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How to use social media to boost your business’s sales

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I run a small jewellery business and am used to using Instagram and other social channels to market my pieces. 

But with all the pressures of the coronavirus crisis, it’s harder to convert my posts into sales.

Do you have any tips?

Sisters Elma and Amra Beganovich are digital influencers with a following of 2.3 million online

Sisters Elma and Amra Beganovich are digital influencers with a following of 2.3 million online

Sisters Elma and Amra Beganovich are digital influencers with a following of 2.3 million online

Sarah Davidson of This is Money replies: You are not alone in having suffered a fall in your business income as a result of the coronavirus and lockdown. 

For many firms that rely on physical trade, pubs, bars, shops, restaurants, gyms, cinemas, theatres – the list feels endless – lockdown has crippled their cash flow and in the worst cases, pushed firms over the abyss and into closure. 

It sounds as though you don’t rely on a shop front to sell your wares however, and have managed to muddle through lockdown by continuing to sell online and through social media. 

This distribution channel has been a lifeline for many firms that, until the coronavirus outbreak, wouldn’t have bothered too much with posting online and on social media platforms.  

But the lack of alternatives has forced them into marketing in the virtual world to survive. 

It’s a crowded place though, with ferocious competition and a complex web of influencers, paid-for promotions and an often sceptical or critical audience. 

We asked sisters Elma and Amra Beganovich, both digital influencers themselves with a following of more than 2.3 million online and founders of digital marketing agency A&E, to offer their insights into navigating business promotions online in the aftermath of Covid-19

Amra Beganovich, co-founder of digital marketing agency A&E

Amra Beganovich, co-founder of digital marketing agency A&E

Amra Beganovich, co-founder of digital marketing agency A&E

Elma and Amra said: For small businesses, social media is an extremely cost effective tool to drive awareness, traffic and essentially conversion for their brands especially during the pandemic. 

The rule of seven in marketing applies equally to small businesses as it does to corporate behemoths – in other words, customers need to see your product at least seven times before making a decision to buy. 

Below, we will outline five tips for small businesses how to drive traffic and ultimately conversions to their eCommerce shops.

Partner with influencers

Carefully outline, if you have not already, who is your target demographic? 

Make sure you have thought it through very well because there may be more than one group – young millennial mums and young professional singles, for example. 

Then, do your homework: research influencers and carefully scrutinize their brand image and engagement – do they share your target demographic? 

If so, reach out and try to form a relationship with those influencers by speaking their language – speaking to their core values. 

Partner with them on an exchange basis, and develop those relationships for the long haul – they will serve as brand advocate for your brand.

Do not go dark on social media 

Keep talking to your customer, post at least five times per week – remember that consumers are experiencing unsettling times and feel good posts will go a long way. 

Moreover, keep in mind that a consumer does not make a purchase decision instantly the moment he or she sees a product. 

They will need time to process, research or merely think about the purchase. The goal of a small business is to keep the communication channels open and presentations of new offers streamlined.

Elma Beganovich, co-founder of digital marketing agency A&E

Elma Beganovich, co-founder of digital marketing agency A&E

Elma Beganovich, co-founder of digital marketing agency A&E

Engage in social responsibility 

Engage in cause marketing, even the smallest efforts by your brand will speak to your consumer emotionally. 

For example, offer to donate 10 per cent of your sale proceeds to a non-profit highly affected by Covid-19. 

Announce this effort to your consumers on social channels to encourage them to purchase from your brand.

Partner with other brands and host Instagram Live

Consumers are feeling increasingly isolated and are spending more time than ever online. 

According to Facebook, Instagram Live and Facebook Live views have doubled in late March at the outset of the pandemic. 

Take advantage of this surge in online viewership and partner with another complementary brand. 

You run a jewellery brand, so think about partnering with a stylist from a fashion brand, and give consumers style tips for their Zoom meetings.

Engage in giveaways 

Giveaways allow your followers and potential new followers to tag their own friends, encouraging them to follow your brand – word of mouth marketing is the best from your existing customers.

Be smart and host giveaways on your social channels to engage with your former, current or potential customers. 

