Prompt Connections is a small business with a big ambition: to help vulnerable and elderly people to live independently with the support of an activity monitoring system that alerts relatives and carers when there is any departure from usual routines and patterns.
Director Louise Reynolds, who founded the start-up in August 2013, was already running sister company Wiltshire Farm Foods, which specialises in making and delivering healthy pre-prepared meals. Passionate about supporting and improving care provision, Louise was intrigued when she heard about Live!y’s potentially life-changing product. Seizing the opportunity to become a vendor and distributor in a market whose needs she already understood seemed like a natural progression.
Live!y is a versatile system with two main features. The first is the activity sensors which monitor routine activity in the home. These are attached to frequently used objects such as keys, fridges and even medication, and send data to a central hub. This is automatically uploaded to a secure website where carers can log in and spot any unusual patterns. The system can be configured to send reminder alerts to users and carers. The other main feature, Live!yGram, allows carers to share their content with users who don’t have access to social media sites via a regular personalised mailer.
The initial agreement with Live!y covers distribution in the UK and Ireland. From her base at The Bristol and Bath Science Park, Louise is currently developing a web presence for Prompt Connections that will allow her to run a wholesale operation for care service providers, and sell direct to consumers.
As a successful small business owner, Louise has many years’ of marketing experience. However, with so much riding on this new venture, she was concerned about her lack of specific digital marketing knowledge. When her business coach suggested the Superfast Business advice programme, it sounded like a timely and ideal first step towards filling the gap – and Louise was very impressed with the results of an initial meeting with the Superfast Business adviser.
“When you are new to digital marketing, it’s daunting,” she says. “To begin with, you don’t know what tools are available. And even once you’ve got some idea, it is so hard to keep up with developments and maintain your online presence”.
“What impressed me most about the service was how quickly they got on with it. For my first meeting with my adviser, Jenny Linekar, I could see immediately that she had spent a lot of time looking at our pre-launch website and spotting gaps in our social media visibility”.
“She was so good at identifying what my business really needed and had done lots of research. And I didn’t feel I was being pigeon-holed as a business for their purposes – something that often happens when you take part in some of these programmes. There was no telling me what I could or couldn’t do!”
With the focus firmly on website functionality and digital marketing, Louise’s Superfast Business adviser set out a plan which consisted of eight hours’ specialist support, culminating in the creation of a comprehensive brief for the website designer charged with creating Prompt Connections’ live site – ready for the business to launch formally in September 2014.
As the support plan unfolded, Louise seized the chance to take a rigorous look at her digital marketing strategy for Prompt Connections – and was delighted by the quality of specialist advice she received.
“It was absolutely excellent,” she says. “Jenny arranged for me to have Al Keck from Toinfinity as my specialist and, although he’s an e-commerce and digital marketing specialist, he’s also a businessman who gets it all. He questioned me a lot about the decisions I was making – how I want the business to look now and, crucially, how I want it to look in the future.”
This was important. Even as Louise was establishing the company, Live!y was launching more products. Al asked her to consider the impact of a rapidly expanding range – perhaps up to 10 different products - on her business, and the transformative effect it was likely to have.
“These are things that you don’t necessarily consider if you have nobody to question you from the start,” she says. “Al showed me that the site must be open-ended in development, so that it can expand and allow customers to navigate and find what they are looking for as the range grows.
“As a start-up, you can’t afford to get it wrong. There’s one opportunity to launch, to invest in your website, to get the name and the brand out there. You might have the right product and the right idea but if you aren’t appearing where you need to be in the search rankings that alone can destroy the business. And it’s a major consideration when you’re investing your own money.”
Louise says the most beneficial aspect of the specialist advice has been its impact on her vision for the website, which has shifted considerably with her new knowledge of how search engines work.
“If you don’t work constantly in digital marketing or you aren’t a technology person ,which I’m not, you just don’t know the latest about how Google works,” she says.
“Now I know it is so much about your actual content, and the way a blog brings traffic to the site, it has changed a lot about how I originally saw the site’s functionality. I know I need to blog about relevant issues, offer help and downloadable content, encourage people to share it on Twitter and raise visibility across all the popular social media platforms.”
Louise was so convinced by this advice that she has now hired a part-time social media specialist to help build the Prompt Connections digital brand.
Initially, she intended to develop separate sites for the distribution and consumer aspects of the business. However, bearing in mind the additional cost at this stage, she sought further advice from Al and they decided that the best option would be to have a main site with a link for business partners to click through to a dedicated area. She will measure the volume of business generated by this channel and when there is enough interest, build a new distribution website.
“I’ve swerved on the two-site option!” she says. “But that’s why this service is so great. It focuses you on the things that you can do for little or no cost. I couldn’t afford an expensive digital marketing strategy with all the technical investment that would require. But social media is free, and now I feel I can use it to the best of my ability.”
Another key benefit has been thinking about how Louise’s potential customers will interact with the site, and establishing the best way to capture their details so they can be added to the database for follow-up marketing – again, taking a long-term view that could include the integration of Customer Relationship Management tools.
With the principles and cornerstones of a digital marketing strategy for Prompt Connections in place, Louise has now compiled a comprehensive brief for her website designer, and her eyes are firmly set on launching the business in mid-September.
“I’ve been doing a lot of keyword research and that’s involved some follow-up calls with Al, so it looks as if the business relationship we’ve built with Toinfinity will continue to be a legacy of the Superfast Business programme,” she says. “And that’s really worth my while because it means we aren’t duplicating discussions – he gets the business and knows what my goals are.”
Once Prompt Connections has officially launched, Louise also expects to exploit the natural synergy between her two businesses and develop ways of cross-marketing them.
“With all my experience of dealing with the elderly through Wiltshire Farm Foods, I’ve seen at first hand the issues that people face in trying to live independently at home,” she says. “It’s a massive concern and there just aren’t enough solutions out there. That’s why Live!y struck such a chord, and I’m very excited to have everything in place to launch Prompt Connections with the backing of an up-to-date digital marketing strategy.”