Tuesday, October 25, 2016 by Kristen HicksWe hear a lot of talk about how important small businesses are. They employ over a third of the people working in this country. They encourage innovation, contribute to the economy, and represent the American dream to many people. For all the talk though, people aren’t always quick to show their appreciation for small businesses in their buying choices. Small Business Saturday is a day each year committed to encouraging consumers to put their money where their mouth is. Last year, more than 95 million consumers participated in Small Business Saturday. If you run a small business, this is an important opportunity you don’t want to pass up. [bctt tweet="Over 95 million shoppers participated in #SmallBizSat last year. Don't miss out in 2016." username="hostgator"] This year, Small Business Saturday falls on November 26, so you still have some time to prepare. Here are five steps you can take to make the most of Small Business Saturday 2016.
Monday, October 24, 2016 by Kristen HicksYou see people on their smartphones all the time. A lot of the time they’re playing games. Other times, they're checking their email. At least some of the time though, they’re buying things – possibly even buying the kind of things you sell. At this point, every online business has to care about mobile shoppers. Almost a third of all the shopping people do online is done on mobile devices. And people on mobile devices are more likely to take action on your website – 70% of mobile searches lead to consumers taking action. You have to expect that a good portion of your potential customers will be interacting with your brand on a mobile device. If you haven’t done so yet, it’s time to develop a strategy for meeting them where they are. [bctt tweet="1/3 of all online shopping is done on mobile devices. Prepare your website for #BlackFriday!" username="hostgator"]
How Businesses Can Benefit from the Shift to MobileThe rise of mobile shopping may have felt like an inconvenience at first. Every time consumer behavior changes it means businesses have to put more work into adapting. Change doesn’t have to be negative though. You can choose to treat the growth in mobile usage as an opportunity. Here's how.
1. Create a mobile-friendly website.Almost a quarter of small business websites still aren’t optimized for mobile. If you’re one of them, then creating a mobile-optimized website for your business has to be your top priority. If people come to your website on a mobile device and it’s slow to load or offers an unintuitive experience, they will leave. That 70% of mobile visitors who are primed to take action will take their action on a competitor’s website instead. So stop dragging your feet and get it done. [bctt tweet="Nearly 25% of #smallbusiness websites still aren't mobile-friendly. Is yours one of them?" username="hostgator"]
2. Regularly test your website on different devices.When was the last time you pulled up your website on your phone or tablet? If you only ever interact with it yourself on a desktop, then you’re not seeing what many of your customers see. Right now, pull out your own mobile device and bring up your website on it. Think about the different steps a typical customer is likely to take on your site and see what it feels like to do them yourself on your phone or tablet. Make a test purchase to see what the full process of buying something on your website on mobile is like. At each step, pay attention to anything about the experience that’s difficult or inconvenient. Your device is just one of the many types of mobile devices out there, so talk to your employees or other people you know with different types and ask them to do some testing for you, or see if you can borrow their device to do it yourself. Try out different popular browsers on the mobile devices as well so you can simulate as many of the different mobile experiences your visitors will have as possible. Take plenty of notes as you go so you know exactly what needs to change to provide your customers with a better mobile experience.
3. Create mobile-specific versions of your personas.Marketing personas are an important tool for understanding your audience better and making sure you keep them top of mind as you develop your marketing strategy and content. Now that you know much of your audience is on a mobile device, you need to extend the persona exercise to better understand how your visitors are likely to use their devices. Just as you would when creating any persona, you need to think carefully about who your audience is and their habits, preferences, and needs – only this time, focus specifically on how they use mobile devices. This shouldn’t be a pure thought exercise. A number of tools are available to help marketers better understand their audience, and you can also use the data that Google Analytics provides on mobile use. Mobile personas are only useful if they’re based on reality, so make sure you do the work of finding out how your customers really behave.
