Thursday, July 6, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
Taking Your Online Store from Website to Brick-and-Mortar BusinessFor years, brick-and-mortar businesses heard constant admonishments to move online. Within the past few years, the idea of having a business without a website has come to seem absurd. But now, just within the last year or two, an entirely different and surprising trend has come onto the scene: online-only businesses expanding their offline presence. Take Warby Parker, for example. The online store for glasses managed to establish a brand reputation and grow a customer base entirely online over the last few years. Recently, they’ve begun opening storefronts all across the nation for customers who like the idea of browsing for glasses in person. Wired, the technology magazine and online store, has started opening up a pop-up store in New York each winter for technology enthusiasts doing their Christmas shopping. Even a brand that’s entirely focused on the technological and online worlds has seen the benefits of moving into the offline space in this particular context. And Amazon, (arguably) the king of online commerce, has drawn attention this year for plans to open a number of types of physical stores selling groceries, electronics, and – going back to their roots – books. If you feel like your online store is due for an expansion, it might be time to consider if you want to take the bold, but potentially smart step of moving part of your business offline.
Benefits of Expanding an Online Business OfflineWhen we’ve all seen stories of retailers facing lost profits or even going out of business due to the competition of online shopping, it feels unintuitive - risky, even - to consider going the brick-and-mortar route. Yet, it does provide some tangible, meaningful benefits.
1. You can meet customers in person.Shopping online – just like running a business online – is extremely convenient. However, it takes one part out of the equation that a lot of people find meaningful: meeting with a person face to face. Being able to chat with a customer in person, offer them helpful advice and answer questions on the spot creates a more personal and meaningful experience for both of you. When a customer can put a face to the name and has a picture that pops to their mind every time they think of the brand, their relationship to your company will be stronger because of that personal connection.
2. You’ll reach a new audience.While nearly 80% of all people in the United States say they shop online, 65% of people still prefer the experience of shopping in a physical store. Many shoppers like being able to browse a number of items and see them up close before making a decision to buy. The experience of in-store shopping is something that just isn’t the same online. By branching out into a physical store, you can reach a set of people unlikely to find you online, where getting found is extremely competitive. You may well earn some new customers to your online store who were finally able to find you only after your opened an offline location.
3. It gives customers an easier way to try things on.This point doesn’t apply to every type of online business, but if you sell clothes, shoes, jewelry, or anything else people wear, the ability for customers to try the items on to see how they look is an important part of the shopping experience. Granted, when people order clothes online, they can send back anything that doesn’t fit, but that adds extra effort to the process (for both the customer and your fulfillment team). Being able to see how an item looks and fits before buying is a valuable part of the experience for many shoppers.
3 Forms Offline Businesses Can TakeThink that expanding your online business into a physical location could make sense for you? Here are a few ways to do it.
1. A Physical StorefrontThe most common and traditional option is setting up a storefront for your business. If you think about most of the stores you regularly go to when shopping, this is most likely the type of physical business they have. What are the advantages of a physical storefront? To set up a storefront, you have to identify an available space to rent, fill it in with furniture, decorate it to match your brand, and then stock it with your products. When you have a consistent storefront location, you can make the changes needed to the space to make it suitable to your brand and products. It also makes it easy for loyal customers to know where to return when they want to buy more. What are the cons? The main downside to starting a storefront for your business is cost. Renting a space for a storefront is expensive. Making any updates to the space you feel are important to making it fit your needs is expensive as well. And hiring people to help you run it and wait on customers is another big expense. If your storefront doesn’t attract enough customers, then you’ll have a hard time breaking even.
2. A Pop-up ShopIf you’re not quite ready for the long-term commitment of a storefront, you can start smaller. Pop-up shops are temporary stores that set up in vacant spaces. You’d still need to identify and rent out a particular space for your store, but you'll only have the space for a few weeks. What are the advantages of a pop-up shop? This option allows you to try out different areas of town – reaching different customers as you go. It’s more affordable, less permanent, and can help you test out whether or not having a physical location makes sense for you. It’s also a smart option for any business whose sales peak at a particular season. If you primarily sell bathing suits, then just having a physical store in the summer will make more sense for your business than having one year round. What are the cons? The main downside of pop-up shops in comparison to storefronts is that you lose out on some of the consistency of repeat business. People who visit once and like you are less likely to come back if you won’t be in the same place next time you’re in the area. And it makes promoting your physical location a bit trickier if you're always moving around. Nonetheless, pop-up shops are becoming more common for businesses that sell seasonal wares, wish to take advantage of big events that attract a lot of people, or simply want to test the waters of having a storefront without making the long-term commitment.
