order to refine your programme and maximise the return on your investment. This week, while speaking to clients about Fun Under Five, I was reminded of a lesson I learnt in my first job, and it is an important one.

If you ask your new clients where they heard about you, what kind of answers do you get? I would bet that the most frequent response is "word of mouth" - am I right? You might have a press campaign, you might be running a complex direct mail campaign, but time and again, WOM comes out tops, eh?

For offline media, it is the frustrating truth that a large proportion of people cannot remember where they got your number - or can't be bothered to try. For a publisher, this answer kills repeat business, as it is used to explain that the advertisement didn't generate any business, that the cost can't be justified, etc etc.

Well, next time you hear "Word of Mouth", think of this story:

My first job was at Candis magazine. Now this was before everything and everyone was online, and the only way to get the magazine was from a rep on your doorstep. We had about 1 million subscribers, which is fantastic for a mag without newsstand presence.

When we did some research, where do you think most people said they bought their magazine from? Yup, the newsagents.

Impossible, they just weren't sold there. However, the human brain reverts to the norm as often as possible, and you usually buy magazines in a newsagents, so it seems a reasonable answer.

A significant number of respondents also said they'd seen us advertised on TV. They hadn't.

So by all means, track your responses and refine where you spend your money. But have a healthy scepticism for what people tell you - and maybe throw in a rogue answer option to test out the theory! Let me know what happens.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

She works hard for the money

What a couple of days I've had! Mega-networking, kids' activities, Shoe Do, typesetting, charity shop - all in the last 36 hours!

Yesterday was my fortnightly 4Networking fix in Stevenage (Knebworth, actually). If you've never heard of it and you are in business in the UK, then you are missing out on fantastic opportunities to forge relationships and grow your business. The breakfast meetings are fun and friendly and yesterday it looks like I found an interesting new corporate client for Shoes Galore, and a telemarketing project!

Afterwards I went to a business exhibition in Welwyn Garden City. Partly I was helping run the 4Networking stand, and partly I was looking for business. Nothing definite, but lots of useful contacts to follow up. I came away from my morning buzzing!

But let me share a lesson in business networking with you: I approached two women who were running a stand for a pretty decent hotel. They were chatting to each other, and I said "Hello." They said "hello" to me and then just continued their conversation! It is bad enough when a shop assistant does that, but when the whole point of the exhibition was for them to get more business, it was shocking. I waited for about a minute and then just walked away. They'll never know how much business they have missed out on. If you run a hotel in Hertfordshire and want to know if it was your staff, get in touch.

After some hectic ferrying of children between different activities, I re-energised myself with a bit of Take That and drove 30 miles for a Shoe Do. This one was great, I really enjoyed it. There were only 4 ladies there, and the hostess was worried it wouldn't work, but often the intimate parties are the nicest. I did I nice amount of business, and I think they all had fun. I had a scary moment when I thought I'd lost my car key, but all was well in the end!

Back home by 10.30pm, I then had a choice: should I go to bed, or should I typset the Fun Under Five publication? Given that I am right on deadline, I decided to get the typesetting done. It was pretty straightforward, and hey! I was finished by 1am. By that stage I had been up for 19 hours, so I was a little weary.

Today I was due at the charity shop, and how I got through the day, I'll never know. Tired doesn't come into it! Anyway, it's over now. Tonight I just have to come up with a costume for the 7 year old's "20th century fashion" dressing up day at school tomorrow. But I aim to go to bed by...what do you think? 9pm is attractive - midnight seems more likely!


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Charity begins at...

Well, let me introduce you to the world of the charity shop.

I work a couple of days a week at a local one - it's good fun, hard work and minimum wage, but it is guaranteed income each month, which is reassuring. Anyway, I worked this morning as an extra to cover for someone off sick. Boy! It was busy.

I've worked there about 7 months, and it really is an eye-opener. Both the donations made and the customers we get are a real education in peoplekind.

First up, donations. There are 2 ways we get stock - donations over the door (when you've cleared out your wardrobe, or your granny has died), and deliveries from the guys who collect the bags that get pushed through your door. Both types yield dramatically varying quality of items.

On the plus side, we have recently had donated a complete Denby dinner service, a brand new Next suit (not even out of the Next Directory delivery packaging!), some Portmeirion pottery and some gorgeous handbags. Stuff like that sells.

On the downside, we have also had donated unwashed underwear (eeew!), half-used lipsticks and broken toys. Whilst I don't want to put anyone off donating (goodness kows, all charity shops are desperate for donations at the moment), I do have to question how those people thought we could sell that stuff.

The people who shop with us are fascinating too. There's the lonely old men who pop by for a chat and often buy things that you know they don't need just for a bit of human contact. There are the trendy young things with an eye for style and bargains, ready to alter a garment to make it special. There are the people who can't afford to shop elsewhere. And then there are the Unusuals.

The Unusuals all have something memorable about them, something that intrigues you. Perhaps it is a man who always checks out the handbags, or maybe the scruffy guy who buys expensive collectable china.

But every customer is welcome, all of them greeted with a smile and a thank you when they buy or donate. People always tell us that they love our shop, and whilst there are those who don't consider it real retail, the constant challenge of making other people's cast-offs appealing keeps me going back week after week!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The disappointment of Oscars fashion

So it's all over for another year, and everyone is picking over the frocks and the frills. But do you know what I'm upset about? That in most pictures you can't see the shoes! Who knows what's going on under Miley Cyrus's big pouffey dress? I reckon she's wearing scuffed-up trainers! And stand up straight girl! I really don't understand why commentators are raving about this dress. To me it is over the top, lacking class and too old for her.

