Monday, June 26, 2017 by Casey Kelly-BartonWe’ve looked at the importance of competing on value rather than price, and now here comes a seemingly counterintuitive idea: giving your customers stuff for free. Should you try this promotion tactic? Maybe. Exactly what to hand out and how to do it will vary based on your goals and what you sell. In another post, we covered freebie options for service providers and B2B businesses. Right now, let’s look at some common freebie tactics for online retailers to see whether they’re right for you, and how to use them wisely.
Email list signup giveawaysOffering people a free item in exchange for joining an email list is a tradition as old as e-commerce. Most advice on list-signup freebies focuses on information products like special reports, but retailers can use freebies to build a list, too. The best-known retail example is Bed Bath & Beyond’s instant 48-hour, 20% coupon for new list members. If you run a stationery, organization or craft store online, you can offer free printable downloads in exchange for joining your email list. And yes, retailers can offer free information, too. If you sell homemade, allergen-free dog treats, you might write a list of tips for helping dogs with allergies thrive. Format it for easy printing and be sure to include your business name and logo.
In-store freebiesCostco knows how to leverage freebies. Shoppers join to buy food in bulk but they get surprisingly excited about the tiny cups of free food and drinks on offer. If you have a physical store or vend at fairs, think about small items you could offer for free to get new customers to try your products or treat repeat customers to a token of appreciation. You may have to make your samples “first-come first-serve” or “the first 50 shoppers” so you don’t unbalance your budget, and be sure to promote your giveaways in advance and in real time on social media for the most mileage. Also, limit in-store freebies to times when you have something new to promote, so you don’t have people coming around all the time for free stuff without ever making a purchase.
Bonus items with purchasesFree extras with purchases are an easy way to get your existing customers to try new products. This is actually how the grocery delivery service I use got my entire family hooked on Coke Life; free samples kept arriving with our orders and now we buy some every week. Online beauty retailers like Sephora and Paula’s Choice do something similar by letting shoppers choose their freebies from a menu during the checkout process. [bctt tweet="Free extras with purchases are an easy way to get your existing customers to try new products." username="hostgator"]
Swag bags, silent auctions and door prizesWhether it’s a PTA fundraiser or the Oscars, it’s not an event without swag bags. These goodie bags, along with silent auction items and door prizes, are typically contributed by local businesses at the request of volunteers. If a group asks you to contribute your merchandise, take these steps to make sure your donation benefits your business as well as their event.
- First, make sure the cause is something you genuinely support and that the event audience matches your customer profile. Over time, your business may get lots of donation requests and you won’t be able to fulfill them all, so choose strategically.
- Next, make sure your business name and contact information is on your products. Order stickers if you need to and put them on everything you donate. I once got a full-size tube of Mary Kay hand lotion in a swag bag, and I loved it. Unfortunately, by the time I got the bag contents sorted out, the representative’s card was nowhere to be found, so I didn’t know who to repay for their generosity with an order.
- Finally, if you’re contributing a door prize to an event, make sure in advance that your prize and company name are announced as part of the drawing. Ask that the MC show off what you’ve donated and tell people where to find your table or business cards at the event.
Giveaways to social media followersGiveaways on social media are a good way to add followers. For example, maybe you hold a giveaway drawing for Facebook followers who share your post on their personal page. You can sweeten the deal with a promo code for everyone who participates. For example, maybe you do a drawing for a candle from your home décor collection, and after the drawing, give everyone who shared your post a coupon code for your shop as a thank-you. [bctt tweet="Giveaways on social media are a good way to add followers." username="hostgator"]
Reviewers and influencersGiving samples to reviewers and influencers can expand your audience without spending a lot on advertising. The trick is to choose recipients carefully. Their audience profile should match your customer persona, and you should understand their review policies before you send anything. If they agree to do a review or testimonial, send something great. Then promote their review (assuming it’s good) all over your social media and on your product page. You may get requests for samples from reviewers whose audience is too small or doesn’t match yours. It’s OK to say no, thank them for their interest, and direct your promotional efforts elsewhere.
