Monday, March 20, 2017 by Kristen HicksBuilding a business website costs time and money. If your business has managed all right without one so far, it’s easy to make excuses to put off dealing with it. But could that procrastination be hurting you? If you’re still on the fence about whether or not building a website for your business is worth the time and money, here are a few signs that it’s time to take the plunge and get started.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017 by Casey Kelly-BartonHave you been thinking about starting your own business but aren’t sure where to begin? Or are you ready to start, if only you can find time to get everything into place? Here’s a checklist of some of our favorite services, apps, and other must-have tools to guide you through the basics, save you time, and help get your small business off to a good start. Every business is different, but in general, you’ll need:
1. Your business and sales tax permitsDepending on the rules where you live, you may need a business license from your city or county and/or a license from your state. The Small Business Administration lets you search by state to find what you’ll need for your particular business. If you plan to sell digital or physical goods, you may also need to apply for a sales tax permit.
2.Your EINIt only takes a few minutes to apply for a free Employer Identification Number (EIN) at the IRS website. The IRS requires an EIN for many types of businesses, and you can see a list of them here. Even if you’re not required to get an EIN, you can still apply for one. Using it in place of your personal Social Security Number in your business dealings can protect you against identity theft. Your bank may also require an EIN to open a business account.
3. Your business savings and checking accountsOnce you have your license and your EIN, you can set up business bank accounts. Even if you’re not dealing with a lot of money at first, having business accounts separate from your personal ones will save you bookkeeping and accounting headaches later. Look for a bank or credit union with low fees, good service, online bill paying, mobile banking, and a debit card for your business expenses.
4. Your business insuranceProtect your business from the start, especially if you’re a sole proprietor with unlimited liability. Talk to an agent you trust to see if you need additional coverage for your home office or professional liability coverage for the services you provide. If you have employees, you’ll be required to pay taxes toward unemployment insurance, too.
5. Your email marketing toolsEven businesses on a tiny budget should invest in good email marketing tools. One option we like is Constant Contact, which can help you quickly put together professional-looking emails, send them to all or part of your email list, and track responses. Speaking of email marketing…
6. Your email listYour list is the heart of your business. It’s the email addresses, personal information, and marketing preferences shared with you by your current customers and everyone else who’s opted in to get your emails. These are the people you’ll want to reach with your marketing emails and social media campaigns.
7. Your web hosting serviceYou need a business website so customers can find you, and you need someone to host that site. Your hosting service should have reliable uptime, good customer service, and the templates and extras you need. Not surprisingly, we’d humbly suggest using HostGator. Add on a backup service like CodeGuard to protect your site in case of data loss.
8. Your e-commerce toolsTo sell digital or physical goods online, you’ll need shopping cart software that’s easy to use, like Magento or Zencart. HostGator offers 1-click installs for both of these and several other e-commerce solutions. You’ll also need a service to process customers’ card payments – either a third-party service like PayPal or an independent credit card processor. Look into fraud prevention services, too, to screen transactions and prevent expensive chargebacks.
9. Your connectivityYour business internet and mobile service should be as reliable as possible. Shop around to find the options with the best speed, least downtime, and broadest coverage so you can work uninterrupted.
10. Your point of sale toolsIf your business sells goods at events or in a retail space, you’ll need an EMV-compliant card reader. Services like PayPal and Square offer inexpensive smartphone-plugin card readers. If you work with a card processor, you’ll need a durable point-of-sale terminal and software.
11. Your packing and shipping stuffThere’s nothing quite as satisfying as shipping a customer order out the door. It’s easier to do if you set up an account with the shipper of your choice, get a postal scale, and source your packing supplies before orders start coming in.
12. Your contractsAgencies and service businesses need a contract to use with clients or customers, to define everyone’s expectations and responsibilities. You can find DIY templates at RocketLawyer and LawDepot, but it’s always a good idea to have a trusted attorney review your contract before you use it.
