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  • How To Set Pricing for Your Online Store

    Friday, February 3, 2017 by
    Set pricing for your online store So many parts of starting a new business are exciting. You have dreams of wild success and enjoying the freedom of working for yourself. But every business owner has to deal with one especially tricky problem: figuring out pricing. Setting the pricing for items in your online store is one of the hardest parts of setting up a new business. If your prices are too high, you’ll lose sales. If they’re too low, you won’t make enough profit. Either way, your business faces a real possibility of failure. Your success depends on getting this right, yet there’s no clear right answer to what you should charge.  Here are a number of steps you can take to make an informed decision when setting your pricing. HostGator Website Builder  

    Step 1: Consider your business costs.

    Consider your business costs for online storeEvery business has expenses. Your pricing needs to account for the amount you’re paying into the business if you ever want to make a profit. Hopefully you’ve been tracking your expenses as you go and have a fairly clear idea of the budget you’ll need moving forward. If not, then your first step needs to be tallying up all your costs so far and those you expect to take on in the near future. Your list will likely includes the cost of items such as: -Inventory -Any supplies needed to make the product you sell -Various supplies needed to run your business – ranging from higher-cost items like computers and furniture, to smaller items like pens and paper Web hosting for your business website -Designing your website (or hiring someone to do so) -All your marketing efforts -Any labor your hire – including employees, contractors, and specialists like your accountant Even if your business is relatively simple, your costs do add up and you need to be confident your pricing will help you make that money back (and then some).  

    Step 2: Consider your time.

    Just as you track your expenses, you should be tracking your time whenever you work on your business. You can find a number of free time-tracking tools, such as Toggl and My Hours that will help you gain a complete picture of how much time you’re putting into this store. Cost of time for online shop ownerIn the early days when you’re just getting set up, you likely won’t be making anything back for that time, but eventually you need to for the effort to be worth it. Your pricing therefore needs to consider your labor, as well as your costs. Figure out two numbers: 1. How much would you like to be paid for your time – if you’re being ambitious? 2. What’s the bare minimum you feel you need to be paid for your time for this business to pay off? That range will help you clarify how much your business needs to make for you to be happy with the profits you earn for the amount of work you put in.  

    Step 3: Research your competitor’s prices.

    The first two steps make it easy to think big and might make you inclined to price high, but this is the step where you have to figure out what’s realistic in your industry. Spend some time browsing the websites of people selling similar products. Think like a customer: do searches for the terms they’re most likely to use to find products like yours and check out what’s typical on the websites that show up first. Record what you find as you go in a spreadsheet so you can better see the trends in pricing in your industry and track how prices vary across products with different sets of features.  At the end of this exercise, you should have a good range in mind.  You want to know both the low and high ends of pricing in your industry, and have an idea of what’s different about the brands that charge prices on the higher end.  

    Step 4: Figure out your unique positioning.

    If seeing what businesses were charging on the low end of your range in step three was disheartening, don’t let it get to you.  You can go higher than your competitors if you can figure out what makes your business or product special. Whether it’s because your products look better, last longer, or work better in some key way, if you can find the thing that differentiates what you’re selling from the low-end options out there, then you can convince customers it’s worth paying more when they buy from you. A marketing consultant can help you with this step if you’re having a hard time on your own. It’s part of their job to help clients figure out clear brand positioning.  

    Step 5: Consider shipping.

    Shipping costs are an inevitable part of online business. People hate paying for shipping and the added expense immediately makes your products look more expensive. In one survey by UPS, 44% of customers said they’ve abandoned an online purchase because of high shipping costs. 44% of customers said they’ve abandoned an online purchase because of high shipping costs. #ecommerce Click To Tweet Cost of shipping for online storeYou have a few options here: Option A: You can stick with passing the cost of shipping onto your customers. Many businesses do this, but you increase the chances of shopping cart abandonment. Option B: You can offer a flat fee for all shipping – say something like $5 – so it doesn’t look too high to customers, but also means you’re not having to cover the full costs of shipping yourself. Option C: You can offer free shipping for orders over a certain amount. This is becoming an increasingly common option businesses offer as it encourages customers to spend more, so while you do have to pay more in shipping costs, you end up making more on the order as a whole. Option D: You can offer free shipping on all orders and raise your prices to account for the difference. The main risk here is that your products will look more expensive at a glance, which could drive customers away. Any one of these options can work and you could potentially try out different ones over time to see what gets the best results. Having a clear idea of how you’re going to handle shipping is important as you reach your final step.  

