Friday, April 28, 2017 by Casey Kelly-BartonOne of the perks you’re supposed to enjoy when you’re self-employed is the freedom to take time off when you need it. The reality is that for solopreneurs and small business owners, the cultural pressure to keep working is magnified by the fact that you’re ultimately responsible for everything. Americans are famously “under-vacationed,” with less than half of employees taking all the days they’re given. However, you definitely need time to rest and replenish your creative thinking and problem solving skills. Here’s how to make those breaks happen.
Friday, April 21, 2017 by Casey Kelly-BartonOne of the most common (and best) pieces of advice given to new freelancers and B2B consultants is to market your services based on value rather than price. Maybe the second-most common advice is to offer your prospects something free. These recommendations aren’t as contradictory as they may seem. In this post, we’ll look at some effective methods for marketing with free content, and we’ll cover the “freebie” you should avoid.
Prove your value, build your listSmart prospective clients will want to know why they should hire you, and giving them useful information is an easy way to demonstrate your knowledge, technical skills, and understanding of what they need. In exchange for the free reports, webinars, email learning series, or other content you develop for your marketing program, you get prospects’ email addresses to help grow your list and establish a base of warm leads. With these two goals in mind, let’s look at ways your business can offer compelling freebies to your audience, with the understanding that all marketing roads should lead to your inbox or your email list. The actual content you create will depend on your business, industry, and clientele, as we’ll see in the examples ahead.
Blog, vlog and podcast contentYou don’t have to have a written blog, video blog, and audio podcast, but choosing one and posting regularly on an industry topic can give your audience a taste of your expertise. For marketing writers, Copyblogger’s blog is the online bible, covering both the details and the high-level view of copywriting for business. Obviously, the blog’s content is free and it can inspire readers to pay for Copyblogger’s marketing tools. In the blog sidebar is a “get free training” signup form that collects users’ email addresses in exchange for more than a dozen e-books and an email course, which can also lead to service purchases. That’s an unusually large cache of free material, but Copyblogger has been around for a long time and has a vast library of content.
Side-by-side paid and free content on your siteNielsen Norman Group does user experience research and consulting for enterprise, and they produce detailed reports on UX topics, from accessibility to designing sites for school kids. Their reports typically cost a few hundred dollars, but NNG offers some as free downloads, no email address required. They’re listed alongside reports for sale on the same topic, so UX managers can see the level of detail and the type of insights they can expect if they buy a report. For example, maybe I’m wondering whether to spend a few hundred dollars on their Tablet Website and Application UX report for my hypothetical team. Before I make that commitment, I can download the company’s 116-page iPad usability report to see if it inspires trust and seems like something my team can use. For B2B consultants and firms, offering hassle-free proof of expertise can lead directly to sales of other content. This free content approach is also a good way to repurpose information products that are no longer up to date but represent your work well. If you don’t have content old enough to repurpose this way, you can always write something just to use as a freebie – as long as it’s high quality and a good example of your paid products.
Exclusive content for email list membersAs with Copyblogger’s multi-email training program, you can develop an email course on a topic your audience wants to know more about, whether it’s marketing their business, hiring the right people, or designing a website. You don’t have to produce a series, either. If you run a shipping business, you might send a pre-holiday shopping season checklist to the retailer segment of your list, or short guides on customs rules in different countries. Whatever you send, make it something they can use right away, and make sure they know it’s a benefit of being on your list.
- Read our free e-book: Launching Your Work From Home Business
How-to videos and webinarsIf you’re comfortable walking viewers through a particular topic on camera or running a webinar with a slideshow and Q&A, you can establish a rapport with your audience and reach people who don’t have time to read reports and blogs or who simply learn better through watching and listening. The AV approach is especially effective if you sell design services, and it works well for B2B and B2C training services, from rooftop solar installations to clicker-training service dogs.
The freebie of doom: working for “exposure”In contrast to selectively sharing free content that demonstrates your value and expertise to prospective clients, working for exposure or on spec communicates that you don’t actually know the value of your work. There are (at least) four problems with working for exposure.