3. Booth at a Flea Market or Street FairAn even more low-stakes option than a pop-up shop is setting up shop in a flea market or street fair. What are the advantages of a booth? This option can be great for some types of businesses – particularly those that sell items of the sort people are likely to be looking for when they go to a street fair. Businesses focused on clothes, jewelry, furniture, crafts, or artisan items like handmade soap are all likely to do well here. And the costs of going this route are much less than those of setting up a space of your own. Plus, you’ll gain access to all the people who come to the fair or market specifically to shop – in other words, you reach an audience ready to spend money. What are the cons? With a booth, you can capitalize on the marketing done by the market or fair and the crowds they bring in. But in exchange, you’re surrounded by a lot of competition also vying for those customers. If you want to start with a relatively low-cost, low-risk way of branching into the offline world for your business, research your local flea markets or street fairs to see if one might be a fit.
Tips for an Effective Transition from Online to OffThere are both a lot of differences and a lot of similarities between running an online and offline business well. If your online business is doing well, then you already have some of the most important stuff down: good products, good UX, and good customer service, for example. To make sure your offline business is just as successful, there are a few tips you should follow to handle the transition.
1. Keep your online brand alive and well.There’s no reason to give up on what’s already working. If your online business is thriving, treat your offline expansion as an additional component of the business rather than a replacement. Keep your current staff and policies in place and hire any additional staff you need to manage the physical location, so you don’t risk getting overwhelmed and putting both facets of your business – online and offline – at risk.
2. Research the best location for reaching your audience.For a brick-and-mortar business to succeed, the location has to be right. In most cases, no one’s going to drive far out of their way to come to your storefront. You want your business to be located in place where your customers will find it while out and about shopping for similar things. It should be convenient for them to return whenever they want to come back. Also think about practical issues like parking and how easy it is to see your business from the road. Your business will perform better if people can access your location without any extra effort.
3. Make sure your physical location is on brand.You want anyone familiar with your online brand to be able to immediately make the connection between your physical location and the brand they know. Your name and products will already be the same, but also be sure to use the same colors and logo and instill the same customer service philosophy in your employees at the physical location. Every experience a customer has at your physical store will now influence their view of your online brand. You want that to be a good thing.
4. Use your offline presence to promote your online presence (and vice versa).Every customer that likes your brick-and-mortar store is in the target audience for your online store. Likewise, any online customer that’s located close to your physical store could be interested in checking it out. Use your website to promote your physical location, and let the customers that visit your physical store know about your website. You can even sweeten the deal for regular online customers by offering a discount when they shop at the offline store, as a way to get more people through the door in those first weeks and months. Ecommerce is still a big part of how people will be browsing and shopping in the future, but the brands likely to perform the best in the coming years will be those that figure out how to thrive both online and in person.
Monday, June 19, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
Create a Press Release for your Local BusinessIn the right context, a press release can be a powerful tool for bringing new attention to your business and can help you gain connections with local news outlets that bring more value over time. In the wrong context, they can make you look like a nuisance and make people more likely to ignore your future press releases. Local businesses should definitely include press releases in their marketing plan, but you have to be careful about how you do so.
When to Use a Press ReleaseThe main purpose of a press release is to alert journalists of something newsworthy so they might cover the news for their readers. Your audience here is different than the one you focus on for most of your marketing efforts. A piece of news your customers may be interested in, like a sale coming up, wouldn’t be something a reporter is likely to care about. As with any type of marketing move, you need to think of your audience when considering a press release. Ask yourself if the news you’re announcing is actually the kind of thing you ever see covered in your local papers (remember to include business sections and papers in this – they’ll be one of your key targets for press releases). If you can honestly answer yes to that question, then it’s worth proceeding with a press release. To give you an idea of the types of topics that usually make a good press release for local businesses, here are a few examples:
- A new product release
- Important hires (like a new CEO)
- Opening a new location
- Winning an award
- A charity drive
- Community partnerships
How to Craft a Press ReleaseYou want your press release to make it as easy as possible for any journalist or reporter reading it to glean all the information they need, and know where to go next if they want more.
Start with a template, but make it your own.Press releases often take on a standard format and that’s ok – it helps readers know where to look for the information they want. For that reason, it can be smart to start with a press release template that helps you get the structure right. Just make sure you update everything in the template to make it relevant to your own business and news.