    Step 6: Set your prices.

    Even all your prior research won’t make this step easy, per say, but it will give you the information you need to make an informed decision. At this point, you just have to do it.   Set pricing that falls within the range of what you found your competitors charging, while being high enough to cover your expenses and allow for some healthy profits besides. Make sure the prices are high enough to leave some room for discounts and specials. You don’t want to lose money when great sales opportunities like Black Friday roll around.   Determining your pricing isn’t fun, but it’s an important step toward making money (which is fun). You might not get your pricing just right on the first try, and it’s okay to change it later if you need to. By doing the proper research and really thinking through each of these steps though, you should come close to finding pricing that will work for your business.

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  • HostGator Announces Winners of Inaugural Scholarship Program

    Tuesday, January 24, 2017 by
    HostGator Small Business Scholarship Today we're proud to announce the winners of the HostGator Small Business Scholarship. Of nearly 100 applicants from colleges across the nation, three winners were chosen to receive $1,500 in scholarship funds to help pay for their education expenses such as tuition, fees, books and on-campus room and board. We launched our scholarship program in May of last year. As a leading provider of web hosting and related services for small businesses, we wanted to provide a platform for aspiring entrepreneurs and tech professionals to share their ideas for advancing the future of small business development. The following three students were selected by HostGator staff based on their essay response to the question, “What is the biggest tech challenge facing small businesses today, and what is your proposed solution?”
    • Logan Miller, an undergraduate student at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability, discussed the uphill battle many local businesses face when trying to compete with large national businesses in online search results. He suggested small businesses come together to develop a mobile app that would enable business owners to network with each other and make it easier for consumers to shop local.
    • Chelsea Sumner, an undergraduate student at Wagner College’s Evelyn L. Spiro School of Nursing, recounted the steep online marketing learning curve she faced when founding her small business. Her solutions included rate-based advertising determined by business tenure and more educational programs for small business owners surrounding online search marketing and business negotiations.
    • Raquel Solares, graduate student at Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, also highlighted the disadvantages small businesses face when it comes to budgeting for Search Engine Optimization and paid Google advertising. She proposed a new section on the right-hand side of Google search results that would be dedicated exclusively to small business listings.
    Read the winning submissions below. Congratulations to Logan, Chelsea, and Raquel!  

    HostGator Small Business Scholarship Winning Essays

    What is the biggest tech challenge facing small businesses today, and what is your proposed solution?  

    Logan Miller

    School of Sustainability, Arizona State University [caption id="attachment_15936" align="alignright" width="300"]Logan Miller winner of HostGator Small Business Scholarship Logan Miller[/caption] In this rapidly evolving world of tech and social media, small businesses find themselves out of place. No longer are traditional forms of advertising such as TV and radio ads effective. Even a well-designed, money-intensive website proves to be lackluster when it comes to attracting new customers, especially younger generations. In today’s economy, word is spread via social media. Whether that is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, the world sees trends through these outlets. Rather than focusing on promoting links on Google or ceaselessly renovating their webpages, small businesses should turn to private partnership networking apps. The value of private partnerships can be seen in many places. For example, in Tucson, Arizona, several downtown businesses collaborated after the Great Recession to revitalize the downtown area. In promoting and networking with each other, businesses such as the Rialto Theatre and Club Congress brought in new customers and helped spur economic recovery in a hurting economy. Now, the first step in promoting these private partnerships, wherein small, local businesses promote each other, is to display these partnerships and the services or goods these businesses offer in a clear and concise way. This can be done simply through an app! Imagine you’re traveling to a new city, and you want to find a local bookstore. You go into your phone, download said app, enter the locality you’re visiting and voila! A listing of local businesses in the region pops up. What’s even better is that the stores themselves offer up suggestions for other businesses customers might enjoy or need. One possible downfall for this plan is the cost of developing the app. Many small businesses are already strapped for the cash and manpower needed for a project such as this. However, there is a rather simple and innovative solution. Who is spearheading new development in tech while writing the rules of social media? The youth. In partnering with local schools, small businesses would be able to capitalize on the technological prowess of the youth. Many schools already have Career and Technical Education programs in place to provide students with real world job experience. Auto repair and biotechnology are taught in schools, and since the technological sector is one of the fastest growing, most profitable industries in the world it would make perfect sense to provide students hands-on, real world experience in that job market. The development of this networking app will serve several purposes. It will provide local businesses for an easily-accessible display for their businesses, attracting customers through the conveniency of their phones. Secondly, it will provide local students hands-on, readily applicable job experience while possibly opening them up to internships or job opportunities with the businesses they are working with. Furthermore, the app’s creation will spur connectivity between local businesses, helping them to organize together to prevent large-scale, national chains from out-competing them. Finally, by partnering with local schools, local businesses will help spread their names throughout the community in which they reside. Word of mouth is still important today, especially in the age of social media. By integrating themselves with the students designing the app, their parents, and the teachers, the businesses will greatly expand their customer base.  

