Monday, October 16, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
So if you want to create a vlog about something you love, do it—even if, and maybe especially if, people have told you that you can't.
Monday, October 9, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
Personalize Your Online Store's Customer Experience with Magento ExtensionsOnline shoppers expect a customized experience now, with stores showing them the types of products they like before they have to spend a lot of time searching. But an eMarketer report from earlier this year found that only slightly more than half of retailers offer any type of customized web experience for shoppers. Many retailers customize their email marketing messages, but not the experiences in their online store. Those that don't are leaving money on the table and losing the loyalty of customers who want to be recognized. Here's what you need to know about personalizing your customers' experience in your online store. The desire for a personalized shopping experience is nearly universal. The majority of Millennial and Gen X shoppers want retailers to know their preferences and are willing to share personal data with stores in order to save time and help them find the items they want quickly. It's not only young consumers who want a made-to-fit experience, either. A Deloitte report from 2015 found that consumers over age 55 are the most likely to order up a personalized vacation package. Catering to these desires can translate into better sales and stronger customer loyalty. Among retailers who have personalized their sites and mobile apps for customers, 48% reported a rise in sales of more than 10%. Personalization can take many forms, from “other products you may like” to clothing in preferred sizes and colors to the timing of offers for particular products. Retailers who have some control over the manufacturing process can offer product customization options, which are increasingly in demand. Let's look at four ways to give each customer a personalized experience in your store.
Customize your shop to meet customer expectationsMagento lets you set up your shop the way you want it to reflect your brand and stand out from “off the rack” store layouts. The Magento Marketplace offers store owners more than 1,800 extensions to help you add the features and functions your customers expect. More than 700 of those extensions focus on store content presentation, search, review, and customization options. If you can't find exactly what you and your customers want, Magento's open-source code means you can have something custom-built to suit your needs. Let's look at some of the extensions that provide personalized product recommendations, targeted social media ads, and product-customization tools for your store.
Suggest “other products you may like”More than 80% of online shoppers in North America want stores to serve up product recommendations for them. Most major retailers already do this – the best known example is Amazon's suite of product recommendations, ranging from new Kindle titles to clothing, food, and other items based on your past purchases and searches. Your smaller online store can build customer loyalty by offering similar recommendations with Magento extensions that use customers' data to show suggestions. Softcube's highly popular extension needs as few as two clicks from new customers to start serving product recommendations based on customer preferences, sizes, and more. The developer says its personalization extension can boost sales by as much as 20%.
Tailor your offers to your customers' habits and needsAnother Magento extension, Nosto, supplies personalized product recommendations along with tools to bring customers back to your store, through personalized emails and Facebook retargeting. Nosto also gives your store the ability to reach “lookalike customers” (with demographics similar to your existing customers) through personalized Facebook ad campaigns. Nosto and similar tools can help your store make the right offer at the right time – the “contextual relevance” that retail-industry watchers say is one of the keys to surviving and thriving in the time of Amazon and Google's micro-moments.
Offer co-created items and a menu of custom optionsSuggesting the right products at the right time is one aspect of personalizing the customer experience. Letting customers personalize their product choices is another. Made-to-order clothing, shoes, and other goods used to be reserved for the very wealthy and the lucky friends and families of craftspeople. Now platforms like Etsy make it easy for shoppers to request personalized items from artisans, and e-commerce tools like Magento offer the same type of options for standalone online stores. Meanwhile, artists and small manufacturers can tailor production to each online customer's preferences—a new phenomenon known as “mass personalization.” For example, Shoes of Prey sells customized shoes online. Shoppers can choose not only size and style but color, heel type and height, materials, and embellishments and have their design made to order and delivered within a couple of weeks. This type of customization isn't limited to $150 pumps, either. Jewelry designers, kids' clothing makers, sticker artists and many other small business owners offer custom options in the online stores. To give your customers these options in a Magento-powered store, you'll need an extension. Two of the most popular for product customization are Product Personalization by SM Design and Personalized Products by Milople. Milople's offering lets shoppers add art and text to your stock products, make color and font choices, and more. SM Design's extension lets you customize the personalization options for your products and gives you the option to show the personalization details at checkout.
