How to turn your website into an online shop

Having a clean, user-friendly website is one of the first steps you take when you finally take the plunge and launch your own business. It’s a crucial part of your marketing strategy, and is a central point for existing and potential customers alike; 

Today, it’s common practice for businesses big and small to make their products and services available through their existing websites. E-commerce has grown from an added element of convenience to a customer expectation. Taking things a step further and adding those capabilities to your site means you’re open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, increasing your revenue and improving the overall buyer experience in the process – if done right, of course. If you’re thinking about turning your website into an online shop, here are a few pointers to get you on the right track, complete with funding opportunities. 

The first step – after you’ve purchased your domain name, of course – depends on what kind of CMS you’re currently using to run your site, or, if you’re starting from scratch, which one suits your style and needs best. The two most popular names out there are WordPress and Wix, two very user-friendly platforms that allow you to build a basic website in minutes. Big names like these will have some sort of e-commerce offering either built in or as a plugin (e.g. WooCommerce for WordPress), and will offer some guidelines on the finer points of getting your online shop up and running. 

Once you’ve settled on your CMS, you’ll need to decide on the e-commerce platform you want to use – many customers opt for a combination of Shopify and WooCommerce, because WordPress is the most popular CMS out there. You’ll also need to set up a Secure Sockets Layers or SSL certificate. Any site worth its salt will have this additional layer of security baked in to encrypt sensitive data, protect your buyers, and make you a more trustworthy vendor. It’s absolutely necessary if any kind of payment is to take place.  These e-commerce tools offer a step-by-step guide to get things set up quickly, but your marketing and IT team will work hand in hand to make sure everything is as it should be and primed to delight your customers.

So far, so good, right? Time to talk euros and cents. Like most major business moves, turning your website into an e-commerce powerhouse costs money, especially if your company needs a highly customised solution or design. If you’re a more established operation, finding the budget to sell online might be a fairly straightforward affair, but everyone from smaller businesses to SMEs and fresh startups might need a little support to get things up and running.  

If you’re based in Malta, find out if you’re eligible for the e-commerce Grant Scheme first. That means you can spend up to €10,000 and get half of that back, possibly to re-invest in your business! The first step is to write up a proposal detailing your business idea and the ins and outs of your online shop and/or app. This great initiative is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and gives you a maximum of €5,000 to cover things like: 

  • Registering a domain name 
  • Hosting fees for the duration of your project
  • Your CMS
    • This includes licenses you’ll need throughout your project
  • An e-commerce site and/or mobile app in line with your brand 
  • Shopping cart integration
  • Miscellaneous setup fees
    • These cover anything from CMS setup and configuration to system design, customisation and development, integration with payment services, and implementation from testing up to go-live.

You might be wondering: ‘how do I know if I’m eligible for this grant?’ I’m glad you asked. Any enterprise that does not currently have an e-commerce facility is eligible, even if you have a ‘regular’ website up and running. The service provider doing the work for you needs to be registered with the Measures and Support division – you can find a list of approved service providers on the division’s site.

Need help applying for this fantastic opportunity, or drawing up a proposal? Get in touch and we’ll be your financial guide! 

 

How To Write Your Business Plan Using Design Thinking

In one of our earlier posts, we talked about how to go about writing a business plan that’ll get you results. But there are about as many ways to write a proposal as there are entrepreneurial up-and-comers in the world (that’s a lot), so today we’re taking a look at another way to tackle the all-important (and sometimes feared) business plan: design thinking. This approach offers something a little different, but before we dive in, we need to tackle one quick question…

What is design thinking? 

At its core, design thinking is a process that empowers you to find innovative solutions to everyday problems and challenges you might face. It can be applied to practically any area of your life, be it personal or professional, and has been hailed as a highly effective way to approach issues in business, technology, and education to name just a few industries feeling the benefits of it. 

The result of using this method can range from new products and services to meet customer needs and address gaps in the market, vastly improved processes, and boosts in productivity and efficiency across your business. Think of it as human creativity with some serious wheels on it; the projections that you can get out of this approach help you (and your financial advisors) to find out whether or not your project is feasible. 

Applying design thinking to your business plan

Design thinking is made up of five distinct stages, and that’ll be reflected in the way you structure your business plan. These are discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation, and evolution – and we’re going to go through them one step at a time.

Discovery

First thing’s first: collect that data. You’ll want to gather as much information as possible from all the relevant sources you can find – customers (both happy and disgruntled), clients, key stakeholders, your ideal customer, your peers. Every one of these groups is a potential goldmine of not just data, but inspiration. Ask questions that will help you understand the various needs and frustrations experienced across that whole spectrum of sources, and use that to fuel your problem-solving and prove that there’s a clear need for your proposal.