    Chelsea Sumner

    Wagner College, Evelyn L. Spiro School of Nursing A year ago, if someone were to ask me if I wanted to go to a room escape, my first question would be: What’s that? To which this person would respond something to the extent of: It’s a room where you and a group have sixty minutes to try and escape -- At this point in the conversation, if you were to slice my brain in half you would probably only find words like escape and stuck and panic nestled within every sulci. I am sure that many would share these sentiments that I once had. Before doing my first room escape, the prospect of being locked in a room did not sound like an ideal Friday night. Fast-forward to just a few months ago and I can be found painting blue and orange fluorescent paint on dozens of fake flowers to use as decoration for an awesome new escape room. When I was helping create the room, I had no idea how difficult and expensive online advertising would be. As a small business with a new brand and no followers, we had to take on the task that all new small businesses have to tackle: finding customers. Although I am a nursing student, I never considered myself illiterate in the world of business --At least not until I became part of a team that started a small business. My great-grandfather emigrated to the United States from Armenia and started his own business. Watching my mother and her entire family be involved in a business made me feel prepared to take on my own. I quickly learned that starting a new business was a task I did not know anything about. In 2016 online advertising is a huge tech challenge that small businesses have to face because it is absolutely necessary for success. Virtually every industry relies on some sort of online advertising or online presence and many small businesses are quick to get their name out there in any way possible. Naively, I presumed that online advertisement would simply consist of social media venues, a website for the business, coupon sites and business rating sites. I quickly learned that this was a huge tech challenge for our new business. Since every business is essentially different, there is no “how to” guide when it comes to online marketing. The first task was to create a website and learning about keywords. That is, trying to get your site to pop up when a Google user searches anything remotely related to your business. The second task was much more daunting than we had ever expected. With one popular site, we signed a deal that would charge us two dollars every time someone clicked our advertisement. Unfortunately we did not read the fine print and the price said that it was “subject to change”, and of course we saw a steady increase before cancelling the deal. We were so excited, and somewhat desperate, to get started in online advertisement that we were not cautious. In this case, it was our fault for not reading the small print and it was a lesson well learned. In our next advertisement deal, we negotiated percentages with the site and actually ended up with a better deal. Through trial and error, we were able to work through this tech challenge. A proposed solution to this tech challenge could be creating online advertising tools and deals specifically priced at the age of the business. For example, a business that has been opened only one month could be quoted differently than a business that has been open for two years. This gives new small businesses a chance to get on their feet before paying a fortune in advertising. A less costly and more reasonable solution would be to educate small business owners on how to negotiate in online advertising and how to use keywords so potential customers are able to find the business on search engines.  

