Monday, January 8, 2018 by Casey Kelly-Barton
Thursday, December 21, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
10 New Year's Resolutions for Small Business OwnersCongratulations! Your business has made it through another year intact. When you’re a small business owner, that’s no small feat. But even if last year was your best yet (and especially if it wasn’t), you know there’s always room to be better. The end of a year is a good time both to celebrate your successes so far, and to look for ways to improve upon what you did last year. To make the most out of the year to come for your business, commit some time at the beginning of the year to working on resolutions that will make your business better. Here are ten New Year’s resolutions to consider in 2018.
1. Review and update your business plan.Every small business must be guided by a business plan. If you’ve been at this for a while already, then you know how important that is. But how often do you go back to revisit your plan and make sure that it’s up to date and you’re sticking to it? The beginning of a new year is a good time to pull up the most recent version of your business plan to see if your earlier goals and planning are still in line with what you want for the year to come. Chances are, you’ll want to make some changes based on new trends or technology and on your analysis of results from last year. Your business plan doesn’t have to be set in stone, but simply the practice of sitting down to review and update it will help you go into the next year with a more clear and defined idea of what your priorities are and how to best to achieve your goals.
2. Consider your staffing needs for the New Year.The people who work for you are one of the most important parts of small business success. But you don’t want to get complacent and assume the few good people you’ve hired already are all you need. If any of your current staff are overwhelmed, it’s probably time to hire more employees to help spread the work around. And if you’ve decided to tackle new initiatives, you’ll need to look for people with the skill sets required to take the new projects on. A strong team of employees is hard to overestimate. While bringing new employees onto the team can be expensive, if they help your business run better and achieve more success into the year to come, then it’s important to take the plunge and build out your ranks. Take time to talk to your current employees and really analyze where your needs are. If you determine new hires are needed, get to work putting together some job ads and starting your search.
3. Check in with your customers.Employees are one of the most important parts of small business success; your customers are the other. Your business won’t get anywhere without people buying your products. It’s important not just that you have customers (obviously), but that you work to understand who they are, why they buy from you, and what their experience with your business is. To do that, you have to listen to them. Send out customer surveys to get their input. Encourage feedback on every purchase and customer service interaction and make sure you follow through on reviewing it and doing something with it. Commit in the coming year to making customer feedback and outreach a priority and put specific plans in place to make it happen. Your business will only get stronger and more successful for putting customer experience first.
4. Revisit your pricing.Pricing isn’t something that you should set once and be done with. Every so often, you should revisit what you’re charging now and consider if you should raise or lower your prices. If your brand has gotten stronger in the last year and your sales have increased steadily, you may be able to easily bump your prices up without losing sales. On the other hand, if a cheaper competitor entered the market and is taking a lot of your old customers, then bringing your pricing down may be warranted. Do price testing to get a feel for how your customers respond to different pricing levels and configurations. Changing your pricing always involves a little risk, but if you determine it’s the right choice after testing and careful consideration, it could mean higher profits in the year to come.
5. Look into new software solutions.Small businesses depend on a wide range of software products to make various business tasks easier and more effective. While software itself is never a full solution – how you and your employees use it will always make a big difference – the right tech products can make your business more efficient and enable you to tackle new initiatives. As you head into the New Year, review your current tech products to confirm whether or not they’re working well for your needs now. If they are, you may not need to change or replace any of what you’re using now, but if your employees find the software you have now hard to use or feel there’s missing functionality they really need, then it’s time to look at your other options. In addition to figuring out which of your current software products should stay and which should go, look into the tech options available for functions you haven’t tried yet. Maybe you’ve been thinking about starting to use marketing automation or customer personalization, but haven’t taken the plunge to invest in the tools you need to start. Don’t rush into any business tech decisions, but do start to identify your needs and interests moving forward, and start researching the best options for meeting them.
6. Create a customer review policy.Customer reviews can make or break small businesses. With so many places online where customers can check reviews before making a decision to buy, your online reputation is largely dependent on what the customers who feel like reporting back on their experience have to say about you. That means it’s crucial that you pay attention to the reviews your customers leave and care about what they have to say. If you don’t have one yet, use the beginning of the New Year to create a customer review policy for your customer service team to follow. Commit to reading every review and responding. Good reviews should receive a “thank you” message, while bad reviews should receive an attempt to fix whatever the reviewer’s unhappy about. There will be cases where there’s not much you can do to fix the problem in a bad review, but assess each case and do what you can. Beyond responding in the moment though, make a plan for doing something with the information the reviews provide. Good reviews tell you what you’re doing right and help you reward your employees for a job well done, and even bad reviews have value in teaching you how to improve. If you find trends in the feedback people give, turn those into action items to make your business better in the year to come.
