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.
A Glossary of Online Marketing DefinitionsWhen you’re starting a new business or delving into the world of online marketing for the first time, not only do you have a lot to learn about the types of online marketing and best practices for each of them, but you’ll find there’s a whole new language you have to learn. You can expect to encounter marketers casually throwing around terms and acronyms like they think everyone will understand them (hint: not everybody does, it’s not just you). To help you navigate all the new, confusing language of online marketing, we’ve put together a glossary of online marketing terms you’ll want to know. Bookmark this for future use so you have a handy resource next time you come across a marketing term that leaves you scratching your head. A/B testing – The practice of releasing two marketing items that are similar in every way but one, in order to see which of the changed elements performs better. This can be used for emails, landing pages, calls-to-action, etc. AdWords – Google’s advertising service that runs many of the ads you see around the web, in particular those that show up above and to the side of organic search results. Affiliate marketing – A marketing practice wherein bloggers or other influencers include links to a brand’s website in their content and earn part of the proceeds for customers they help refer. (Learn about HostGator's affiliate program here!) Anchor text – The words that are used in a link (the ones you usually see blue and underlined on the page). Backlinks – A term commonly used in SEO to describe links from other websites that point back to yours. Banner ads – A form of online advertising in which a visual ad shows up somewhere on a website’s page, usually an image in a square or rectangle shape. These can be at the top of the page, to the side, or embedded within the text. Behavioral targeting – Many online advertising platforms allow you to target ads based on online actions users have take in the past. For example, if a person’s browsing history suggests they’re a runner (or hoping to become one), marketers selling running shoes can target their ads at them. Bing – One of the main three search engines people use. Black hat SEO – SEO tactics aimed at essentially tricking search engine algorithms into ranking a website higher, such as keyword stuffing and comment spam. Google’s constantly refining their algorithms to penalize sites that use black hat tactics. Bounce rate – A marketing metric that measures the percentage of website visitors that leave your site without visiting more than the page they landed on. Buyer persona – A marketing tool that helps people imagine the audience they’re targeting by creating a description of a fictional person that would be your ideal customer. Most companies develop several buyer personas to help guide their marketing. Buyer’s journey – The path prospects take to become a customer. This often includes the initial actions taken when a person first learns about a company, a period of doing research and interacting with a company’s website and content to learn more, then the decision to purchase. Blog – A commonly used content marketing platform for publishing frequent written content that provides value to visitors in the hopes of improving SEO, developing a relationship with potential customers, and gaining new email subscribers and customers. Case study – A written piece of content that describes the success story of a past or current customer in order to convince new leads to consider doing business with you. CMS (Content Management System) – A type of marketing software that makes it easier for companies doing content marketing to create, edit, organize, and schedule pieces of content. Content creation – The act of creating any type of content used in content marketing. Content distribution – The tactics businesses use to spread their content on the web so new people in their target audience will encounter it. Content marketing – A form of online marketing based on the practice of creating valuable, relevant content that helps brands attract new leads and build relationships with customers and people in their target audience. Content promotion – The tactics used to promote content that you’ve created to ensure people in your target audience see it. Content strategy – The strategy that guides your content marketing efforts. Developing a content strategy plays a key role in doing content marketing well. Contextual advertising – A form of targeted advertising in which the ads displayed relate directly to what a person is doing or seeing at the time. For example, someone reading an article about gardening tips could see an ad for a fertilizer alongside it. Cookie – The online tool used for tracking user behavior. When you visit a website, the site’s cookie will record your visit and send a message to your web server. This record of your web activity is what helps fuel targeted marketing. CTA (Call to Action) – For every piece of marketing you create, there’s an action you’re hoping your audience will take. The call to action is where you express that and urge your visitors toward what you want them to do next (click here, sign up for your email list, etc.). CTR (Click-Through Rate) – CTR is a marketing metric that measures the percentage of people who viewed a link that chose to click on it. Conversion optimization – Online marketing tactics designed to increase your conversion rate. Conversion rate – The percentage of visitors that take the desired action you want them to. As an example, for an email promotion a conversion could be clicking a link in the email to go to a website landing page. CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) – One of the billing methods common in online marketing. For any channel that charges based on CPA, you’ll pay a set rate when their referral results in a sale. CPC (Cost Per Click) – Another billing method in online marketing that’s especially common in search advertising. Based on this model, you only pay when someone clicks on an ad. CPM (Cost Per Impression) – A third billing model for online marketing, CPM is when you pay each time an ad is seen by a certain number of people. