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  • Business Mentorship Programs for Entrepreneurs

    Thursday, December 1, 2016 by
    Business Mentorship Programs Unless you’re one of the lucky few to call Melinda and Bill Gates Mom and Pop, you could probably use a business mentor. (Fun fact: they have three kids and odds are, one of them ain’t you). Having a great business idea is one thing, but understanding the difference between an LLC and an S Corporation, or knowing how to correctly file taxes, or getting the real lowdown on social media marketing or pay-per-click advertising can quickly become overwhelming. Here are some free ways to get the business mentorship you need:  

    1. Visit a SCORE representative.

    The Service Core of Retired Executives is a fifty-plus year old nonprofit organization supported by the US Small Business Administration. It’s easy to enter your info and be matched with an expert in whatever you need be it marketing, accounting, business planning. They can help you with just about anything from the tools you need to succeed to budgeting, sales, and design.

    The best news: it’s 100% free! These are former CEOs, venture capitalists -- people at the top of their game who sincerely want to help out the next generation of business execs and business owners. SCORE also offers free webinars and on-demand online courses.

    Our recommendation is to be prepared with the questions you want answered. Practice what you want to say so that you can make the most of your time. Bonus: go in with your pitch; you never know what might happen.

    Note: The Small Business Administration website is a go-to online resource for business owners. You may even be able to get many of your questions answered there before meeting a mentor in person.

     

    2. Put on your networking hat.

    Get over it. Networking is not a dirty word. When looking for business mentorship try these free resources first:
    • Meetup.com events (search by location and topic of interest, in this case your specific industry or “entrepreneur”)
    • LinkedIn to find people you know or connections of people you know with specific business-related specialities
    • High school or college alumni groups, guidance counselors, former employers, church groups
    And if nothing else comes of these relationships from a mentor/mentee perspective, at least you’ve announced to a host of people that you’re in business. Woo hoo! Free marketing!  

    3. Watch a (great) video.

    TED Talks: TED Talks are presentations delivered by top-notch game-changers in the world of Technology, Education, and Design. Lucky for you, they are all readily available and filterable by topic, length, and speaker. Here are a few of our favorites:
    99U: With a slogan that reads “empowering the creative community,” 99U provides actionable insights on productivity and leadership. Their free video archive boasts of presentations from Brene Brown, Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count, to Franklin Leonard, The Realist’s Guide to Changing the World. Our recommendation: if you’re strapped for time (and we all are), consider watching one insightful video a week. Put it on while you’re folding laundry or getting dressed for work. HostGator Website Builder
  • 7 Steps To Help You Find A Good UX Consultant

    Monday, November 14, 2016 by
    How To Find A Good UX Designer Good UX is hard to appreciate because when it’s doing its job, you don’t notice it. Bad UX, on the other hand, we all notice. The pop up that blocks your text on a mobile device with an X too small to click on with your finger – that’s bad UX. The ads that take so long to load on a website that it slows down your ability to see the stuff you really navigated there for – also bad UX. The website that makes it nearly impossible to figure out how to contact their customer service team because the contact information is buried three links in – more bad UX. Bad UX can drive people away from your website or product. It can make them curse in frustration and complain about you on social media. Or, more likely, it can simply ensure your customers never figure out how to use your product to its full potential, ensuring they don’t see its value.  

    Why Good UX Matters

    Good UX, on the other hand, can drive them to click where you want them to, make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for, and leave them feeling satisfied without ever noticing the work you put into getting them there. Consumers expect an intuitive user experience that makes navigating your website or using your product easy, and if you don’t provide it, they will go elsewhere. Hiring a good UX consultant or firm can be the difference between providing customers with what they need and driving them away. But UX is a relatively new industry and finding good people is hard. Put a little effort in and follow the steps below, and you should be able to find a UX agency that will help you achieve the results you (and your customers) need.  