7. Improve your marketing plan.We’ve already talked about updating your business plan, but don’t forget to revisit your marketing plan as well. Every year brings new marketing trends and channels for businesses to consider, so you should always take time to consider which marketing tactics you want to employ in the coming year. Look to your marketing analytics to determine which of your current campaigns and tactics are providing the best results. You’ll likely want to change up your current marketing mix based on what’s working the best for you now. But also consider if it’s time to branch into new online marketing tactics. If you feel like you’re lagging in SEO results, it might be time to start a content marketing program. Or if your content isn’t being seen enough, it might be time to look into guest posting or native advertising. The beginning of the New Year is a good time to get adventurous and think about trying something new.
8. Do a website review.Whether you run an ecommerce business or have a physical shop that your website helps promote, your website is the main way people will interact with your business online. You’ve got to keep it up to date and working well. If you haven’t had a website redesign in a while, take some time now to do a thorough review of your website. Test out how it works both on desktop on mobile. Do user testing to make sure it’s intuitive for your customers. Look for issues like broken links or images that no longer show up. It can be easy after a while to think you can let your website run on autopilot, but the longer you go without doing proper maintenance to make sure it’s working as it should, the more little issues will accrue that cause your visitors to have a negative experience. Make a good, thorough website review one of your New Year’s resolutions.
9. Beef up your security.We’re not talking about hiring intimidating security guards here. Your customers trust you with their personal financial information; making sure you do everything in your power to keep that information safe is a big responsibility that you owe them. Every year, hackers are getting more sophisticated and we get more news about big data breaches that put consumers at risk and damage business reputations. Just because your business is small doesn’t mean you’re not a target. Take basic precautions to keep your networks and secure information safe.
10. Get more locally involved.Small businesses have a lot to give to their local communities, and local communities have a lot to give back. That’s often true even if you’re an ecommerce business. The city where you’re based likely has professional organizations, networking get-togethers, and local events you can benefit from getting involved with. Get out there and make connections with other businesses in your community. Speak at local events. Seek out mutually beneficial partnerships. And consider local causes you can donate or otherwise contribute to. Becoming part of the community will only make your business stronger.
Happy New Year!Even if last year was a good year for your small business, it’s worth making an effort to make this one better. Commit to a few good New Year’s resolutions and make 2018 your best year yet.
Thursday, December 14, 2017 by Kevin Wood
7 Successful Entrepreneurs Who Got Started OnlineAs an online entrepreneur, you can always benefit from more inspiration and motivation. As Tony Robbins says, “success leaves clues.” By looking at and learning from the successes of others we can all shorten our success curves and reach our goals much faster. Below we profile seven top online entrepreneurs who have excelled across a range of industries. All of the people listed below have built successful online businesses from scratch, all while teaching their audiences everything they know.
1. Tim FerrissTim Ferriss rocketed to the top of the entrepreneurial charts with the success of his book The Four Hour Workweek. He’s one of the big reasons that a lot of people have taken the plunge into online entrepreneurship to being with. His blog is filled with practical advice about the path of entrepreneurship along with various personal growth and life optimization topics. He also hosts a super popular podcast called the Tim Ferriss Show, which is equally valuable. Whether you’re looking for ways you can improve your life, or want to learn insider secrets about success in business and life, he’s someone worth following.
2. Pat FlynnThe goal of Pat Flynn’s work is to help other people create passive-income driven online businesses. Along with being a published author, he runs the Smart Passive Income blog and related podcast. He’s truly one of the most helpful bloggers in the online space and shares the nitty gritty details of everything he does, so you can achieve the same levels of success. His blog features a huge supply of wisdom about starting your own online business, along with a series of courses and other goodies.
