Monday, October 16, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
So if you want to create a vlog about something you love, do it—even if, and maybe especially if, people have told you that you can't.
Monday, October 9, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
Personalize Your Online Store's Customer Experience with Magento ExtensionsOnline shoppers expect a customized experience now, with stores showing them the types of products they like before they have to spend a lot of time searching. But an eMarketer report from earlier this year found that only slightly more than half of retailers offer any type of customized web experience for shoppers. Many retailers customize their email marketing messages, but not the experiences in their online store. Those that don't are leaving money on the table and losing the loyalty of customers who want to be recognized. Here's what you need to know about personalizing your customers' experience in your online store. The desire for a personalized shopping experience is nearly universal. The majority of Millennial and Gen X shoppers want retailers to know their preferences and are willing to share personal data with stores in order to save time and help them find the items they want quickly. It's not only young consumers who want a made-to-fit experience, either. A Deloitte report from 2015 found that consumers over age 55 are the most likely to order up a personalized vacation package. Catering to these desires can translate into better sales and stronger customer loyalty. Among retailers who have personalized their sites and mobile apps for customers, 48% reported a rise in sales of more than 10%. Personalization can take many forms, from “other products you may like” to clothing in preferred sizes and colors to the timing of offers for particular products. Retailers who have some control over the manufacturing process can offer product customization options, which are increasingly in demand. Let's look at four ways to give each customer a personalized experience in your store.
Customize your shop to meet customer expectationsMagento lets you set up your shop the way you want it to reflect your brand and stand out from “off the rack” store layouts. The Magento Marketplace offers store owners more than 1,800 extensions to help you add the features and functions your customers expect. More than 700 of those extensions focus on store content presentation, search, review, and customization options. If you can't find exactly what you and your customers want, Magento's open-source code means you can have something custom-built to suit your needs. Let's look at some of the extensions that provide personalized product recommendations, targeted social media ads, and product-customization tools for your store.
Suggest “other products you may like”More than 80% of online shoppers in North America want stores to serve up product recommendations for them. Most major retailers already do this – the best known example is Amazon's suite of product recommendations, ranging from new Kindle titles to clothing, food, and other items based on your past purchases and searches. Your smaller online store can build customer loyalty by offering similar recommendations with Magento extensions that use customers' data to show suggestions. Softcube's highly popular extension needs as few as two clicks from new customers to start serving product recommendations based on customer preferences, sizes, and more. The developer says its personalization extension can boost sales by as much as 20%.
Tailor your offers to your customers' habits and needsAnother Magento extension, Nosto, supplies personalized product recommendations along with tools to bring customers back to your store, through personalized emails and Facebook retargeting. Nosto also gives your store the ability to reach “lookalike customers” (with demographics similar to your existing customers) through personalized Facebook ad campaigns. Nosto and similar tools can help your store make the right offer at the right time – the “contextual relevance” that retail-industry watchers say is one of the keys to surviving and thriving in the time of Amazon and Google's micro-moments.
Offer co-created items and a menu of custom optionsSuggesting the right products at the right time is one aspect of personalizing the customer experience. Letting customers personalize their product choices is another. Made-to-order clothing, shoes, and other goods used to be reserved for the very wealthy and the lucky friends and families of craftspeople. Now platforms like Etsy make it easy for shoppers to request personalized items from artisans, and e-commerce tools like Magento offer the same type of options for standalone online stores. Meanwhile, artists and small manufacturers can tailor production to each online customer's preferences—a new phenomenon known as “mass personalization.” For example, Shoes of Prey sells customized shoes online. Shoppers can choose not only size and style but color, heel type and height, materials, and embellishments and have their design made to order and delivered within a couple of weeks. This type of customization isn't limited to $150 pumps, either. Jewelry designers, kids' clothing makers, sticker artists and many other small business owners offer custom options in the online stores. To give your customers these options in a Magento-powered store, you'll need an extension. Two of the most popular for product customization are Product Personalization by SM Design and Personalized Products by Milople. Milople's offering lets shoppers add art and text to your stock products, make color and font choices, and more. SM Design's extension lets you customize the personalization options for your products and gives you the option to show the personalization details at checkout.
