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  • How To Start An Online Business

    Friday, December 2, 2016 by
    How To Start an Online Business In the past, all businesses needed real estate – a storefront or office space. Many still do, but the growth of online business means it’s not the necessity it once was. Budding entrepreneurs can now start businesses without having to make as big of an investment or take on as much risk – which is great. All you need is a good idea, some money and time to get started with, and you can start an online business. To be clear, the risk is still there, but the barriers to entry are lower than they once were. If you’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, starting with an online business is one of the easiest ways to get your foot in the door. And online businesses, when run well, can be extremely profitable. Online business contributes to the economy to the tune of $966 billion. If you’re ready to claim your part of that number, here are the first steps to take.

    Download a FREE checklist to chart your progress!

     

    1. Identify a need.

    You can do everything else exactly right, but if you’re trying to sell something no one wants, your online business will fail anyway. Your first order of business has to be figuring out a product or service that people actually want or need. If you have an idea that you think people will be interested in, confirm that with market research. If you have enough money, you can hire a firm to do market research for you. If you really don’t have that much money, you can get creative and do it yourself. One option is to start building an email list before you build your business, to make sure there’s interest in what you have to offer. You can also dig into widely available stats on demographics to understand your target audience a little better. And you can make use of a number of resources that focus on helping businesses understand consumer behavior. A couple of businesses like Ask Your Target Market and GutCheck will connect you with members of your target audience so you can ask them questions directly and gain a better idea of what they’re likely to think of your product. [bctt tweet="Starting an online business? Step #1 is market research - confirm people will be interested." username="hostgator"]  

    2. Develop a business plan.

    Once you know your idea has a realistic customer base, you need to start working on your business plan. If you have any interest in attracting investors, then a business plan will be one of the most important tools you have for convincing them to buy in. Even if you aren’t explicitly looking for investors, creating a business plan will help you clarify your goals and figure out the specific steps you need to take to achieve them. Make sure your business plan includes an analysis of the competition and a clear positioning statement of where you fit within the market. It should also include information on your target audience, which your market research should have given you a nice head start on collecting. All of that gives you the information you need to make sure your approach is solid. With that in place, you’ll have an easier time working out the chronology of what to do when and what finances and resources you’ll need to complete each step. In short, your business plan should do two key things:
    • Make a case for why your business idea is a good one, and
    • Provide the roadmap to turn your a good idea into something actionable.
     

    3. Create your brand.

    As you’re steadily moving toward the point of your launch, it’s time to work out how your business will appear to the world. If your business is the thing you run behind the scenes, your brand is the face it presents to the audience once the curtain’s drawn back. [bctt tweet="Your business = the thing you run behind the scenes. Your brand = the face it presents to the world." username="hostgator"] If you’ve gotten this far without settling on a business name, then it’s time now to make a decision. Picking a name for your business is hard, but I don’t have to tell you how important it is. The name is the biggest decision to make as you work on your brand, but it’s one of many. You need a logo, a style, and a clearly defined positioning that communicates just what makes your product so worthwhile to your audience. If you’re still working on your own as you get to this step, then this is a good point in the process to start growing your team. If you don’t have the money to hire employees, consider looking for freelancers or a marketing agency to help. Determining the right look, feel, and messaging of your business is something that’s ultimately up to you, but having some experienced experts pitch in to make sure you get it right is worth it.  

    4. Build your website.

    If you do hire marketing professionals to help you develop your company’s brand, then creating the website should be part of what they help you do. You’ll need to purchase a domain name that’s close enough to your business name to be intuitive for users. If your business name is unique enough, you can go straight for the most obvious choice: YourBrandName.com. If the most obvious domain is already taken, then you may have to get a little creative.  You can either go with one of the other domain extensions like .net or .me, use a hyphen or underscore between words to change things up, or add a minor addition to the name, like a go at the beginning or a word that clarifies the industry afterward. Another option is to switch steps 3 and 4. You can avoid running into the problems stated above, by choosing your company name based on what domain names are available. Use our domain registration tool to see what's available. Make sure the website design matches with your overall visual branding and your website copy effectively communicates your brand positioning. The work you did defining your brand should shine through in the website you create. For an online business, your website is everything. You need it to look good, be intuitive to navigate, and make a clear case to visitors why they should buy.  Take time to get it right, and run the finished product by some other people (ideally people in your target audience) to get their take. HostGator Website Builder  