The easiest freebie: shippingOnline shoppers expect free shipping now, even though intellectually we all know shipping costs are built into product pricing. Offering free shipping can be a tie-breaker for shoppers considering other retailers, and even small shops can make free shipping work as long as you set the conditions carefully. For example, express and international shipping can be breathtakingly costly, so maybe limit your free offer to domestic standard shipping. You can also offer a free gift wrap and card option during the holiday shopping season to make gift-buying easier for your customers. Remember that you need a goal for your giveaways, whether it’s building your email list, expanding your social media following, introducing new products or strengthening your relationship with your current customers. The one goal that should underpin every free promotion you do is getting people to appreciate the value of what you sell. That way, people who get something from you for free are more likely to become repeat customers who shop with you because of your products’ value, not just their price.
Monday, June 19, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
The Mommy Blogger's Online ToolkitIf you have a kid, a computer, and a love of sharing stories and opinions, you've probably thought about starting a mommy blog. You're not alone – there are about four million moms in the US and Canada with their own blogs, according to mommy blogger coach Candis Lynn Hidalgo. Clearly, blogging is a popular hobby, and for some bloggers, it's also a source of income. So how can you start your own mom blog? First, you'll need to assemble your online toolkit. Here's what you'll need.
1. Your mommy blog needs a goalDecide before you begin whether you want your blog to be a hobby or a business. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that if you're approaching it as a hobby, you can skip some elements of the toolkit, like finding marketing affiliates, and focus on crafting your posts, photos, videos and/or podcasts. Another reason to clarify your goals early on is because if you plan to make money from your blog, you'll need to treat it like a part-time job, with a regular posting schedule, professional networking, and outreach to brands.
2. Choose a niche within the mommy blogger universeIf you're purely a hobbyist blogger who wants to experiment with words and images, do what you like. However, if building an audience matters to you—whether you're a hobbyist or a professional—you'll do better if you choose a niche. With millions of moms blogging, it's not enough to write up your kids' antics and share recipes. Today's most successful mom bloggers describe life through a lens that's both unique and relatable. Here are a couple of very different but successful examples of moms who started blogs and have gone on to become authors, media figures, and experts in their own niches. Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids has been pushing back against helicopter parenting for nearly a decade. She's taken heat and won praise for things like letting her son ride the New York City subway unsupervised when he was 9 years old. She's built her blog and her niche by calling out intrusive laws that restrict kids' freedom to play outdoors and by collecting statistics on child safety. Emma Johnson at WealthySingleMommy.com combines two concepts that often don't go together in American culture -- the notions that a mom can be a single parent and financially successful. Always direct, sometimes profane, Johnson has built a following of professional single moms who want to thrive at home, at work, and on the dating scene. One way to find your own niche is to think about what motivates you as a mom, your own personal interests, and goals you have for your family. Maybe that means you're an attachment parent who also knits and wants to raise llamas on some land you own. Maybe you're the mom of special-needs teens, so you've not only learned the ins and outs of dealing with schools, IEPs, and the healthcare system, but you've also helped those kids get into to college. (I know this mom, by the way, and I wish she'd start a blog.) Whatever makes your life and family yours, that's your niche.
3. Your blog needs a web hostYour blog will need a web hosting service that you pay for, rather than a free third-party blogging platform or a social media account. That's because if the third-party site or social media provider decides to suspend or close your account (or shuts down, like Vine did in 2016) you no longer have access to your content or your followers. That's bad if you've built an audience for a hobby blog. It's a disaster if you're blogging for money. For less than $10 a month, you can have your blog hosted with a service like HostGator's WordPress Cloud Hosting that keeps your blog up and running, loads your content fast, and won't arbitrarily vanish.