More personalization = more salesAll these personalization options take some time to research, choose, test, and put in place, but they can put your store ahead of the competition. More personalization can lead to better customer retention, more sales to your existing customers, and more new customers brought in through ads that show products tailored to their interests. If you're just starting out and planning your store, check out HostGator's Magento hosting packages that include email marketing tools for your new business.
Sunday, October 1, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
Finding Insurance When You're a FreelancerFreelancing will always involve some risk, but there's no need to take on more risk than you must. Unlike working for someone else, working for yourself means setting up all the benefits you used to get through your employer. If you're making the switch to self-employment, here are some pointers for finding policies to protect your health, your income, and your new business.
Health Insurance for the Self-EmployedNo matter what type of business you're in, if you're self-employed or a freelancer in the US, you're going to have to become an expert on your health insurance options. Depending on how many insurers offer plans in your area, you may have plenty of coverage options or next to none. Costs can vary from sort of reasonable to jaw-dropping. Benefits can vary dramatically from one plan to the next. And of course, the health insurance landscape can change depending on politics, so what works today may not apply in a year or two. For now, though, here are some places to look for coverage that offers you the best combination of cost, benefits, and participating providers.
- Get covered by someone else's policy. If you're married, in a domestic partnership, or young enough to stay on your parents' health insurance, going with their coverage may be your best bet in terms of cost and ease of enrollment.
- Check out the marketplace. Even if you don't qualify for a subsidy, you can still buy a plan on Healthcare.gov during the open enrollment period. Note that once you buy a plan through the marketplace, you'll need to notify them each year if you buy a plan somewhere else. Otherwise, you'll be automatically enrolled in a marketplace plan that you'll have to cancel.
- Contact insurance companies directly. You may be able to buy an individual plan directly from an insurer. This will almost certainly cost more than a marketplace plan, but it can be a good option if the insurer's network includes the doctors and hospitals you prefer and the local marketplace plans don't.
- Talk to your payroll service provider. Some offer small group and individual health insurance policies for their clients as part of their benefits-administration services.
- Go to class. Some community colleges and universities offer affordable, low-deductible health insurance to students taking as few as three credit hours, even via distance learning. This might be cost-effective even with tuition and fees factored in—and depending on the classes you take, it can help you with your professional development.
- Talk to other self-employed people in your industry and city to find out about local and industry-specific options. You can also pull together a group of friends or peers to split up health insurance research tasks and share information. I've done this with a group of about half a dozen friends, which is how I learned about some of the school insurance programs.
Disability Coverage for SolopreneursCompared to health insurance, disability coverage doesn't get much attention, but it should. Health insurance may cover most of your medical bills, but if you're too sick or injured to run your business for more than a few weeks, how will you pay your rent, utilities and grocery bills? A disability policy can give you up to about 60% of your take-home pay (not your business gross) while you're unable to work, and the monthly premium for many plans costs less than a couple of delivery pizzas. The catch is that it's not always easy to qualify for disability coverage as an independent worker. The first place to start is with your insurance agent or financial planner, but you may have to look elsewhere if their companies don't insure freelancers. That was the case when I started shopping for disability coverage about five years ago. I ended up finding a policy through the Freelancers Union, a New York-based advocacy group. They have since rolled out a National Benefits Platform that lets you search for several types of insurance, including disability. The premiums you pay will be based on your age, your income, and the elimination period (30 to 90 days) before you start getting benefits after a claim. Benefits aren't forever – they're usually capped at a certain number of years based on your age or end when you hit retirement age. Review your coverage every couple of years to see if you need to buy a larger policy to keep up with your (ideally) growing self-employment income.
