Monday, March 12, 2018 by Casey Kelly-Barton
How To Make A Business Website That ConvertsIt's a truth universally acknowledged that if you have a business, you need a website. Even if you're not a site designer, there's plenty of information online to help walk you through the basics to create a professional-looking business website. As you're planning and designing your site, remember that there's sometimes a big difference between knowing how to make a business website that looks cool and how to build a business website that does its most important job: getting customers to do business with you. Here are some key elements your site needs to get customers to convert from browsing to buying.
1. Help Shoppers Find Your SiteCustomers can't shop in your store or hire your services if they don't know your business exists. So every step of building your business website should focus on performing well in search results. Start by choosing a professional, on-brand domain name and top-level domain (.com is still considered the most trustworthy). Then use a keyword finding tool like Soovle (and your own customer inquiries) to choose the long-tail keywords to include on each page of your business website. For example, if you are a professional dog walker in San Antonio, your long-tail keywords might include the specific neighborhoods you serve: “professional dog walker in Olmos Park” or “professional dog walker in the King William District.” Why not just go with “professional dog walker” or “dog walker in San Antonio”? Because people who are looking for something very specific near them are usually ready to make a purchase or hire a professional. That means they're more likely to convert when they find your site. And once you know which long-tail keywords make the most sense for your business website copy, you can use them in other SEO best practices on your site, too.
2. Help Shoppers Use Your SiteNow that visitors can find your business website, will they convert? Maybe. It depends in part on how easy to use your site is. Choose a web hosting service that loads sites fast, because visitors will move on to the next site if yours doesn't load in a couple of seconds. Most local searches are done on mobile devices now, which means your site also must display well on smartphones and tablets. One of the most important factors in raising your conversion rate is well-crafted calls to action. Every page on your site needs a call to action to let visitors know what next step you'd like them to take. For example, on your home page your call to action could be Find Your Perfect Prom Dress Now or Book Your Prom Hair and Makeup Session Now. What else makes a business website easy to use? A lack of clutter. Before you add sliders, autoplay videos, or infographics that require both vertical and horizontal scrolling (no, just no), ask yourself if they will help or hinder visitors to your site. In most cases, you're better off without those extras.
3. Make Buying From Your Site EasyIf you sell products on your site, make them look great. High quality product photos and videos are must-haves, because those images plus your written descriptions are all the sensory input customers can gather about your product online. Keep written product descriptions simple but include the details customers want, and format descriptions in a mobile-friendly way – bullet points and short paragraphs rather than big blocks of text. Your business website's checkout process is a make-or-break point for conversions. The more complex, time-consuming, or repetitive the checkout process is, the fewer customers will complete it. Think about how you can make the process as easy as possible for a busy customer who's using a smartphone to make a purchase while they're also doing at least one other thing:
- Avoid roadblocks like requiring guests to register before they can add items to a shopping cart.
- Offer a guest-checkout option. Busy people may abandon a cart rather than register as new customers.
- Choose e-commerce tools that your target market prefers to use, like PayPal, Square, and Stripe.
- Make payment and shipping information entry as easy as possible, ideally by using data your customers have already shared with PayPal or another payment service.
4. Make It Easy for Customers to Reach YouSome businesses make conversion less likely by serving up every possible contact option: a contact form, email, two phone numbers, a fax number for the customers reaching out from 1991, and half a dozen social media badges—the perfect conditions for option paralysis. A more effective practice is to limit your contact options: phone and email, or text messaging. Why? The way you present your contact information is another type of call to action, so keep it simple and direct.
5. Show Visitors Why They Should Do Business With YouLimiting contact information doesn't mean you can't invite customers to connect on social media. Including your channels can help develop a sense of trust in customers—but it's better to display that information separately from your preferred contact methods. Other ways to build trust include:
- Clearly stating your shipping and return policies on every page.
- Including your preferred contact information on every page.
- Including customer reviews and testimonials.
- Displaying the trust symbols that show how your site protects customers' information. Your web hosting service should offer you a range of security options and badges you can display.
6. Test Your TacticsThere's one more step to raising your conversion rates: test your tactics. You can test virtually every element on your site to see how usable it is and how if affects conversion rates. With an all-in-one website builder service, you can make changes easily to improve your business website's conversion rates based on your testing.
Planning Your First Pop-Up ShopThe internet is a great place to sell things, but sometimes you need to get your products in customers' hands to launch your business, introduce a new product, or generate more sales—without the expense and long-term commitment of maintaining a full-time brick-and-mortar store. That's why pop-up shops are such a hot trend, with everyone from solopreneurs to Google staging pop-up spaces. Despite the cute name and temporary nature of pop-up shops, they don't just pop up out of nowhere. We talked with two entrepreneurs who've done multiple pop-up shops about planning, promoting, running, and leveraging pop-up shops for your business.