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) – An approach to tracking, analyzing, and managing all aspects of a customer’s relationship with a company from their first interaction through their time as a customer. Sometimes the same acronym is used to refer to software that helps enable customer relationship management. Domain authority – A measure of how respected a website is according to search engine algorithms which plays a role in its likelihood to show up high in search engine rankings. Earned media – Marketing that focuses on unpaid promotional efforts, such as guest posts or customer word of mouth. Earned media is often discussed in comparison to owned and paid media. Ebook – A longform written piece of content. Ebooks are often used as gated content to collect new information on leads. Email marketing – All marketing delivered through email. This includes promotional emails, emails that promote content, and email drip campaigns for new leads and customers. Engagement – An oft-used term in online marketing that describes interactions prospects have with a brand. External link – A link on another website that points back to yours. Facebook – The biggest social media network and therefore one that potentially provides brands a lot of opportunities to interact directly with their audience. Gated content – High-value content that you put behind a web form so people have to provide you information (usually things like email address, job title, etc.) in order to access it. Google – The biggest and most important of the search engines. While SEO includes optimizing for Bing and Yahoo as well, the vast majority of the focus goes to Google. Google Analytics – The tool Google provides for tracking and measuring website success through a variety of useful analytics. Guest Post – A post a brand has published on a third-party blog as a way to promote the brand, reach a new audience, and gain external links. Hashtag – Popularized by Twitter, a hashtag is a word or phrase that’s preceded by a pound sign (#) that can help people follow trending topics on the website. Inbound marketing – A marketing strategy based on the idea of attracting people to your brand rather than pushing out ads at them. Influencer marketing – A marketing tactic that involves working with popular figures in an industry or space in order to reach more followers. For example, a business that sells cooking supplies might partner with a food blogger who creates recipes that require using the company’s supplies. Infographics – A visual form of content marketing that collects interesting facts or data and displays them in a visually attractive way. Instagram – A growing social media platform with a visual focus. Internal link – Links on your website that point to other pages on your website. Internet marketing – Another term for online marketing. Interruption marketing – Any marketing that interrupts what a person’s doing to get their attention (e.g. commercials, autoplay videos embedded in an article, pop-up ads). A term used to differentiate content marketing and inbound marketing from traditional advertising. Keyword – The words and terms people use when searching for something online Keyword research – The research marketers perform for SEO and PPC to determine which keywords their target audience are using in order to know which ones to focus their marketing efforts on. Keyword stuffing – A black hat SEO tactic that involves filling a page with your target keyword in an unnatural way in the hopes of increasing your chances of ranking for it. (Note: this tactic no longer works and should be avoided). Landing page – The page a link or ad sends your visitors to. Landing pages should be relevant to whatever ad or link sent visitors and designed to increase the likelihood of a conversion. Local SEO – The search engine optimization tactics that work best for businesses with a local focus (e.g. those specifically out to attract customers within a set geographic area). Link building – Any tactics used to encourage or create links on other websites that point back to your website. This is a key part of SEO. Long-tail keyword – Longer, more detailed keywords that are less competitive (and often therefore cheaper) to target for SEO and PPC. For example “mother’s day flower delivery in austin” is a long tail keyword, whereas “flower delivery” isn’t. Marketing analytics – The data online marketing tools collect which help marketers track and analyze the results of their efforts. Marketing automation – The practice of using technology to automate some aspects of marketing, such as setting up a specific email to go out in response any time a prospect downloads a related ebook. Marketing Funnel – A visual that helps describe the common buyer’s journey. The idea is that the top of the funnel (TOFU) is the awareness stage where you attract a huge number of leads, the middle of the funnel (MOFU) is where you nurture and develop a further relationship with many of those