Liability Coverage for Independent Service ProvidersNo matter what type of freelance work you do--writing, web design, makeup artistry, or something else--you'll sleep better if you have a professional liability policy that pays to defend you in case of a client lawsuit. If you want to land contracts with government agencies and enterprise clients, you'll almost certainly need to show proof of liability insurance in order to bid. As with disability coverage, start your liability coverage search with your insurance agent, financial advisor, or the Freelancers Union. You can also check with professional organizations in your industry and look for industry-specific insurers.
Other types of insurance you may needIf you handle sensitive or confidential client information, a data breach policy can protect you in case of digital or physical theft. Does your work take you outside the country? You'll probably want international health and medical evacuation insurance, because most US-based health insurance policies don't cover out of country expenses. Remember that your insurance needs may change as your freelance business grows. It's a good idea to review your coverage once a year to make sure you have the right policies and the proper coverage amounts. Learn more about what you'll need to start your small business and keep it running.
Monday, September 25, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
What Canada's Anti-Spam Law Means for Your Email Marketing ProgramHeads up, American online business owners! Our neighbors to the north now have one of the toughest new anti-spam laws in the world. Canada's government has been phasing it in gradually, and if and when the final provisions are fully implemented, individual spam recipients in Canada will be able to sue businesses for breaking the law. That means you need to know the rules for email marketing to Canadian customers and clients. Before we delve into the details of email marketing to Canada, if you're not seeking Canadian customers already, now's a good time to ask yourself why not—especially if you plan to expand into other countries later on. US-based businesses earn about a third of Canadian consumers' cross-border purchases, and Canada's total e-commerce spend will reach $50 billion within two years. With a shared language in much of the country and similar holidays, it's a good “starter” market for international sales expansion – as long as you play by the digital marketing rules.
What are the differences between US and Canadian anti-spam laws?Each country's anti-spam rules are detailed and cover a lot more ground in legal language than we can cover in a short article. Here are the main points for comparison. In the US, the CAN-SPAM law, which stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing:
- Applies only to marketing emails sent by businesses to consumers.
- Puts the burden on email recipients to opt out of receiving messages they don't want.
- Doesn't go into details about marketing emails sent to American recipients from outside the US, according to Canadian law firm McMillan LLP . North of the border, it's a different story.
- Requires an unsubscribe process that can take multiple steps to complete.
- Can result in fines of up to about $40,000 per violation.
- Requires senders to contact only people who have opted in to receive marketing messages or who have an existing, recent business relationship with the sender.
- Applies to all marketing messages that are sent or accessed on Canada-based computer systems, meaning that the messages into Canada from abroad are subject to CASL.
- Covers all forms of electronic direct marketing, including texts, voicemails, videos, and images to both consumer and business recipients.
- Requires a faster, more streamlined unsubscribe process than CAN-SPAM.
- Prohibits installation of software on recipients' devices without their permission.
- Assigns “potential vicarious liability for directors and officers of corporations and employers of employees acting within the scope of their employment.”
- Can result in penalties of as much as $10 million for corporations found in violation of CASL.
How can you stay on the right side of Canada's anti-spam rules?Compliance is important, not only for legal reasons but also because your email marketing service and web host may close your accounts if you get flagged as a spammer. In general, if you follow CASL's stricter rules you're also probably CAN-SPAM compliant, although you should check with your business attorney if you have questions. Just remember that basic courtesy can help your business stay on the right side of your recipients—on both sides of the border:
- Only send marketing messages to people you've done business with within the past two years or who have asked to join your list. This should keep you within CASL's implied consent time frame, and anyone who hasn't followed up with you after two years is likely no longer interested.
- Identify your business clearly in all your marketing messages.
- Ask prospects and customers to opt in to your marketing messages by entering their email address or checking a permission box on your sign-up form (like the ones detailed in this email marketing how-to post).
- Be transparent. It's not good business to bury marketing consent in your terms and conditions, and in Canada it's not legal to do so.