- You don’t get paid.
- Clients who ask you to work for free usually don’t actually have the money to become paying clients.
- Any word of mouth referrals you get may include a mention that you worked for free, so these new prospects will expect you to be free or cheap.
- If the client is finicky or makes lots of change requests—and you might be surprised by how demanding these nonpaying clients can be--you’ll sink a lot of time into a project that stresses you out and doesn’t pay the bills.
- When you’re doing pro bono work for a cause you love.
- When you’re starting out and need a portfolio. In that case, offer to work for clients of your choosing, rather than agreeing to work “for exposure” with unknown prospects who approach you.
Monday, April 17, 2017 by Casey Kelly-BartonEntrepreneurs, we’re often told, are the economy’s heroes. Policymakers view startups and small businesses from Main Street to Silicon Valley as engines of innovation, economic growth, and overall prosperity. If you’re wondering whether to invest time and effort into starting your own business—or if you’re starting out and finding the learning curve steeper than you expected—you may wonder if the praise for entrepreneurs is valid or hype. Here are some reasons we think entrepreneurs and their work are so valuable, whether the businesses they run are large or small.
Entrepreneurship lets business owners build they life they want or needZhena Muzyka was a single mother with $6 to her name, no health insurance, and a child with life-threating health problems when she started her tea business. Muzyka told Entrepreneur magazine one of her goals was to grow her company to five employees so she could offer an employer-sponsored health plan for herself and her workers – the only way around the pre-ACA pre-existing condition exclusions that left her son uninsured. She told the magazine, “There’s nothing more powerful than a mother’s will to protect and care for her children and that translated into a new drive to succeed for me.” Today Muzyka is the author of Life by the Cup and has her own multimedia business at Zhena.TV, an outgrowth of her success turning $6 and a tea cart into a $6 million premium tea business. [bctt tweet="Entrepreneurship lets business owners build they life they want or need. " username="hostgator"]
Entrepreneurship offers new solutions to customer problemsSara Blakely wasn’t the first woman to struggle with ill-fitting undergarments but she was the first to make a billion dollars solving the problem. Blakely, founder and owner of the Spanx line of shapewear, wanted what most women who own a pair of white pants want – underwear that didn’t make her butt look awful in those pants. Making cut-off control top pantyhose for her own use was a start, but she didn’t stop there. After working hard to find mills that would create her products and stores that would stock them, Blakely leads a worldwide brand with a presence in dozens of countries and its own line of US retail stores—all because she found a problem and persisted in solving it for herself and her customers.
Entrepreneurship helps communities thriveKentucky farmer Kenny Mattingly, whom I interviewed earlier this year for Out Here magazine, saved his family’s small dairy farm by learning to make artisanal cheese. Mattingly’s cheese-making venture pulled his parents’ farm out of the red, and his grown son is now in the business, which means the farm will stay in the family for another generation. Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese sells to farm visitors as well as to restaurants, grocers and individual customers across the US. The company catalog offers preserves, sauces, sausage, mustard, salsa, and wooden cutting boards made by other local entrepreneurs to create a more robust and stable local economy.