4. Make use of location-based marketing.If your business is entirely online, then this tip won’t have relevance for you. If you have a storefront though, then location-based marketing on mobile can really pay off. The possibility of providing prospects with the right marketing message at precisely the right moment has always been the dream, but location-based marketing puts the possibility within reach in a way it never was before. You can push out an offer or CTA (call-to-action) to your audience when you know they’re within a close range of your store – right when it’s most convenient for them to take advantage of it. 72% of consumers have said they’re likely to respond to a CTA they see while within view of the store. That’s an opportunity too good to pass up. [bctt tweet="Location-based #marketing: 72% of consumers are likely to respond to CTA when they're nearby." username="hostgator"]
5. Consider if a mobile app is right for you.Mobile apps are expensive to develop and they’re not for everybody. Most mobile users only turn to a few key apps each day, so the cost of development likely won’t pay off unless you have the kind of website that customers treat as a common go-to when they use the web. If you do have the kind of repeat customers that would appreciate the convenience of being able to skip the browser for a faster and easier mobile experience, then building a mobile app could be a smart move.
6. Pay attention to mobile metrics.Whatever types of mobile marketing you pursue, you should monitor your progress as you go. As with the other types of marketing you do, establish key metrics you want to follow and pay attention to how well your results match up with your goals. The longer you pursue mobile marketing, the more data you’ll collect that helps you understand how your users behave and what types of tactics work best. That data will make it possible to continually change up your mobile marketing plan to achieve better results. Mobile shoppers aren’t some niche audience of outliers. They’re almost everybody. And the people who aren’t actively using their mobile devices for shopping today are likely to start in the months and years to come. If you don’t cater to the massive and growing mobile audience, their business will go to the companies that do. To keep from losing business that should be yours, treat mobile users as a priority in your marketing efforts and business plan.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016 by Kristen HicksYou have dreams of entrepreneurship, but you know you’re not ready to quit your job and go all in. If you’re good at making things or spotting a great deal, you don’t necessarily have to go all in to start. Starting an online store doesn’t require the same level of investment or sacrifice that full-time entrepreneurship does. You can start small while keeping your regular paycheck, and potentially build up to working for yourself exclusively if your online store does well enough. That doesn’t mean it won’t be work (most things worth doing are), but it’s doable without having to uproot your life as it is now. There are a few key steps you have to take and you’ll have several moments where you have to decide what level of investment you’re prepared to make into the endeavor to start. If the ten steps on this list sound doable to you, then you’re ready to get your feet wet as an entrepreneur.
1. Decide on your product.If you’ve been pondering setting up an online store for a while, then you may well already have a product in mind. Whether it’s something you make, like handcrafted furniture or handmade soap, or something you’ve found a source for at wholesale prices so you can sell it off at a profit, every online store has to start with a product. Do some research to make sure your product is viable. If you’re selling something fairly unique of your own creation, ask around amongst friends and in online communities to see if there’s an interest. If you’ll be selling something that will have a fair amount of competition online, research what similar products people are selling online and if the prices they’re charging would make for a sustainable business model for you. If your initial research shows you that an online store for the products you have in mind is likely to lose money, then you should look to other options.
2. Set your pricing.Pricing is one of the hardest parts to get right in running a new business. If you price too low, you’ll lose money or just barely break even – which won’t make the time and effort you put into your online store worth it. If you price too high, you won’t make enough sales and still risk losing money on the whole endeavor. To figure out the pricing that makes sense you have to first figure out your own costs. That includes the cost of materials, web hosting, taxes, the percentage credit cards or Paypal will skim off the top, and any marketing costs you choose to take on to help promote your business. Then you should figure out how much you want to add on top of that to account for your own time and labor, and add some extra on top of that to make a profit. You should also do some research into what your competitors are charging. If the number you came to is below what others are charging, you can bump up your numbers a bit. If it’s higher, then you’ll either need to consider if you can provide enough unique value with the products you sell to account for the higher price, or determine if you can afford to go lower based on what the market will bear.
3. Research shipping costs and options.Your impulse may be to pass on the full cost of shipping to the client, and many online stores do take this route. Be warned though that shipping costs can have a strong psychological impact on consumers, with 44% saying they’ve abandoned an online purchase due to high shipping and handing costs. In some cases, offering free shipping and upping your product pricing to cover those costs may result in more sales. As an alternative, some online stores provide a flat fee that’s clearly noted on the website, so consumers know before they reach the checkout page exactly what to expect. [bctt tweet="44% of customers say they've abandoned online shopping carts due to high shipping costs. " username="hostgator"] Another popular option for online stores is to offer free shipping for orders of a certain size. That encourages customers to spend more in your online store than they may have otherwise, and makes the cost of shipping more worth it to you. You’ll have to figure out what makes sense for you and your business. Research the shipping options available from each of the main providers and figure out what the numbers are likely to look like for packages at the size and weight that will be typical for your products.