Customers like to engage in sweepstakes, which are both fun and can be rewarding. 

Ask your followers to tag their friends to enter to win! You will see a spike in engagement, following, and enthusiasm for your brand.

Sisters Elma and Amra Beganovich are digital influencers with a following of 2.3 million online

Sisters Elma and Amra Beganovich are digital influencers with a following of 2.3 million online

Sisters Elma and Amra Beganovich are digital influencers with a following of 2.3 million online

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Morning rush hour has ‘fully returned’, says traffic report

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Morning rush-hour traffic levels have returned to pre-pandemic levels just as Britons face another lockdown in the face of a second-wave of Covid-19 infections, according to a report today.

Despite many still working from home, data analysed by the RAC found that morning congestion on our roads are now back to the same levels as in January.

The motoring group said the rise in traffic from 8am has broadly been caused by parents taking their children to school in cars to avoid public transport.

Morning rush hour returns: Traffic volumes from 8am to 9am are back to pre-lockdown levels as more parents are using their cars to take children to school to avoid public transport, says a new report by the RAC

Morning rush hour returns: Traffic volumes from 8am to 9am are back to pre-lockdown levels as more parents are using their cars to take children to school to avoid public transport, says a new report by the RAC

RAC Insurance has reviewed ‘hundreds of thousands’ of trips taken by its customers over the last few months. 

It said peak school drop-off times between 8am and 9am have led to the spike in traffic.

Analysis of average weekday traffic levels from when schools in England re-opened between Monday 7 September and Wednesday 16 September showed there were the same number of cars being driven as on a weekday in January. 

Car volumes during these times were also up 55 per cent compared to the period before most schools had returned, with the stats compared to the week beginning 24 August.

The RAC said staggered drop-off times being operated by many schools are also extending the rush hour period.

After reviewing average weekday traffic levels from when schools in England re-opened between Monday 7 September and Wednesday 16 September, the RAC said car volumes had returned to the same level as they were on weekdays in January - before the pandemic struck

After reviewing average weekday traffic levels from when schools in England re-opened between Monday 7 September and Wednesday 16 September, the RAC said car volumes had returned to the same level as they were on weekdays in January – before the pandemic struck

Traffic volumes at school pick-up times are now at around the same level between the end of school ‘rush’ of 3pm and 4pm and evening ‘rush’ of between and 5pm and 6pm, as was the case before the first coronavirus lockdown in March.

The RAC’s vehicle recovery service also shows that breakdowns have almost ‘returned to normal’, with mid-week call-outs in particular only a little below those seen during the first few winter months of the year. 

But interestingly, since the schools returned patrols have – on average – been called out to more rush-hour breakdowns than expected with this being balanced out by fewer later in the day.

RAC Insurance spokesman Rod Dennis said: ‘What’s abundantly apparent is how dependent parents are on the car for getting children to their places of study or play during the week – and with fewer people prepared to take public transport at the moment, the reliance on the car as the transport mode of choice has increased. 

‘Workers that used to drop children off and then carry on to offices or other workplaces are clearly still using their cars for these trips, but just returning home again instead. 

What’s clear is that millions of us will continue to rely on the car for completing the journeys we have to make 
Rod Dennis, RAC spokesman 

‘It may also be the case that many are opting for the car so they can be back at their desks to start work as promptly as possible.’

Growing concerns that a second lockdown could be enforced by the government to curb the rising infection rate will likely limit Britons’ willingness to return to public transport, warned Mr Dennis.

‘While there is a huge number of possible scenarios that have the potential to change our travel habits, what does appear clear is that millions of us will continue to rely on the car for completing the journeys we have to make,’ he added.

Traffic levels are also likely to be impacted by the start of the university term, according to Green Flag.

More than half (54 per cent) of university students surveyed by the breakdown provider said they are planning on making the drive to university this term to experience university life as best as possible. 

Interestingly students from Belfast (69 per cent) and Newcastle (67 per cent) will be relying on their vehicles more than any other city in the UK, with students from Sheffield (41 per cent) the least likely to make the drive, the poll of 2,000 university students and drivers found. 