What Exactly Is a Pop-up Shop?A pop-up shop is a temporary retail location inside another retail space like a mall or a big store, at an event, or in an open-air space like an empty lot. What makes a pop-up different from, say, having a booth at a craft fair? A booth is similar to a pop-up in some ways. Both satisfy the need to market your presence and carefully choose which merchandise to bring, but pop-ups stand out in other ways. For one thing, your pop-up may be the only one in the space, so you're not competing with other, similar vendors like you would be at a tradeshow or fair. For another, you can have much more control over the way your pop-up store looks compared to the rules that govern booth layout and design at most events. And if you market your pop-up right, people will be there to see you and your store specifically, not just to browse dozens or hundreds of vendors.
What's the Point of Having a Pop-up Shop?Businesses run pop-up shops for a variety of reasons. Some do it to generate buzz about new products, some do it to reach new audiences with their existing products. Kerstin Katko owns Ducky's Sheep Shack, a fiber arts studio and supplier in Long Valley, NJ. Katko said she did her pop-ups to get to know her customers and her community better. “The biggest benefit was getting people to find out about my business, and also meeting so many new people in my town. I did make a lot of sales too.” Sales can be a great reason to do pop-ups, said Sarahbeth “Yeli” Marshall, owner of Yelibelly Chocolates in Addison, Texas. Her company (which makes the sweets I send my clients each December) used to have its own boutique space but now focuses mainly on corporate and online sales. “I do pop-ups for an additional income stream. Since we are not in a retail store front anymore but a production kitchen instead, it's a good way to get some additional funds.”
Where Can You Have a Pop-up Shop?As long as you can get permission to use the space short-term, you can have a temporary shop. Some options include renting empty retail space, renting space in an office building lobby, or using space you already rent or own, if it can safely accommodate shoppers and will draw foot traffic. That's how Katko started with pop-ups: “The pop-ups I organized were in my studio. I’m on a somewhat busy street so we got a decent amount of traffic.” Once you find your pop-up groove, you may want to build a regular schedule of pop-ups at different locations. That's how Marshall expands her retail reach across the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “I rotate through various office buildings around the Metroplex. We could probably have pop-up shops three days a week, every week, and rotate them, but I don't have someone on staff that can do them regularly right now. There are enough office buildings in the Metroplex that allow vendors to come in.”
5 Steps to Prepare for Your First Pop-up Shop1. Find your spot. Choose a place with lots of foot traffic. For Katko, her fiber arts studio fit the bill, and she's also rented vacant retail space. For Marshall, office buildings deliver a steady supply of people coming and going through the lobby who want to treat themselves or pick up gifts. 2. Manage your expectations and check the calendar. Marshall said that with pop-ups, no two days are the same, and holidays can have unpredictable effects on sales. “I set up at a location once and did $500 [in sales] and it was a great day. The next time we set up was on Halloween, which I thought was going to be great for candy sales. I ended up making one sale that day.” 3. Plan your space. Create your pop-up shop in the same theme as your permanent location or your online store – use the same colors, fonts, decorative motifs. Make the space welcoming. “I wish I had known to have more chairs to invite newly met neighbors to sit and chat a bit,” Katko said of her first pop-up. 4. Select your merchandise. Especially if this is your first pop-up, stick to smaller-ticket items that people will be more likely to buy on impulse, and maybe leave your biggest ticket-items out of the mix. “I found that at pop-up shops people like to spend between five and $10,” Marshall said. “You might have people that purchase a number of $5 or $10 items together, but they like that price range.” 5. Plan your promotions. Let people know about your shop well in advance. Share the event information on your website and social media channels. Create a Facebook event and send invites via emails to your customer list. See if you can share your pop-up info on the social media accounts of the space where you'll be, too. And remember paper? You may be able to drop off fliers or postcards in the space ahead of time with your pop-up event details and product information.
What to Do During and After Your Pop-upOn the day of your event, you'll want to continue with social media updates, but the main event at a pop-up is face-to-face interaction. Take the time to greet your visitors, answer their questions, and—perhaps most important--share the story of how your products are made. At her first pop-up, Katko said, “I realized people were looking for a connection or the story behind what they bought. It really made me happy that people were willing to buy my handmade creations instead of getting something mass produced, and that they wanted to know the process.” After the event, write a wrap-up to share on your website and social media and in your newsletter—this can build demand for your next pop-up! For more details on planning your pop-up, this handy checklist from marketing firm Pop-Up Republic hits all the major tasks you'll need to complete before, during, and after your pop-up event. And to boost your sales between pop-up events, make sure your shop follows these habits of successful online stores.