13. Your task teamSometimes it pays to delegate small or specialized tasks so you can focus on other business matters. Services like Upwork can help you find people to tackle everything from data entry to product management. On days when you don’t have time to shop or run errands, Amazon Prime, Instacart, or TaskRabbit can help you out.
14. Your accounting softwareQuickBooks is what PC Magazine and Business News Daily recommend for small business accounting. It’s also what most small-business CPAs and bookkeepers use, so when you’re ready to outsource record keeping and tax preparation later on, it should be a smooth transition.
15. Your printing serviceYou’ll need professionally printed business cards to start and maybe more printed items later on. Online services like Vistaprint can store your designs so you can use them on other items later, like thank-you cards, product labels, and postcards for promotions.
16. Your professional connectionsGet to know your local and industry business groups to build your peer network, learn more about business ownership, exchange ideas and find mentors. Make connections with local business reporters and send them your press releases and updates. These are the basics to help you move your small business from idea to reality. What’s in your small business toolkit?
Sunday, March 5, 2017 by Kristen HicksDo you ever find yourself on a website that’s cluttered, hard to look at, or seems like it was designed in the 90s? Most people find themselves immediately skeptical of any information on a website like that. Whether or not it’s fair, we associate our experience of a website with how trustworthy the company is. 75% of users say they make a judgment about a company’s credibility based on their website. [bctt tweet="75% of users say they make a judgment about a company’s credibility based on their website." username="hostgator"] If the website itself doesn’t appear to be high-quality and well thought out, why would anyone believe the company’s work is any better? Your website is the main face of your business for most of your new prospects. You have to make a first impression that gives them every reason to believe your company is legitimate and trustworthy. That means creating a website that conveys professionalism.
8 Website Issues That Make You Look UnprofessionalIf you don’t want to lose your prospects’ trust the moment they land on your website, you need to avoid letting anything onto your site that looks sloppy or unprofessional. These are a few of the biggest offenders that could be losing you customers.
1. Bad designBad design can mean a lot of different things. It could mean your website’s design looks outdated. It could mean your home page is unattractive due to clutter, or that your navigation is unintuitive. Whether you have the kind of design problem that causes people to click away the moment they see the website, or the kind that makes them give up after a few seconds of not finding what they need, you have a problem. If you’re getting an alright amount of traffic but have high bounce rates or low conversion rates, then a bad design could be the culprit. What to do about it: Hire a designer. Fixing a design problem requires making an investment in a professional that knows how to design a professional-looking website. Spend some time looking for the right person or design firm. Look at samples of their work yourself and ask friends to do so as well. Do the websites they’ve designed before look attractive and professional? If you think your website looks good, yet are still concerned that it doesn’t seem to be doing its job, you may need a UX designer instead of a web designer. They’ll analyze your website in terms of the actions people take (or don’t) and what changes you need to make so that your website successfully urges people toward your goals. A UX project includes user testing, so you can be confident the website you end up with will be well designed to inspire action in your users.
2. Broken linksAny time one of your users lands on a dreaded 404 page, it means they aren’t finding what they need. And if they got to the error page through a link on your website, that disappointment definitely makes you look bad. Broken links are bound to happen over time as websites get updated and pages move, but you should make an active effort to avoid letting any remain on your website for long. Clicking on a link that doesn’t work every once in a while won’t necessarily lose you a prospect forever, but if they encounter multiple broken links? It makes you look sloppy. What to do about it: Find and fix all your broken links. The good news is that fixing broken links is pretty easy. There are free tools out there that will automate the process of finding all the broken links on your site so that all you have to do is go remove the link, or replace it with a URL that works. Make a habit out of looking for broken links every couple of months so you keep your website up to date.
