Tuesday, November 14, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
5. Own your own digital real estate. Finfolk Productions sells its mermaid tails, tops, scales, leggings, and accessories through its website. Having a freestanding site rather than selling through a marketplace allows the company to capture email addresses for future promotions and to study customer buying habits over time.
Wednesday, November 8, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
How to Create a Marketing Plan for Your New WebsiteYou finished creating your website and have launched! That’s a big deal. But if you thought the hard part was over, think again. Creating your website is a huge step, but if you actually want people to see it, then you need to get to work marketing it. There are nearly 2 billion websites out there. You may not be in competition with every single one of them, but if you want anyone interested in what your website has to offer to find you, you can’t expect them to just happen upon your URL in a sea of 2 billion options. To get noticed, you have to perform online marketing. And to do it well, you need a plan.
Step 1: Define your goals.Before you start making decisions about how to approach online marketing, it’s important to think about what you want to get out of it. Do you want to drive more traffic to your website? Do you want to drive a specific type of traffic to your website? Are you selling something and need to prioritize profit? Are you hoping to build an email list? You may have more than one main goal for your online marketing, but use this step to figure out both what your specific goals are, and the priority level for each. Different types of online marketing will work best for different goals, so this step will play an important role in leading you toward the best choices in the next few steps.
Step 2: Clarify your target audience.Most websites aren’t for everybody. Your online marketing efforts will work better if they’re focused on the people most likely to be interested in your website. Think carefully about who is most likely to want what your website offers. Is it more likely to appeal to people within a certain age demographic, geographic area, or gender? What about parental status, household income, and general interests? If you already have customers or followers, then what you know about them should help shape your idea of your target audience. Sit down and create a profile of the kind of person that’s most likely to buy your products or follow your content. Be thorough. Include things like:
- Income level
- Education level
- Marital status
- Parental status
- General interests
- Politics and values
- Personality traits
- Buying behavior
Step 3: Determine which marketing tactics to use.Once you know what you want to accomplish and who you want to reach, it’s time to figure out which online marketing tactics to use. If you’re not already familiar with online marketing (and maybe even if you are), this step will require diving into some research. There are a lot of tactics and channels to be aware of and each of them have their own set of best practices. If you’re hoping to do this all yourself rather than hire help, then expect to devote a significant amount of time to learning the ropes. If you have a budget and intend to hire help, then you still want to make sure you have enough understanding of the different online marketing areas to know which ones you want to pursue and be able to hire someone that knows what they’re doing. You’ll probably want to do some combination of:
- Search engine optimization
- Paid search marketing
- Content marketing
- Email marketing
- Social media marketing
- Affiliate marketing
- Conversion optimization
Step 4: Figure out your budget.Online marketing has two big costs: time and money. You can get away with spending less in money if you’re able to spend more in time, but either way it’s going to cost you. So before you start to delve into the specifics of your plan, consider carefully how much you have to spend. Some types of online marketing don’t cost anything in money unless you hire someone to do them, while others, like paid search and social advertising, will cost you something no matter what. If you need to get by with little to no monetary budget, then try to find the overlap between your own strengths and what your audience will respond to. If you want to try content marketing but you’re a terrible writer, consider if your audience might respond to a podcast, for instance. In general though, you’ll get further with your online marketing if you have some money to spend on hiring skilled professionals to help and investing in paid advertising to help give you that first boost of awareness. Online marketing isn’t entirely dependent on being able to spend a lot of money, but it does help.
Step 5: Create your plan.The four previous steps should bring you to the point where you have a pretty good idea of what types of online marketing you’ll be doing and how much you can handle. Now it’s time to put it all together into a clear plan, with specific steps and timelines. If you want to keep up with your online marketing, you’ll need to be organized and give yourself a schedule with deadlines to stick with. If you’re pursuing social media marketing, commit to updating your profiles a set number of times each week and schedule time to spend interacting with others on the platform. If you’re starting a blog, work up a list of topics to write about and give yourself a specific deadline for getting each post written and published. The only way you’ll get it done is if you stay organized and commit to keeping up with the schedule you create. And if you want people to find your site, you have to get it done. If it all sounds like a lot and you’re overwhelmed, don’t feel bad. It is a lot . But the only way to move forward is to get started and learn as you go. And if you can find the money to do so, it’s worth hiring someone to help. Look into online marketing agencies and consultants, or freelance specialists to help with things like SEO and blogging. Your life will be a lot easier if you outsource some of your online marketing to people skilled in doing it. Then you can focus on creating the products or content you built the site to promote to begin with.