4. Your blog needs a name and a URLNaming a mommy blog, like naming a baby, is a big project, not to be taken lightly. First, you'll want to choose something that clearly tells readers what your blog's about (Attachment Mama with Llamas, for example) and that's not already taken by another blogger. Then you'll need to see if the URL for that name is available. If it is, you can register it, and then you've got an address for your blog-to-be. Dive into the details of choosing a domain name for your blog here.
5. Your blog needs a designJust like decorating a nursery or a playroom, there's no limit to the time and money you could put into designing your site. But when you're just starting out, the most cost-effective approach is to use a WordPress theme that saves you lots of time and will display nicely on desktops and mobile devices. Later, if your blog is profitable or you feel like spending more on design, you can.
6. You'll need a blog-related email addressAnother advantage to having your blog hosted by a professional service like HostGator is that it gives you the ability to create email addresses using your domain name. This looks more professional than a third-party email address—important if you're looking for sponsors and affiliates—and it can help you sort out your personal email from your blog correspondence. It also makes it easier to set up your email list.
7. Your blog needs an email listPart of your blog design should be an email signup form so visitors can subscribe to your blog and newsletters. This is a must if you plan to monetize your blog, because your subscriber count will matter to prospective affiliates, and because email marketing is an effective way to reach readers with your own offers of paid content like ebooks and courses. Sweeten the signup invitation by creating a compelling freebie for new subscribers. For example, Emma Johnson offers subscribers her free “15 Secrets to Thriving as a Single Mom” guide.
8. You need a decent cameraYou don't need to buy a digital SLR camera just yet, but good photos and videos are an important part of blogging, so make the most of your smartphone camera and learn to light your shots well. If you're recording podcasts, the built-in mic on your laptop won't deliver the sound quality you need. It's worth investing in a standalone mic, and you can find a good one for under $100.
9. Your blog needs at least one social media accountDon't try to do all the social media platforms. That way lies madness and burnout. Instead, go back to your niche and think about where people who are interested in the same things as you spend their time. Maybe it's Pinterest, maybe it's YouTube, maybe it's Instagram. Pick one for now, and use it to drive traffic to your blog.
As your blog grows...As your blog grows, if you're running it as a business, you can start adding affiliate links, a press section to show off your mentions in the media, and a resources section where readers can find your books, online classes, or mentorship groups. In the meantime, keep posting and growing your audience, and keep tabs on our HostGator blog, where you'll find tips on everything from creating video tutorials to monetizing your blog.
Monday, June 12, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
The Food Blogger's Online ToolkitFor people who love to cook and create new recipes, food blogging can sound like an ideal career. You get to share your culinary ideas with the world. You can avoid the high-pressure setting and late hours of a restaurant kitchen. If you're a great cook and a good marketer, you can make a pretty sweet living. The Huffington Post reports that Pinch of Yum, a popular husband-and-wife-run food blog, netted more than $400,000 in 2016. That's up from less than $22 per month in 2011, but everyone has to start somewhere. If you're hankering to start a food blog of your own - as a hobby or a business - here's what you need in your online toolkit.
1. You need a goal for your food blogBefore you post that first kitchen tutorial or even pick a name for your food blog, decide if it will be a hobby or a budding business. Why? Because if you plan to make a business of your blog, you'll need to work on marketing as well as cooking from the start. You'll also need to treat your blog like a job from the outset by sticking to a regular posting schedule, networking with other food bloggers and readers, and reaching out to brands you'd like to work with.
2. Decide what makes your food blog uniqueIt's hard to find reliable numbers on how many food blogs there are, but “thousands” seems like a conservative estimate. To stand out, think about why readers should come to your blog. You don't need a 100% unique niche – you're unlikely to create a completely new food, after all – but your blog needs a unique voice and personality to get readers reading. For example, here's how the humble waffle gets a fresh spin from four different popular food bloggers.
- At A Simple Pantry, whose theme is “easy gourmet,” Karly Gomez offers an edible-flower and berry-bedecked chocolate waffle recipe that looks fussy and complicated but only takes 20 minutes from start to finish.