Don't Fall For These Falsehoods About EntrepreneurshipWant to start a new business? Start by questioning everything you know about launching a business. There are a lot of entrepreneurship myths that trip up new business owners, so before you invest time and money in an idea based on what you think you know, it's wise to get a clear idea of what to expect in terms of time commitment, expenses, planning, and personnel. Here's a reality-check list of common myths about entrepreneurship to arm you with realistic expectations and a better chance of success.
Myth #1: When you start your own business, you have more freedom in your scheduleIf by freedom you mean “the freedom to work a heck of a lot more hours than a salaried employee,” then yes, you'll have that. After your business is well established and profitable, you might reach a point where you can work a “normal” schedule. When you're just launching, though, plan on at least a year of spending most of your waking hours (and some of your sleeping ones) working. This is as true for self-made millionaires as it is for more modestly successful independent writers, photographers, shop owners, and other new business owners.
Myth #2: You need a brand-new product or service idea to succeedThink about how long humans have been making, selling, and buying things. For thousands of years, people have worn clothes, eaten food, used some type of transportation to get around, and so on. Those items have evolved over time, but there's never been a blockbuster new item that's completely replaced, say, the wheel. Refining existing ideas to serve customers better is how you're most likely to find a successful niche or opportunity. Develop a clear and concise business plan based on your “better mouse trap” and go from there instead of trying to summon something unheard of out of your imagination.
Myth #3: As a business owner, it's cost-effective to do everything yourselfMaybe at the very beginning you can take care of the books, the products, the marketing, and office cleanup, but at some point, your time is going to be more valuable spent working on the business than doing tasks within the business. Once you reach that point, any time you spend on tasks that could be delegated instead of developing new products, booking new clients, or expanding your market is a lost opportunity cost. That point can arrive sooner than you expect, especially once your sales are growing.
Myth #4: You can outsource virtually every aspect of your businessAs mentioned above, at some point it may make sense to outsource some of your business tasks. But the fantasy of starting out by farming out all your processes and then sitting back and collecting revenue is not realistic. That's because high quality outsourcing costs money that you may not have available to spend when you're just starting out. And using cheap, low-quality outsourcing is a good way to fail quickly. Your business processes, product quality, and customer service can all suffer, and you may end up putting out fires instead of growing your business.
Myth #5: These days, you can start a business with no moneyYou might be able to start a business with minimal upfront costs, and you might be able to use someone else's money to get started, but either way you're going to need some funds. Starting with nothing may seem scrappy and admirable, but it's not realistic and can undermine your chances of success before you begin. I sometimes talk to people who want to start selling their professional services like writing or photography without investing in a proper website, a professional headshot, the right kind of insurance to protect their new business, and other must-haves. Without these things, your business may look unprofessional to prospects and—if you go uninsured—it can expose you to liability.
Myth #6: You need venture capital to start your businessCompetition for private investment is fierce and serious. Unless you have some successes under your belt and an idea that captures the attention of investors, you're probably not going to get venture capital—and you probably don't need it. Most people who want to start a new business and need capital should consider a loan from the Small Business Administration, a local bank, or a credit union.
Myth #7: Your family and friends can help you launch your businessEvery budding entrepreneur considers hiring friends and family at some point--or even asking them to work for free. The temptation is understandable. You already know and trust these folks, and they may have skills you need. However, most experts discourage new business owners from relying on friends and family for two big reasons (although there are certainly more). First, working with relatives and friends is an expert-level skill that even experienced business owners struggle to master. Work dynamics affect personal relationships outside the office even if you never have to correct, retrain, or fire someone you care about. Second, asking anyone to work on your business for free devalues their work—and people working for free may not give your projects the time and attention they require.
Myth #8: Successful business owners go it aloneBusiness is competitive, but it's also collaborative. Owners—especially inexperienced new ones—who keep to themselves miss out on opportunities for learning, networking, and growth. You need other people's input and ideas to make your business work. Mentors who've been through the startup process are a valuable source of information, encouragement, and inspiration. Conferences in your field and in-person or online peer discussions can help you identify common pitfalls, answer questions, and provide advice. Every smart business owner focuses on hearing customer feedback, and supporting community activities or causes that matter to you can raise your business profile and build goodwill among your customers.