Monday, October 16, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
From Blogs to Riches: 3 Famous Entrepreneurs Who Started Out As BloggersBlog-to-riches is the digital-age version of the traditional success story: A scrappy and determined person starts a small blog and then writes, podcasts, or shoots their way to fame and fortune. The reality check is that in 2016 there were more than six million active “traditional” blogs and twice that number of people blogging via social media channels like Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. How can you make your blog stand out from the crowd, build a loyal following, and maybe grow into a profitable business? Here are three very different blogs-to-riches success stories to teach us by example.
Blogger-Turned-Entrepreneur #1: Ree Drummond of The Pioneer WomanRee Drummond has been on the cover of People magazine, her fifth cookbook comes out in October, and her Food Network show, Pioneer Woman, is in its seventh season. Drummond also has a housewares brand, a magazine, a restaurant, and a hotel under construction. She's built this lifestyle enterprise in just eleven years. Her success grew out of her personal blog—also called The Pioneer Woman—about her raising and homeschooling four kids with her rancher husband in rural Oklahoma. Today, the blog is still the cornerstone of Drummond's business, where she regularly shares recipes, project updates, pictures of her town, and stories about her family and friends. Somehow, in the middle of all of this work and raising teenagers, she also blogs for Land O'Lakes, too.
What new bloggers can learn from Ree Drummond:Find your voice and use it to describe things you love. Perhaps more than any other star “mom blogger,” Drummond writes in a clear voice and uses it to help her readers fall in love with her way of life. Her blog today feels just as folksy and friendly (and funny) as it did a decade ago, and readers feel they have a window into her world: one that's focused on family, food, farm life, and getting to know and care about the neighbors. While she's a skilled writer, Drummond didn't create a persona to serve a target market – she just started writing about her rural way of life and nurturing a community of readers who wanted to know more. Her authenticity shines through. Yours can, too.
Vlogger-Turned-Entrepreneur #2: Casey Neistat of Beme/CNNIf you're under 35 and own a smartphone, you probably already know who Casey Neistat is. For the rest of us, Casey Neistat is a vlogger-entrepreneur who—among other things—is building digital video tools for CNN to help them reach Millennials. It's a role he took on after selling his social-media video app, Beme, to the news network for $25 million. Neistat also invests in startups, represents Samsung, and speaks at conferences to encourage other creatives to do the work they want to do. He still makes time to shoot, produce, and share videos about his global travels, product reviews, and his wife Candice Pool Neistat's fashion company, Billy. Neistat has accomplished a lot for a self-described “old man” of 36, and his career arc is even more impressive considering where he started. The Denver Post's recent profile of Neistat sums up his backstory this way: “By age 17... the high-school dropout found himself living in a trailer park, washing dishes for a living and raising his infant son.” With no film-making education, not much free time, and a long history of hearing people tell him he couldn't succeed, Neistat went to work. He moved to New York, worked on his craft of telling stories through video, and had a viral hit about NYC bike-lane safety that drew the attention of city officials and YouTube viewers alike.
What new vloggers can learn from Casey Neistat:Do what you want, and use the gear you have to get started. Neistat says all you need to begin is a phone, an internet connection, and a good idea. Do What You Can't, Neistat's 4-minute video autobiography, lists things authority figures told Neistat he couldn't do – alongside video of Neistat accomplishing all of those goals and more.
So if you want to create a vlog about something you love, do it—even if, and maybe especially if, people have told you that you can't.
Influencer-Turned-Entrepreneur #3: Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde SaladFashion watchers know Chiara Ferragni means business. The Italian designer and blogger, who now lives in Beverly Hills, brings in at least $9 million a year from her shoe and clothing lines, modeling, endorsements, and partnerships with major fashion houses. Forbes recognized Ferragni as the Top Fashion Influencer of 2017 for leading the way in the emerging fashion/social media influencer industry. Ferragni's was the first fashion influencer business to be featured in a Harvard Business Review case study—and that was before she began opening retail stores in Italy and China. While doing all of that, she's also graced the covers of dozens of international fashion magazines and earned a special edition Barbie made in her likeness. Before she was a fashion icon and tycoon, Ferragni was a law student in Italy with a personal blog called The Blonde Salad. She told Forbes that her diary-style posts and photos drew lots of questions about her wardrobe, so she took the blog in that direction. She also used Instagram to expand her sphere of influence. Today, Ferragni has more than 10 million Instagram followers, and The Blonde Salad is a digital fashion magazine and online store with a team of twenty staffers.