Entrepreneurship can create new jobs and strengthen the economyKenny’s shows that even a small business can create jobs when it’s successful. When it comes to job creation, though, it’s hard to beat tech entrepreneurs. Microsoft, founded by Bill Gates, employs more than 100,000 people. Apple, started by the late Steve Jobs, isn’t far behind, with some 76,000 employees. However, those are just the numbers within the companies. Each enterprise has also created supplier, retail, shipping, marketing and other jobs related to its company’s products and services. On its website, Apple takes credit for creating 1.9 million jobs overall, including 1.4 million related to iOS and its many applications. Microsoft was responsible for creating 14.7 million jobs as of 2007, according to a company-sponsored economic impact study by IDC. Even a small entrepreneur-led business will generate some local economic growth. As your business grows, you may need to work with a CPA, an attorney to help you incorporate, and an assistant to take care of daily office tasks. That’s just for a solo-run operation. Product designers and small retailers can add even more strength to their local economies as they hire production help, sales clerks, customer service reps, and shipping staff. [bctt tweet="Entrepreneurship can create new jobs and strengthen the economy. " username="hostgator"]
Entrepreneurship can drive society-wide improvementsBecause entrepreneurs are driven to create the life they want and solve the problems they deem important, and because they tend to have strong community and economy-building skills, it’s not surprising that successful entrepreneurs are often the driving force behind major social initiatives. From Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS, which donates goods to people in need for each shoe and eyewear purchase, to the Gates Foundation’s push to get cellphones into the hands of women in developing nations, entrepreneurs are naturals at thinking up solutions to problems we face. When Warren Buffett was a 13-year old paperboy and horse race tipsheet publisher, he was solving the problems at hand. Today, the investment guru is one of the wealthiest people in the world and a co-founder (along with Bill and Melinda Gates) of The Giving Pledge, a program that invites other billionaires to solve big problems by pledging half or more of their wealth to philanthropy. Among those who’ve taken the pledge are international royalty and nobility, donors from old-money families like Hilton and Rockefeller, and a substantial number of self-made billionaires.
More reasons entrepreneurship mattersIn my experience as a solopreneur with a writing business, I’ve found that being my own boss forces me to focus on what’s important and leave the rest aside. My kids are learning, by watching me and other entrepreneurs in the family, that setbacks are part of the process and that it’s possible to build something good if you work at it, set goals, and build strong connections with others. Even without a billion-dollar business model, there’s a lot of satisfaction in being able to decide which projects to say yes to and which to decline. There’s also a sense of pride that comes from earning enough money from my own business to contribute to causes that matter to me. If you’re just starting your entrepreneurial journey or wondering how to start, follow the HostGator blog for step-by-step guides to starting your own online store, surveying your customers, and launching your home business. Is there anything we missed? Tell us why you think entrepreneurship is important in the comments below.
Thursday, April 13, 2017 by Shayla PriceBlogging isn't easy. There’s a common misconception that bloggers just write. And as a full-time blogger for your own site or maybe multiple clients, you know that writing is just one of many responsibilities. Beyond writing creative text, bloggers must develop attention-grabbing topics, create eye-popping visuals, and promote their posts on social media. Plus, there’s the business of blogging that includes tracking time, signing contracts, and collecting payments. That’s why it's so important for bloggers to use tools to make their lives less hectic. Here’s a list of 15 tools every ambitious blogger needs to excel in their craft and business.
1. Hubspot’s Blog Topic GeneratorSo, it’s time to write. You sit down at your computer and stare at it for 30 minutes. You’re experiencing a bad case of writer’s block. The creative juices aren’t flowing. To break through this mental barrier, try using Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator. This tool will help you generate ideas fast. Type in a few terms in the form. And voila! The generator produces a week’s worth of blog topics.
2. GrammarlyMost writers will agree that writing is only 20% of your job. The other 80% is editing. Writers continue to refine their writing to give readers their best work. It’s how they master the skill. Grammarly makes you a better writer by spotting grammatical errors and offering synonym suggestions. It’s like having a virtual editor. “With Grammarly, we have managed to eliminate almost every type of mistake that could potentially sneak their way through our editorial process. Grammarly has lead us to much higher customer satisfaction rates and fewer headaches for everyone involved in the content creation process,” says James Kosur, chief marketing officer at Presto Media.
3. CoSchedule’s Headline AnalyzerHeadlines rank as one of the most significant parts within a blog post. If you can’t capture people’s attention in a few seconds, it’s likely that your post will never get read. CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer helps you solve that problem by scoring your titles. The analysis includes the overall structure, grammar, and readability of your headline. Moreover, you’ll learn whether your title needs an added boost of emotion.