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Banking in Britain: Hounslow thriving due to ten bank branches

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banking in britain hounslow thriving due to ten bank branches

Bank branches are shutting down across the country, turning high streets into ghost towns and forcing residents to travel miles to access cash. 

But not in Hounslow. Here, there are ten bank branches within a five-minute walk – the lifeblood of a thriving high street. 

Banks claim branches are increasingly redundant as they direct their customers towards their websites, apps and telephone services instead. 

But the queues outside Hounslow’s ten branches – and the experiences of customers such as Ted Marshall – reveal what is lost when face-to-face contact is snatched away. 

Care: Hounslow Metro Bank manager Philippa Webb even makes trips to customers’ homes if they are shielding

Care: Hounslow Metro Bank manager Philippa Webb even makes trips to customers’ homes if they are shielding

When Ted turned 80 last year, he bought a birthday cake decorated with edible petals and blue icing – and took it down to the staff at the Lloyds Bank in this town in West London. 

‘I’ve banked with Lloyds since 1959 and I’ve known the staff at this bank for years,’ says Ted. ‘They are like a family to me – they always ask how I am and make me feel welcome.’ 

Ted visits the branch every Friday after church to check his balances and withdraw cash for his weekend shopping. ‘He always comes in at the same time so if he’s running late we get worried,’ says bank manager Salma Khatun. 

The Lloyds branch is bustling all day long – it carries out around 1,000 transactions a day. But it’s not just Ted who gets the special treatment. ‘Most customers are greeted by name,’ says Salma. ‘We are able to offer the personal touch. 

‘We can educate customers – help them into better savings habits, for example, or explain how to improve their credit rating. 

‘If someone comes in with financial difficulties, we take time to understand their situation to look at what support is available. If we weren’t here it would be easier for them to turn to a loan shark or do an internet search and apply for the first loan available without reading the terms and conditions.’ 

The Lloyds staff have to be at the top of their game because there are nine competitors within 500 yards. 

Bank branches are closing in their droves across the UK. As many as a third have closed in the past six years alone, according to consumer group Which?. But in Hounslow, all the major banks have a presence. 

Although the area has been hit by the drop in flights out of nearby Heathrow – and footfall is down slightly due to Covid-19 – the high street here is thriving. 

A busker serenades shoppers with his electric violin, tables spill out of sandwich shops on to the pedestrianised street and clothes shops have bouncers outside to ensure the number of shoppers doesn’t exceed safe levels for social distancing. Banks are the glue holding it all together. 

Queues form outside all ten throughout the day, with businesses dropping off their takings, locals opening current accounts and families checking on jewellery stored in safety deposit boxes. 

‘Having so many bank branches has a direct knock-on effect on the high street,’ says Sally Smith, of Hounslow Chamber of Commerce. ‘People come to the bank and then have a coffee or impulse buy a nice top in Primark.’ 

Each branch has ATM machines – and there is even an extra one outside the Argos. 

Archie Congerton, 19, who runs a fruit stall outside the shopping centre, says it keeps him in business. ‘We only accept cash. If there weren’t banks and ATMs so people could get cash, it would kill us,’ he says. ‘I’m always going in to NatWest to drop off cash – we get on really well with the staff there.’ 

The high street is also drawing in shoppers from further afield as bank branches close in the surrounding area. 

Marina Nguyan, 55, a financial adviser, has been driving to Barclays in Hounslow from her home in Sunbury ever since her local branch closed in May. ‘I come for the bank, then go to Debenhams, make a bit of a trip of it,’ she says. Sunbury’s loss is Hounslow’s gain. 

Likewise, Mohammed Miyanji has started coming to Hounslow after his local Whitton branch cut its opening hours. It’s closing for good on October 22. ‘I’ll have something to eat while I’m in Hounslow and browse the shops,’ he says. 

Boosting business: Archie Congerton, 19, runs a fruit stall outside the shopping centre

Boosting business: Archie Congerton, 19, runs a fruit stall outside the shopping centre

As they ruthlessly close branches elsewhere, banks argue that most banking can now be done online. 

For example, in its explanation to Whitton branch customers about why it is shutting their branch, Barclays says 84 per cent of them now use other ways to do their banking such as online and by telephone. 