- Meanwhile, at Kitchen Konfidence, Brandon Matzek combines his constant quest for foodie inspiration with a desire to help readers cook intricate dishes fearlessly. His rhubarb waffles with lemon whipped cream (pictured at right) takes more than an hour to prepare.
- Vegetarian blogger Erin Alderson at Naturally Ella offers a recipe for spelt waffles with cinnamon peaches that's simple to make and features an unusual grain.
- Nevada Berg at North Wild Kitchen serves waffles with a Nordic flavor in honor of Norway's annual vaffeldagen. Her rye-flour waffle recipe includes hand-harvested blueberries and plenty of butter.
3. You need a good camera, lighting, and a backdropFood can be surprisingly hard to photograph well. Just ask a certain lifestyle maven and friend of Snoop Dogg. Her social media food pics a few years ago led to headlines like “Martha Stewart takes the worst food photos, ever,” thanks to dreadful lighting, a lack of cropping, and strange angles. Even if you can't buy a digital SLR camera right now, you can still make the most of your smartphone camera, natural light, and appealing backgrounds to make your food photos appetizing.
4. Your food blog needs a mouthwatering name (and a URL)Choose a name for your blog that (a) isn't already someone else's URL and (b) tells people what's unique about your approach to food. For example, North Wild Kitchen immediately evokes Nordic, fresh cooking. Kitchen Konfidence offers what it says on the label. Once you have a unique name, you'll need to register it as a domain name. Once that's done, you have an address for your new food blog. Learn the details of choosing a domain name for your blog here.
5. Your food blog needs a good designAs with kitchen upgrades, there's no upper limit on the time and money a person could spend designing a site. For most new food bloggers, and even many well-established ones like Kitchen Konfidence, a WordPress platform and theme are ideal. Use WordPress and a free theme that's meant for showing off photos to save setup time and ensure that your blog looks good on computers and mobile devices. Later, when you're raking in the dough, you can upgrade to a paid theme if you like.
6. Your food blog needs a reliable, fast web hostAll those food photos take time to load, and web users are an impatient bunch. You need a host for your domain that delivers fast load times and plenty of storage space for your image and text backups. For less than $10 a month, a service like HostGator's WordPress Cloud Hosting can back up your data and serve your delicious posts and photos fast.
7. Your food blog needs email addressesWhen your blog is hosted by a professional service, you can create email addresses using your blog's domain name. These addresses are more professional-looking than using your personal email, and can help you keep your personal and blog correspondence separate. That's especially important when you're building an email list for your food blog.
8. Your food blog needs an email listYour blog design should include an email signup form so visitors can subscribe to your posts and your email newsletters, which you can send out through a service like Constant Contact. You can tempt visitors to sign up with a treat like a free e-cookbook, as A Simple Pantry does. “The list” is a must-have if your blog is a business. Your subscriber count, along with your blog traffic, will matter to prospective affiliates, media outlets, and (ahem!) cookbook publishers. Email marketing can also be an effective way to turn subscribers into customers when you have a cool new offer.
9. Your blog needs at least one social media accountYou don't need every social media account. If you're pressed for time and want to choose just one, Instagram is a popular platform for food bloggers and foodie fans alike. Put your best photos forward to drive traffic to your blog (and to your email list).
10. You need a planIf you're running your food blog as a business, take stock every few months to see what you can add to your site. For example, after you've earned some media mentions you may want to collect them in a Press section. You'll definitely want a recipe index and a search box so your readers can find what they're hungry for quickly. You may eventually open a shop and add an e-commerce page—something your web host should be able to help with. And as your audience and storage needs grow, your host should be able to help you scale up to accommodate more traffic and a bigger backed-up archive of images and recipes. Learn more about the ingredients for blogging success, like Greg Narayan's10 blogging lessons and Kristen Hicks' guide to creating e-books for your business, on the HostGator blog. Bon apetit!
