Monday, July 31, 2017 by Kristen HicksWorking as a solopreneur can be extremely rewarding, but only if you can consistently find enough work to keep your business afloat. Luckily, every client gets you one step closer to ongoing sustainability in your freelance business, and not just because of the money you’ll make from that one client or project. The number one resource solopreneurs have for getting new customers is usually their current or former customers. 84% of high-earning soloprenuers list word of mouth as a top source for getting new work. The solopreneurs who turn their solo businesses into successful ventures do it, at least in part, by utilizing current clients to help them find new clients. You don’t have too much power over what your clients will say to their friends and colleagues on their own time, but you can use the power of word of mouth through online reviews and testimonials on your own website. Getting clients to provide reviews and testimonials doesn’t have to be hard, but it can feel a little awkward at first. Here are a few steps you can take to help increase the number of testimonials and reviews you have to help you promote your solopreneur business.
1. Include a link to review sites in your email signature.Any website you’re on that includes a review section is an opportunity for you to get more feedback and reviews from customers. So promote them. Add a link to the site in your email signature with a note asking recipients to give you a review. That way, every person you correspond with will learn the site exists and see a CTA to go give you a review every time you interact over email. This is a fairly passive form of asking for a review or testimonial, so if you’re trying to work up to being more comfortable soliciting testimonials, it’s a good place to start.
2. Include links to review sites on your website as well.This is really the same idea as number one. Add links and a note encouraging visitors to review you on these review sites. This way, potential customers trying to decide whether or not to hire you can see what others have thought of you, and current customers know where to add their review once they have some experience working with you.
3. Provide a survey after projects.At some point, you need to graduate from the more passive methods described in steps one and two and start being more direct in soliciting feedback. Sending a quick survey over to your clients after a project’s complete or once you’ve been working with them for a certain amount of time can accomplish two things at once:
- It gives you a chance to collect customer feedback that you can use to improve your services.
- You can use open-ended questions as a way to collect potential testimonials.
4. Keep an eye out for positive comments on social media.Sometimes people turn to social media to voice their opinions of a business they’ve worked with. If you’re not making a point to pay attention to what people are saying about your work on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, you may be missing out on some great comments that could make website testimonials. Go beyond just checking your mentions now and then and start practicing a wider scale of social listening. That way, if you encounter criticism, you have the chance to step in and work to make things right. And when you encounter compliments, you can ask the client about turning them into a testimonial for your website.
5. When you receive positive feedback, ask for permission to repurpose it as a testimonial.You know how now and then a client will send you an email saying something kind and complimentary about your work? It might not happen all the time, but it sure feels nice when it does. Instead of simply enjoying that nice feeling and sending back a “thanks,” next time go a step further and ask if they’d be ok with you using what they’ve said as a testimonial on your website. There’s a very high likelihood in a situation like this that they’ll say yes, since they’ve already made it clear they like you and have taken the time to write something to that effect.
6. If you’re just starting out, ask non-client contacts to provide you relevant testimonials.If everything on this list sounds completely out of reach because you’re still in that early stage of looking for your very first clients, that’s ok - you can use testimonials from other people in your life. If you’re a writer that has helped friends or an organization you volunteer for with your writing skills, they can be your early testimonials. If you’re a graphic designer that learned your skill in school, the professors who know your work well can serve as your first testimonials. If you’re branching out from full-time employment to freelancing, your former employer could make a great testimonial. Make sure you only ask people who know your work. You want the testimonials to be genuine and accurate. But don’t feel disheartened about turning to other people who know your skills and work ethic to start, you can build up your testimonials from actual clients as you go.
7. Just ask!A lot of these come down to the same thing, but you don’t always need the types of starting prompts described in the steps above to collect testimonials. Any time you’ve done work for a client you’re proud of, it’s ok to simply send an email asking if they’d be willing to write a few words about their experience with you for the website. It doesn’t take them long, and if they’re satisfied with your work, many clients will be happy to do it. And you’ll be able to add the honest opinion of a third-party to your website, which immediately makes a stronger persuasive case to most visitors than anything you can say about your own work will. Soliciting customer testimonials may be a bit awkward and require you to work up some courage, but the end results are worth it.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
How Do I Get My Own Email?In navigating the line between professional and unprofessional, email addresses have an especially important role to play. Just think of how you regard a person differently if they email you from a firstname.lastname@example.org email address versus if it comes from email@example.com? Whether or not it seems fair to you, if you want to be taken seriously professionally, having a professional email address matters. And if you run a business (even if it’s a one-person business), then you need one that matches the domain name of your website.