Yet the popularity of in-branch services in Hounslow suggests there is still much about face-to-face interactions that is impossible to replicate. The Metro Bank branch was open throughout lockdown and did not turn one customer away. 

Manager Philippa Webb, 26, says: ‘You can bank online, but a lot of our customers are elderly and don’t trust online. They would rather sit down with an adviser who they know is looking after them.’ 

Philippa has been carrying out home visits to customers who are shielding and cannot make it in to carry out transactions.

‘We can verify documents at the door or even through the window. Because we already have a relationship with customers from when they have visited the branch in the past, it makes the process less daunting for them.’ 

Metro Bank likes to be part of its customers’ lives. Staff regularly sneak out to buy a customer a good luck card if they find they have a job interview, or a box of chocolates if an unemployed customer gets a new job. ‘Our customer Mr Patel brought in samosas for us on Friday because he knows he shares his birthday with assistant manager Lohit,’ says Philippa. 

33373480 8750453 image m 5 1600524800351

During lockdown, NatWest encouraged its customers to stay at home unless absolutely necessary, but the habit was just too strong for some. 

‘We told customers to phone us for help. We could even get cash delivered if they needed it,’ says personal banker Maryam Majid. 

‘But people wanted to come in and talk.’ Meanwhile at Santander, branch staff phoned 250 customers who regularly visit the branch, but couldn’t due to lockdown. 

The bank’s regional manager for South West London, Kris Anderton, says: ‘The majority of these colleagues knew their customers on a first-name basis because they see them in branch most weeks. Having that existing connection helped them to feel at ease.

‘Some customers had recently lost a loved one, or had not had much interaction for days – that 15-minute conversation made all the difference.’ 

All of the branch staff live in the community so they magnify the impact the bank can have. 

When Santander had to reduce its opening hours, many staff members used the time to fundraise or cook at the local mosque and church. 

They have also been fundraising for charities and collecting in branch for the local food bank. ‘Some of the customers we phoned were struggling with basic essentials as they were unable to get out and get food,’ says Kris. ‘We were able to work with local support services to help them.’ 

The sheer number of branches keeps all the banks on their toes. I struggle to find one customer who doesn’t like their branch and doesn’t feel they know the staff. If they’re not happy with the service they receive, customers can simply go elsewhere. 

Kasia Tarnopolsa, 27, works at Little Munchkins nursery. She banks online but prefers to do some transactions in person. ‘I know the staff at Lloyds and they know me,’ she says. ‘But if it closed down, I’d switch to one of the other banks in an instant.’ 

Bustling: Lloyds bank manager Salma Khatun (right) and her colleague Manjula Sood

Bustling: Lloyds bank manager Salma Khatun (right) and her colleague Manjula Sood

CUSTOMERS AND STAFF GO ON TO SPEND IN THE SHOPS 

By your side – that is Lloyds Bank’s longstanding slogan and pledge to its customers. A worthy sentiment, no doubt, but in an age of websites and apps, it’s hard not to feel like it rings a little hollow. 

What or who exactly is by our side nowadays? An ‘online virtual assistant’ chatbot? An anonymous call centre representative? A ‘self-service tool’ on a mobile phone banking app? 

My cynicism evaporated the moment I met Manjula Sood, 53, in the bank’s Hounslow branch last week. Manjula has worked at the branch for 30 years and counting. 

She has supported her customers through every life stage. Literally by their side. Manjula teaches customers how to bank online if they want. Because customers trust her, when Manjula tells them they should come back to her with any queries, they know she means it – and pop back in to see her rather than take any chances with things they don’t fully understand. 

Manjula and most of the bank branch staff in Hounslow are part of the community. They live in the area and use the local businesses. 

Her manager, Salma, is greeted with five or six ‘hellos’ from customers every time she pops out to get a sandwich. Down the road, Metro Bank’s business customers know they can come in for a cup of tea and a chat with the business manager whenever they like. 

During lockdown, Santander staff in Hounslow fundraised for local charities, cooked at the local church and mosque and collected for the local foodbank. 