3. Marie ForleoMarie Forleo runs an online powerhouse of inspiration and business wisdom. Dubbed a thought leader of the next generation by Oprah, Marie knows what she’s talking about. Her work caters to people looking to build a passion-filled business and a passion-filled life. She offers a variety of educational materials on Marie TV and her blog, including a variety of courses dedicated to starting an online business you love. If you’ve been looking for a steady supply of inspiration that’ll help you level up your life and business, then start by consuming all the free content Marie’s put out.
4. Andrew WarnerAndrew Warner is a successful online entrepreneur who turned his sights on towards entrepreneurial education. He currently runs the site Mixergy where he inspires budding entrepreneurs with passion and know-how, that they can then take and apply to their businesses. For more on their mission, check out this page and scroll to the bottom. It's pretty inspiring stuff. If you’re looking to learn from a wide variety of successful mentors, then Mixergy is an incredible place to start. You’ll encounter a wide range of entrepreneurs you can learn from, so you'll be sure to get some takeaways that apply to your own niche.
5. Nathan ChanNathan Chan runs Foundr, which started as a small digital entrepreneur magazine and has since grown into a media empire. Foundr offers a wide range of courses, content, podcast interviews, and a lot more that are all oriented to help you start and grow a profitable business. Foundr is unique in that it caters to entrepreneurs of all levels, from those with nothing but the burning desire to start a business, all the way up to established business owners. As an online entrepreneur, your education should never stop, and Foundr is an excellent resource to keep by your side every step of the way.
6. Joanna PennJoanna Penn runs the site The Creative Penn, where she teaches budding writers how to create their own writing empires. If you’re a writer at heart, then her work can help you establish a profitable and fulfilling career as an author or blogger. There are tons of resources out there to help take you from struggling to profitable, and Penn's resources are some of the best. Whether you’re looking to grow your career as a fiction or nonfiction writer, you’ll find something for you. Another unique thing about her work is the focus on mindset. As any kind of entrepreneur, your mindset will make or break your success. By focusing on optimizing your mindset, you’ll make the path to achieving your dreams much more likely and a lot more enjoyable.
7. Glen AllsoppGlen Allsopp is probably best known for his blog Viperchill, which provides cutting-edge blogging, online marketing, and SEO advice. However, he also runs a six-figure marketing agency and a variety of other projects like Detailed.com. The core of his work is to cut through the noise of online marketing and provide you with techniques that actually work. He also regularly shares niche ideas and advice of how he would approach creating new websites and online companies. If you’re just getting started online and the thought of running a profitable website excites you, then his work is definitely worth checking out.
ConclusionHopefully, some of the individuals above have peaked your interest. The list above is by no means a definitive list, but instead a jumping off point to find new industry leaders that you can learn from and help your business grow. Who are some of your favorite online successes you turn to for valuable insight and inspiration? Please share in the comments below.
Monday, December 4, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
9 Tips for Enjoying Success With Your E-commerce SiteStarting an online store is a business decision and a bit of a leap of faith. Will your carefully researched target audience respond to your offers? Will customers buy what you think they'll buy, as often as you expect they will? Will your order, checkout, and shipping processes run smoothly? Will customer reviews boost or tank your online reputation? There's no single formula for online store success, but there are some best practices that can raise your chances of success. Here are nine of the many things successful online stores do, and why they matter.
1. They make their stores easy to navigate on smartphones.By now almost every online store has some features to make it smartphone-user friendly. But that just means the bar for a great mobile user experience is now higher. One of the best and easiest-to-use mobile retail sites is BlueNile.com. The heavily visual menu and build-your-own ring tools make it easy for users to pick up a $5,000 pair of diamond stud earrings or build a custom $42,000 engagement ring while they're waiting for the train or taking a lunch break. I was able to create a fabulous looking diamond solitaire ring to my specs for next day delivery in under two minutes. That ease of use is something shoppers are coming to expect in every store. For a store that sells high-value items as Blue Nile does, it's a must.
2. They suggest other products shoppers may like in real time on the site.Product recommendation tools can boost your store's sales by reminding shoppers of other items they meant to get, spurring impulse purchases, or encouraging shoppers to buy items that work with the product they're viewing. The best recommendation algorithms are based on personal details like customer location and purchase history, but your shop can make recommendations for brand-new customers, too. For example, if you visit Sephora's site as a guest to snap up your shade of Fenty Beauty foundation before it sells out, you'll also see Use It With recommendations for Fenty foundation primer and brushes.