Interpretation

You’ve got a lovely treasure trove of data, but what do you do next? Well, it’s time to break that data down, digest it, and interpret it in a way that you – and your audience – will understand. Use that information to answer questions like:

  • What is your business doing right?
  • Where are your customer’s pain points?
  • Which stages in the customer journey aren’t being addressed effectively?
  • What does your customer want to achieve, and how can you help them do that better than ever before?

Customer personas come in handy here, especially if you’re a more visual thinker. 

Ideation

This is where the fun starts. The ideation stage is all about taking your budding ideas and developing them into fully formed opportunities. Once you’ve answered the questions above – and probably brainstormed a few more on the fly – you’ll understand your target market better than ever before. What follows is an improved understanding of what they need and how current solutions are falling short of properly delighting them. 

Experimentation

Pick one or two of your standout ideas, and play with them. The experimentation stage isn’t costly in terms of time and money, and is essentially a litmus test for whether or not your business plan will be successful. Go back to your customers and talk to them about your business plan, asking them for their thoughts on your solution. 

Here, you’re testing the waters and gauging your customers’ response – if it’s positive, move forward, but if it’s overwhelmingly negative, then it’s time to hit the drawing board again. 

Evolution

This stage sees your idea mature into something a little more coherent and actionable. The evolution stage is all about careful consideration of everything you’ve worked on so far, and confirmation of whether or not your business plan creates real value for your customers and key stakeholders. 

If you’re not 100% happy with where you’re at at this stage, it’s time to cycle back to the discovery stage again and go through as many iterations of the process as you need to get to where you need to be. 

What To Consider When Writing A Business Plan

Just the thought of launching and building your own company from scratch can be as overwhelming as it is exciting. There’s a lot to think about – and even more to do – but even when you’re surrounded by never-ending to-do lists and you’re being bombarded by a barrage of emails marked ‘high priority’, you know all your hard work, late nights, and early starts will be worth it in the end. To help you a) calm down and b) get organised, we’re going to have a little talk about business plans and the most important points yours needs to address if you want to give yourself the best chance at success. 

Introduction and background information

Start things off with a summary of your business idea, together with any experience and qualifications you have that’ll help the enterprise not only get off the ground, but thrive in the long run. Here, you want to put your best foot forward and demonstrate that you can handle the scope and pressures of such a massive undertaking; explain your business model . Nobody knows your idea better than you – so present it with confidence. You’ve got this. 

Why does the market need your product or service? 

Is there an existing need your product/service can meet, or a gap in the market that your business is addressing? Here, you’ll outline what inspired you to set up your budding operation. The more evidence of a need or gap in the market that you can include, the better. This can come in the form of anything from surveys to national statistics and existing studies on the market – if it helps you make the case for your business idea, it’s worth mentioning. 

Core values and mission statement

To be truly successful, your business needs to mean more than money. Today’s  intelligent consumer – and the kind of talent you’d be keen to hire – seeks out brands that share the same values as they do. From environmental sustainability to giving back to local communities, investing in innovations that’ll help people live better lives, and global charity initiatives, it’s absolutely essential to show that at your core, you’re a positive force in the business world, and not some kind of soulless corporation. What’s your message? What do you stand for? If your business was human, what kind of person would it be? 

SWOT and competitor analysis

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, and is a tried-and-tested model for making an objective assessment of your business, product, or service. It’s a major part of analysing your competition (locally or otherwise) and understanding what you need to do to get to the front of the pack, so take your time researching and exploring this stage.

Strategy for growth and internationalisation

What’s your long-term plan? Potential investors need to know that you have a strategy that’ll help you manage your company’s growth and scale your business operations accordingly. If your business has the potential to go international some day, outline how you’d handle it and how you’d keep your brand strong and standards high while replicating your efforts in other parts of the world. 

Financial projections 

No matter how fabulous your idea is, it all comes down to euros and cents. The launch and long-term success of your business hinges on money; from investment sustainability and how much you need to get up and running to the cost of manufacturing your product, training people to deliver the kind of service you want, day-to-day operations, and what kind of ROI you need to hit to stand the test of time. You’ll also want to make some educated comments on the potential impact this project could have on the local economy. 

Translation: don’t skimp on the financial details. Be as transparent as possible about your projected costs and profit margins – there’s nothing worse than a nasty, expensive surprise later down the line. 

Email us today for expert advice on devising the perfect business plan.