Myth #9: Entrepreneurship is only for certain types of peopleThere's a lot of media coverage of new businesses in Silicon Valley, where startup founders skew young, techy, and male, but anyone with a good idea, some resources, and the willingness to do the work can start a business. In fact, nearly a quarter of new entrepreneurs in 2016 were ages 55 to 64—roughly the same percentage as the 20 to 24-year old age group. As of 2015, 31% of privately held businesses in the US were owned by women. And according to 2016 federal data, the number of minority-owned businesses increased by 38% from 2007 to 2016.
Myth #10: Your older kids can help your business succeedThere are plenty of business owners who hire their teenage kids to handle tasks like preparing orders for shipping and taking orders for the online store. For some families, this is a great way to build the value of the business and let teens earn some money and work experience. However, it's best to treat that teen labor as a possibility and not something your business will rely on. That's because teens are still developing and exploring their interests. They may enjoy working for you for a while but then decide to get another job, take on more extracurriculars, or pursue a rigorous academic path that leaves no time for work. (They might also just fall asleep and forget something. Being a teenager is hard.) It's also worth noting that parent-teen relationships can be tricky to navigate even without a boss-employee dynamic in the mix. If your teen loses interest or takes on other obligations, be prepared to find other help.
Myth #11: You'll get to spend all your time doing what you love mostIf “what you love most” is running a business, you're going to love what you do all the time. For the rest of us, a business based on doing what we love involves doing a lot of stuff that's necessary but not thrilling. Case in point: when I started freelance writing full-time, I had no idea how much time each day I'd spend working with spreadsheets. But spreadsheets are an easy, low-cost way to track projects, billing, and invoices, so a daily dose of Excel is a must. Every type of business has these must-do tasks, and when your business is growing rapidly you may find yourself devoting more time to them than to the creative or interpersonal work that inspired you to start your business in the first place. The good news is that growth can allow you to outsource and delegate some of the things you really don't like doing, but there will always be responsibilities beyond the things you enjoy the most. Consider them costs of doing business.
Myth #12: With persistence, you can achieve anythingSometimes great ideas don't pan out, no matter how much work you put into them. Circumstances beyond your control can spike your business, whether it's better-funded competition or a market crash that causes banks to halt small-business lending. Mistakes made early in your startup process can catch up with your business later on, too. For example, if you started your business without doing thorough research with the best available data, you may have overestimated the market for your product. And while persistence is a must-have trait for business owners, it can sometimes prevent them from giving up when it's obvious that the money's not there, the customers aren't coming, or everyone's sad. Planning for success is always best (and more fun), but it's also a good idea to decide early on what your criteria are for scrapping the startup and moving on to something new.
Myth #13: You should always go with your gutThere's nothing wrong with tapping into your intuition when you're making decisions as long as you're aware that even the most keen “gut feelings” have their limits. How skilled is your gut at market analysis, customer segmentation, tax law, and ad copywriting? There are a lot of business decisions that require you to do some research and/or hire experts in order to get the results you want. Going *only* with your gut when deciding, for instance, which new products to develop can be a recipe for lost time and money. A better use of your intuitive skills is developing a list of possibilities and then listening extensively to feedback from customers and focus groups to get a realistic sense of demand.
Myth #14: When you run your own business, you're the star of the showWhen you look at lifestyle brands like those led by Oprah Winfrey or Martha Stewart, it's easy to think their success comes primarily from focusing on their superstar founders. There's no question that charisma and a relatable persona are musts for lifestyle entrepreneurs, but they're only part of the big picture. The most important ingredients are how these charismatic, relatable business people make their customers feel about themselves and the value they offer their customers. For example, Oprah's fans know she's a role model for thriving after overcoming obstacles, because she's shared her story over the years. But they keep coming back to her website, buying her books, watching her shows, and reading her magazine because her media empire offers shows, stories, and articles that inspire people to cope with their own challenges. So if you're starting a lifestyle brand, put yourself out there, but do it in a way that gives your customers something they want or need.
ConclusionBy getting clear on what's actually involved in starting a business, you may find you have to change your approach before you get started. But by going in knowing what you can expect, you're more likely to get your new business off to a strong start. For more information on what it really takes to be your own boss, check out HostGator's Guide to Launching Your Home Business.
Monday, January 8, 2018 by Casey Kelly-Barton
How Will the New Shipping Rate Increases Affect Your Business?There's no way around it: shipping is going to cost more this year. All three major shipping carriers in the US—the US Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS—are hiking rates in 2018. In fact, UPS got a jump on the new year by implementing its new rates on Christmas Eve. Here's the lowdown on higher shipping rates, what you can expect to pay going forward, and how to keep your customers happy without losing money on shipping costs.