What new bloggers can learn from Chiara Ferragni:Share the love. Like Drummond, Ferragni blogs about what she loves—fashion, friends, and travel. Ferragni is also, like Neistat, a natural collaborator, as her work with Gucci, Chanel, and other fashion houses shows. Ferragni's enthusiasm for fashion is contagious. Her work with others in the industry has raised her brand's visibility to the point where she's the acknowledged “It Girl” and has earned her fans—and customers—from Los Angeles to Shanghai. The takeaway for new bloggers is to use social media to amplify your blog's reach and to reach out to others in your niche for new projects, cross-promotion, and creative cross-pollination. Ready to start your journey from blogger to entrepreneur? HostGator has WordPress plans that make it easy to design your site, manage your content, and start posting.
Monday, October 9, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
Personalize Your Online Store's Customer Experience with Magento ExtensionsOnline shoppers expect a customized experience now, with stores showing them the types of products they like before they have to spend a lot of time searching. But an eMarketer report from earlier this year found that only slightly more than half of retailers offer any type of customized web experience for shoppers. Many retailers customize their email marketing messages, but not the experiences in their online store. Those that don't are leaving money on the table and losing the loyalty of customers who want to be recognized. Here's what you need to know about personalizing your customers' experience in your online store. The desire for a personalized shopping experience is nearly universal. The majority of Millennial and Gen X shoppers want retailers to know their preferences and are willing to share personal data with stores in order to save time and help them find the items they want quickly. It's not only young consumers who want a made-to-fit experience, either. A Deloitte report from 2015 found that consumers over age 55 are the most likely to order up a personalized vacation package. Catering to these desires can translate into better sales and stronger customer loyalty. Among retailers who have personalized their sites and mobile apps for customers, 48% reported a rise in sales of more than 10%. Personalization can take many forms, from “other products you may like” to clothing in preferred sizes and colors to the timing of offers for particular products. Retailers who have some control over the manufacturing process can offer product customization options, which are increasingly in demand. Let's look at four ways to give each customer a personalized experience in your store.
Customize your shop to meet customer expectationsMagento lets you set up your shop the way you want it to reflect your brand and stand out from “off the rack” store layouts. The Magento Marketplace offers store owners more than 1,800 extensions to help you add the features and functions your customers expect. More than 700 of those extensions focus on store content presentation, search, review, and customization options. If you can't find exactly what you and your customers want, Magento's open-source code means you can have something custom-built to suit your needs. Let's look at some of the extensions that provide personalized product recommendations, targeted social media ads, and product-customization tools for your store.
Suggest “other products you may like”More than 80% of online shoppers in North America want stores to serve up product recommendations for them. Most major retailers already do this – the best known example is Amazon's suite of product recommendations, ranging from new Kindle titles to clothing, food, and other items based on your past purchases and searches. Your smaller online store can build customer loyalty by offering similar recommendations with Magento extensions that use customers' data to show suggestions. Softcube's highly popular extension needs as few as two clicks from new customers to start serving product recommendations based on customer preferences, sizes, and more. The developer says its personalization extension can boost sales by as much as 20%.
Tailor your offers to your customers' habits and needsAnother Magento extension, Nosto, supplies personalized product recommendations along with tools to bring customers back to your store, through personalized emails and Facebook retargeting. Nosto also gives your store the ability to reach “lookalike customers” (with demographics similar to your existing customers) through personalized Facebook ad campaigns. Nosto and similar tools can help your store make the right offer at the right time – the “contextual relevance” that retail-industry watchers say is one of the keys to surviving and thriving in the time of Amazon and Google's micro-moments.
Offer co-created items and a menu of custom optionsSuggesting the right products at the right time is one aspect of personalizing the customer experience. Letting customers personalize their product choices is another. Made-to-order clothing, shoes, and other goods used to be reserved for the very wealthy and the lucky friends and families of craftspeople. Now platforms like Etsy make it easy for shoppers to request personalized items from artisans, and e-commerce tools like Magento offer the same type of options for standalone online stores. Meanwhile, artists and small manufacturers can tailor production to each online customer's preferences—a new phenomenon known as “mass personalization.” For example, Shoes of Prey sells customized shoes online. Shoppers can choose not only size and style but color, heel type and height, materials, and embellishments and have their design made to order and delivered within a couple of weeks. This type of customization isn't limited to $150 pumps, either. Jewelry designers, kids' clothing makers, sticker artists and many other small business owners offer custom options in the online stores. To give your customers these options in a Magento-powered store, you'll need an extension. Two of the most popular for product customization are Product Personalization by SM Design and Personalized Products by Milople. Milople's offering lets shoppers add art and text to your stock products, make color and font choices, and more. SM Design's extension lets you customize the personalization options for your products and gives you the option to show the personalization details at checkout.