4. Choose your eCommerce platforms.Now you need to choose the platform your online store will live on. All websites have to be hosted somewhere, so you’ll need website hosting first unless you choose to build your store on a website that already exists like Etsy or Amazon. If you want a website and brand that’s all your own, many website hosting platforms (including HostGator) make it easy to find compatible eCommerce options that you can work with in the same space you use to work on your website. An ecommerce software will make it easy for you to list your products, set your price, and add a shopping cart to the website. They take care of ensuring the process is intuitive for both you and your customers, so you can just focus on selling.
5. Pick a name and brand.When you start trying to figure out a name, you’ll probably feel like all the good ones are already taken. While your business name is important, try not to get too hung up on this step. Brainstorm words and phrases that say something about the products you’ll be selling, and words and phrases that mean something to you. And be sure to stay away from names that have already been copyrighted by other businesses. Depending on your goals for your online store, you may also want to invest in working with a marketing professional or firm at this point to more fully develop your brand. They can help you design a logo, figure out your positioning, and create a plan for promoting your online store once you launch. They’ll also be a big help with the next step.
6. Build your website.Many hosting platforms can make at least part of this step easier by providing free website templates or a site builder you can work from rather than having to build a website from scratch. If you want something more unique, you can hire a graphic designer or work with a marketing firm to help you create a website that’s more distinctly yours. At this stage, you’ll also need to work on writing copy that describes your wares and helps persuade website visitors to buy. This is something else you can take a DIY approach to if you want to stick with a shoestring budget, or invest in a professional copywriter or marketing firm to help with. If you do go with the DIY option, take some time to research best practices. It’s not as simple as you may think. Copyblogger and Copyhackers are good resources to start with.
7. Set up a merchant account.Online stores need a way to receive money – specifically, a way to receive credit card payments. A merchant account does the very important job of ensuring you can get paid. You have options that range from big, familiar brand names like Chase and Paypal, to companies more focused on small businesses like BluePay and PaySimple. You will have to pay something to the company in order to get your money, but the ability to accept the money your customers send should make the fees well worth it.
8. Get your SSL certificate.Now you need to get secure. If customers are going to hand you their private payment information (or more accurately, enter it into a form on your website), you need to make sure the sensitive details will stay safe. An SSL certificate for your website encrypts all the sensitive information customers provide so that hackers won’t be able to grab that credit card information as it’s sent over the web.
9. List your inventory.Now that your website’s set up and secure, you can get the store itself set up. Whatever inventory you have ready to go should be added to your store and assigned its proper price. Once potential customers make their way to your page, all they’ll need to do is click to add an item they want to their shopping cart and check out.
10. Start selling.Finally we’ve reached the stage where you can start making money. If you launch your online store and don’t get much traction, then you should start thinking about promotion. Content marketing, social media, and paid promotion are all areas worth looking into to start getting people to your website. If you’re not quite ready to make that level of investment in your online store, start with old-fashioned word of mouth. Talk to your friends about it, mention it to professional acquaintances, and bring it up at any events around town likely to attract the kind of people interested in what you’re selling. Once your online store is up and running, take a moment to pat yourself on the back. You’re an entrepreneur now. Then get back to work. Part of entrepreneurship is that there’s always something else you can or should be doing to launch your business toward greater success.
Are you ready to start selling online?
Friday, October 14, 2016 by Casey Kelly-BartonIt’s the Achilles heel of small business owners: They use their personal email address for marketing campaigns and customer communications, apparently not realizing that little email handle is wrecking their credibility with prospective customers. Why does your email address matter so much, and how can you turn it into a business asset instead of a liability? Read on.