3. They make their shipping and return policies clear and fair.Shoppers don't like surprises when it comes to shipping charges, so put your shipping policy in simple language on every page in your store. More than 80% of shoppers surveyed in the last quarter of 2016 said shipping costs had caused them to ditch their online carts before buying. Confusion about return policies can lead to lost customers and negative reviews, so spell out that policy clearly, too. Nordstrom Rack summarizes their shipping and return policies with a simple statement at the top of each page that links to more details.
4. They offer more than one shipping option.It's no secret that consumers love free shipping, even though they understand that the price is built into the cost of the products they buy. But you should also offer options for people who are trying to beat gift-giving deadlines or who just want their items sooner. Whatever shipping menu you offer, make sure that every option includes tracking. Tracking can cut down on customer complaints and false claims that orders weren't delivered. You can find more shipping tips and information on holiday season surcharges here.
5. They follow up on abandoned carts.From one end of the internet to the other, millions of items languish in shopping carts abandoned by customers. Whether they changed their minds, forgot, or had to get back to work, shopping cart abandonment is the rule rather than the exception – as of November 2016, 78% of items put in online carts by mobile users were just left there. Successful retailers follow up with reminders when established customers abandon items. For example, if I leave a dress in my ThredUp cart, I'll get a reminder email with a picture of the item and a checkout button embedded in the email. A Magento extension can help you recover some of those abandoned carts and raise your conversion rates.
6. They make checkout as easy as possible.Hassles at checkout are a big reason many shoppers ditch their carts. Requiring shoppers to key in a credit card number on a mobile device is practically asking them to go away. Your shop's payment options should include log-in-and-go choices like PayPal, Apple Pay, and Visa Checkout. And now that Amazon's patent on 1-Click checkout has expired, this relatively simple code can work for your store, too.
7. They request reviews from satisfied shoppers.Good reviews can boost sales, because consumers see customer reviews—even those written by strangers--the same way they view recommendations from friends and family. And because nearly 90% of consumers read reviews when they shop online, your store is at a disadvantage without reviews. Encouraging customers to review their purchases can be tricky: it's unethical to offer incentives for reviews, and consumers get review requests for most of the purchases they make these days. You can tailor your review request strategy based on your customers' preferences, your brand voice, and these do's and don'ts for small business reviews.
8. They take customer feedback seriously.You may not like what you read in every customer review. But all customer feedback is information you can use to improve your products, your site, your checkout process, and your shipping. Before you get offended (or worse, angry) about negative feedback, remember that you can use it—even if it comes from site visitors who haven't yet made a purchase. Ryan Holmes, CEO of HootSuite, wrote that a profane tweet from a free user made a good point about the early product's usability.
9. They're constantly improving.It can be daunting to read through a list like this and compare it to your fledgling online store, but here's a habit for success you can adopt right away: Great online stores are always refining their site, based on customer feedback, sales, and traffic. You don't have to tackle everything on this list right now, but by continually assessing your shop's performance and user experience, you can make incremental improvements that lead to bigger gains over time.
Monday, December 4, 2017 by Shayla Price
The Ultimate Guide to Building and Using Buyer PersonasEvery customer isn’t the same. Whether you’re running a brick-and-mortar bakery or an online clothing store, all your customers don’t fit the same mold. They possess different needs and interests. And your business must cater to those varying desires. To do so, it’s best that your team develop buyer personas to organize the types of customers entering your shop. “The purpose of creating a buyer persona is to get crystal clear on the individuals who you are marketing to. Until you nail this down, you can’t really be sure that your offerings and your marketing messaging are going to be successful,” states Mary Fernandez, a professional blogger. Let’s make better business decisions. Use the following five steps to build actionable buyer personas.
1. State Your GoalsWith so much happening in your business, it’s easy to forget why you create certain tools. You got a marketing plan, a content strategy, sales sheets, and that random piece of paper on your office floor. So before you jump into creating a much-needed buyer persona, it’s important that you understand how it relates to your company’s goals. That way, you’re not just crafting something that will never help your team. When done correctly, buyer personas give you a 360 degree view about the customer. These insights are critical to closing sales, writing email copy, and revamping brand identity. Actionable buyer personas will align with your overall business strategy. On a granular scale, you may consider mirroring personas based on the sales funnel. For example, it’s possible to divide one persona into multiple layers. Let’s say Customer X buying concerns change throughout the funnel. In the awareness stage, the customer worries about his need for a new product. While in the comparison stage, the same customer focuses on selecting the right vendor. This analysis gives your team accurate information on specific buyers as it relates to their willingness to buy your product today. It empowers you to adjust based on the team’s goals and the customer’s expectations.