Spend some real time on the headline.For the most part, a press release headline isn’t a place to try to be catchy or clever. Your main focus should be clarity. You want anyone skimming to quickly be able to tell what the press release is about and decide if it’s relevant to them. That doesn’t mean your headline has to be dry and boring, but don’t sacrifice clarity in the name of trying to make it more interesting. Something like Acme Launches Charity Drive to Help Pay for Local School Lunches would be better than How One Local Company Hopes to Help Students. The latter might fly on social media, but it’s too vague for a press release.
Don’t bury the lede.Put the most important information right up top. Don’t make anyone read too far to learn what you have to say. There are some types of content where saving the most important or interesting piece of information for last can make sense as a way to keep your audience reading or watching, but for press releases, you’re writing for busy journalists who make quick decisions about whether or not a story is a good fit for their publication and audience. You want to make it as easy as possible to find the information they need to make that decision.
Include a good quote or two.Some reporters who choose to cover a story they see in a press release will reach out to get more information. Others will want to cover it based entirely on what’s included in the press release itself. To give them more to work with, have a couple of quotes from someone in your company that speak to the importance or value of the news you’re announcing.
Include your website and contact information.For those who do want to collect more information, make it easy for them to know where to go next. Include your website, as well as information on how to get in touch if they have further questions.
How to Distribute a Press ReleaseOnce your press release is written (and proofread), you need to work on getting it in front of people.
Use distribution platforms.Distribution platforms like PRNewswire and PR.com can help you get your news in front of a wide audience fairly quickly. Submitting your press release to these platforms is pretty quick and easy, so it’s worth doing, but it’s not the most effective way to reach the people most likely to cover your story, so don’t stop there.
Reach out to local publications and journalists.This is the most important step to getting the kind of coverage your press release is designed to encourage. Research local publications that may be interested in your news and try to identify the writers working there that most consistently cover similar topics. Then send your press release specifically to them. This more targeted approach will ensure you get the attention of the right contacts – the ones who spend time actively looking for information like what you’ve included in your press release. If they like what they see, it can lead to a story about your business and be the beginning of a relationship you can continue into the future.
Promote on your own platforms.Post it on your website and share it to your social network. If what you’re doing is newsworthy enough for the press, it’s probably something you want your customers and prospects to hear about as well, so promote away.
Should You Hire a PR Person?It’s possible to craft and distribute press releases without the help of a PR professional, but someone who’s been working in the field for a while will possess certain skills and knowledge that can ensure your press release goes further faster and does more for your company. They can save you the time and energy of having to learn to write a good press release from scratch. And most importantly, they probably already know some of the people you want to reach and how to frame your release just right to capture their interest. If the news you’re sharing is important and you really want it to get the attention you feel it deserves, a PR consultant will likely be a worthwhile investment. Press releases have been overused and abused by businesses in the past, but when you actually use them for their intended purposes, they can really pay off. When your business really does have something big and important to announce, use a press release to make sure everyone that needs to can hear about it.
Monday, June 5, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
The Q&A Guide to Personal BrandingJob seekers, freelancers, and entrepreneurs hear a lot about the importance of building a personal brand. But what, exactly, does “personal brand” really mean, how much does it matter, and how do you go about creating yours? The answers to these questions and more are in this FAQ Guide to Personal Branding.
Personal Branding Basics
1. Isn't my personal brand the same thing as my portfolio, reputation, or professional image?Kind of. Your personal brand includes all those elements plus a few more, like your ability to build rapport with other people and to communicate the value only you can bring to a job or a project.
2. Do I really need a personal brand?Everyone has a personal brand, whether they manage it or not. That's because other people, including people who might hire or recommend you, form impressions of the quality of your work, your work ethic, your interpersonal skills and more when they see you or your work online. Your personal brand is out there. The real question is whether you're making it work for you.
3. If my personal brand already exists, what is it?To answer this question, you'll need to audit your brand, which is not as taxing as it sounds. Start by looking at the professional and personal information that recruiters, potential clients, and hiring managers can find about you online. What are your top Google search results? What images are associated with your name? How many of your social media and forum posts can the general public see? Is there media coverage of your work and accomplishments? Next, look at what other people say about you and your work. How do your references describe your skills? Are there online reviews for your business? If past employers or clients have given you LinkedIn recommendations, is there a theme running through them about reliability, creativity, or some other positive trait? What do your mentors or academic advisors say about your skills? Finally, look at your existing work. Can employers and clients find your portfolio online? Is it easy to view and does it truly represent your best work? Taken together, all of these views—the information anyone can find about you, what peers and mentors say about you, and what your work says about you—make up your personal brand. For example, let's say Jane is a costume designer who turns up in a lot of Google searches and social media posts alongside stage actors wearing her Elizabethan-style creations in Shakespeare productions. Her LinkedIn is filled with recommendations that praise the authenticity, wearability, and durability of her historical costumes. And her website includes a video portfolio of her costumes onstage, a link to a local museum exhibit of some of her work, and photos from a sewing class she teaches at a local community center. From all this, we gather that Jane is creative, detail-oriented, highly skilled, and community-minded. As brands go, Jane's is a good one—depending on what she wants her brand to achieve.