4. BuzzSumoBlogging is very competitive with the growing number of content pieces being published every single day. People want their voices heard. To scope out the competition, use BuzzSumo to explore what types of content get traction. Also, learn who is sharing content and how that content compares to your posts. “With BuzzSumo you can type in a specific keyword and get a list of the most shared content related to that keyword. That way you can see what was involved and attempt to duplicate the results (or "10x" as they say),” writes Jordan Lore, a content marketer and PPC manager at Wishpond.
5. CanvaResearch uncovers that content paired with a relevant image boosts people’s retention of the information by 65%. Therefore, it’s essential that your blog post contains jaw-dropping visuals. With Canva, you can produce high-quality graphics for your post. Choose from millions of images and hundreds of fonts. It’s drag-and-drop feature makes designing easy for beginners. If you ever need inspiration, check out the brand’s interactive tutorials.
6. Keyword PlannerHow will your target audience find your content? It all starts with boosting your organic search traffic. Google’s Keyword Planner is effective for forming keyword ideas, viewing historical statistics, and generating traffic forecasts. “Google’s Keyword Planner is a great place to start plugging in keywords that are relevant to your site to see what the competition for each of those keywords looks like. This will help you eliminate the ones you shouldn’t be optimizing for and select the ones that can work best to drive traffic to your site,” states Forbes contributor Jia Wertz.
7. Sprout SocialContent promotion amplifies the reach of your work. So it makes sense to use social media because it helps spread your message to a diverse audience. However, managing multiple platforms is a time-consuming task. That’s where Sprout Social comes to the rescue. This platform lets you schedule and publish your content across several social channels. With its powerful analytics, you’ll identify your best content and discover trending topics in your mentions.
8. Constant ContactEmail marketing plays an integral role in connecting directly to your audience. Your subscribers are already familiar with your content and want to read your emails. With customizable templates, Constant Contact gives you the flexibility to shape your message. And you can track your success in real-time. “One of the key perks to using Constant Contact (vs. sending emails manually) is that you can track the successfulness of your emails. Constant Contact tells you how many people opened the message, clicked a link inside the message or forwarded the email to a friend,” says Jeremy Marsan, a business analyst and staff writer for Fit Small Business.
9. HostGatorAn online presence is critical for bloggers to build their brand and attract new readers or clients. A website makes it possible for you to show off your skills and portfolio. From site building tools to templates, HostGator gives you everything to launch your website right now. The WordPress Hosting plan also empowers bloggers to manage website content more efficiently.
10. TogglWhen you’re engulfed in your work, it’s easy to forget how much time has elapsed. Knowing the time it takes to complete specific tasks helps you manage your time efficiently. Toggl makes sure you never lose a minute of your billable time. To increase client satisfaction, you can send reporting straight to their inboxes. No Wifi? Not a problem. The tool offers offline support.
11. WaveWhen tax season rolls around, scrambling for pertinent documents will only add to your frustrations. Every professional blogger needs accounting software to create, send, and track invoices. Wave helps you stay organized and run a better business. Within the software, track income and expenses to understand your cash flow. You also can connect your bank accounts for transactions to appear in your bookkeeping.
12. SortdIt’s difficult to stay productive when you receive hundreds of emails per day. Without even noticing, a few crucial emails might slip through the cracks, causing more chaos. Sortd maximizes your productivity by turning your inbox into an organized workspace. Tori Reid, a contributor at Lifehacker, writes: “With Sortd you can sort your emails into actionable lists. Just drag and drop an email from the left pane—your inbox—into one of the lists you've created on the right. You can use the lists for follow ups, receipts, or anything else you see a need for.”
13. DocuSignWhether you’re signing brand partnership agreements or a new client contract, you don’t want the burden of paperwork. You need a digital solution. DocuSign starts the signing process with quick access to your documents. Trust that your electronic signature is secure and legally binding. The platform uses the strongest data encryption technologies to protect your privacy.