    5. Prepare your inventory.

    Now it’s time to create or stock up on whatever you’re selling. If you’re selling physical items, you want them ready to ship by the time any orders start coming in. If you’re launching a service-based business, this step is where you should clarify your process. If you’re selling digital products, like SaaS software, then you need to make sure the product is ready. Do user testing to ensure that it not only does what you’re claiming it does, but that customers will be able to use it without confusion or difficulty. Obviously this step will vary considerably depending on the type of business you’re launching. Just be sure that, before your actual launch date, you take whatever steps are necessary to ensure you’re ready to start providing what you’re selling by the time your first customer is ready to buy.  

    6. Create (and start executing) your marketing plan.

    Before you actually get going, you should establish your marketing plan. Your market research and branding work should have already helped you clarify your positioning and audience. Use that information to determine which marketing channels to pursue and the messaging to use for them. Every business is different and marketing isn’t one size fits all. Most online businesses will want to make use of a mix of content marketing, social media promotion, and paid search promotion.   If you don’t know much about online marketing to start, this may be a step to hire out. There is a learning curve to get started and some mistakes of ignorance can cause serious consequences – you wouldn’t want to find yourself facing a Google penalty due to trying an outdated SEO strategy, for instance. If you really don’t have the funding to outsource your marketing, then take some real time to research online marketing best practices. Sites like Moz, HubSpot and Copyblogger all have good, reliable resources for beginners.  

    7. Launch!

    Launch day will be a big day for your company. If your website isn’t already live, then you’ll definitely want it up and running on launch day. You should put out a press release, set up any PR interviews you can get, and start your marketing campaigns. And you should be prepared to start filling orders and fielding any questions that come through. Your first day in business is a big day, but your success will depend on what you do for every day that comes after.  Be prepared to work hard, learn as you go, and make a point of providing great customer service.  Running an online business isn’t easy, but if you take the right steps and do the work, the rewards can be great.

    Ready to start your online business?

    Step 1: Download our FREE checklist to stay on track!

    Step 2: Build your website with HostGator.

    Step 3: Launch!

  • Business Mentorship Programs for Entrepreneurs

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

    1. Visit a SCORE representative.

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

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

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

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

     

    2. Put on your networking hat.

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

    3. Watch a (great) video.

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

    Wednesday, November 30, 2016 by
    WordPress Landing Page Builders Did you know that 55% of visitors spend fewer than 15 seconds on your website? As a conversion oriented marketer, you’ll need to grab the attention of your visitors as quickly as possible and encourage them to do what you want on your website—either to subscribe to your list or purchase the product you sell. And because the human attention span is now less than that of a goldfish–8 seconds–capturing your visitors' attention is difficult and turning them into leads or customers is even harder. This is why creating landing pages must be an essential part of your marketing strategy. Landing pages remove all distractions from a page and narrow your visitors’ focus to the opt-in forms or call-to-action buttons placed in it. This persuades them to take an action like filling out a lead form or making a purchase.  

    Creating a WordPress Landing Page

    You don't have to be a designer to create a landing page for your website. You can create landing pages yourself with a WordPress landing page plugin such as Thrive Landing Pages or OptimizePress. As there are many different choices, you’ll need to compare their features and find the right one that fits your need. In this post, I’ll introduce four WordPress landing page builders and example landing pages built with them. I hope this will inspire you to create a conversion-oriented landing page for your next marketing campaign. Recommended WordPress Hosting  

    Landing Page Builder #1: OptimizePress

    OptimizePress is the most popular landing page builder for self hosted WordPress sites. The product is available as a two core parts, both plugin and theme. Beyond landing pages, you can use it to build membership websites as well. If you’re looking to create landing pages with a design consistent with the rest of your site, or to build a membership website, using the theme option for your site would be the right choice. Alternatively, you may use the plugin version if you don’t want to change the entire theme just for the sake of building a few landing pages on your website. Below are two successful landing pages that were created using OptimizePress.  