    Raquel Solares

    Arizona State University, Thunderbird School of Global Management Raquel Solares winner of HostGator small business scholarshipIt seems as though local small businesses are being replaced by standardized chain businesses at a rapid rate. Even worse, finding an organic search on a search engine for small businesses can be difficult or next to impossible. This is worrisome for those small business owners looking to expand their clientele. Small businesses are important to our economy and they need to be a priority when considering new methods of advertising, especially with the current US consumers’ reliance on technology. Small businesses have shown to be important for driving economic growth. According to The Washington Post, during the US economic downfall of 2009, entrepreneurship decreased, however, it has yet to recover to post 2009 rates. Even more alarming is, since 2008, more businesses are exiting than entering business. Studies have shown that young businesses are important for creating net new jobs in the US. This job creation feeds the economy through job recipients becoming consumers, returning money to businesses and continuing the economic cycle. Due to paid advertisements, larger businesses can afford to promote their businesses more effectively. Larger business can afford to pay for more time for SEO experts to work on their sites and make sure organic searches remain at the top level. All the while, small business owners may have to compete with less desirable search terms when receiving work done by SEO experts, due to pricing and inability to penetrate typical searches effectively. While working at a hosting company, I frequently experienced customers wanting a higher ranking on Google. After discussing their type of business, the investment in SEO, the cost, and the lengthy amount of time it would take to increase the ranking, the small business owners usually felt discouraged. For some business owners, it is financially impossible to compete on the online platform with the big players in their industry. (Due to differences in industry, some businesses must pay substantially more because of higher competition) Redesigning a search platform (preferably Google) to include small businesses as a priority ranking will help the economy grow. It will give local small businesses a new platform to compete on rather than fighting a losing battle against chain businesses. Currently after a search is done in Google, the right side of the browser screen is completely blank which leaves plenty of space for a local small business section. With growing reliance on organic searches, small business owners need a platform where they have the ability to compete appropriately.   We'll be announcing our next scholarship in early 2017. Subscribe to our blog to be the first to know! HostGator Website Builder
  • Smart Review Habits Can Help Your Business Thrive

    Friday, January 13, 2017 by
    Review your business model We’ve reached the final step in the HostGator Home Business Guide, and like listening to your customers, this step is ongoing. Reviewing your business performance is the key to understanding whether you’re reaching your audience and heading toward profitability. Major companies do this all the time, with everything from daily sales goals to quarterly financial filings and annual reports. You don’t need to adopt an enterprise-level review schedule, but you do need to keep tabs on these 11 areas to keep your business on track.  

    1. Review your role as a solopreneur

    Are you getting more skilled and confident at running your business? Do you have time to accomplish everything you need to do? Check in every couple of months and ask yourself if there are tasks you don’t have the skills for or don’t have time to do. Eventually, you may need to hire a contractor or an employee to take on some of that work. Beyond your work “in” your business, how much time do you spend working “on” your business? Are you building a network of peers and mentors to talk with about successes and setbacks? Have you established great working relationships with your customers? Do you keep up with trends in your industry and attend business-related events?  

    2. Review your workspace

    If you started out storing inventory in your garage, do you still have room to park your car or is it time to rent storage space offsite? Does your office function well without creating family conflict? You may have begun with a laptop at the kitchen table, but you may be ready for a room with a door so you can focus on work and then put it aside during family time. Another thing to think about from time to time: does your office furniture support good posture, or are you throwing your back, neck, and wrists out of whack while you work? A standing desk and a chair with good back support are worthwhile investments if you spend a lot of time at your computer.  

    3. Review your business plan

    Does your original plan still work as a decision-making guide or does it need revisions? Remember that factors outside your business can force you to re-evaluate your plan. Suppliers may change their offerings or raise their prices. The economy’s ups and downs can affect your customers’ shopping habits. By regularly reviewing your business plan, you’ll be better prepared to adapt to these changes.  

    4. Review your banking, tax and insurance providers

    At least once a year, it’s a good idea to look at your business bank, tax preparer, and professional insurance policy to make sure you’re getting the right services for your business. For example, does your CPA help you identify the business-related tax deductions you’re entitled to claim? Are you ready to pass off your bookkeeping to a professional? Have your professional insurance needs changed? Can you find a better deal on a business checking account? It may be that all your current providers are great, but it’s a good idea to check anyway so you don’t miss potential savings or better service.  