More personalization = more salesAll these personalization options take some time to research, choose, test, and put in place, but they can put your store ahead of the competition. More personalization can lead to better customer retention, more sales to your existing customers, and more new customers brought in through ads that show products tailored to their interests. If you're just starting out and planning your store, check out HostGator's Magento hosting packages that include email marketing tools for your new business.
Sunday, October 1, 2017 by Casey Kelly-Barton
Finding Insurance When You're a FreelancerFreelancing will always involve some risk, but there's no need to take on more risk than you must. Unlike working for someone else, working for yourself means setting up all the benefits you used to get through your employer. If you're making the switch to self-employment, here are some pointers for finding policies to protect your health, your income, and your new business.
Health Insurance for the Self-EmployedNo matter what type of business you're in, if you're self-employed or a freelancer in the US, you're going to have to become an expert on your health insurance options. Depending on how many insurers offer plans in your area, you may have plenty of coverage options or next to none. Costs can vary from sort of reasonable to jaw-dropping. Benefits can vary dramatically from one plan to the next. And of course, the health insurance landscape can change depending on politics, so what works today may not apply in a year or two. For now, though, here are some places to look for coverage that offers you the best combination of cost, benefits, and participating providers.
- Get covered by someone else's policy. If you're married, in a domestic partnership, or young enough to stay on your parents' health insurance, going with their coverage may be your best bet in terms of cost and ease of enrollment.
- Check out the marketplace. Even if you don't qualify for a subsidy, you can still buy a plan on Healthcare.gov during the open enrollment period. Note that once you buy a plan through the marketplace, you'll need to notify them each year if you buy a plan somewhere else. Otherwise, you'll be automatically enrolled in a marketplace plan that you'll have to cancel.
- Contact insurance companies directly. You may be able to buy an individual plan directly from an insurer. This will almost certainly cost more than a marketplace plan, but it can be a good option if the insurer's network includes the doctors and hospitals you prefer and the local marketplace plans don't.
- Talk to your payroll service provider. Some offer small group and individual health insurance policies for their clients as part of their benefits-administration services.
- Go to class. Some community colleges and universities offer affordable, low-deductible health insurance to students taking as few as three credit hours, even via distance learning. This might be cost-effective even with tuition and fees factored in—and depending on the classes you take, it can help you with your professional development.
- Talk to other self-employed people in your industry and city to find out about local and industry-specific options. You can also pull together a group of friends or peers to split up health insurance research tasks and share information. I've done this with a group of about half a dozen friends, which is how I learned about some of the school insurance programs.
Disability Coverage for SolopreneursCompared to health insurance, disability coverage doesn't get much attention, but it should. Health insurance may cover most of your medical bills, but if you're too sick or injured to run your business for more than a few weeks, how will you pay your rent, utilities and grocery bills? A disability policy can give you up to about 60% of your take-home pay (not your business gross) while you're unable to work, and the monthly premium for many plans costs less than a couple of delivery pizzas. The catch is that it's not always easy to qualify for disability coverage as an independent worker. The first place to start is with your insurance agent or financial planner, but you may have to look elsewhere if their companies don't insure freelancers. That was the case when I started shopping for disability coverage about five years ago. I ended up finding a policy through the Freelancers Union, a New York-based advocacy group. They have since rolled out a National Benefits Platform that lets you search for several types of insurance, including disability. The premiums you pay will be based on your age, your income, and the elimination period (30 to 90 days) before you start getting benefits after a claim. Benefits aren't forever – they're usually capped at a certain number of years based on your age or end when you hit retirement age. Review your coverage every couple of years to see if you need to buy a larger policy to keep up with your (ideally) growing self-employment income.
Liability Coverage for Independent Service ProvidersNo matter what type of freelance work you do--writing, web design, makeup artistry, or something else--you'll sleep better if you have a professional liability policy that pays to defend you in case of a client lawsuit. If you want to land contracts with government agencies and enterprise clients, you'll almost certainly need to show proof of liability insurance in order to bid. As with disability coverage, start your liability coverage search with your insurance agent, financial advisor, or the Freelancers Union. You can also check with professional organizations in your industry and look for industry-specific insurers.
Other types of insurance you may needIf you handle sensitive or confidential client information, a data breach policy can protect you in case of digital or physical theft. Does your work take you outside the country? You'll probably want international health and medical evacuation insurance, because most US-based health insurance policies don't cover out of country expenses. Remember that your insurance needs may change as your freelance business grows. It's a good idea to review your coverage once a year to make sure you have the right policies and the proper coverage amounts. Learn more about what you'll need to start your small business and keep it running.