More personalization = more salesAll these personalization options take some time to research, choose, test, and put in place, but they can put your store ahead of the competition. More personalization can lead to better customer retention, more sales to your existing customers, and more new customers brought in through ads that show products tailored to their interests. If you're just starting out and planning your store, check out HostGator's Magento hosting packages that include email marketing tools for your new business.
Sunday, October 1, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
Finding Insurance When You're a FreelancerFreelancing will always involve some risk, but there's no need to take on more risk than you must. Unlike working for someone else, working for yourself means setting up all the benefits you used to get through your employer. If you're making the switch to self-employment, here are some pointers for finding policies to protect your health, your income, and your new business.
Health Insurance for the Self-EmployedNo matter what type of business you're in, if you're self-employed or a freelancer in the US, you're going to have to become an expert on your health insurance options. Depending on how many insurers offer plans in your area, you may have plenty of coverage options or next to none. Costs can vary from sort of reasonable to jaw-dropping. Benefits can vary dramatically from one plan to the next. And of course, the health insurance landscape can change depending on politics, so what works today may not apply in a year or two. For now, though, here are some places to look for coverage that offers you the best combination of cost, benefits, and participating providers.
- Get covered by someone else's policy. If you're married, in a domestic partnership, or young enough to stay on your parents' health insurance, going with their coverage may be your best bet in terms of cost and ease of enrollment.
- Check out the marketplace. Even if you don't qualify for a subsidy, you can still buy a plan on Healthcare.gov during the open enrollment period. Note that once you buy a plan through the marketplace, you'll need to notify them each year if you buy a plan somewhere else. Otherwise, you'll be automatically enrolled in a marketplace plan that you'll have to cancel.
- Contact insurance companies directly. You may be able to buy an individual plan directly from an insurer. This will almost certainly cost more than a marketplace plan, but it can be a good option if the insurer's network includes the doctors and hospitals you prefer and the local marketplace plans don't.
- Talk to your payroll service provider. Some offer small group and individual health insurance policies for their clients as part of their benefits-administration services.
- Go to class. Some community colleges and universities offer affordable, low-deductible health insurance to students taking as few as three credit hours, even via distance learning. This might be cost-effective even with tuition and fees factored in—and depending on the classes you take, it can help you with your professional development.
- Talk to other self-employed people in your industry and city to find out about local and industry-specific options. You can also pull together a group of friends or peers to split up health insurance research tasks and share information. I've done this with a group of about half a dozen friends, which is how I learned about some of the school insurance programs.
Disability Coverage for SolopreneursCompared to health insurance, disability coverage doesn't get much attention, but it should. Health insurance may cover most of your medical bills, but if you're too sick or injured to run your business for more than a few weeks, how will you pay your rent, utilities and grocery bills? A disability policy can give you up to about 60% of your take-home pay (not your business gross) while you're unable to work, and the monthly premium for many plans costs less than a couple of delivery pizzas. The catch is that it's not always easy to qualify for disability coverage as an independent worker. The first place to start is with your insurance agent or financial planner, but you may have to look elsewhere if their companies don't insure freelancers. That was the case when I started shopping for disability coverage about five years ago. I ended up finding a policy through the Freelancers Union, a New York-based advocacy group. They have since rolled out a National Benefits Platform that lets you search for several types of insurance, including disability. The premiums you pay will be based on your age, your income, and the elimination period (30 to 90 days) before you start getting benefits after a claim. Benefits aren't forever – they're usually capped at a certain number of years based on your age or end when you hit retirement age. Review your coverage every couple of years to see if you need to buy a larger policy to keep up with your (ideally) growing self-employment income.
Liability Coverage for Independent Service ProvidersNo matter what type of freelance work you do--writing, web design, makeup artistry, or something else--you'll sleep better if you have a professional liability policy that pays to defend you in case of a client lawsuit. If you want to land contracts with government agencies and enterprise clients, you'll almost certainly need to show proof of liability insurance in order to bid. As with disability coverage, start your liability coverage search with your insurance agent, financial advisor, or the Freelancers Union. You can also check with professional organizations in your industry and look for industry-specific insurers.