    5. Review your web hosting plan and website

    If you’ve had your site template or design for more than a couple of years, you may need to revamp it or replace it to keep up with current mobile-display standards and customer expectations. Are your links all working properly? Does your host still deliver consistent uptime and fast page loads? Do you need to upgrade your hosting plan for more bandwidth or more domains?  

    6. Review your email setup

    Are you making the most of your professional email address? Once you reach a certain level of business, you may want to create more email addresses with your professional domain, such as admin, bookings, or billing @ yourbusiness.com. These can help you sort your mail and stay more organized, and of course if you hire an employee he or she will need a company email address. Review your email signature, too, to make sure it features the most current version of your business slogan or tagline and that all links work properly.  

    7. Review your customer listening habits

    What are customers telling you about your offerings? What’s working well, and what needs improvement? How often do you talk with them in person or hear from them online, via email, and through social media? Has their feedback helped you improve your current products or create new ones? If so, how can you thank them? If not, how can you listen more effectively?  

    8. Review your sales

    Have you reached your breakeven point yet? What does your profit and loss statement look like? Are your sales trending upward, holding steady, or declining? These are all critical questions, and you need to ask these questions often. As part of your sales review and customer conversations, find out if there are payment methods your customers would like you to offer. Making payments more convenient can boost sales, and there are a lot of new payment methods these days.  

    9. Review your digital marketing efforts

    What are the open and click-through rates for your emails and how do they compare to those for similar businesses? How’s your social media engagement? More important than the number of followers is how responsive your followers are. Do you have real conversations with them? Are you regularly updating your blog and responding to comments and questions? You may reach a point where it’s time to hire out some or all of your digital marketing writing and social media post scheduling so you can focus on your core business.  

    10. Review your pipeline and products

    Are you working on your next MVP or an improved version of an existing product? What are your customers asking for and what are they willing to pay for? Have you developed any tiered pricing options or packages? What about cross-sell and upsell options? More options can lead to more sales and new customers.  

    11. Review your review process

    Before you make that Inception reference, rest assured that your whole workday doesn’t have to be consumed with reviews. You may only need to review things like your bank, insurance, and workspace once a year, while customer feedback and sales need frequent monitoring. You’ll have to develop a schedule that works for your business and then stick to it. There’s one more thing. Are you rewarding yourself on a regular basis for your efforts? Running your own home-based business has its perks but it’s still work. In many ways it can be more work than a 9-to-5 job. So be sure to pencil in regular pats on the back, fun breaks, and time to reflect on everything you’re accomplishing with your small business. Congratulations, and we wish you success!

    Ready to get started? Download our FREE eBook: Launch Your New Home Business!

  • How To Expand Your Product Line, The Right Way

    Friday, January 13, 2017 by
    How to Expand Your Product Line We’re in the homestretch of the HostGator Home Business Guide. Previously we covered the basics of developing a minimum viable product (MVP) to test your business idea and get feedback from customers. Now, we look at what to do after you have at least one viable product or service for sale. It’s time to refine it and maybe expand your offerings so you can make more sales to your current customers and reach new customers, too.  

    Start (always) by listening to your customers

    How do you know what to offer next? Listen and your customers will tell you. If they don’t have any requests for you, you can ask--then use your active listening skills to hear their answers clearly. Start conversations with your customers about their needs when you see them face to face in your shop or at your event booth. Use your website, email list, and social media accounts to ask for direct feedback, host polls, and take surveys. Just remember to ask lots of questions and take your time developing the ideas you get from these talks.  

    Present your existing products and services in new ways

    While you’re listening to your customers, you can also work on new ways to offer your existing product or service to appeal to a broader range of customers. In fact, your current and would-be customers may suggest some of these options to you.  

    Use tiered pricing to appeal to customers at different price points

    This is a tried-and-true tactic for businesses of all sizes, because it changes your customer’s decision from a single binary choice (do they want your product at the one price listed, yes or no?) to a mini-buffet of options they can choose from. Snappy's Party RentalsLet’s take the hypothetical example of Snappy’s Party Rentals. He started off with a single service – bounce house installation, monitoring, and takedown at parties for $50 an hour. So far, business is good among customers who are hosting 2-3 hour events. But some prospective customers with all-day events have been skipping Snappy’s, and a few churches and schools have been unable to rent from Snappy’s for their fundraiser fairs.