- Include an opt-out tool with every message you send, whether by email or text, and make it easy to use. This not only keeps you compliant with CASL's detailed opt-out rules and CAN-SPAM's more general ones, it also sets you apart from the “wrong direction” trend of retailers who are making it harder for email recipients to opt out.
- Comply with opt-out requests quickly.
- If you outsource or don't directly oversee your company's email and text marketing programs, make sure you check in regularly with your contractors or managers to ensure their programs are both CAN-SPAM and CASL compliant.
Monday, September 18, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
3 Ways You Can Make Your Own WebsiteYou made it! You're officially the proud owner of a shiny new domain name and web hosting package. Now you've reached the part of building a website that most of us get most excited about: setting up your header and homepage, designing your online portfolio, formatting your blog, setting up your online shop. It's time to furnish your online home – your domain – with things you want your visitors to see, explore, and maybe buy. Sounds great, right? But how do you actually put together a website? There are 3 ways you can do this.
1. Build Your Website from ScratchWith this option, you start with your domain and a bunch of ideas and code them into reality. This is the website equivalent of hiring an interior designer, a decorator and a bunch of subcontractors to fill in the empty shell of your new home – or doing it all yourself. How do you know if you should build your site this way? Answer these two questions:
- Do you have great technical and coding skills?
- Do you have a big budget for hiring a web designer?
2. Use WordPressWith this option, you install the world's most popular content management tool to put together your website with ready-made tools, themes, and a dashboard that make it easy to update or change your site. Using WordPress is like making a big IKEA run to get everything you need to set up your new place. You only have to make one stop. Because the furniture you get is modular and easy to build, you can change or add pieces when you need to, using only the online equivalent of an allen wrench. Should you build your site this way? Yes, if you're comfortable using these tools to build and maintain your site:
- Themes: In technical terms, WordPress themes are “files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog.” Whoa! That’s a whole lotta jargon. In allen-wrench terms, themes are file packages you can buy or get for free that give your site a particular look, just like you might decide to furnish your whole living room in Ektorp seating. You can find thousands of free and paid themes on WordPress.com, MOJO Marketplace, and HostGator.
- Templates: Templates are “the building blocks of WordPress themes.” Your theme will have templates for your site's header, sidebars, blog posts, links and more. You can use the templates as is or customize them to look exactly the way you want them to. (Think IKEA hacks.)
- Plugins: Plugins are the extras you can easily add on, but only if you need them. In IKEA terms, they're the glass doors for your Billy bookcases. There are plugins for everything from contact forms to search engine optimization to site security.
- Page tools: You can use these to create new pages for your site, like a homepage, portfolio, about you, contact, and an online store.
- Post tools: Use these to write, edit, and add images to blog posts and publish them on your site's blog page.
- Updates: Because theme and plugin developers are always making improvements, fixing bugs and boosting security, sometimes you'll need to update your theme, plugins, and version of WordPress. This is a click-and-go task that takes just seconds, but it's important to keep your site running smoothly and securely.
3. Use a Web BuilderSite builders, like the one HostGator includes for free with all of its hosting plans, have been winning fans over the past few years because they're fast and easy to use, don't require manual updates, and integrate seamlessly with your hosting service and domain name. If you're the type of shopper who buys flat-pack furniture to save money and has it delivered and assembled for you to save time, you'll like the site builder approach. Should you build your site this way? Yes, if you want:
- Templates that give your site a design without the expense of hiring a web designer
- A no-code-required drag-and-drop way to customize your site template
- Set-it-and-forget-it site functions that update without you having to lift a finger
- Built-in tools for sharing your site content on social media
- Easy SEO tools for getting your site found in online searches
- Quick PayPal integration to get your shop up and selling
- Round-the-clock professional support for your site-building questions.
Whichever path you choose, HostGator is here to help you along the way. Enjoy 24/7 award-winning US-based expert support and web hosting that grows with you as your traffic grows.