Why Having a Branded Email For Your Business is ImportantIf you’re still skeptical about the importance of a branded email address, there are a few main reasons to re-think your position.
1. It makes you look more professional.This is the most important reason on the list. If you want people to take your business seriously, one of the most important things you can do is create a quality business website and have an email address to match. It shows people that you’re not just someone dabbling; you take what you do seriously. In a world full of scammers, knowing you have a legit website and email address sets you apart and lets potential customers know you’re trustworthy.
2. It makes it clear who the email is coming from.If your email address in no way resembles your business name, people will have a hard time connecting the two. In one survey, the biggest factor people named for why they decide to open emails they receive is who the sender is. Your recipients are more likely to write you off as a stranger and ignore your email if they don’t know to associate the unfamiliar email address with the business they have a relationship with.
3. It lets people know where to find your business website.As an added bonus, if someone who receives your email is interested in learning more about your business, they can see the domain name embedded within the email itself. It’s easy to figure out where to go to get more information on what you sell and make a purchase, if they’re so inclined.
How to Set Up a Branded Email AddressNow that you know you need it, how can you make it happen?
Step 1: Invest in a web hosting account.If you already have a business website, then this step is already complete. If not, it’s an important prerequisite to having both a website and a personalized email that matches the domain name. Many hosting plans (including those offered by HostGator) come with free email addresses – sometimes even an unlimited number of them. If yours doesn’t, then it’s time to consider switching to one that does (like HostGator).
Step 2: Decide on a naming convention.If you have a one-person business, this might not seem important now, but if your business ever grows, you’ll want consistency. Try one of the following traditional formats: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Whatever you choose now, it will be easier for customers down the line to know how to contact you and your employees if you stick with it.
Step 3: Create your email account.How this step works will vary depending on the web hosting provider you use. Check the support articles on your provider’s website for step-by-step instructions. If your hosting is with HostGator, then you can watch a video tutorial on how to create an email address here, or follow a few simple instructions:
- Sign into your cPanel account.
- Find the Mail section and select Email Accounts.
- Fill in the Email field with the name you want to use, and the password fields with your desired password.
- Click Create Account.
Step 4: Set up your email client.Chances are, you don’t want to keep up with your emails through cPanel, so you'll need to set up your new email address in the email client of your choice. Some of the most popular options are Outlook, MacMail, Eudora, Thunderbird, and Gmail. You can find specific instructions for getting set up with each email client here.
How to Use Your New Business Email WellNow you’ve got your professional, personalized email address set up and ready to go. However, you should know that having a professional-looking email address isn’t enough to ensure you always look good in your emails. There are a few other tips you should follow to gain the respect of the people you communicate with and keep your professional relationships positive.
1. Have a clear signature.A signature makes it easy for anyone you correspond with to figure out how to contact you if they need to do so through some means other than email. It’s a nice courtesy for them and gives you a chance to do some additional branding, since you can include a link back to your business.
2. Never email angry.One of the nice benefits of email in comparison to other forms of communication is that you’re never put on the spot. If you’re feeling emotional and likely to say something unprofessional that you might regret later, you can always close the window or step away from the computer for a bit. Wait to send business emails until you’ve had a chance to cool down and think through the best way to communicate what you want to say.
3. Read over all your emails.Typos happen to everyone, but they can quickly make an email that seems clear to you become incomprehensible to the recipient. Read over each email before you send it to make sure that you haven’t made any embarrassing errors and that what you’re trying to say is clear. You’ll be amazed at all the little mistakes you catch when you do this.
4. Don’t be a spammer.Anyone who uses email professionally needs to be careful about this. If you’re not, your domain name could be blacklisted so that all your emails get caught in spam filters rather than reaching their recipients. The most important way to avoid being a spammer is to keep an opt-in philosophy: only send marketing emails to people who have already said it’s okay to do so. When you send out mass emails, make sure to use an email marketing software like Constant Contact (note: HostGator customers that subscribe to Constant Contact through HostGator can enjoy an extended free trial). And avoid all the tricks you see used in the spam emails in your own spam folder, like deceptive subject lines, misleading claims, or the overuse of language associated with pushy salesmen like “free” and “prize.” Having a personalized email that matches your domain name is an important step in showing your potential customers that you’re serious, but from there you still have to run your business and email account in the right way to keep up that professionalism. Following a few best practices can ensure your business email account stays on the up and up and represents the business well.