Monday, June 5, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
What is Web Hosting?Do you have something you want to share with the world? Awesome! There's never been an easier time than now to share your creativity, products and ideas with people anywhere in the world. There's no scribe, town crier or carrier pigeon required, although we know an alligator who's happy to guide you through the process. Creating a website is easier than most people expect it to be. Before we go over the steps involved, it's helpful to think about exactly what you want your website to do for you.
How Can A Website Help Me?1. Publish a blog. Whether you're sharing your thoughts for fun or profit (or both), you need a website to serve as a home for your blog. 2. Build your business. Most people look online for places to shop, so a website is a must if you want customers to find you. 3. Show off your portfolio. If you're a freelance photographer, writer, web designer, or another type of independent worker, an online portfolio can show prospective clients what you do and why they should hire you.
Feeling inspired yet?Next, we explain how you get a website for your business.
What Do I Need to Create a Website?You need to get three things to set up your site: a domain, a web host, and site content. If this is all new to you, it may help to think of the process like throwing a house party - only you’re starting by building the house. 1. Your Domain Name Step one is choosing and registering a domain. Your site domain is like the lot where you’ll build your site. Every domain has a name, just like every house has a street address, so visitors can find you. 2. Web Hosting Next you’ll need choose a web hosting service to take care of the construction and wiring. Your web host provides the space, access, hardware, and security your site will need. 3. Site Content When you have a domain and a host, you’re ready to put up content to create your site. This is the step where you choose a template to organize site content like your portfolio, an online shop, a blog, and more. Think of it as furnishing your new house to delight your visitors. When all that’s in place, you’re ready to throw a housewarming party and launch your site. With a reliable web host taking care of access, storage, and security, you can focus on making your guests comfortable and helping them find what they want.
How Does Web Hosting Work?Your web hosting provides four basic things: 1. File storage: The image, text, and design files that make your website look like it does are stored on a server – a computer maintained by your web hosting service. These files are sort of like your party décor, music and snacks – the reason people come to your house parties. 2. Hardware: The server where your website files are stored is usually one of many servers stored together in a data center. Keeping all this hardware in one place makes it easier for your web hosting service to keep it up to date and running properly. Hardware is like the furniture, lights, and plumbing in your own home. 3. Uptime: The amount of time when your site files are available to visitors is “uptime.” Uptime of 99.9% is the industry standard for web hosts. You don't want guests to drop by and find that your website is unavailable, just like you don't want party guests to find your house locked and empty when they arrive. 4. Security: On the internet, pranksters and criminals are always trying to break into servers, files, and sites to cause mayhem or steal data. Your web host's security measures protect your site from break-ins, just like your home security system keeps people from breaking into your house. A good web host will also include other services and tools that make setting up your site easier and faster, like:
- Round-the-clock live support so you can work on your site anytime and get help if you need it.
- Free templates for your website so you can create a professional looking site in just a few clicks.
- Video and written tutorials to answer your detailed questions.
- Domain and WHOIS privacy registration services.
- Shopping cart tools to help you start selling online.
- Unlimited email hosting so you can create professional email addresses for yourself and your employees or blog contributors.
- Spam filters, because who wants spam?
- Automatic site backups to protect your site files as your website evolves and grows.
How Much Does A Website Cost?As versatile and powerful as websites are, they're also remarkably cost-effective compared to other marketing methods throughout history. For less than $5 per month you could get
- 5 pounds of feed for carrier pigeons (pigeons and messages not included).
- 50 large postcards to mail to prospective customers (postage not included).
- Your very own website with the potential to reach more than 3 billion internet users.
Do I Have to Pay for Web Hosting?Can you use a free hosting service instead of getting your web hosting? You can, but you're taking a risk that the free service may shut down your site if...
- you run afoul of their rules,
- people complain about your site, or
- something happens outside your control that takes the service offline.
Ready to set up your site?