Anyway, back to the shoes...

It can be a challenge to find shoes to complement a long gown, especially when the gown is a real statement piece. Do you go for statement shoes? A contrast colour? Or do you try to tone your shoes in and let the dress do the talking?

I've scanned the pics and picked out all the shots I can find which show the shoes, and my overall opinion is that Hollywood ladies need some shoe advice urgently!

Take this one: Lara Spencer, a TV host from the USA. Her dress is beautiful - demure but sexy and an attention-catching navy blue. The sparkling trim raises it from matronly to marvellous...but those shoes! No, no, no! Firstly, the silver stands out too much and draws your eye from her beautiful figure and smile. But from what we can see from the style of the shoe, they are too heavy and, well - clumpy. There you are in an elegant, chiffon dress - why would you put great big heavy shoes with it? What a shame.

Next up? Virginia Madsen, an actress with a string of film credits to her name, but possibly not anything you would admit to having seen. Now, she's looking pretty hot for a woman born before me (!) and she obviously wants to show off those sandals...I can see that she wants the dress to do the talking, so her shoes are more subtle, but with a split like that, the shoes need more pizazz. They may be designer label (I'm not getting into that in this posting), but she looks like she rushed home from the beach and forgot to change her sandals when she wriggled into her gown.

Amanda Seyfried (from Mamma Mia!) went the other way. Her sandals are too dark for her dress, and too detailed to sit well with that statement dress.

Now maybe it's not fair to comment on the non-celebs, but this one can't go without comment. Danny Glover is accompanied by a lady who obviously feels she is too tall. Fair enough, and she scores points for making a feature of her striking silver hair. But am I alone in thinking those shoes look like something you'd buy for £9.99 in Shoe Zone?

So how should you do it? Well, ignore the dress (let everyone else slag it off, I don't think it was the worst thing on show on the red carpet), but Heidi Klum has the right idea with her shoes. They match the dress, so don't distract from it, but they aren't so insipid that they underwhelm you. It's a difficult balancing act to pull off, but I really think Heidi does it.

Beware though - matching shoes and dress won't always save you. I confess, I don't know who these people are (please leave a comment if you can help), but that black dress swamps her and the clumpy black shoes do not add anything in the elegance stakes. She looks happy though!

Finally, despite all the criticism of her flesh-toned top, I really love Tilda Swinton's shoes. They are just right for the outfit - quirky, stylish and beautifully proportioned. I know I usually say that black shoes are the coward's option, but these work.

Shoes for a special occasion can be a minefield, and having endless pots of money doesn't mean you always get it right. However, with some thought and the chance to try on a range of styles and colours your shoes can enhance your outfit rather than ruin it.

Please note, to respect copyright, I have linked to the pictures rather than including them directly. I know the blog looks less exciting, but it was the right thing to do!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mud & Moppets

The girls and I have a small allotment plot (think dining table sized raised bed) and last year we grew lots of yummy stuff - mange tout, french beans, purple carrots, beetroot...). We haven't been down there for about a month because of the snow we had in Letchworth Garden City - about 4 inches sitting around for 2 weeks! So today we made the short expedition to see how things were.

What we found was some stunted swede, which nobody likes anyway, some struggling chinese greens and about a gazillion worms. It looks like we need to plan what goes in next, but it is too early for the interesting stuff,plus anything that goes in now will have to stay in there for most of the year and I am loathed to give over the space. So do I want to put in garlic or cabbage that will take up the space that could later be used for mange touts? Or do I want to leave it empty for another few months? It's not an easy decision, especially as I am waiting to hear about getting a grown-up sized allotment, which will not have space limitations.

The girls poked about in the dirt and made a collection of worms (apparently they needed to make friends with each other). Then the 6 nearly 7 year old decided it was a smart idea to stand ankle deep in the stickiest mud in Hertfordshire. That's OK, I don't mind a bit of healthy dirt when it is from fun and exploration...

We walked home and the girls were instructed to take off shoes, socks and muddy jeans at the front door. I went into the kitchen to sort out the swedes. The next thing I know, there is mud all over the tiled hallway and on the living room carpet. Guess which 6 year old was handed a cloth to clean up after herself? (on the basis that by cleaning it up she will remember why she needs to leave her dirty stuff at the front door).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Who is the Shoe Lady?

The Shoe Lady (also known as Lisa) is me! I'm the Mum of 2 girls, aged almost 7 and completely 3 and I live in Letchworth Garden City in North Hertfordshire. I am a woman of many parts, which you will come to know through this blog, but I'm called the Shoe Lady because I spend a great deal of my time visiting women's homes and offices with my travelling shoe boutique.

That's right, I'm a Shoes Galore consultant, the UK's first and best shoe party company! What could be better than a night in with your mates trying on fabulous shoes in fabulous colours? I get a buzz out of every event I attend, because people have so much fun.

But this blog isn't just a sales pitch for my shoes! It's about family, style and living in North Herts. It's about the trials and triumphs of running a small business and it's about all the bits of life and experience that come in between. I expect there'll be a lot of cookery related stuff, some things about charity shops & a whole load of comments about shopping.

I hope you enjoy the ride!