    1. Know what you want.

    You don’t need to know the specifics (that’s part of what a good UX firm will help you figure out), but you do need to have some clearly defined goals for what you want to get out of a UX project. To be prepared as you start your search, do some research into what UX is all about. If you know at least the basics and how to talk about them, you’ll be better prepared to talk to a design firm about what you want and need, and better equipped to recognize whether or not their responses seem knowledgeable.  

    2. Ask around.

    A referral from someone you know is one of the strongest indicators that a business is trustworthy, especially if the person making the recommendation has worked with them directly. Before you turn to other sources, talk to friends, family members, and professional contacts to see if anyone can point you in the right direction. In particular, talk to web designers, product designers, and other business owners since they’re most likely to have some familiarity with UX and the professionals doing it within your community. The advice of people you know could produce solid recommendations or at least give you a heads up on firms to avoid. Take down any names that seem promising and move on to the next steps.  

    3. Search online.

    Now do the thing we all do automatically whenever we need new information: Google it. Search for “ux firm” or “ux consultant” + the name of your city to see the list of options nearby. You can search on LinkedIn as well. There you can limit the results to professionals you have some connection with and those in your area. From the results you get in your searches, either create a list of firms to research further, or add to the list you started when you were collecting referrals. This doesn’t need to be an especially long list, but having a few firms to consider when starting out gives you some room for comparison as you narrow your search down to the best one for you.  

    4. Look at examples of their work.

    The first example of a UX firm’s work that you’ll have an easy time finding is their website. If they’re skilled at designing good user experiences, you should find their website easy to use and have no trouble finding the information you need there. They should also include some samples of their work, so you can peruse the projects they’ve completed before. At this stage, you may find yourself weeding out some UX firms from your list that don’t have work you’re very impressed with. For whoever’s left, it’s time to get in touch.  

    5. Talk to them about their process.

    Set up meetings with each of the firms still on your list to discuss what you’re looking for and how they do business. In your discussion, ask them about their typical process for a UX project. Their answer will give you the chance to look for the kind of red flags that you want to avoid and confirm that they have a solid plan for how to do UX effectively. They should ask you about your goals and what you want to get from the project and they should bring up important parts of the process like wireframing, content development, and user testing. If the meeting goes well and you like what you hear, keep them on the shortlist before you make a final decision.  

    6. Get quotes.

    Now to what will probably be your least favorite step: figuring out the financial side of things. If you have a clear budget going in, some UX firms can work with you to create a plan that will work within the budget available to you. Otherwise, the firms you meet with should follow up with a customized quote based on the project you discussed. If the number that comes up is beyond what you can handle, the firm may be willing to work with you to tweak the project so it better fits a budget you’re comfortable with. But as with most things, paying more can potentially result in higher quality since it gives the UX company more room to take their time and use more resources.  

    7. Talk to references.

    Finally, for the UX consultants you’ve confirmed that you like and can afford, ask if they can give you the contact information for references. Talking to someone that’s worked with them before will give you a head’s up to what you can expect. Have some questions prepared that will make it easier for them to provide you with clear insights, like how the UX team handled unforeseen challenges that came up during the project or whether they managed to stay within budget. Once you’ve completed all seven steps, you should have enough information to make an informed decision. Once you move forward with the UX firm of your choice, make time to work with them as they go. UX isn’t the kind of thing you can just hand off. They’ll do the work they’re skilled at, but you still have a job to do making sure that their designs fit with what you’re looking for. UX projects can take some serious time and be a significant financial investment, but they’re likely to pay off in more customers and, at least as importantly, happier customers.
  • The Best Ways to Survey Your Small Business Customers

    Tuesday, November 8, 2016 by
    Best Ways to Survey Customers What are your customers thinking? One way to find out is to actually ask your customers. By surveying consumers, your team can learn how to improve the shopping experience. From customer service to product inventory, discover what makes your target audience excited. Their opinions do matter. And by soliciting feedback, you can transform your small business. “A great product and excellent customer service begin with getting to know who your customers are and what they need. To get that done, you have to gather customer information, and surveys are just what the doctor ordered for that,” writes Zoe Uwem, a content marketing strategist. Let’s explore how to survey your customers.  