14. DropboxWe live in a mobile culture. You constantly bounce around between multiple locations. So it’s common to forget your laptop that contains all your work files somewhere. Dropbox solves that problem by giving you access to your files from any device. Forgot your laptop? Just open them from your mobile phone. The tool also makes it convenient to collaborate on projects with your partners or teammates.
15. TransferWiseWant to receive timely payments? Of course, you do! However, invoicing payments to your overseas clients isn’t always a simple task. TransferWise calculates the real exchange rate so you don’t lose any money. Choose to send payouts to your email or bank accounts. On top of that, this tool is 8x cheaper than banks.
Take Your PickYes, the life of a blogger is sometimes unorganized and stressful with back-to-back deadlines. Fortunately, you can move in a positive direction. Start using these tools to accelerate your writing and business. They will help you increase your productivity, so that you can become a better blogger.
Wednesday, April 12, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
One of the most frustrating aspects of running a small business is setting the right prices and sticking to them. After a few art markets where customers pass you by in favor of cheap trinkets at the next booth, or after you lose another bid because your prospect found someone cheaper on Craigslist, you may be tempted to drop your prices, lower your rates, and try to compete on price. Don’t do it. Business veterans describe competing on price as a sucker’s game that puts you “at the mercy of your dumbest competitor.” You’re more likely to succeed if you compete on value instead. In this post, we’ll talk about adjusting your customer personas, and customer-service goals to do that, along with strategies for different types of businesses, from home-based solopreneurs to B2B agencies and consultants.
Change your customers, not your pricingYour business can’t exist without a base of customers who give you repeat business and referrals. If would-be customers are passing you over on price, you need new customers. Take a good look at your target audience. Are they extremely price-conscious? Customers who buy on price alone should not be your audience, for two reasons. First – and I write this without judgment, because getting by when you’re broke is a job of its own – customers who only care about the lowest price don’t have money to spend with you. How can you to sell to, let alone upsell to, someone with no money to spend on your stuff, no matter how great it is? If you drop your prices, you may get a little more revenue in the short run, but from customers whose lifetime value to your business is very low. [bctt tweet="Customers who only care about the lowest price don’t have money to spend with you." username="hostgator"] Second, price-focused customers are loyal to the lowest price, not to any particular store or service. Say you cut prices to beat the competition, figuring you can absorb the loss until you get a lot of these price-focused customers. Then your competitor drops prices lower (maybe they’re doing high-volume sales, maybe they’re dumb – it doesn’t matter). Now you’ve taken a loss on your sales and lost your customer base and you may not have enough cash to recover. [bctt tweet="Price-focused customers are loyal to the lowest price, not to any particular store or service." username="hostgator"]
Fine-tune your customer personasFor small online businesses and home-based business, it’s important to get out of the mindset that your friends are your only customers. We tend to hang around people like ourselves, so if all your pals are bootstrapping their own business or side hustle, they don’t have the money to spend with you, at least not yet. If you’re a freelancer or run a B2B business, avoid the “whatever client comes along” treadmill. Market to clients who have the budget to hire you now and give you repeat business. Good advice I got from my freelance writing mentor Carol Tice was to set a minimum market-capitalization or venture-capital investment threshold for prospective B2B clients. This can help you avoid sinking time into one-off projects for small-budget clients so you can focus on finding clients that appreciate your value and will pay your rates.