Yet while it was wonderful to see how Hounslow’s many bank branches are supporting the community, my visit was tinged with sadness. Elsewhere banks are shutting branches at an alarming rate and leaving entire communities cut off. They claim the popularity of online banking means physical premises are no longer needed. 

Online banking can work perfectly if you know exactly what you want: you can apply for a loan if you need more cash or find a mortgage if your existing one is coming to an end. 

But there are millions of people who, when it comes to managing their life savings or buying a home, feel more comfortable dealing with a human being than a chatbot or a faceless stranger in a call centre.

It is only by seeing what is gained when bank branches abound that the loss when banks move out becomes crystal clear. 

As Salma at Lloyds in Hounslow can attest, the truth is not everyone comes in knowing what questions to ask or has a solution in mind to rectify their financial situation. 

When a customer feels comfortable enough to confide debt problems, branch staff can help come up with solutions such as payment holidays on loans or mortgages, drawing up better budgets or improving their credit score. It’s not always easy for people to open up if they are struggling and talking to someone you already know and trust can make all the difference. 

To prove her point, Salma told me of a visit by a customer well known to Lloyds staff. The man said his income had dried up in the pandemic. So banking consultant Sebastian looked at the interest rates the customer was paying – but also researched the local foodbank for him. 

By your side, through the rockiest patches. There’s still no app or chatbot that can do that.

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How far ahead do you need to plan retirement? W

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One in three older people leave retirement planning until two years before stopping work or don’t prepare at all, though experts believe you should start getting your finances in order in your 50s.

More than half of people who have recently retired would also warn the next generation to do more planning, to save harder now and to consider carefully how you access pension pots, according to new research.

Covid-19 and the economic downturn make it more important than ever to plan ahead, according to the Government’s free Money and Pensions Service which surveyed 2,000 people aged 50-70 about their pensions.

Looking ahead: More than half of people who have recently retired would warn the next generation to do more planning

Looking ahead: More than half of people who have recently retired would warn the next generation to do more planning

MAPS suggests five key steps to get started early on, plus a final checklist of what to do in the last couple of years before retirement below.

This is Money has a guide to what to do at the 55, 65 and 75 age milestones to make your retirement comfortable here, and see below for how to sort out your pension if you fear it is falling short. 

There are more than over 16million 50-70 year-olds in the UK and three quarters of them have some form of retirement savings outside of the state pension, according to official statistics.

But more than a third of over-50s leave retirement finance planning late or won’t plan at all, and only 7 per cent feel fully prepared, the MAPS research found.

When it asked about the Covid-19 pandemic, 36 per cent of 50 to 70-year-olds said their finances had been affected, and 18 per cent had decided to delay tapping their pensions.

What do retirees recommend younger generations do? 

MAPS surveyed more than 700 people who are part or fully retired about what advice they would give people born between 1965 and 1980 about their finances.

1. Save more towards your retirement (60 per cent)

2. Start planning retirement finances earlier (56 per cent)

3. Take time to decide on how you will access your savings pots (45 per cent)

4. Find out more on how to make the most of your pensions (44 per cent)

5. Seek guidance on how to best organise your retirement finances (41 per cent)

Some 14 per cent are accessing their pensions sooner, mostly to bolster their own day-to-day finances but some to support family members and friends.

MAPS notes that 2020 will see some 940,000 people, the highest in nearly two decades, reach the age of 55. 

This is when you can first access your pension savings without facing a punitive tax bill.

What early planning for retirement should you do?

MAPs suggests taking the following five steps to prepare your finances.

1. Track down your pension pots and check their value

With the average person having 11 jobs in their lifetime, it’s easy to lose track of any pensions you may have had in the past.

If you think you’ve lost a workplace pension, the first port of call should be your former employer, or you can contact the provider if you remember the name.

If you can’t find details of either, you can contact the government’s Pensions Tracing Service. 

Once you’ve tracked down your pots, you can check your statements or ask your scheme or provider for an up to date valuation of how much you have saved.

2. Think about your living costs in retirement

Draw up a budget for your expected income and spending as early as possible to give yourself a greater sense of control over your situation.

