Tuesday, January 31, 2017 by Kristen HicksThe tech world moves fast. To help small business owners like you keep up with the most important news in tech, we’re starting a monthly roundup of the tech stories that people are talking about the most. Here’s a roundup of the top tech news of January 2017.
Monday, January 30, 2017 by Miranda PaquetYou’ve taken the plunge and created a website for your business. Maybe you’re even getting some good traffic each time you release a new blog article or website page. Now here’s the tough question… How many of these website visits are translating into real business? The reality is, most people won’t be ready to buy from your business after just one or two visits. Your website visitors need time to get to know your business, products, and services — to decide if they’d like to spend money with you. That’s where email marketing comes in. Email marketing allows you to stay in touch with your website visitors on a regular basis and nurture your leads toward the sale. Let’s look at how you can add email marketing to your website strategy to drive sales:
1. Choose a reliable email marketing service.Rather than using a personal email account — like Gmail, Outlook, AOL, or Yahoo — to communicate with a group of email contacts, look into using a professional email marketing service. An email marketing service ensures your message gets delivered, looks great on any screen size, and is trackable, so you can see who is most engaged with you. Want to give email marketing a try? Sign up for a free 60 day trial of Constant Contact here.
2. Add a sign-up form to your website.Once you’ve signed up for an email marketing service, it’s time to start growing your list. Your website is one of the best channels to entice new subscribers to opt in to your list. You just need to entice them with a visible, convenient, and compelling sign-up experience. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Visible: Feature your sign-up form on every page of your website. That way, if someone is entering your website through social media or search, and isn’t going directly to your homepage, they’ll still know the opportunity to sign up exists.
- Convenient: Keep your sign up experience as simple as possible. If possible, use an embeddable sign-up form, so visitors don’t have to navigate to a separate page to enter their contact form. You should also keep your form short and only ask for the information you need here — usually first name and email address are enough.
- Compelling: “Join our email list” usually won’t be enough to catch a visitor’s attention and inspire them to sign up. Instead, clearly show your visitors what’s in it for them. Highlight the benefits of your list and don’t be afraid to bait people with an incentive.
3. Deliver a fantastic first impression.Has this ever happened to you? You sign up for an email list, and then…nothing. By the time you get a first email from the business, you’ve practically forgotten about them. Don’t let your business fall into this trap! Follow up with a winning Welcome Email that delivers on your promise and reaches your new subscribers when they are highly engaged with you. According to a recent Epsilon study, Welcome Emails receive the highest open rates (60 percent to 70 percent) compared to every other type of marketing email. Set up a Welcome Email to automatically go out on your behalf and start your new relationship on the right foot. Door County Coffee & Tea Co. sends a friendly Welcome Email that includes a recipe made with their whole bean coffee. Not only do they make a positive impression on new subscribers, they’re also driving repeat website visits, and sharing an effective way to use their product.
How can your business benefit from email marketing?With 66 percent of online consumers reporting they have made a purchase as a result of an email marketing message, it’s time to get serious about adding email marketing to your website strategy. Put this three-step strategy into action to connect with your website visitors and drive them towards a sale. Ready to give email marketing a try? Test drive a Constant Contact email marketing account free for 60 days.
Friday, January 27, 2017 by Kevin WoodAs a graphic designer you have a lot on your plate. Not only do you have to continue to advance your skills and creative mindset, but you also have to find new ways to showcase your work online. Luckily, WordPress makes showcasing your work easy with the massive selection of themes they have available. However, because there are so many themes to choose from, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when choosing one for your site. Lucky for you, we've culled out the best of the best WordPress themes for graphic designers. Keep reading and find a new favorite below!
1. NemesisNemesis is a great portfolio WordPress theme that allows you to easily highlight your best work. This theme has a few different built-in layout options, which allow you to customize the theme to your liking. If you’re a designer who prefers the minimalist aesthetic, then this theme might be a great choice for you. Plus, it’s responsive, so you can trust that it will look good, no matter what device it’s viewed upon.
2. CorpusCorpus does a great job of showcasing your work and the designer behind the work. Today you need to show a little personality to stand out in a crowded space. This theme allows you to do just that. Corpus is a very flexible theme and can be used for many purposes, but the clean and minimal aesthetic tends to attract a lot of designers to the theme. This theme is built on HTML5 and CSS3 and utilizes WPBakery’s visual composer, which makes customizing the theme a breeze. Corpus also allows for Parallax scrolling, for improved story telling and interactive design elements.
3. UncodeUncode is straight up gorgeous. If you’re looking for a simplistic theme that you can use to easily showcase your best work, then this theme is for you. It’s based on the Twitter Bootstrap framework and is incredibly fast. Better yet, the premium plugin, Slider Revolution, is included for no additional cost. This plugin allows you to easily embed beautiful sliders to showcase your latest work. Uncode allows for easy customization. It comes equipped with 30 basic samples designs that you can draw inspiration from.
4. NewArtNewArt might look simple, but it has a lot of power under the hood. This WordPress theme is a great fit for creative agencies, designers, and developers. It comes with a built-in drag-and-drop builder that allows you to create beautiful pages in as little time possible. Plus, it includes the Slider Revolution plugin, so you can create eye-catching visuals to draw your visitors in. If you’re looking to create a clean and beautiful website to showcase your best work, then give NewArt a try.
5. HeliumHelium is an accessible theme that allows graphic designers to showcase their work, and even write about it if they please. This theme goes beyond the simple portfolio themes and gives you a way to build an audience around your work. Plus, it comes equipped with the plugin Easy Digital Downloads, so you can sell digital goods to your readers. Helium also has a built-in page builder that enables you to easily create stunning pages for your site. If you’re looking for a graphic design theme that goes beyond what’s normal, then give this theme a try. We hope the themes above will help you revamp your current WordPress site, or give you inspiration to start one from scratch. Any cool themes we forgot to list above? Share your favorites in the comments below.
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!