Other types of insurance you may needIf you handle sensitive or confidential client information, a data breach policy can protect you in case of digital or physical theft. Does your work take you outside the country? You'll probably want international health and medical evacuation insurance, because most US-based health insurance policies don't cover out of country expenses. Remember that your insurance needs may change as your freelance business grows. It's a good idea to review your coverage once a year to make sure you have the right policies and the proper coverage amounts. Learn more about what you'll need to start your small business and keep it running.
Monday, September 25, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
What Canada's Anti-Spam Law Means for Your Email Marketing ProgramHeads up, American online business owners! Our neighbors to the north now have one of the toughest new anti-spam laws in the world. Canada's government has been phasing it in gradually, and if and when the final provisions are fully implemented, individual spam recipients in Canada will be able to sue businesses for breaking the law. That means you need to know the rules for email marketing to Canadian customers and clients. Before we delve into the details of email marketing to Canada, if you're not seeking Canadian customers already, now's a good time to ask yourself why not—especially if you plan to expand into other countries later on. US-based businesses earn about a third of Canadian consumers' cross-border purchases, and Canada's total e-commerce spend will reach $50 billion within two years. With a shared language in much of the country and similar holidays, it's a good “starter” market for international sales expansion – as long as you play by the digital marketing rules.
What are the differences between US and Canadian anti-spam laws?Each country's anti-spam rules are detailed and cover a lot more ground in legal language than we can cover in a short article. Here are the main points for comparison. In the US, the CAN-SPAM law, which stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing:
- Applies only to marketing emails sent by businesses to consumers.
- Puts the burden on email recipients to opt out of receiving messages they don't want.
- Doesn't go into details about marketing emails sent to American recipients from outside the US, according to Canadian law firm McMillan LLP . North of the border, it's a different story.
- Requires an unsubscribe process that can take multiple steps to complete.
- Can result in fines of up to about $40,000 per violation.
- Requires senders to contact only people who have opted in to receive marketing messages or who have an existing, recent business relationship with the sender.
- Applies to all marketing messages that are sent or accessed on Canada-based computer systems, meaning that the messages into Canada from abroad are subject to CASL.
- Covers all forms of electronic direct marketing, including texts, voicemails, videos, and images to both consumer and business recipients.
- Requires a faster, more streamlined unsubscribe process than CAN-SPAM.
- Prohibits installation of software on recipients' devices without their permission.
- Assigns “potential vicarious liability for directors and officers of corporations and employers of employees acting within the scope of their employment.”
- Can result in penalties of as much as $10 million for corporations found in violation of CASL.
How can you stay on the right side of Canada's anti-spam rules?Compliance is important, not only for legal reasons but also because your email marketing service and web host may close your accounts if you get flagged as a spammer. In general, if you follow CASL's stricter rules you're also probably CAN-SPAM compliant, although you should check with your business attorney if you have questions. Just remember that basic courtesy can help your business stay on the right side of your recipients—on both sides of the border:
- Only send marketing messages to people you've done business with within the past two years or who have asked to join your list. This should keep you within CASL's implied consent time frame, and anyone who hasn't followed up with you after two years is likely no longer interested.
- Identify your business clearly in all your marketing messages.
- Ask prospects and customers to opt in to your marketing messages by entering their email address or checking a permission box on your sign-up form (like the ones detailed in this email marketing how-to post).
- Be transparent. It's not good business to bury marketing consent in your terms and conditions, and in Canada it's not legal to do so.
- Include an opt-out tool with every message you send, whether by email or text, and make it easy to use. This not only keeps you compliant with CASL's detailed opt-out rules and CAN-SPAM's more general ones, it also sets you apart from the “wrong direction” trend of retailers who are making it harder for email recipients to opt out.
- Comply with opt-out requests quickly.
- If you outsource or don't directly oversee your company's email and text marketing programs, make sure you check in regularly with your contractors or managers to ensure their programs are both CAN-SPAM and CASL compliant.
