Friday, February 24, 2017 by Henry GreenWant to work from home and live the dream? Of course you do! Or, are you aiming to earn some extra online cash on the side through your next brilliant idea? Sure! We live in what’s been dubbed the Gig Economy -- everybody’s got some kind of side hustle to make ends meet, and with big dreams of striking it HUGE. With instant access to powerful resources the web affords the entrepreneurial-minded with endless opportunities to earn money. There are now more than ever ways to be gainfully employed either full- or part-time through the web. If you’re motivated to earn some cash, it’s really only a matter of matching up your skills with which job suits you best. The web is your oyster! Make it count!
Thursday, February 16, 2017 by Kristen HicksWith content marketing all the rage these days, the value of written text gets a lot of attention, but images are at least as important to a visitor’s experience of a website. In fact, images are one of your most valuable tools for getting better results from your written content. Visitors are 80% more likely to read content if it’s paired with an image and 64% more likely to remember what they read. In other words, your website needs images. The primary question that remains is: where should you get them?
Stock Photography vs. Original PhotographyStock photography is the most obvious option to consider. It’s affordable and easy. When you need an image that will simply suffice, finding a stock image is the path of least resistance. There’s a place for easy options in life, but the images you use on your business website isn’t it. Stock photography comes with certain issues and risks. [bctt tweet="There’s a place for easy options in life, but the images you use on your biz website isn’t it." username="hostgator"]
Stock photographs can be bought by anyone.In most cases, when you buy a stock photograph, you don’t become its outright owner. You’re only buying the rights to use a photograph that hundreds or thousands of other individuals and businesses could buy as well. That means there’s a decent chance that your customers will have seen your stock photograph before, possibly on a competitor’s website – or worse, on a scammer’s website. If a photo on your website inspires a mental association with a business a visitor has had a bad experience with, those associations will influence how they view your brand. Obviously, that’s bad. [bctt tweet="Visitors are 80% more likely to read content if it’s paired with an image. #ContentMarketing" username="hostgator"]
Stock photography simply feels inauthentic.Stock photography trades on the themes and clichés everyone’s seen before. Have you ever seen a photo of a smiling person with a headset? Even if you don’t particularly remember it, you’ve probably seen dozens of variations on this picture. It’s the go-to stock photograph subject many companies use to demonstrate the concept of customer service. The fact that you’ve seen it so many times makes it boring and easy to ignore. By comparison, original photographs have personality.
Original photography works better.Several companies have put this to the test. Marketing Experiments found that customers converted 35% more when faced with an original photo than they did with a stock photo. Eye tracking studies have shown that people tend to ignore stock photos, but do pay attention to photos of real people. And one moving company in New York City found that their original photos converted at rates around 45% higher than a stock photo. It’s been tested again and again with the same results. People respond better to images that feel authentic. [bctt tweet="People ignore stock #photography, but pay attention to photos of real people. #WebsiteDesign" username="hostgator"]
How to Create Original PhotosYou have two main options when it comes to creating original photos for your business website:
- Hire a professional
- Take them yourself
Friday, February 3, 2017 by Kristen HicksSo 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.
Step 1: Consider your business costs.Every 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. In 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 You 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.
HostGator Business Hosting includes a private SSL, dedicated IP, and your own toll-free number.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 by Amelia WillsonToday 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.
HostGator Small Business Scholarship Winning EssaysWhat is the biggest tech challenge facing small businesses today, and what is your proposed solution?
Logan MillerSchool of Sustainability, Arizona State University [caption id="attachment_15936" align="alignright" width="300"] 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 SumnerWagner 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 SolaresArizona State University, Thunderbird School of Global Management It 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!
Friday, January 13, 2017 by Casey Kelly-BartonWe’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 solopreneurAre 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 workspaceIf 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 planDoes 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 providersAt 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 websiteIf 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 setupAre 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 habitsWhat 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 salesHave 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 effortsWhat 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 productsAre 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 processBefore 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!