 

How To Get Your Dream Mobile App Funded

The fact that you’re reading this particular post means you’re at least interested in the thought of creating your own e-commerce app. You probably already have a great idea locked away in that creative brain of yours – you might even have a fully fledged plan in place covering everything from what you’d like it to do and how you want it to look right up to its name, whether you’ll be offering a product or service, how it’ll make you money (and how much profit it could make), how you’ll market it, how it’ll grow, and how it’ll delight your users at every stage of the customer journey. 

That’s awesome. It takes a great deal of imagination, commitment, intelligence and tenacity to get this far, so take a second to pat yourself on the back. The hardest part is done and dusted – now it’s time to get that all-important funding that’ll allow your idea to take root and flourish. 

Funding an app

No matter what size your company may be, from start-up to established business, this kind of thing costs time and money. When you’re building an app to drive your operation forward, costs can grow according to the level of customisation and design work you’ll need for your project. 

Enter, the e-commerce Grant Scheme, an initiative co-financed by  the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and tailor-made to encourage Malta’s most business-minded citizens to embrace tech and all the ways it can enhance their brand – and their profit margins. What this means for you, ambitious app-maker, is that you can spend up to €10,000 and get a maximum of €5,000 back – a significant sum for fledgling entrepreneurs and bigger businesses alike. That might sound almost too good to be true, and you may be asking ‘what’s the catch?’ at this stage, but this does exactly what it says on the tin. 

What does the e-commerce Grant Scheme cover?

To qualify for this funding, your finished app needs to be compliant with the latest industry standards and any e-commerce security practices required to keep you and your customers safe from cybercrime. The grant will help you cover the costs of that, of course, but it can also be used to support the design, development, roll-out and launch of your app, complete with a content management system (CMS), analytics, and online payment gateway. 

Let’s take a closer look at what this initiative supports: 

  • Technical requirements (e.g. everything you need to get started, including a CMS, secure payment integration, visual product/service catalogue
  • Development, implementation, and delivery of any necessary communication channels.
  • Integration of suitable analytics software to allow you to get detailed reports on traffic to and users of your app 
  • Design elements for the app that’s aligned to your brand identity
  • Compliance with, at the minimum, W3C Level A accessibility guidelines

Don’t forget! If you’re enlisting the help of a service provider to get things up and running, remember: they need to be registered with the Measures and Support division.  Don’t worry – you can find a list of approved names on their website.

To find out if you’re eligible for the grant, or if you’d like some help preparing your proposal ahead of applying for it, send me an email, I’d love to help your ideas take flight! 

 

What makes for a good EU-funded project?

Being a part of the European Union gives Maltese entrepreneurs tonnes of opportunities to start or grow their businesses, no matter what industry they’re in or how much experience they have. When it comes to investment schemes specifically, there are three main ones you should read up on: the SME Growth Grant Scheme, the Start-up Investment Grant Scheme, and the SME Diversification and Innovation scheme. All three of these are co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund, Operational Programme 2014-2020.

Today we’re taking a closer look at the different key parts you’ll need to bake into your next project to make sure your business is perfectly placed to get this kind of EU funding. Grab a pen and paper because we’re about to get things started:

Plan your project

…But not just for the sake of getting EU funds. While making sure your plan is as appealing as possible in terms of your eligibility for investment is important, beware of creating a project solely for the purpose of getting EU funding. 

The seasoned experts on the other end – the ones with the power to approve or deny applications – can see through that sort of thing just a few minutes into reading your application. It would be a colossal waste of your time and energy, so just focus on planning your project based on your goals and ambitions first. Clearly outline your strategy based on your wider, more-detailed business plan, and this’ll boost your chances of getting funding. 

Focus on sustainability 

Any kind of potential investor wants to know that their seed money is going to help build something that’ll stand the test of time. If you look at any EU-funded project under the sun, you’ll quickly realise that they all have a clear vision and roadmap for how their business will maintain sustainability to the point that they’ll benefit from long-term market resilience. 

Sustainability also covers the social and environmental aspect of your business. Not only does sustainability give you an opportunity to collect more points that go towards your application – you’ll be giving back to the community that played a part in your business succeeding in the first place, and doing your bit to help the environment by contributing to national strategies and eco targets. 

Employment prospects 

These funding opportunities were created primarily to tap into Malta’s entrepreneurial potential, with the aim of creating further economic benefits and employment prospects in the wider community. When putting your project outline together, remember to consider your short- and long-term growth, and the projected numbers for the kind of talent you’ll need to not only launch your business but create sustained growth further down the line too. 