leads, and the bottom of the funnel (BOFU) is where the few leads that remain toward the end of the process are ushered toward the final sale. Mobile marketing – Any marketing that either appears exclusively on mobile devices or is optimized for views on mobile devices. With people increasingly using mobile for a wide array of tasks, including much of their shopping, mobile marketing is especially important for online marketers today. Natural listing – Another term for organic results, this describes the search results that show up that haven’t been paid for. On-site optimization – The SEO tactics that you can perform on your own website, such as filling in meta tags and including your target keyword in the text on a webpage. Organic results – The search results that haven’t been paid for (they usually show up below the PPC ads, which are labeled as ads). Outbound links – Links on your website that point out to other websites. Owned Media – All the media published on the channels you own, such as your own website and blog and your social media channels. Owned media is often discussed in relation to earned and paid media. Paid Media – Marketing you pay for, such as search ads, social media ads, and more traditional forms of advertising like commercials and billboards. Paid Search – Another term for PPC marketing. Any advertising you do on the search engines. Permission Marketing – Marketing that’s only seen by people who have opted into seeing it. The term is often used to describe opt-in email marketing. Personalized Marketing – Targeted marketing that uses behavioral or demographic data to deliver relevant messages to specific people. This can be as simple as including someone’s name in an email, or as complex as delivering emails about a product or topic someone’s shown an interest in on your website. Pinterest – An image-based social media website that many marketers have a presence on. Pop-up Ads – Any ad that pops up once you’re on a website, sometimes blocking the text of the page to get the reader’s attention. PPC (Pay Per Click) – Another term commonly used to describe paid search advertising, in which marketers only pay for their ads when a viewer clicks. Pay-per-click advertising produces the ads you see above and to the side of organic search results, as well throughout the rest of the Google Ad Network. Responsive Ads – Ads that adjust their size, shape, and appearance for optimum viewing no matter what device you view them on. These are increasingly popular and important as more people use mobile devices for much of their internet browsing. Retargeting – The option of targeting ads at someone that’s already been on your website to increase their chances of returning. When you see an ad seemingly following you around the web for a product your recently viewed, that’s retargeting. Search rankings – The order that websites appear in search results. SEM (Search Engine Marketing) – The blanket term that describes any marketing focused on increasing visibility in the search engines, namely PPC, SEO, and some content marketing. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – Online marketing tactics designed to improve a website’s rankings in the search engines. Some main components of SEO include keyword research, link building, and on-site optimization. SERP (Search Engine Results Page) – A common way of referring the page you get to in Google or another search engine after you perform a search. Snapchat – A mobile social media platform that allows people to post momentary photos, messages, and videos that only exist temporarily before disappearing. Social Media Analytics – The data provided by the main social media platforms that provide insights into how people are interacting with your social media posts and ads. Social Media Marketing – Any marketing you do that occurs on one of the main social media platforms. The main ones most businesses make use of are: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube. Stickiness – A term used to describe anything about a website that keeps visitors around longer or makes them more likely to come back. User generated content – Any content used in your marketing that’s submitted by your current customers or followers. Twitter – One of the main social media platforms, characterized by its fast-moving nature and 140-character limit. Video Marketing – Any marketing you do that involves videos, including video advertisements, live video, 360 videos, and branded webseries. Viral marketing – Any piece of marketing that “goes viral,” or spreads far and wide on the internet. Viral marketing isn’t usually something you can plan for (although people try). White hat SEO – Legitimate SEO tactics that are approved of by the search engines. The term is often used in opposition to black hat SEO. White paper – An authoritative piece of longform written content that’s often used as gated content to gain new information on leads. Yahoo – One of the main three search engines people use. YouTube – A widely used social media website focused on videos. There you have it. You now have definitions for most of the terms you could possibly need to know in online marketing. Now you just need to learn how to put your knowledge to use in the way that’s best for your business.
What Do I Need to Start a Website?So you’re considering building a website, but you’re new to this whole thing. You don’t even really know where to start. It can be easy to find yourself frozen before you get started if you don’t have a clear list of steps to guide you. To help you out, here’s a step-by-step guide to what you need to start a website.