Thursday, September 14, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
Find Your Side HustleThe average household in the United States has about $16,000 in credit card debt. Americans like to spend, but too often aren’t making enough for the amount of stuff they’re buying. One solution a growing number of people are turning to is the side hustle. Side hustles are ways to make some extra money on top of your full-time job. If you can find something you’re good at that people are willing to pay for, you can make money in your free time to supplement whatever you get in your work paycheck. Businesses have developed a number of platforms devoted to helping match people willing to do a lot of different types of work with people that need it. With the help of these platforms, about 10% of people have become participants in the gig economy. If you could use a little extra money each month and are considering a side hustle, here are some of the options to consider.
1. Rideshare DrivingOne of the first and biggest side hustle opportunities to come onto the scene was working as a rideshare driver, and it remains a common choice. The popular apps Uber and Lyft, as well as a number of regional alternatives, help people needing a ride find drivers willing to provide one. Some rideshare drivers even treat it as their main job, but you can do it in your off hours as a side hustle.
2. Pet SittingWhen people with pets travel, they have to leave their pets somewhere – and many people would prefer their beloved animals to stay in the home of a pet lover rather than being crowded in with others at a kennel. Rover lets potential pet sitters create profiles on the site so people needing somewhere to leave their dogs and cats can book with you.
3. Dog WalkingPeople are busy and sometimes it’s hard to get high-energy dogs out for walks as often as they need them. If you like the idea of making money by walking dogs, sites like Wag (and the aforementioned Rover) will help match you up with people looking for help. You can get healthier and make some extra cash at the same time.
4. Vacation RentalsIf you have extra space in your house or a property you don’t use full-time, listing it on HomeAway and AirBnb could be a good way to supplement your income. People will pay to stay somewhere more comfortable than a hotel with more useful amenities, like a kitchen and washer and dryer.
5. House SittingWhen people travel, they often worry about leaving their house unattended. They need their plants watered, their mail brought in, and to know their home is safe and sound throughout their trip. That’s where house sitters come in. You can get paid to stay at someone else’s home in their absence and take care of their stuff. House Sitters America and Trusted House Sitters can help you find people needing house-sitting help.
6. Food DeliveryA number of services will hire drivers to deliver groceries and takeout to customers. If you don’t mind driving around town, you can sign up to make money delivering food with Instacart, Shipt, Doordash or one of the other food delivery services out there.
7. Selling Handmade ItemsIf you’re good at making anything homemade that people are likely to want to buy – that could be crafts, clothes, jewelry, soap, you name it – you can make some extra money selling them. Etsy makes it easy to get started with an online store so interested buyers can start finding the items you make.
8. Selling Your Old StuffYou probably have some stuff around the house you never use and don’t need. Some of that stuff could be something that other people are interested in buying. Go through your rooms and closets to see what you can find that’s likely to attract a buyer. Sites like ebay and Craigslist let you list just about anything, while some sites focus more on specific types of items like Poshmark for clothes and TIAS for antiques and collectibles.
9. Selling Your ArtIf you’re a creative, you can do what you love in your spare time and look for buyers (or renters) on sites like Creative Mart and TurningArt. It’s not easy to make a living as an artist, but the internet makes it easier than it used to be to make some money on the side for your art.
10. Renting Your CarIf you don’t use your car all that often, you can make money by letting other people use it with the help of sites like Getaround and Turo.
11. Renting your Parking SpaceIn many cities, a parking space is a valuable commodity. You can rent yours out during the times you’re not using it to make some extra cash with Just Park and Parqex.
12. Renting Your ClothesIf you’re into fashion and have a closetful of nice clothes in good condition, StyleLend can help you find people willing to pay to rent items in your closet.
13. BabysittingThe go-to way many people used to make extra cash in their teens is still an option in adulthood. Parents are always in need of people to watch their kids when they go out. Sitter City and Urban Sitter can help you find babysitting opportunities.
14. HousecleaningSome people hate cleaning the house, or simply find it hard to keep up with when busy. If you don’t mind cleaning and are good at it, you can make some money on the side by cleaning your neighbors’ houses. Housekeeper.com is a good place to start finding clients.