Value-over-price goalsThe most concise description of providing value I’ve seen comes from writer Neil Gaiman, who got it from Stephen King: “People keep working in a freelance world… because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time.” He goes on to say that two out of three is good enough – that you can be cranky if your work is good and on time, or that you can be late if you’re good and people like you. If you really want to win on value, though, aim to deliver all three. That way, if one area breaks down every now and then, you’ve got some wiggle room. Let’s get a little more specific. Whatever your business, your value goals should include: Building good customer relationships Remembering birthdays, offering promo deals and preview sales, following up on purchases and asking for feedback are all ways to build lasting relationships. Enhancing customers’ experience Etsy encourages its sellers to package items beautifully and maybe add a small bonus item. This works surprisingly well, because it makes buyers feel special. Saving your customers time Rush shipping, gift-wrap and product tutorial videos help retailers save time for their customers. Agencies and freelancers can save time (and upsell their services) by offering market research, social media management, site hosting and maintenance, and other services to commercial clients. Giving customers peace of mind Make your refund or revision policies clear and fair. Answer questions and complaints quickly and professionally. Show your customers and clients that they can rely on you. Staying ahead of the curve Whatever business you’re in, offer your clientele new ideas, products, or ways to use existing services. If you sell shawls, keep up with color and fabric trends. If you sell white papers to businesses, offer to script video summaries they can post on their websites. Making your customers look good The ultimate value goal is to make your customers look so good that people will ask how they do it. One of my friends is a metalsmith who makes jewelry (when she’s not making swords). I will buy her work forever because every time I wear something she’s made, I get compliments and questions about where to buy. It’s a win-win. I feel great and I give out her business cards. Maybe that presentation script you wrote earned your client raves at the trade show. Maybe your silk flower customer got hundreds of shares on her wedding-décor photos. Make your customers look great and they’ll be your best ambassadors. That’s the one-size-fits all advice. Let’s get more specific.
When you sell the same physical goods as other merchantsFor online B2C businesses that sell mass-market products, value comes from making your customers feel truly taken care of. Ways to differentiate your shop from other sellers include: Help new customers make the most of their purchases. For example, nail wraps are popular now, with women who sell them from home and with customers who hate nail polish. A nail wrap seller can set herself apart by recommending the best styles for beginners and emailing how-to videos to customers immediately after their first purchase. If your customers like your product and know you’re helpful, they’ll come back. Ask your existing customers what they really need, and create bundles to fill that need. Maybe you sell cosmetics and know people in a recreational dance or theater group who need stage makeup. Package the products they need most – lip color, lashes, and makeup remover – for their convenience. (You can also send tutorial videos or offer a demo.)
When you sell your own products to consumersIf you sell your own creations online, promote the quality differences between your goods and cheap alternatives. Maybe your products are made in the US with reclaimed materials or are simply more durable. If there’s a difference that will matter to your target audience, include that in your marketing and product descriptions. Also, tell your story, because people who shop local or small want a sense of community. A good example is In.gredients, a grocery store in Austin. The grocery business is tough on a great day, and the Austin market includes a huge regional chain with a century of brand loyalty and Whole Foods, which is based here. In.gredients doesn’t compete on price or selection, though. It’s positioned itself as a “zero-waste micro grocer in East Austin committed to providing the community with local, seasonal, and sustainable food.” In Austin, there’s definitely a market for that customer experience.
When you sell services to other businessesEverything we’ve covered so far applies to B2B services, freelancers, and agencies, especially the need to qualify your prospective customers. As your business grows, you should revise your qualifying criteria so you don’t get stuck at an earnings plateau. For B2B professionals, add-on services can set you apart. For example, if you’re a CPA who offers tax preparation and advice, your clientele might gladly add a la carte bookkeeping and payroll services to save time and hassles. For freelancers and consultants, reliability and quality will be your strongest selling points. Show your portfolio and client testimonials on your website, as Detroit wedding photographer DeAndre Glover does. If your site shows that you’re reliable and do good work, and you’re a pleasure to talk to when prospects contact you, you’ve hit the Neil Gaiman-Stephen King trifecta. For agencies, your clients expect you to save your clients time and hassles while delivering reliable, high-quality work. To truly set your business apart, show your clients they can trust you to stay up to date on technologies and methods they don’t have time to learn. HMG Creative, a digital agency in Austin, provides conveniences like web hosting (as a HostGator reseller) and pushes hard to stay ahead of the tech and marketing-trend curve. This is how you make your clients look great, which is the best way to build loyalty and win referrals. By now, you should have a list of ideas you can use to market your business on value, rather than playing the losing price-competition game. Want more inspiration and ideas? There’s a whole section of customer success stories on the HostGator blog.