1. A GoalIf you’re at the stage of thinking about starting a website, you may already have a good start on this one (most people don’t start out wanting a website without having an idea of what it would be for). Nonetheless, before you go any further, really clarify for yourself what you want your website to accomplish. If you’re starting a service-based business, the website should accurately communicate what you offer and why people should hire you. If you’re starting a product-based business, your goal is to get people to add those items to their shopping cart and check out. If you’re starting a blog to share your deep abiding love of spaghetti westerns, the goal could be as simple as finding a few like minds who enjoy reading your posts. Whatever your particular goal, all the other steps laid out here can play a role in helping you achieve it, which makes it important that you figure this step out before going any further.
2. A NameThis deceptively simple step can be one of the hardest parts for many people. It doesn’t require a lot of tedious work, but it does require making a hard creative decision and it’s easy to get stuck at this step and have a hard time moving forward. When choosing a name for your website, you have to think about more than just what sounds good. Part of your brainstorming process should be to look up available domain names as you go. You don’t necessarily have to register the exact domain as the name you want your website to have, but it will make it much easier for repeat visitors to find you again if the names match, so it’s worth trying to come up with something original that you can grab the .com domain for without having to use weird spellings. You will almost certainly find this step difficult, but don’t let it take you forever. Give yourself a deadline and get it done. Having a name that’s not 100% perfect is better than not having a name or website at all.
3. Web HostingYou can usually register your domain name and buy web hosting in one fell swoop, since most hosting plans include at least one domain name as part of the package (and sometimes more). Picking the right hosting plan can be a bit overwhelming, but a little basic information on how types of web hosting differ should give you a pretty clear idea of what to go with. If you’re just starting out and your website will be on the smaller side without a devoted following, an affordable shared plan will probably work just fine and you can get one for just a few bucks a month.
4. A DesignEvery website you see on the web has a basic web design that someone had to create. When a website’s design is intuitive and doing its job, you don’t necessarily think much about it, but that’s because someone else did the thinking for you during the design process to make sure the site easily meets visitor needs. You’ve got a few options to design your website. You can hire someone that’s experienced in web design to build you something unique that suits your needs. You can use a website builder to build it yourself using templates and an intuitive design interface. Or you can try to learn web design yourself and build a website from scratch. Be warned that the latter option won’t be easy if you don’t have prior experience (and really isn’t necessary in this era of easy-to-use website builders), but if web design is a skillset you’d like to have, building your first website is good practice.
5. ContentAs with web design, you probably never put much thought into the work that goes into crafting all the words on the pages of websites you visit. But someone put that time and work in and it’s a step you have to take as well. This is another step where it may be worth hiring a professional to help you out, especially if your website’s goal is to sell something. Professional website copywriters know how to develop positioning for businesses and figure out the language most likely to drive visitors to action. And if writing’s not your forte, you’ll probably spend lots of time and mental energy on worse results than if you hired someone who really knows what they’re doing. If you decide to write the content yourself, take some time to read up on online copywriting best practices. Websites like Copyblogger and Copyhackers can provide some tips to help you learn the ropes.
6. Digital Marketing PlanYou may have thought creating your website was the hard part (and it’s not easy), but once your website launches you’ll quickly realize how hard it can be to get people to check it out. For that, you need online marketing. Consider the types of online marketing tactics that make the most sense for your website and work up a plan to help raise awareness of your website and drive traffic your way. No one will buy your products or read your content without being able to find your website first. To achieve the goal you established in step one, you’ll need to commit to ongoing marketing efforts that bring your audience to you.
7. Google AnalyticsOne of the most valuable tools every website owner needs is conveniently entirely free. Setting up Google Analytics is easy and one of the first things you should do once your website is ready to launch. The tool provides rich insights into how many people are coming to your website, how they found you, whether they came back again, and who they are (demographically speaking). The information you get from Google Analytics will tell you if your marketing is working and which tactics are working best. It will let you know which types of visitors are most likely to take action like a purchase or email signup, and which are most likely to leave the site within a few seconds without ever coming back. It will guide you in the types of changes you should make to your website and marketing efforts over time to better achieve your overarching goal. Building a website comes with its challenges, but once you know the basic steps you need to take it’s easier to work out a plan to move forward. Once it’s up and running you’ll face a whole new set of challenges, of course, but it’s rewarding to see your traffic grow and your website take off. If you’ve been waiting to get started because you don’t know what to do, just take it one step at a time and get it done. Good luck!