    Role of Customer Research

    Customer research equips your team with the knowledge to serve your consumers better. It’s an essential part in helping your small business grow. When collecting information, decide what you want to learn and the best route to gather the feedback. You want the process to be simple for the customer, but reliable enough so that your team can make business improvements. Ross Beard, former marketing manager at Client Heartbeat, offers meaningful advice: “It’s important to remember that a successful customer survey has high survey response rates, and accurate, actionable customer feedback. Only then will you be able to use customer surveys to make better business decisions to help increase customer satisfaction and reduce customer churn” Consider how the research will impact the customer. Then, develop a plan to meet those goals.  

    How to Collect Customer Feedback

    Simplicity is key when asking for customer feedback. Your buyers are busy; they don’t want to waste time with tedious surveys. So, stick to formats more familiar to your customers. Here are four methods to get your team started:  

    1. Product Reviews

    Most companies see product reviews as a marketing tool to lure in more customers. But they are also effective for improving your inventory. “Reviews can also support your competitive benchmarking efforts by helping you determine what customers like or dislike about your product, service, or brand, compared to what they like or don’t like about your competitors,” writes Chris Campbell, CEO of ReviewTrackers. Request reviews from your buyers post-purchase. Ask for their opinions on what made the product better than others on the market. Here are a few recommended questions:
    • What did you like about this product?
    • How can we improve this product?
    • Would you recommend this product to a friend?
    Amazon gives customers the chance to leave detailed messages. The ecommerce giant also has a star rating system.   Amazon Fire Tablet Review Take advantage of product reviews. They provide a gateway to customer research.  

    2. Twitter Polls

    Social media is the online hangout for most people. Right now, there are 2.3 billion active social media users. If you’re seeking feedback from consumers, go where they live: Facebook, Twitter, or even Snapchat. What makes Twitter so awesome is that people and brands can create their own polls. You can ask unique questions, and your customers can respond in less than a minute. “Polls could be a great way to get bite-sized pieces of product feedback in a more fun, snackable way,” says Ash Read, content crafter at Buffer. “Try to think about scenarios within your product, learnings you’re after or hypotheses you’re looking to validate that can be broken down into simple four-answer questions and put them out there as polls.” The Oakland Raiders used polls to learn their audience’s future content preferences. The football team asked fans to select which player they wanted in their next behind-the-scenes training video. Once the votes were tallied, the franchise delivered on their promise.   Twitter Polls Experiment with Twitter polls for your small business. It’s quick, easy, and requires no expertise to begin.  

    3. Email Surveys

    Email is a popular channel for distributing surveys. But most of the time, they are convoluted messages that consumers just see as spam. Businesses attempt to ask too many questions. They stuff 20 questions in one email. Then, teams seem puzzled by the lack of high response rates. “You need to be ruthless when it comes to cutting unnecessary questions from your surveys. Every question you include should have a well-defined purpose and a strong reason for being there. Otherwise, it should be put on the chopping block,” states Gregory Ciotti, marketing at Help Scout. To escape your email surveys woes, create a painless survey. Embed one question directly within the email. That’s how Lyft does it. The ridesharing company asks one question that requires the customer to rate their experience on a scale from 0-10.   Email Survey Email is a practical tool for collecting feedback. Keep your consumers engaged and stay away from frivolous questions.  