2. Research Your AudienceMany companies make the mistake of creating their buyer personas prematurely. They decide the objective and then begin developing the persona. After a few hours (or weeks), teams realize that they don’t know enough about their ideal customers. They understand the basics, like demographics, which only scratches the surface of consumer insights. To avoid this common mistake, the key is to focus on researching your audience. You want to know why they purchase, how they make buying decisions, and what (or who) influences them. You can gather this customer information through your analytics dashboard, surveys, focus groups, and blog comments. Jen Havice, a website copywriter, offers another research tool: “Talking to your existing customers can provide valuable information into their buying habits, what motivates them, and the words they use to describe your product or service. While conducting interviews can be expensive and labor intensive, the answers can be illuminating.” Researching gives your team the opportunity to truly appreciate your customers. So don’t feel unsettled about gathering too much data. More importantly, you should always uphold ethical standards—never share customers’ data to third parties without their consent. Without the proper research, your buyer personas become vague descriptions that correlate to every consumer in the industry. Dig deeper by taking your research to the next level.
3. Create the PersonaWith all your customer data collected, it’s time to actually create the persona. Assembling the information in a concise, yet appealing format will allow your team to easily extract key insights when questions about a specific buyer arises. So remember to develop your persona to fit the many learning styles of your team members. Start by giving your persona a name. By doing so, you make this document real for your team. You may want to add a picture of a real customer. Next, outline the background facts about your buyer, including the age, gender, and job role. Quick bullet points work well here. Following those details, you want to jot down the nitty gritty of your buyers’ interests, motivations, and behaviors. Give your team the reasoning behind your customers’ habits. If all the information won’t fit, you can attach a brief addendum to your buyer persona. You’ll also want to collaborate with your team members about what to add to the persona. Each department has a different perspective on how to serve your customers. Therefore, each team can offer insights on the makeup of the buyer. Ready to get started? For free online persona templates, click here.
4. Integrate the Persona Into Your StrategyFusing your buyer persona into your business strategy is a vital step to turning the document into a practical tool. More often than not, marketers get so bogged down by the persona itself that they forget the true purpose for creating it in the first place. For every department, you can outline how they can benefit from the persona—making it easy for teams to apply the data. For example, customer support reps may use the persona to identify how to best respond to specific customers based on their communication styles. Other teams may see the persona as a guide to update their procedures and refine their current methods for catering to the customer. Copywriter Jessica Mehring provides the following advice to content marketing teams: “Go through all the content you have, and look at it through the eyes of your buyer persona. Set aside or rewrite anything that they won’t connect with. Putting ineffective content in the buyer’s path is going to water down your content strategy as a whole – and worse, it might just confuse your target customers.” Another technique is to design engagement scenarios for your personas. Prepare your team to interact with all your customers in multiple circumstances. No matter the situation, always find innovative ways to use your personas to benefit your business.
5. Evaluate Your PersonaBuyer personas aren’t carved in stone; they are living documents that will adapt to your customers’ lifestyles and behaviors. So make an effort to evaluate your personas once or twice a year. Evaluation can be as simple as updating your customer’s occupation and goals. Or you may need to do a complete overhaul and start from scratch. During your evaluation, it’s advised that you consult with senior management. Learn whether the company will be targeting new personas or if it’s time to remove a persona. You also may discover that the customer journey altered, which greatly reflects the buyer’s purchasing habits. With team input, you can customize the personas in greater detail. Maybe you recently completed customer interviews. You can add these newfound particulars. In the example below, you’ll notice brand names enjoyed by the customer along with the types of technology they use. There’s no wrong or right way to build or evaluate a buyer persona. The main objective is to develop processes that gives you a realistic view of your customer. Accurate information empowers your team to serve your customers better.
Buyer Personas in ActionUnderstanding your customers’ lifestyles and product desires helps your team build competitive strategies. Consumer research at your fingertips refines how you approach your audience. Therefore, work with your team to define your goals and build multiple buyer personas to improve your sales funnel.