    Snappy hears what these would-be customers have to say and decides to offer three tiers of pricing for his bounce house rentals:

    • an all-day rate for $250
    • the current $50 per hour rate
    • a nonprofit rate of 50% off in exchange for listing Snappy’s as a sponsor and giving out promotional material at the event

    Snappy’s not offering anything new (yet) but he is giving customers some options when it comes to meeting their bounce house rental needs. This gives him the ability to bring in new customers—nonprofits on small budgets and homeowners who host all-day events.

     

    Package options

    Package deals are another way to win customers. You bundle your next MVP with your current products and services, or you can partner with another business to package your offerings together. For example, Snappy might hear from his customers that planning a kids’ party takes a huge amount of time. So he might offer a package that includes a 20-minute performance by a magician and delivery of a birthday cake, plates, and napkins to the event site. Grateful parents may respond better to that package (and pay more for it) than a basic rental. You can create landing pages for your tiered pricing choices and your packages on your web site. Then promote these pages through your social media and email channels so your customers know they have new options.  

    Cross-selling and upselling

    If you have new MVPs to offer, you can sell them as standalone products, but you may sell more if you have a plan to cross-sell or upsell them to your current customers.  

    Cross-selling: offer something new

    Let’s say Snappy has heard from some customers that they would also like something their party guests can enjoy in the pool. He does some research, buys several big rainbow unicorn pool floats, and offers them as a separate rental option for his customers. The unicorn armada is a success, but his higher net worth customers say they’re still looking for more “wow” factor for their backyard pool parties.  

    Upselling: offer something better

    Snappy wants to cater to these high net worth customers. Because it’s a great time to be alive, he finds an option online he thinks they’ll like: a rainbow unicorn pool float encrusted with thousands of crystals (yes, this is a real thing). He also pays a set designer to make coordinating sparkly decorations for the outside of his bounce houses to offer a “glam” option at a higher rental rate. Snappy’s dolled-up bounce houses and crystal unicorn pool-float party rentals become must-haves among his moneyed clients. When you add cross-sells and upsells, be sure to feature them prominently on your website, especially if they make compelling images.  

    Refine and revisit your MVP and USP to deliver better products

    It’s important to note that Snappy didn’t just plunk down $6K for a sparkly pool toy without doing his market research and his math. He knew before he made the purchase that there were enough parents (and other adults) in his customer base with the means and the willingness to make it a profitable decision. And he ran a minimum viable product test with some un-sparkly unicorn pool floats to test the pool-toy rental idea first. It’s also crucial to remember that Snappy’s new packages and offerings help refine his unique selling position (USP). He’s moving from being a run-of-the-mill bounce house provider for children’s backyard parties to being a fuller-service party entertainment and rental company for house parties and community events – but he’s still firmly focused on his core business of party rentals and services. Well done, Snappy. Next time, in the final post of our HostGator Home Business Guide, we’ll talk about how to review your business from top to bottom to make sure you’re getting the most from your hard work and to find ways to keep growing and improving.

    Ready to get started? Download our FREE eBook: Launch Your New Home Business!

  • 4 Cheap, Easy Ways to Start Marketing Your Business

    Friday, January 13, 2017 by

    Start marketing your business

    This is Step 9 of our 11-step HostGator Home Business Guide. At this point, you’ve developed your first basic product, or you’re working on it. You’ve put together your marketing toolbox, which includes social media accounts, your business website, a professional email address, and the results of your social media listening. Here’s how to use them to establish your brand and connect your audience to your product.  