    4. Phone Calls

    A study found “that customers who took part in a customer satisfaction survey by telephone were more loyal than those who did not take the survey.” This is an opportunity for your small business. Despite living in a fast-paced society, people still like talking on the phone. And some of the best customer feedback comes from just picking up the phone and communicating directly with customers. Why? Because we’re so accustomed to automated messages and hearing robots giving us information. Select a few customers to contact today. The telephone engagement should be short, no more than three minutes. State your purpose for calling and have a conversation. And just a reminder: specific federal, state, and local laws exist to protect consumers from receiving calls from businesses. Some consumers are on do-not-call lists. So, reach out to your legal team before initiating a mass customer contact program. Give your consumers some real human contact to gain their feedback.  

    Take Action on Your Feedback

    Avoid gathering all your feedback and leaving it unused in a unnamed folder on your computer. Take action with the information you've received. “Don’t stick survey results in a binder and forget about them without analysis. Share the results — including verbatim customer comments — and what these results have taught you with your entire staff,” writes Julia L. Rogers, Huffington Post contributor. Think of customer feedback as a loop. Your team should be constantly listening and prioritizing issues based on what you’ve learned. Then, resolve the issues and adjust your product or service. Customer Feedback Loop If possible, follow up with dissatisfied customers. Reconnect with them to show how their suggestions contributed to new improvements. It shows consumers you take their feedback seriously. Feedback is a valuable resource. Take action.  

    Ask Your Customers

    To serve your target audience, you need to conduct research. And sometimes the best way is to simply ask your customers questions. Understand the role of customer research for your business. Collect feedback by asking specific questions on product reviews. Use Twitter polls to quickly gather information. And don’t be shy; pick up the phone and call buyers. Learn how to serve your customers better. Survey them.
  • The 7 Step Guide To Making Money On YouTube

    Monday, November 7, 2016 by
    Making Money on YouTube YouTube is big business – and not just for Google (the company that owns it). Over a billion people use YouTube. That number sounds big enough on its own, but to really it put it into perspective, that’s about a third of the people on the internet. And some of those users are on YouTube just about every day. We can pretty well bet that if you’re reading this, you’re one of the more than a billion people that watch videos on YouTube, so you know that when you watch a video you normally see an ad. Naturally, some of the money for those ads goes to Google. In some cases though, the people who created the video get a cut too. YouTube has paid out $2 billion to content creators and rights holders that have taken the proper steps to claim their part of the earnings.   If you're looking to join their ranks, then read on.  

    Who Can Make Money on YouTube?

    We already covered the good news: YouTube does pay content creators. The bad news is that most people that load videos to YouTube will never see a dime. And many of those that do actually get paid won’t be making enough to leave their day jobs. For you to earn anything, your videos have to attract not only a lot of viewers, but also viewers that are willing to engage with the ads. That means they have to actually watch a decent portion of the ad before clicking that “skip” button (you know the one, you’ve probably clicked lots of times yourself), or actually click on the link that shows up at the bottom of the screen during the ad. HostGator Youtube And even if the people checking out your videos do engage with the ads, you won’t be paid anything until your account reaches $100. Unless you become wildly popular on the site very quickly, you should expect that to take awhile.   Those who are popular enough can reach the point of earning thousands on the website, but it’s a rare few that reach that point. The platform hosts billions of videos, so your competition is pretty fierce. So don’t quit your job or base all your future hopes on YouTube. But if you like creating videos anyway and you want to see if your hobby can start to pay off, it doesn’t hurt to take the proper steps that make it possible to get paid by YouTube.  

    7 Steps to YouTube Monetization

    If you want at least a chance at making money on YouTube, here’s what you need to do.  

    Step 1: Set up your YouTube channel.

    If you already have a Google account, as most people do, then use that to login to YouTube. If you don’t yet have a Google account, start by creating one here, and then go ahead and log in to YouTube. Once you’re logged in, click the Upload button in the top right of the screen and you’ll receive a prompt to create a channel. youtube-upload-button YouTube Create Channel Click “Create Channel” and you’re done.  

    Step 2: Create your video plan.