    Expert Voice Book

    This landing page is designed to build an email list that offers a free ebook written by Kristen White. The landing page uses the latest OptimizePress theme that supports responsive design, as well as a WP Video Lightbox plugin to beautifully embed Vimeo video on the page. ebook landing page   What this page does well: By embedding a convincing video and displaying media company logos at the top, the page establishes the author as an authority. Apart from explaining the opt-in offer, the page also explains who the author is and includes testimonials as a social proof.  

    Healthier Fat Loss

    This site used the OptimizePress theme to build landing page that promotes their weight loss program.  Landing page example   What this page does well: The landing page briefly explains what the program is and its benefits by using beautiful images. The video is not hosted on a third-party platform like YouTube, so it doesn’t contain a link that takes away readers from the site. They also use various certification logos beneath the CTA button along with doctors’ endorsement, which gives a sense of security to potential buyers to make a purchase. CTA with trust signals  

    Landing Page Builder #2: Thrive Content Builder

    Thrive Content Builder lets you create visually impressive content right from the visual editor of your WordPress site without the need of touching a single line of code. Better yet, it also allows you to pick from more than 150 templates, so you don’t need to create everything from scratch. Let's take a look at a landing page that was created using this plugin.  

    EJ Insider

    The EJInsider website sells various information products, such as this premium ebook, How To Buy and Sell Websites landing page for ebook   What this page does well: The landing page has followed all the recommended practices for boosting conversion: placing the CTA above-the-fold, removing distractions like external links that may take visitors away from the landing page, and including positive testimonials.  

    Landing Page Builder #3: LeadPages

    LeadPages is a stand-alone landing page builder. Unlike other plugins featured in this post, LeadPages is a hosted solution, so you’ll need to pay a monthly subscription fee for the service. You can either create a sub-domain or use your own website's domain for your landing page. Once you installed the plugin, it connects your WordPress site with LeadPages server so you can easily start creating landing pages right from your WordPress website. LeadPages is a perfect choice especially if you have a decent advertisement budget for driving traffic to your landing pages. It also enables you to boost your conversion rate by A/B testing your pages.  

    Loud Rumor

    LoudRumor is a marketing agency for fitness studios and gyms. They use LeadPages plugin to create squeeze pages for their Facebook ad campaign. This is one of the successful squeeze pages by LoudRumor created to promote a list building campaign. Their goal here is to explain the program using a video and encourage visitors to opt-in. Once the CTA button is clicked, an opt-in form will appear as a popup where visitors can submit the details. Video landing page   What this page does well: The page is distraction free and it attracts highly targeted traffic through a PPC campaign. The page explains their program using the video without bragging too much with text-based content.  

    Landing Page Builder #4: Landing Page Builder

    Landing Page Builder is a free WordPress plugin that lets you create unlimited number of pages. Best of all, you can pick from over 50 templates and it supports mobile responsive design.   

    UC Baby

    This landing page was used for a contest entry. Participants will need to opt-in for entering the contest. Of course, the entry has closed now but still the landing page is live. This landing page is created with the free Landing Page Builder plugin. Contest landing page   What this page does well: This one is a perfect example of how simple a landing page can be to attract user entry. With over 900 entries, the page was a success.   Have you used any of the above landing page builders? Share your landing page in the comments!
  • What Is A Website Builder?

    Tuesday, November 29, 2016 by
    What is a website builder When it comes to building websites you’re going to have a lot of tools available at your disposal. In fact, it can be a little overwhelming when it comes to choosing the right tool to build the perfect website for your business. If you’re relatively new to building websites, or you want to create a website with the least amount of technical knowledge possible, then using a website builder can be a great place to start. Below we dive into what a website builder actually is and the pros and cons to using a website builder.    

    What Is A Website Builder?

    Website builders allow you to make a website without having to know any code. Pretty awesome, right? Not too long ago, if you wanted a beautiful and functional website you’d have to spend a ton of time learning how to code yourself, or you’d have to fork out a fortune for a web design team to build a site for you. Not anymore; today's website builders allow even those with zero coding experience to build a beautiful site. Of course, if you do have any coding or design knowledge you can take your website even further. But with website builders, it’s no longer a requirement. Website builders use WYSIWIG (What You See Is What You Get) software to allow you to drag and drop design elements to create a website. There are a variety of website builders available. To reduce confusion, we’re going to be focusing this blog post on online website building tools, instead of content management systems like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal. If you're interested, you can learn more about those here.  