The Money Advice Service has a free budget planner tool to help you plot this out. 

3. Think about what age you’d like to retire and to access savings.

For some people, this may not necessarily be at the same time.

Some people may have already chosen a retirement age with their provider, but if your circumstances have changed and you plan to retire earlier or later, you may wish to reconsider how your savings are being managed to ensure your money is working hard for you.

It’s helpful to also check your retirement income using the Money Advice Service’s pension calculator if you’re going through any changes. 

Carolyn Jones:  Given over a third of over-50s have had finances affected by Covid-19 and we’re facing a recession, people should not delay or skip planning retirement finances

Carolyn Jones:  Given over a third of over-50s have had finances affected by Covid-19 and we’re facing a recession, people should not delay or skip planning retirement finances

4. Consider if your spouse or family need to be factored into your plans.

If you wish to provide for family members with your pension savings, this could impact the choices available to you when it comes to accessing your money.

5. Make a free Pension Wise appointment.

Available to people aged 50 and over, specialists will explain the pros and cons of the options for accessing your pension savings, the tax implications, how to shop around to get the best deal, and how to avoid pension scams.

Telephone appointments are available on 0800 138 3944 and the website is here. 

What should you do in the run-up to retirement?

MAPS recommends doing the following in the last two years before retirement.

1. Work out your likely retirement income

– Trace any lost pensions

– Find out how much you might get from your defined contribution pension – check your annual statement or ask your providers for a new one to see how much savings you have built up.

– Get a state pension statement here.

– Check what other savings and investments you could use towards your retirement

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2. Draw up a budget to calculate your costs in retirement

– Look at where your income comes from and how you spend it

– Think about what changes you might need to make to live comfortably

3. Don’t take risks with the pension savings you’ve built up

– Avoid pension scammers by being suspicious of any unsolicited contact about your pension

– Check who you are dealing with and don’t be rushed into making any decisions

4. Decide when to start taking your pension

– Check with your pension scheme provider when you said you wanted to start taking your pension and if this is still what you want to do

– Think about how you want to take money from your pension, if it’s a defined contribution pension scheme. (Read a This is Money guide to your choices here.)

Carolyn Jones, head of pensions policy and strategy at Money and Pensions Service, says there is no set date for when people should start planning retirement though your 50s are a perfect time.

But she notes: ‘The earlier you do it the easier it will be to bridge any gaps, and the more likely you are to feel prepared and comfortable in retirement.’

Regarding the current coronavirus crisis, she adds: ‘Given over a third of over-50s have had their finances affected by Covid-19 and we’re now facing a recession, we’re urging people not to delay or skip planning their retirement finances – whether you’re thinking of retiring later or bringing it forward.

‘Your pension is likely to be one of the most valuable assets you hold so it’s really important to start planning early to make sure you make the best choices based on your circumstances.’

Jones goes on: People who have had an appointment with our Pension Wise specialists feel more confident, informed and prepared when it comes to how they will access their pension savings.

‘In 2019/20, more than half of appointment customers said that getting guidance either changed how they accessed their pension, or how they intend to do so.’ 

How to sort out your pension if you fear it’s falling short

If you are worried about your pension and whether you will have enough, read a full 10-step guide to sorting it out here. 

To get started, investigate your existing pensions. Broadly speaking, you need to ask schemes the following:

– The current fund value

– The current transfer value – because there might be a penalty to move

– Whether the pension is in a final salary or defined contribution scheme

– If there are any guarantees – for instance, a guaranteed annuity rate – and if you would lose them if you moved the fund

– The pension projection at retirement age.

You can use a pension calculator to see if you have enough – find This is Money’s here.

 You should add the forecast figures to what you anticipate getting in state pension, which is currently around £9,100 a year if you have a full National Insurance record. 

Get a state pension forecast here.

If you are tempted to merge your old pensions, check out some tips on how to decide here.  

If you have lost track of old pensions, the Government’s free tracing service is here. 

Take care if you do an online search for the Pension Tracing Service as many companies using similar names will pop up in the results.

These will also offer to look for your pension, but try to charge or flog you other services, and could be fraudulent. 

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