It’s never “just an email address”You would never tell a prospective customer to move along, but that’s the message that a personal email address sends when you use it for business. Everything your audience sees, including that email address, is an element of your company’s brand that helps form their impression of your business. Customers of all kinds look for businesses that seem trustworthy and authoritative. How, exactly, can your personal email address work against you? Let us count the ways.
The dealbreaker email addressSome addresses destroy trust and authority at first glance by casting doubt on your judgment. It should go without saying that an email address is kryptonite to business success if it includes references to politics, sex, violence, bigotry, mental illness, or drinking and drugs. Yet people carry on using email addresses like email@example.com and then wonder why their business is struggling.
The no-boundaries email addressShared email addresses like BillandTed@domain.com or TheEntireJonesFamily@domain.com tell your customers a couple of things. One, their customer information can be seen by people they don’t know and who aren’t part of your business. This erodes trust. Two, you seem to think email addresses are so rare that your whole family has to pile into one account like clowns into a circus car. This erodes your authority.
The outdated email domainEven if you keep your personal email tasteful and simple, some customers will judge your email provider itself. Older domains like aol.com and hotmail.com can make you appear out of touch with modern technology—a serious ding on your brand if you run a tech or communications business. Some of this “email prejudice” is tongue in cheek. Some is real. Avoid it with company-branded email.
A common problem with an easy solutionAn incredible 46% of US small business owners surveyed in 2016 don’t have a business website, which means they can’t create company-branded email addresses. Why? The most common reasons business owners gave were that they didn’t think they needed a website and that a website would cost too much. Those answers show why setting up a professional email account gives you advantages that go beyond email branding. A web presence is a must for businesses now because of the way consumers research their purchases. If they can’t find you, they can’t shop with you. With even a simple website and a business email account, you set yourself apart from less motivated competitors. What’s more, web hosting costs just a few dollars a month, and setting up an email account is simple. With any HostGator web hosting plan, you can set up your professional email account in under a minute from your customer portal. Adding professional email doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck logging into multiple accounts each day, either. Our email services perform like any other web-based webmail client, and you can even choose to have your messages forwarded to you so you don't miss a thing if you prefer to manage things from your personal email account. Professional email addresses give small-business owners some valuable but inexpensive tools: a brand element that conveys trustworthiness and authority, a domain for creating a strong web presence, an advantage over competitors who don’t have a website and branded emails, and the freedom to keep their personal email address private.
Thursday, October 13, 2016 by Alex IvanovsNote taking is as old as the world itself. Trying to stay on top of hundreds of things at once is a task that not many people have the ability to cope with, and needless to say that keeping notes is fairly inexpensive, yet one of the most productive things we can do. Whether it's writing down the list of things we need to do, or important points from a talk we have just attended, keeping notes help us remember the most important things when we most need them. WordPress as a blogging platform could be considered one big notekeeper in itself, but not all of us see it that way and not all of us want to see it that way, which is why a select few developers have gone out of their way to publish WordPress plugins for keeping notes, in several different categories. For the most part, using these plugins is going to extend the functionality of your WordPress publishing platform as a platform that you can also use for direct content editing, though most importantly -- to keep notes. If you're still looking to build your WordPress site, check out HostGator's WordPress hosting.
3. Plugin NotesPlugins in many ways are the lifeblood of WordPress, and while web development is not something all of us are able to learn that easily, perhaps keeping notes about the things we are building and learning will help that process a lot. If you are already a web developer, though, then Plugin Notes will make it easy for you to keep track of your development progress and the kind of ideas you're getting as you're developing, yielding more to the productive aspect of your time spent developing.
4. Note PressNote Press is an extremely easy to use note system for the WordPress Admin panel. Creating to-do lists, leaving instructions for clients, collecting code snippets or collaborating with other admins are just a few of the uses for Note Press. Unlike other note plugins, Note Press keeps thing extremely simple by using features familiar to all WordPress users. Simply click on the Note Press admin button and your notes are all there listed by date.
5. NotelyAfter installing Notely, whenever you will want to publish a new post or a page, or perhaps a product, you will be able to use a new meta-box within the right-hand side of your content management page. This new meta-box will then allow you to save notes separately for that particular piece of content. What other note-keeping plugs for WordPress have you found useful? Let us know in the comments!