    Now you need to make some decisions about the videos you’re going to upload. If you really want to gain subscribers and encourage engagement, then your goal should be to build a following of people that like your videos enough to subscribe to your channel and return again and again. A good video plan therefore needs to do a few things:
    • Make sure you understand the audience you want to reach.
    • Brainstorm a list of topics for videos that will appeal to that audience.
    • Create a schedule for your videos. You’re more likely to gain and attract followers if you upload consistently at regular intervals.
    You might want to spend some time during this step perusing some of the most popular videos in your space to see what people respond to. You don’t want to do the same thing that other content creators are doing, but you can glean some insights into what works best to apply to your own videos. Your plan doesn’t have to be set in stone, but having a plan in place to guide you will help ensure you stick with it and approach your YouTube channel in a strategic way that's more likely to pay off.  

    Step 3: Enable monetization.

    Now click on the Account icon in the top right corner of the screen and then click on the Creator Studio button that appears. youtube-creator-studio On the menu on the left side of the screen click on Channel, then choose Status and Features in the submenu that opens up under it. youtube-enable-monetization Now you’ll see the option to enable monetization. (Note: You may have to provide Google with your country before the enable button shows up, simply follow the instructions the screen provides to do so).  

    Step 4: Sign up for Google AdSense.

    Once you’ve enabled monetization, clicking the Monetization option in the menu will take you to a page where you can start the process of setting up your Google AdSense account, or connecting an account you already have to your channel. Simply select “Next” and follow the instructions to create your account.  

    Step 5: Start loading (good) videos.

    Now the basic stuff is covered and you’ve reached the hard part.  Create the videos you decided on in your plan and start uploading them to the channel. We already established that your videos have to be pretty darn good and appeal to a large audience for you to make any money, so spend some real time working to make sure your videos are especially educational, entertaining, or unique so that they’ll gain attention in a crowded space.  

    Step 6: Promote your videos.

    Even if your videos are awesome, people won’t automatically know to come looking for you. Research the best practices for optimizing your YouTube videos for search so it’s easier for people to find you that way. Share your videos on social media. Talk them up to friends and family members that may be interested. If people love them, eventually you’ll reach a tipping point where your subscribers start to do some of the promotion for you. In the meantime, you need to put some real effort into getting your videos in front of people.  

    Step 7: Keep an eye on your analytics.

    At first, your analytics won’t tell you all that much. As you get more and more viewers though, you’ll be able to use your YouTube Analytics to figure out which types of videos or topics get the best results – both in terms of views and engagement. You’ll also be able to figure out a little bit about who your audience is and how they’re finding their way to your videos so you can refine your promotion efforts based on what’s working. Use that information to continually improve your video plan. The better your videos perform, the more you’ll be able to make in the long run. Don’t be surprised if you don’t make much headway with making money on YouTube. If you have fun creating your videos, then you won’t be wasting your time even if you never reach a payday. Keep your expectations realistic and stick with making videos of a type that you know you’ll enjoy creating, so the possibility of making money will simply be a nice bonus if or when you achieve it. Have you had success monetizing your YouTube videos? Share your channel in the comments!
  • Prepping Your E-Commerce Store for Cyber Monday

    Friday, October 28, 2016 by
    ECommerce Cyber Monday If you own an e-commerce store, chances are you already know how important Cyber Monday is. In case you aren’t sure though, the stats around it make a pretty compelling case:
    • 52% of people in the US shop on Cyber Monday.
    • People spent over $2.68 billion on Cyber Monday in 2014.
    • They spent an average of $124 per online order.
    Which all adds up to Cyber Monday being the most important day of the year for online businesses. You have got to be prepped and ready when it rolls around on November 28. Here are seven things you should start working on now to make sure you’re ready when the big day comes.  