    Why Should I Use A Website Builder?

    One of the biggest benefits to using a website builder is the ability to build a website very quickly, without any technical skills. You simply login to your website, pick one of the available themes, and begin customizing your site to your liking. Website builders have come a long way over the years, and the kind of site you’ll end up with can rival the design of sites that people have spent big money on. If you’re looking to get a website up as quickly as possible, and the thought of doing anything technical or messing around with code scares you, then using a website builder could be a great idea.  

    Are There Disadvantages To Using A Website Builder?

    Drag and drop website builders do have certain weaknesses. For starters, they aren’t as customizable and can’t do as much as other means of building a website. The kind of website you create with a website builder is usually rather thin, compared to sites you can build with a CMS or by hiring a design team. Sites built using a website builder are also hosted using the shared servers provided by the website builder. So, you don’t have full control over your site and your account could be banned for violating their terms of service. Also, sites built using a website builder tend to load slower, since you’ll be sharing bandwidth with other users. And you usually don’t have access to a site backup if something unfortunate arises, or if you want to migrate your site to another host.  

    HostGator Website Builder

    There are a variety of website building tools out there, including one right here at HostGator. The HostGator Website Builder includes over 100 mobile-friendly templates, pre-built sections and pages, and social media and SEO tools. The basic version is free for current HostGator customers, and available to new customers for a small monthly fee. Learn more by clicking here or the banner below. HostGator Website Builder   Did you use a website builder to design your website? Share your experience in the comments below.
  • Cloud vs Dedicated Hosting – Which Is Right For Me?

    Monday, November 28, 2016 by
    Cloud vs Dedicated Hosting Choosing the right web hosting environment is a decision you’re going to face time and time again as a website owner. Even after you make an initial decision, your web hosting needs may change and evolve over time. Below we dive into the differences between cloud and dedicated hosting, so you can make the best choice for your website and your business.  

    What Is Cloud Hosting?

    When it comes to cloud hosting, a lot of people begin to think about the ethereal cloud. A place that doesn’t quite exist, where all of their data is stored. They have no idea where it’s stored and how it got there, but it does, and it exists. The cloud is still a relatively new concept, but it’s based upon cloud computing technologies that allow an unlimited number of machines to effectively act as a single system. So, instead of a website being hosted on the actual server it’s being hosted on a virtual partition of the server, which is drawing its resources from a network of existing servers. Cloud hosting is extremely reliable, because it draws its resources from multiple different servers. If one goes down, the other servers can take its place. Cloud hosting can grow with your company as all you’ll need to do is add additional server resources if your site demands it. However, most cloud hosting does have a lower level of performance when compared to dedicated servers.  

    What Is a Dedicated Server?

    A dedicated server is exactly like it sounds. Your website and all of the necessary files are stored on a single physical server dedicated to your website. Most dedicated servers will come pre-equipped with certain hardware specifications, so make sure you choose a dedicated server that has the specs your website requires. This style of hosting is generally more expensive, but dedicated servers come with very high performance, as they can be configured to your exact needs, and provide a high level of security. This can be a great choice for larger businesses or websites that receive high amounts of traffic. Or, if you have a business that requires a very high level of security for your data storage. Dedicated Server  

    Which One Is Right for Me?

    The pricing of each of the server options - cloud or dedicated - will depend upon the hosting company you’re using. Generally, dedicated servers are more expensive and you’ll be paying an up-front monthly fee for the server space you’re using. Cloud hosting is usually sold on a sliding scale and you’ll end up paying for the total amount of server resources you’re actually using. If you’d like to experiment with different hosting environments and have something more flexible in nature supporting you, then cloud hosting might be the best option for your needs. Before you make the jump into choosing a web host, or upgrading your current package, make sure you take the needs of your website into account. If you have questions about either of these options, contact HostGator's support team for more information.   Which style of hosting do you prefer? Please share in the comments below.