    1. Social media best practices for home-based businesses

    When you put together your marketing toolkit, you found the social media platforms that your ideal customers us, set up business accounts on those platforms, and studied their tutorials for business users. (You can review the marketing toolbox steps here.) Each platform is a bit different, but some practices work well across all of them: Post regularly. You don’t need a constant volley of posts, but regular posts keep your business visible and show that it’s active and engaged. Abandoned social media accounts can undermine customer trust in your brand. Share useful information. Your ideal customers need and want certain things, and you can earn their trust by posting information that helps them out. It doesn’t have to be--and shouldn’t always be--your own company’s products or services. You can share other people’s how-to articles, video tutorials, inspirational pins, and interviews. When you do share your own products and insights, focus on building trust and connections first, and making the sale may follow. Promote wisely. Social media is great for announcing flash sales, sharing coupon codes, and other deals. Be sure your language is clear so there’s no potential for customers to misunderstand your offer, and stick to your offer deadlines, even if no one bites the first couple of times. It’s tempting to extend deadlines, but that trains your audience to ignore them, which can reduce responses to your offers. Track your results. Some posts may get lots of shares and clicks, while others get few or none. Study what does well and steer more of your posts in that direction. Invite followers to visit your site. An easy way is to promote a blog post or lively comments discussion. Don’t have a blog yet? We’re about to fix that. Create Your Blog  

    2. Starting your own small business blog

    A blog is a necessary marketing tool, and it’s easy to start a blog on your business website. Keeping your blog updated with fresh and relevant content that helps your business rank well in search results is a the real challenge, but you can do it. Here are the basics. Make a list of topics your target audience talks about, especially problems your business can solve for them. Maybe they can’t find locally made food gift baskets. Maybe they want to customize their lawn-care services each week via a smartphone app. Whatever it is they’re talking about that relates to your business, you’ll want to talk about it on your blog. Build a content calendar. Just as you want to post social media updates regularly, do the same with your blog. A regular deadline will help you focus and keep your business fresh in the minds of readers. Use the keywords your customers search for to find businesses like yours. Don’t beat the copy to death with the same keywords over and over, but do include important phrases like, say, “bulk order temporary tattoos” or “healthy school lunch delivery” or whatever it is you’re trying to rank well for in search results. Write simply. Write as if you’re talking to a good friend or customer and you’ll connect with your readers. If the act of writing ties you up in knots, dictate your posts to your phone or PC and then transcribe them. Promote your blog posts on your social media accounts. Be sure to include images (your own or stock photos) to increase click-through and read rates. Track your results. Regularly review traffic stats for your posts, such as unique visitors, time on the page, where they’re coming from, what search terms they used, and the number of comments per post. Invite your blog readers to join your email list so they’ll always know when you publish something new. That brings us to…  

    3. Email marketing for small business owners

    Your email list is a valuable asset, because it’s all the people who have bought from you, who are interested in what you have to say, or want to know what you will offer them next. In other words, these folks have already said yes to your business, to some degree. They may not buy everything you offer and they may not read every email you send, but they’re open to hearing from you. Email regularly. Don’t bombard your list members, but don’t let them forget about you, either. I’ve heard from email newsletter experts that once a month is the minimum for keeping yourself in customers’ minds. That’s plenty for a new business owner who already has lots to do. Write great subject lines. Treat them like headlines and make them short enough to display in the preview window. Say something useful. Share insights, promote products and offers, and answer frequently asked questions. You can also promote specific blog posts or social media discussions that are going strong. Another popular option is to include a case study or testimonial from a satisfied customer. Track your results. Free-to-low-cost tools like Constant Contact show you how well each campaign performs. See how many recipients opened your email and clicked on links within your email. Use what works in your next message and drop the things that don’t work.  

    4. Influencer marketing for small business

    With social media, a blog, and an email marketing program in place, you’re ready to start courting influencers. You probably know from experience that people are more likely to buy from businesses that friends and family recommend. Influencer marketing is a similar way to generate word of mouth from experts and high-profile people in your field. Businesses of any size can engage in influencer marketing, although you should calibrate your expectations to your business size and scope. Shayla Price explains how to identify, contact, and work with influencers in this detailed post. When you do run an influencer campaign, track your results to see how well it worked and to get ideas for making your next influencer campaign even more effective. Just two more steps to go. Our next post will delve into developing new products based on feedback from your customers, how and when to market new lines to existing customers, and how to reach new customers as your product offerings grow.

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