3. Bad writingBad grammar, misspellings, and awkward wording all serve as distractions to someone trying to understand what you’re saying on your website. And worse, they tell your visitors that you couldn’t be bothered to proofread or hire an editor. If you didn’t bother with something as basic as that, they may well wonder what else you’re careless about in your business. But even if the grammar and spelling is mostly okay, you could still need to give your website writing a revisit. If you tried to get your website up without hiring a professional copywriter, then you probably didn’t choose the best wording to get your positioning across and drive action. Your words may be technically correct, but not make a clear case for why your visitors should want to work with you. Replacing your current copy with better wording on your website could quickly make your business more attractive to visitors and increase conversions. What to do about it: Proofread the whole website and consider hiring a copywriter. To start, do a read over of the whole website to look for minor errors and ways to improve the language that you can handle on your own. If your read over convinces you that your whole website needs a copy refresh, then look for a local copywriter or marketing agency to bring in and help you improve the writing across the website. Professional copy that’s both correct and persuasive can make a huge difference to how official your website feels and how good a job it does at convincing people to buy.
4. Outdated contentContent marketing usually consists of a mix of evergreen content and blog posts that are timely. If you wrote a blog post five years ago about a product that’s no longer around or highlighted industry news that’s become outdated, there’s no good reason to keep that information on your website. If someone happens upon your post without context, it could make you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about. What to do about it: Perform a content audit. Once a year or so, go back through all your old content to analyze:
- What content you should scrap.
- What content is fine to keep, but needs an update.
- What content works fine as is.
5. A bad mobile experienceNearly a third of all online shopping now happens on mobile devices. Businesses can no longer get away with not having a mobile-optimized website. If the visitors coming to your site from a mobile device have a bad experience, not only will they leave, but it also makes you look bad. At this point, they know you should know better. What to do about it: Invest in building a mobile version of your website. You already knew you should have a mobile-friendly version of your website, but if you’ve been dragging your feet on it, here’s a good reason to get it done. A website that doesn’t work on mobile makes you look unprofessional and is probably already losing you business. The good news is that if you’re already planning to hire a designer to help you improve your overall design based on our earlier suggestion, they should be able to create a mobile version of your website as part of the overall web design process.
6. Distracting adsNo matter how great your content is, if there are ads surrounding it that are distracting and make the page look cluttered, it will make your website feel cheap and unprofessional. It is possible to have ads on your website without it being a distraction that loses you credibility, but it’s tricky. If your visitors find the ads obnoxious, you’ll lose their attention and trust and the money you stand to make from the ads will come at a big cost. What to do about it: Either scrap them completely, or make sure your design minimizes how distracting they are. If you have a business model that makes it possible to do away with outside ads, then do so. If you need them to keep your website up, then make sure you design each page on your website in a way where the ads don’t detract from the information on the page. A clean design can go a long way toward keeping the ads from seeming like clutter. And whatever you do, make sure no ads are allowed that auto-play audio. Someone sitting in their office, at a library, or in a public place, will pretty much have to click away within seconds if their computer starts playing audio without warning, and many others will choose to out of annoyance. Don’t lose people based on an amateur mistake.
7. Stock imagesEvery website needs images and, we get it, stock images are the easiest option. But using stock photos won’t add much to your website and they may even hurt you. If customers see the same image on your website that they encountered on a less reputable site, that can subconsciously influence how much they trust you. People know stock images when they see them and, frankly, they just make you look lazy. What to do about it: Create original images. Original images take more time and work to create, but they convert 45% higher than stock photos. You can hire a professional photographer, or you can put some work into creating stock photos of your own. Buy some basic equipment, experiment some to get the best lighting, and you should be able to produce better photographs than the ones you find on stock image websites. Your visitors will notice the difference.
8. No httpsWith all the high-profile data hacks that have occurred in recent years, people are reasonably concerned about website security. Any website they hand sensitive information to, like a credit card number, has to earn their trust. The number one thing a business can do to show customers the website is secure is to have that https in the URL field for all pages that ask for sensitive information. Without it, savvy consumers will leave your website to find someone more secure to shop with. If you’re asking for financial information without having https, you’re putting all your customers at risk and giving them every reason not to trust you. What to do about it: Buy an SSL certificate or switch to a web hosting plan that provides one. This is probably the easiest problem to fix on the list. All you need to do is buy an SSL certificate for your website. Some web hosting plans even come with a private SSL included so you might consider if it’s time for a web hosting upgrade instead of buying a certificate outright. When you offer a secure website to your customers, you show them you’re a legitimate business they can trust. It’s a bare minimum for exhibiting the kind of professionalism customers count on. You can’t assume your business website will be perceived as a professional website just because it represents a business. You have to show visitors your professionalism from the moment they land on your website and earn their trust with every step they take once they’re there. That takes work and means putting some real care into how you present yourself on your website. But the trust you earn from your customers – and the profits that leads to –make it all worth it.