Personal Brand Uses
1. What if my personal brand doesn't match what I want to do professionally?If our hypothetical Jane wants to develop her career in historical stage costuming, she's on the right track. However, if she's hoping to move into high-tech costuming with LED lights and robotic components, she's going to have to adjust her branding to show prospective clients and theater companies that she's right for that type of work. Once Jane knows what she wants to do, she can set goals for her brand. Let's say she wants to get hired to combine her love of robotics and costumes for the stage. So she starts sharing photos from a robotics class she's taking on her Instagram account, which she links to her website. Maybe she chats on Twitter with makers who build the types of gadgets she wants to work with and collaborates with them on some experimental designs. By adding those experiences to her personal brand, she's in a better position to show prospective clients that she knows how to do that work, which will make landing those new clients easier. Those gigs, in turn, will become part of her portfolio to help move her brand in the direction she wants it to go.
2. How can I use my personal brand to drive business traffic without selling all the time?Be your (best) self. Your personal brand can and should relate to your business, but it should be also be where your share the causes, hobbies, and interests that make your life uniquely yours. For example, personal finance isn't an exciting topic to most people, and there are plenty of experts selling systems, advice, and planning tools. What sets someone like author and consultant Ramit Sethi apart from the personal finance crowd is his social media presence. Sethi's posts are an eclectic mix of life advice, how-to guides, posts on his interest in fitness, and odd emails and success stories from his readers. This blend of personal and business posts helps build rapport. It's also more interesting to his audience than constant reminders to fund your 401k.
3. Does a personal brand matter if I'm launching a startup?Yes, indeed. Make your experience and previous successes the main elements in your personal branding to show potential investors, employees and vendors that you know what you're doing. Richard Branson, for example, has such a long history of business wins and such a positive social media presence that any venture he invests in gets a boost in buzz along with his cash. Like Sir Richard, you can use social media to talk about what you've learned from your successes, mistakes, and mentors. You can also give credit to the people who've worked for you and who've inspired you—a good way to signal to prospective employees that you'll give them their due.
4. Does my personal brand have to be business-focused to be effective?Not necessarily. Consider Oprah Winfrey. There's no question she's among the most successful businesswomen ever, but business skill is not the main theme of her personal brand. Oprah's life and career are a master class in a different approach to personal branding—one based on emotional resilience, generosity and empathy. Her rise from poverty and abuse to billionaire is an inspirational story, and her experiences have given her the ability to make her audience feel that she understands them and wants them to succeed. If you've faced obstacles on your path to success, consider talking about them. Share what you've learned to encourage other people in your field or target audience who face similar challenges.
Building Your Personal Brand Website
1. What domain name should I use for my personal website?Ideally, your personal website URL will be your full name with a .com top-level domain, because it makes you easy to find and because .com is still the most trusted top-level domain. If your name .com isn't available, choose a variation that includes your name, if possible.
2. What information should my personal website include?There are five basic elements your site needs to be effective as a marketing or job-search tool:
- Contact information. Make getting in touch easy. Put your preferred phone number and/or email address above the fold on each page of your site.
- Your portfolio or resume, or both. Present your best work in the way that makes the most sense for what you do. If you're a videographer, embedded videos are an obvious choice. If you're a still photographer or graphic designer, make your images easy to browse. If you're a writer, include links to live articles online or PDFs of your print work.
- An “about me” section. Include a short professional bio, some background on your hobbies, interests, and charitable causes, and maybe even a list of people or places that inspire you. The keys here are to keep the section brief and fun to read and to relate your “about me” information to your personal brand. Jane, our would-be robotic costume designer, will likely include information here about robotics challenges she's participated in, classes she's taken, and collaborations she's done with other costumers and robotics pros.
- A blog. Regular posts on topics related to your interests and work can help you build a rapport with your audience – especially if you reply to reader comments and reach out to other bloggers with interests similar to yours. Not much of a writer? Consider adding a video blog, a podcast, or a photo of the day instead of text-heavy posts.