How much are shipping rates increasing?The commercial carriers implemented the biggest average rate increases.
UPSAlready in effect as of December 24, 2017, UPS rates for ground and air shipments rose by an average of 4.9 percent. However, that's just the average. Trade publication Parcel took a detailed look at UPS's shipping changes and found that UPS is changing its dimensional weight categories in a way that will raise rates for some packages by as much as 9 percent for Zone 5 deliveries. “If you ship primarily smaller boxes with UPS,” shipping consultant Dave Sullivan wrote, “you need to understand the impact that this will have on your business as it could amount to a substantial rate increase.”
FedExStarting January 1, FedEx rates rose for most of its delivery services, including express, ground, and home delivery. Like UPS, FedEx rates went up an average of 4.9 percent. But FedEx ground commercial rates for small parcels in many zones are up by more than the average, Sullivan wrote. Minimum net charges for ground shipping are going up, too, by 4.6 percent. Surcharge rates for oversize packages, additional handling, and residential delivery are rising by 10.3, 9.1, and 7.8 percent, respectively. And like UPS, FedEx is adjusting their dimensional weight categories for SmartPost packages under 7 pounds. The result is 2018 SmartPost small-parcel rate increases of anywhere from 12 to 53 percent.
USPSEffective January 21, USPS charges more for First Class, Priority, Parcel, and International letters and parcels. Standard one-ounce letters cost just a penny more per piece, and Priority Mail Flat Rate retail prices will only rise by 5 cents. But if you're shipping parcels via USPS Priority Mail without using their flat-rate mailers, you'll pay 3.9 percent more than in 2017.
Why are shipping costs rising?The rising cost of shipping has been in the news for the past couple of years. There are a couple of trends driving the increases. The first and most obvious is higher demand—as consumers buy more things online, carriers are handling far more packages than they did a few years ago. To avoid problems like the great holiday shipping meltdown of 2013 and to keep up with the rising volume of packages, UPS and FedEx have to be able to scale up their delivery capacity. They also have to deliver value to shareholders. In the case of the US Postal Service, a spike in package deliveries comes when the cash-strapped carrier is just trying to stay afloat. For more than a decade, the USPS has lost money, but in 2017 its package volume rose by 589 million from the year before. The postal service's rate increase isn't so much about expanding capability and turning a profit as it is about survival.
How you can keep customers happy without taking (too much of) a hitConsumers are often unhappy with shipping costs and wonder if they're getting a raw deal from sellers. Sellers, meanwhile, feel pressure from customers to match competitors' free- or low-cost shipping deals and their product pricing. How can you stay competitive and profitable and get your customers their goods in good shape? 1. Compete on value rather than price. There's no way most small businesses can match or beat huge retailers like Amazon on price and same-day shipping options, so make sure you're going the extra mile on customer service, unique product selection, and presentation. This is a long-term solution, though. In the short term, you'll need to do some homework. 2. Audit your packaging. Set aside a few hours and gather your current packing materials and shipping boxes, a ruler, your postal scale, and updated shipping tables from USPS, UPS, FedEx. Which carrier offers the best rate on the package sizes and weights you ship most often? Can you use smaller boxes and lighter packing materials to pay less per package? Will you save money if you switch to mailers provided by your carrier? 3. Consider other shipping-related costs. Remember that shipping increases won't just affect your shipments to customers. Your suppliers may soon charge you more to cover their own rising shipping costs. And platforms like eBay that charge a commission on total sale price, including shipping, will take a proportionately larger cut of anything you sell there as shipping rates rise. Factor in those expenses. 4. Seek out shipping deals. FedEx, UPS, and USPS all have small business resources that include discount options. It also pays to compare what you'll pay to insure your shipments with the carriers to the cost of using third-party package insurance—third-party choices often cost a lot less. Once you've got a clear idea of what your shipping costs will be going forward... 5. Adjust your pricing, if necessary. For example, you may need raise the minimum purchase required for free shipping, as many retailers are doing, and you may need to update the shipping information in your store to reflect any rate changes that you're passing along to customers. 6. Be upfront about your shipping charges. Customers are likely to abandon their cart if shipping costs are a surprise at checkout. You can avoid this by posting your free shipping minimum on each page in your store and providing an easy to read explanation of other shipping options and rates.
ConclusionNobody likes to pay more for shipping, but by doing your homework, comparing costs, and communicating any changes clearly with your customers, you can reduce the impact of rising shipping fees on your business.