Opportunities to go global

Taking your business to the international stage is a sure sign of success, so be sure to identify any opportunities your project might have to do that and don’t skimp on the details. Whether you’re exporting goods or marketing your product or service to an international audience, it’s worth talking about. 

Identify that gap in the market

No matter what industry or sector you’re making waves in, you stand to gain a huge advantage if you’ve discovered a gap in the market and have a product or service that can meet the needs of that gap. Outline exactly what the market is like currently, and what you could bring to the table, complete with all the facts and figures you can get your ambitious hands on. Show them exactly how your proposal helps bridge that gap.  

Make a positive impact

One of the best ways to boost your chances of getting funding is to show that your project – and wider business model – can have a positive impact on the industry, economy, or country as a whole. Think of it as paying your good fortune forward; if your business does well, who else stands to gain from those positive results? Are you creating jobs, or helping push the boundaries of the industry you’re in? Are you playing a part in raising Malta’s profile on the world stage? If so, it’s definitely worth mentioning. 

NM Group can handle your SME Growth Grant Scheme application and offer advisory on eligible costs. Through our experienced consultants, we continue to achieve a success rate of over 95% for all grant applications. Get in touch today to benefit from this or any other grant or support measure!

How to grow your business and get a guaranteed return

As a business owner, one of your constant concerns may be how to grow your business. This is a very natural and necessary challenge which can provide new opportunities while also developing your enterprise into a more resilient one. But as we all know, growing a business can present several risks – especially when so much effort and resources are needed to ensure sound implementation. Plus, very often business owners take on additional personal risk or put a strain on the business’ financials in order to see things through.

The good news is that business growth can be just as exciting as it is scary. Growth encourages innovation and diversification, the very basis of entrepreneurship. In fact, the EU, together with the Maltese government, has developed a grant which reduces the risk for you and your business. This is better known as the SME Growth Grant Scheme.

The Support Your Business Deserves

The SME Growth Grant Scheme is targeted at micro, small and medium-sized businesses. A maximum grant of €500,000 is being offered per applicant, based on the total cost of the growth project. Micro and small businesses can benefit from 30% funding, whereas a medium-sized business can get up to 20%. This grant can allow your business to capitalise on new opportunities and become more sustainable over the long-term.

Getting access to capital has always been a challenge for Maltese businesses. The long and expensive process involved in getting funding from traditional institutions can easily make you miss a golden opportunity. In contrast, this grant allows for a much faster process at a considerably lower price.

Eligible Funding Projects

In simple terms, the SME Growth Grant Scheme can support the investments which will help you generate a higher revenue. Whether you are diversifying your business or building on past successes, there are several ways in which this grant can help you. These include:

  • Leasing of private premises
  • Construction of new property
  • Purchasing of equipment
  • Investment in energy efficient machinery
  • Purchasing of patent right or licences

The ultimate goals of the SME Growth Grant Scheme are to support local enterprises to reach their full potential while also encouraging further employment and development. In order to be deemed successful, each grant application needs to adhere to strict guidelines so as to ensure a just distribution of funds… which is what our team of funding experts is for!

NM Group can handle your SME Growth Grant Scheme application and offer advisory on eligible costs. Through our experienced consultants, we continue to achieve a success rate of over 95% for all grant applications. Get in touch today to benefit from this or any other grant or support measure!

The Secret To Writing A Foolproof Business Plan

A common question we get from entrepreneurs is if a business plan is necessary.

And our answer all depends on what you believe is necessary. Business owners often view business plans as an extra hassle, especially when it’s only needed as a required document by a third party. But what happens when you need to take stock of all your ideas and projections?

A great business plan can not only represent a business’ scope on paper, but it can also act as a roadmap to success.

So, even if is a business plan isn’t formally required – it has its uses. How do you make it foolproof?

First things first. Not all business plans are created equal.

There is no specific rule which says that a plan needs to have so many pages, chapters or statistics. In order to understand the level of detail, what data and which arguments to include, the writer must first understand their audience. A business plan to be used by the entrepreneur will probably not require the same information needed for one that’s presented to third parties, such as banks or investors.

So, with an audience in mind, what kind of information should you include?

The Basics

When it comes to writing business plans there are standard areas that are addressed, such as:

  • Mission statement and vision Statement
  • Company description
  • Unique traits of your products and services
  • Finances
  • Market strategies
  • Operations and management plan

Even if you don’t have any grand ideas for these elements, writing about it in your business plan will force you to consider your options and help you choose a direction.

Now that you have a fair idea of how to split up your plan, it’s time to think about it in context.