15. Chores and ErrandsTaskRabbit lets people list a range of tasks they need help with and are willing to pay people for. From running errands, to assembling furniture, to making home improvements, you can make extra cash by helping people out with various things they have trouble doing on their own.
16. TutoringPlenty of kids need help in school – and some adults need help in learning things like coding or foreign languages. Wyzant and ClassGap help tutors and people needing tutors find each other.
17. Consumer SurveysA lot of companies find value in what they can learn from surveys. You can cash in on that by participating in consumer surveys. Swagbucks will provide you with surveys that pay.
18. Design T-shirtsHave a t-shirt idea you think could sell? There are a number of sites that allow you to design t-shirts that people can buy, letting you keep a portion of the profits. Cafepress and Spreadshirt are a couple of options to try.
19. Tech SupportAre you the one that always gets called when a friend or family member is struggling with computer problems? If so, you can start making money by providing tech support to people willing to actually pay for that help. HelloTech matches people that know technology with people that need help.
20. Interior DecoratingIf you loved designing the interior of your own home and constantly get compliments on it, then you can make money helping other people design their homes. Try Decorist and Havenly to start finding clients.
21. Professional OrganizingSome people are just bad at organizing things. And some of those people are willing to pay others to come in and make their messy desks, cabinets, and garages into a cleaner, more organized space. While there’s not a platform just for professional organizers yet, you can use one like TaskRabbit or create your own website to promote your services.
22. Voice ActingBusinesses need voice actors for ads, audio guides, video narration and more. If you have the right equipment and a strong voice, you can make money on sites like VoiceBunny and Voices.com.
23. TranscriptionSometimes people need to take audio recordings and write out everything that was said, and often they’re willing to pay someone to do the work for them. You can find transcription work with TranscribeMe.
24. TranslationIf you’re fluent in more than one language, then you can make some side money providing translation services. Give MotaWord and Unbabel a look.
25. Car AdvertisingMake money during your daily commute by letting companies use your car to advertise their businesses. Wrapify and Carvertise help companies find people willing to let their cars get wrapped in advertisements for pay.
26. Affiliate MarketingIf you have a popular blog (or are willing to put the work in to create one), by including links in your posts to businesses that have affiliate programs, you can start making money for the referrals your website sends their way. Do some research into affiliate programs relevant to what you write about get signed up.
27. Give ToursTravelers often appreciate a local perspective of the places they visit. With sites like Tours by Locals and Vayable, you can be the one providing that perspective while making some extra money at the same time.
28. Proofreading and EditingAre you good at catching typos and grammatical errors? You can pick up some proofreading and editing work as a way to make extra money. There’s not a good platform devoted specifically to proofreading and editing, but you can create a website or use sites like Upwork to get started.
29. CookingIf you love to cook and your friends are always thrilled with what you make for them when they come over, you can make meals for strangers to increase your monthly income. Feastly and Bon Appetour both let chefs create a menu for a hosted dinner that consumers can buy tickets to.
30. Selling IdeasWe’ve covered most of the types of physical items you can sell, but there are a couple of ways to sell your ideas as well. You can get paid to help companies come up with names on Name Station. And you can help companies and organizations solve problems on Innocentive.
31. Peer to Peer LoansThis is the kind of side hustle that requires you to have money to make money, but if you can afford it, peer-to-peer loans can earn you regular interest. Prosper and Lending Club are some sites that enable investments in peer-to-peer loans.
32. Personal TrainerIf fitness is one of your passions and you have the skills to help other people craft better workouts and meal plans, look into providing services as a personal trainer for some extra cash. You can find clients in your town or provide virtual training with GymGo.
33. Help people move.Everybody with a truck knows how it feels to be that guy – you know, the one who always gets a call anytime someone you’re acquainted with needs help moving. You can finally be that guy for pay with the sites Buddytruk and GoShare. Instead of helping people out for beer, get some actual cash. A lot of people start out doing some of these side hustles and become so successful they turn it into a full-time business. If you find yourself nearing that point, you can cut out the middleman and set up your own website to start finding clients. It will legitimize your business and give you more power to set your prices and keep more of your earnings. In the meantime, try out the side hustle that most appeals to you and see how you like it.