    1. Check with your web host to ensure your website is prepared for extra traffic.

    You don’t want your website to get overloaded on Cyber Monday, just when people are most wanting to buy from you. Most web hosting plans can handle a certain amount of traffic before you might have problems. Here's what’s typical for HostGator’s plans: HostGator Site Traffic Limits Anytime you’re expecting a big spike in traffic, talk to your web hosting company to see if they think you have any cause for concern, or suggestions for ensuring things run smoothly.  

    2. Make sure you have plenty of merchandise ready to go.

    Cyber Monday is not the day you want your customers faced with an “Out of Stock” message. Do your best to stock up on all the items that are typically popular – particularly any that make good gifts.  

    3. Optimize your merchandise for gift giving.

    Sure, some people go shopping on Cyber Monday for themselves to take advantage of the deals. But a lot of your visitors will be looking for items they can wrap and present to loved ones for the holidays. Consider how best to package the items you sell so they make good gifts. You might want to combine certain items into gift baskets or offer a good deal for buying related merchandise together.  

    4. Make sure you’re set up to sell gift cards.

    Speaking of gifts, you do sell gift cards, right? If you don’t yet, now is a good time to start. In a 2014 survey, 62% of people said they’d like to receive a gift card for the holidays. And friends and families come through, spending over $100 billion on them each year (some of which won’t ever be claimed, which means pure profit for you). Don’t be left out of that. [bctt tweet="Shoppers spend over $100 billion on gift cards each year. Don't let your #ecommerce store miss out!" username="hostgator"]  

    5. Offer coupons and deals.

    Everyone who lands on your site on Cyber Monday is expecting deals. All of your competitors will be offering them, so you should as well. Offer something to everyone on your site that day – whether it’s discounts, free shipping, free gift wrapping, or some combination of the three. This is also a really good opportunity to give something special to your email list and social media followers. Provide them with a special code or link that reminds them of the value of engaging with you over email and social media. Also be sure to provide new visitors on Cyber Monday with a special offer to join your email list. A day when a lot of people are heading to your website is an optimal time to grow your email list.  Make sure the sign up box is placed somewhere obvious on your website, with compelling copy around it that lets your visitors know how valuable signing up is. And push for sign ups again on your checkout page. The people who buy from you are the ones most likely to sign up.  

    6. Increase your marketing.

    You want to drive people to your online store on Cyber Monday. That means you should be willing to increase your spending on any paid marketing you do, like PPC and social media ads. Also work to promote your Cyber Monday deals on social media, your website, and your email newsletter. You definitely want the people that already know you to come back and check out your online store on the big day, but you should also try to get your offers and deals in front of potential customers who weren’t familiar with you yet. Work on a Cyber Monday marketing plan that emphasizes each. [bctt tweet="#CyberMonday is the most important day of the year for #onlinebusiness. Are you prepared?" username="hostgator"]  

    7. Have you been putting off important website updates? Get them done before the big day.

    If you have an online business, you should already be thinking about this stuff, but if you haven’t yet, Cyber Monday’s a good excuse to get it done. Make sure your website is user-friendly. You want your visitors to have an easy time finding everything they need. You want to guide them toward signing up for your email list (without annoying them in the process) and make completing a purchase entirely intuitive. Make sure your website is well designed to accomplish these goals. Do some testing. Have friends who aren’t a part of the business try your website out for you – from different devices and on different browsers. Ask them to report back on anything about the experience they found less than ideal and get to work fixing it.  Create a mobile website. You already know you need a mobile website. Every business with an online presence must make sure people can use the website easily on their mobile phones and tablets.  If you haven’t yet created a mobile-version of your website, do it now. Over 40% of all Cyber Monday traffic in 2014 came from mobile devices.  You will lose sales on Cyber Monday if people find your website hard to use on a mobile device, so don’t risk it. [bctt tweet="Over 40% of #CyberMonday traffic will come from mobile devices. Is your online store #mobilefriendly?" username="hostgator"]   You have a lot to do, but you still have some time to get it all done. Get a plan in place now to make the most of Cyber Monday this year. Your customers will be glad you did, and so will you.