Friday, March 3, 2017 by Kristen HicksAt the end of a long day of work, what do you like to do with your time? If you frequently choose to spend your free time creating something, you could be missing an opportunity for extra income. A lot of creative hobbies produce items other people are actually willing to pay for. If you’re into knitting, woodworking, quilting, crafting, or sewing – you could be making things in your free time that you can sell at a profit. It does take some work to build a side business, so you have to be prepared to devote some time to it, but if your side business gets popular enough, you could potentially find yourself making enough to do it full time. If you want to see if your hobby can viably start to make you a profit, here are the steps to take to turn your hobby into a business.
Step 1: Research the market.To start, you want to confirm that there’s an interest for the type of product you’d be selling, and get a feel for the competitive landscape. Spend some time searching the internet for similar products. Use search engines, as well as online marketplaces like Etsy, to find examples of other people selling similar items. Take notes on which brands or sellers seem to be your closest competitors and what they typically charge. Looking at how your potential competition run their businesses can give you ideas on how to run yours. This is the step where you determine whether or not it’s worth turning your hobby into a business. You might find that the common costs for the items you make are too low for the amount of time you put into them. For example, if it takes you 10 hours and $10 in materials to knit a scarf and it looks like most people are selling them for $20 – your return might not make it worth the trouble to start selling your scarves. But if you see people selling them for $50 and seeming to get a good amount of customers (and you know you’d spend your free time knitting anyways), then continuing with the next few steps could pay off.
Step 2: Determine your pricing.Pricing is tough. You need to figure out a price that matches what people are willing to pay, but also makes you enough money to make it worth the trouble of turning your hobby into a business. The research you did in step one should help you with the first part of that equation. Knowing the prices other people charge gives you an idea of what people are willing to pay. You don’t want to be on the low end of that range, and you might be pushing it to aim for the high end. The brands charging the most are probably pretty well established and able to put a lot more time into their marketing. Decide if there’s a price somewhere in the middle that works for you. Consider the cost of materials and the other investments you’ll need to get a business going (more on that in a minute), and how much you’d need to make for your time in order for your profit to feel worth it.
Step 3: Decide on a brand name.Your brand name is the word or phrase people will think of when they think about your products or services. It can be your name, or you can come up with something that communicates what you do. Spend some time brainstorming possibilities and do some Googling to see if any of the names you’re considering are already taken. Ideally, you want to come up with something unique and memorable, that fits your personality.
Step 4: Purchase web hosting and register a domain.It’s 2017 and every business needs a web presence. Investing in a website for your business lets potential customers know you take this seriously. It inspires a level of trust they’re unlikely to feel with a brand that seems less established. Web hosting isn’t free, but you can get a good plan for just a few dollars a month.
Step 5: Build your website.Hiring someone to build a professional looking website will elevate how established your brand looks, but it can get expensive. If you want to keep it simple (and considering that we’re talking about monetizing a hobby here, you probably do), you can find templates and website builders that make it easy to put together a legitimate looking website on your own, for cheap or for free. Since you’ll be selling products through your website, you should make sure to invest in an eCommerce software to use on your website as well. These will let you list products, have a shopping cart on your site, and safely accept payments. Your website will be your brand’s face to the world, so make sure your put one together that you feel good about.