A plan for your own use

If you’re creating a business plan for yourself or your inner circle, then detail is not as important as objectivity. The goal of the plan is for you to put down your thoughts on paper so that you can visualise them better. In this way, you can identify any possible gaps in your reasoning or in your business model. The plan itself can be very short, and you can find templates for one-pagers across the web.

Although detail is not necessary for such a plan, critical thinking is. You need to ensure that you’ve got all your bases covered, from your core products or services to the organisation of your business. The thought process which is involved is the same as that used to make a more detailed plan.

A plan for third parties

When you need a business plan that will be read by people outside of your business, you need to include background information and more detailed explanations than you would in a one-pager.

Again, deciding what you would include in the plan depends very much on its audience. A bank might require more detailed financials, whereas an investor would be looking for key people that will ensure the success of the business. Even applying for local and EU-funded grants require particular information to be included.

Once you provide your plan to the third party, it will probably be read by a number of people –  your business plan is officially under scrutiny. These people will be checking the plan for several criteria, not least, consistency. There is nothing worse when a plan that says one thing on one page and then says the opposite on another.

Another important element that is often sought is data to back up your proposals and arguments. This is where market research really pays off. Put yourself in the third party’s shoes – their investment in you involves a certain level of risk. This business plan is your chance to prove to them that not only is your project worth the risk – it’s got potential to bring in a return too.

When do I know it’s ready?

A business plan is not a static document – as with your business, your plan will evolve over time.

The point of the plan is not so much to instruct as it is to guide. New business opportunities and changing environments will constantly challenge your business, and having a plan will help you make the right decisions at the right time.

Researching and writing a business plan is a time-consuming effort, especially if you are very busy. NM Group can create your plan and get you funding to cover the majority of the costs. We can also use your business plan to apply for a range of funding opportunities. It’s a win-win!

Get in touch today on [email protected].

5 Reasons Why Investing In Your Staff Makes For Better Business

As a business owner or manager, you’ve probably come to realise that your team is one of the most important resources your company has. Keeping staff content is a challenge in itself, but keeping them motivated is even harder. Various studies have shown that employees are loyal to an employer that empowers them and invests in their development. Money is important as well, certainly, but very often it is further down the list of an employee’s priorities.

One of the best tools to keep motivation high is training. However, as many business owners would agree, training is an expense that doesn’t always fall high on our list of priorities. Fortunately, the Investing in Skills scheme, administered by Jobsplus, can help to significantly reduce the cost of training to all local businesses. Here are just a few reasons why investing in your staff is a smart move:

1. Empower your staff

The term empowerment might seem like a loaded word, but it simply means allowing your employees to have a certain level of authority within the business. An employee might be empowered to take executive decisions wisely, for instance changing suppliers when a better and more efficient deal becomes available. Giving such authority to employees requires prior training, such as in communication and creative thinking. One of the benefits of empowerment is that it frees up time for the company’s management to focus on the bigger picture.

2. Introduce new skills

A business which does not recruit new staff for a while can easily become stuck in its ways. This could make it less prone to change and innovate, which might damage its long-term sustainability. Training can help prevent this. Staff members can be taught new skills which allow them to re-think their existing processes and products. Such skills can come from informal training or accredited courses and help prepare the business for future challenges.

3. Show staff your appreciation

You spend more time with your staff than you probably do with your family. That’s exactly why it’s very important that you show them your appreciation for their efforts and ideas. By giving them training opportunities you are giving them a life-long gift which has more value than any bonus. Allow your staff to suggest training which they would like to have, and be open to new ideas. Training on entrepreneurship, for example, might seem like an unusual choice. However, it is a course which teaches problem-solving, project management and new business opportunities. Skills any manager would want his staff to have, right?

4. Your customers will thank you

Your staff probably meet your customers more often than you do. It makes sense that they have all the necessary customer service and stress management training they could have. There is nothing that irritates a customer more when a question is posed and a business representative stares blankly back. The founder of the Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson has repeatedly said, “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.”

5. Expand beyond your comfort zone

Training is, in itself, a form of networking. A classroom setting allows interaction between employees to be less formal and helps develop the team spirit, especially in larger enterprises. There is also interaction with the trainer, who may be an outsider, and might pass on solutions the business offers to other contacts. Joint training with other companies also encourages partnerships and new opportunities.

If you would like to learn more about how you could benefit from the Investing in Skills scheme, where you could save up to 70% of the eligible training costs, get in touch. Our team is ready to assist you in getting the necessary grants and can also help you identify the right training for your staff.