- At least one photo or video of you. A professionally done headshot is a worthwhile investment. If you're an outgoing person, the new trend of short video headshots may be perfect for you
3. How often should I update my personal website?You'll do better in search results if you update your site often, which is important if you have a common name. A blog on your site makes it easy to add fresh content. You can also update your portfolio whenever you finish a great project, and add new charitable work or interests to your “about me” page. At least once a year, look at your site on a live preview tool like Google's Mobile-Friendly Test to make sure it meets current responsive display standards. If your site looks bad in the preview or is rated “not mobile friendly,” choose a newer, better optimized template for your site.
4. Isn't this a lot of work for a site that doesn't even sell anything?Maybe, but your personal brand and your personal site can lay the groundwork for you to get hired, find clients, or raise investment capital. That's because before people do business with you, they want to know something about you, understand your skills and interests, and see your talent or expertise for themselves. When you manage them well, a strong personal brand and a good website can go a long way toward building your career.
Monday, June 5, 2017 by Kristen HicksAnyone that has their own business is an entrepreneur, but that one simple term encompasses a wide variety of experiences and business types. There are so many different types of entrepreneurs, that many terms have been coined to describe the different modes of entrepreneurship. If you’re an entrepreneur, chances are there’s at least one additional and more specific term you can claim as well. Here are some of the most popular types of –preneurs you can be.
The SolopreneurDefinition: A solopreneur is any entrepreneur with a one-person business. Solopreneurs go by many names – freelancers, independent contractors, and self-employed are some of the most common you’ll hear. While some solopreneurs hire other contractors to help, solopreneurs generally run their businesses based on supplying the kinds of services or products that one person can provide on their own. This is a popular business choice since it provides independence, solopreneurs can usually work from anywhere, and it requires lower startup costs than running a business that requires employees. Recommended Reading: How to Become a Freelancer Making the Move to Full-Time Freelancing? 7 Steps for Success
The InfopreneurDefinition: An infopreneur is someone who bases their business on selling information products. Infopreneurs sell things like courses and ebooks, rather than physical products or services. As with being a solopreneur (and many infopreneurs are also solopreneurs), infopreneurship is a popular choice for new entrepreneurs looking for a business model with low startup costs. Recommended Reading: Become an Infopreneur 3 Keys to Creating Successful Information Products
E-preneurDefinition: E-preneurs are entrepreneurs who have businesses based entirely online. Also called online entrepreneurs, this category has a lot of overlap with the others on the list. It includes entrepreneurs that sell SaaS products, those that sell information products entirely online, and many solopreneurs that sell online services like social media consulting. As more and more of our lives move online, there’s more opportunity for entrepreneurs to create online products people need that can be sold and bought from anywhere with an internet connection. Recommended Reading: How to Start an Online Business How to Get Your eCommerce Website Up and Running
MompreneurDefinition: Mompreneurs are entrepreneurs that are also moms who run their business alongside childcare duties. Mompreneurs usually start businesses in order to be able to stay home with their kids. They often market their products or services to other mothers, although that’s not always the case. There’s a big overlap in this category with solopreneurs and e-preneurs. Recommended Resources: The Mompreneur Show Productivity Tips for Busy Working Moms
SocialpreneurDefinition: A socialpreneur is an entrepreneur with a business model based on providing some kind of social good in the world. If your goal in entrepreneurship is less about profit than changing the world for the better, then you’re probably a socialpreneur. Socialpreneurs make a point of selling products that are sustainably and humanely made and often provide a portion of their profits to a charitable cause. They usually highlight their social mission in their marketing and make it a key part of their positioning. Recommended Reading: Are You a Socialpreneur? 5 Essential Strategies for Becoming a Socialpreneur
EcopreneurDefinition: An ecopreneur is an entrepreneur who either builds a business based on providing eco-friendly products and services, or commits to running their business in a sustainable and environmentally friendly fashion. Ecopreneurs are a subset of socialpreneurs but, in a culture that’s increasingly concerned about climate change and environmentalism, they’re a big enough category to include here as well. You’ll also hear ecopreneurs called green entrepreneurs or eco-entrepreneurs. Recommended Reading: Are You an Ecopreneur? How to Become a Successful Ecopreneur?
MultipreneurDefinition: Multipreneurs are entrepreneurs who have multiple businesses or business projects going at once. Many entrepreneurs have too many ideas to stop at one business and decide to branch into several fields or pursue multiple business ideas. If being an entrepreneur requires a good deal of work and energy, being a multipreneur requires the same in spades, so it’s definitely not for every one. But for the entrepreneurs that start to get antsy once they have one business idea off the ground, becoming a multipreneur is the natural next step. Recommended Reading: What is a Multipreneur? 7 Key Traits it Takes to Be a Multipreneur Did we miss one? Let us know what type of entrepreneur you are in the comments below!