Step 6: Promote.You have your brand, you have your website, and you have your products. Now you need to let people know about them. Promote your new business on your social media profiles and to your friends. Over time, if you decide you want to take your business to the next level, start looking into further marketing methods, like SEO, content marketing, and paid advertising. To start, don’t let all that overwhelm you. It can come later if you decide you want to really grow your business. For now, focus on filling the first orders that come in and making sure your early customers receive stellar customer service. If they’re happy, they’ll do some of your promoting for you. The web has a way of making it sound easy to monetize everything. You know better. If it was easy to make money off a hobby, no one would have day jobs. Be prepared to put some work into this if you want it to pay off. But if you’re willing to spend some extra time in your available hours and invest some money into building a website, you could start profiting off of doing what you love.
Friday, February 24, 2017 by Henry GreenWant to work from home and live the dream? Of course you do! Or, are you aiming to earn some extra online cash on the side through your next brilliant idea? Sure! We live in what’s been dubbed the Gig Economy -- everybody’s got some kind of side hustle to make ends meet, and with big dreams of striking it HUGE. With instant access to powerful resources the web affords the entrepreneurial-minded with endless opportunities to earn money. There are now more than ever ways to be gainfully employed either full- or part-time through the web. If you’re motivated to earn some cash, it’s really only a matter of matching up your skills with which job suits you best. The web is your oyster! Make it count!
If you’ve got a knack for the written word…1. Social media manager Help business owners set up their social network profiles and use free tools like MySocialSuite to automate their posting schedules. 2. Blogger Write blog posts for time-starved business owners or marketers. Google Docs (also free) is probably your best bet for sharing and editing work. 3. eBook writer eBooks are awesome promotional and lead generation tools. If you can whip up some of these for clients, be ready to earn some mad cash! 4. Resume & cover letter writer/consultant Many people really struggle with this, so make it your job to help them get jobs. 5. Proofreader Make sure those t’s are crossed! Plenty of folks struggle with grammar and punctuation to keep you busy. Resources: Freelance Writing Gigs, Upwork, MediaBistro
If you’re the visual/techie creative type…6. Graphic designer For the artistically gifted who also dig tech, there’s tons of available online work. 7. Web designer Not many have an eye for creating sleek websites that grab attention and encourage customers to make a purchase. If you’ve got those skills, get started now! 8. Logo designer Most marketers or business owners don’t have the time nor the inclination to create a clever logo for their brand. Rescue them with your artistic prowess. 9. Memes, online ads, infographics, social media images Sell yourself as a well-rounded digital artist and you’ll finds all sorts of work! Use free image creators like Canva or Pixlr to dazzle your clients. Resources: 99Designs, Behance
If you’ve got a sense for fashion…10. Clothing designer Have a great catchphrase that belongs on a t-shirt/cap/mug you swear everyone will buy? Design it yourself! 11. Fashion blogger/Instagrammer Share your #OutfitoftheDay. Build a big enough following and you'll attract sponsors. Resources: CafePress, HostGator Blog Hosting
If you’re crafty and dig fine arts…12. Online shop owner Create awesome homemade stuff and sell it! Jewelry, clothing, paintings, plus all of the crafts. Resources: Etsy, HostGator Business Hosting
If you’ve got some extra offline time…13. Household helper Do laundry, help people pack and move, drive ‘em around, go grocery shopping, pick up dry cleaning, and more. 14. Virtual assistant Be a professional Jack or Jill of all trades and help individuals or companies manage administrative tasks. 15. Online nerd consultant Are you a brilliant business guru? Advise companies and set them up for success. Resources: TaskRabbit, Lyft, Uber, Zirtual, PeoplePerHour, Fiverr, HourlyNerd
If you know how to ABC (always be closing)...16. Affiliate marketer Partner up with some quality affiliate programs (pssst...HostGator has one) and get a percentage of what you sell. This can work great if you’re already using the products you’re selling. Then you can readily speak to how great they are. Resources: WordPress plugins, Affiliorama, Smart Affiliate Marketing Strategies
If you’re a natural born teacher…17. Online tutor or SAT prep master Help individual students in various subjects, or help many at once by preparing them for nerve-wracking standardized tests. Resources: Tutor.com, Get Educated So, please think fondly of us when one of these online gigs makes you rich and famous, or at least rich. Have you claimed your piece of the gig economy? Share your experience and what you do in the comments!