Monday, July 17, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
6 Steps to Business Inventory ManagementOne of the big, complicated parts of running a business that sells physical products is keeping up with inventory (unless you use dropshipping, but that’s a whole other thing). For your customers to have a good experience, you have to make sure that every item you sell is in stock. For you to make a profit, you need to make sure you don’t overstock items customers don’t buy much of, lest you’re stuck paying to buy and store items you don’t need. You have to maneuver the tricky balance between having too many items to store and too few to sell. And the profitability of your business depends on getting it right. Developing a strong inventory management system is therefore an important step in running a successful business. It enables you to track all your inventory easily and effectively, do a better job of spotting inventory issues (like theft, breakage, or incomplete orders), and improves your ability to figure out the right quantities of each product to buy when you make a new order. If you’re in the early stages of getting a new business off the ground, or if you’re trying to figure a better system than the one you have now, this post will help walk you through how to set up business inventory.
1. Organize Your Physical SpaceFor business owners, space is money. You need a storeroom to keep your inventory in so you have the items on hand when orders come in. But generally speaking, the bigger that space is, the more you’ll be paying for it. That means it’s crucial that you use the space as efficiently as possible and keep it well organized.
2. Create a Plan for The SpaceFirst, you need to establish a plan for using the space. Research shelving options that will help you make the most of it. Use the measurements you have for the storeroom to figure out how many rows of shelves you can reasonably fit and how high up they can go. Use that information to start working up a floor plan. Make sure you don’t get so focused on products during this step that you forget about people. You need to leave enough space between rows to allow your staff access to the inventory, and the higher you build your shelves, the harder it will be for people to access the items on the top. When you’re working out what specific products should be stored where, remember to make sure that the most popular items are the most easily accessible and that anything fragile or heavy should be stored where it’s easy to move it without too much trouble. Keeping a heavy box of breakable dishes on a shelf that someone would need a ladder to reach probably won’t end well. Try to organize the space so that it’s intuitive for people to find things. If you have a few main categories of products, group them together in the same section of the storeroom. For instance, put the basketballs in the same section as the footballs, rather than next to the kitchen products.
3. Provide Proper SignageYou need it to be as easy as possible for your staff to find the right product at the right moment. Good organization is a big part of that equation, but clear signage is at least as important. Hang big signs to label the main sections of the storeroom – you want your staff to be able to see them from a distance when they’re scanning the room to figure out where to go. Then make sure every row is labeled, as well as each individual product. You’ll benefit here from working out a numbering system to keep everything more organized and easier to find. Luckily, many types of inventory software help with that part.
4. Choose Your Inventory SoftwareIt’s not impossible to do inventory management without software – some businesses still walk around with a clipboard and paper and laboriously load their inventory into a spreadsheet. But using inventory software that’s specifically designed for the process will save you time and help you stay more on top of what you have in stock at any given moment. In addition to making the process of adding new inventory into the system and tracking it as it sells easier, inventory software can also process the data that helps you make better predictions about your future inventory needs so you can order the right amount of stock moving forward. And if you find a product that’s compatible with the other software you use, it will be easy to link them so you don’t have to manually update your inventory software when your POS system registers a sale. To identify the best inventory software for your needs, do some preliminary research into what’s out there. For some industries, you’ll find industry specific inventory software that’s especially well suited to the types of products and processes you use. Get a few quotes and compare the features different tools offer against your particular needs. Once your software is picked out, the way it functions can help shape the inventory process you develop.
5. Determine Your Inventory ProcessNow it’s time to figure out the exact steps your staff should take:
- Every time inventory comes in and needs to be loaded into your system
- Every time a piece of inventory gets sold, damaged, or goes missing
- And each time you check the items in the storeroom against your list of inventory (which you should do periodically)
6. Analyze Your Process Periodically and Tweak for ImprovementsThe chances of developing a perfect inventory management process from day one are pretty much nonexistent. The longer you’re in business, the better you’ll be able to tweak the process based on the information you gain on how things actually work. Maybe you’ll realize a certain type of product is more popular than you expected and needs to be moved in order to be more accessible, or maybe you’ll realize you’re buying way too much of a product type that sells slowly. Pay attention to what your staff and the data you’re collecting both tell you and check in on your process every so often – say once every 6 months – to look for ways to make it better. As with many parts of running a business, setting up a business inventory process requires a certain amount of trial and error before you’ll come up with the system that works best for you and your staff. Take stock periodically of how well your system and software are working for you, so you can make an informed decision about any changes you consider.
Monday, July 10, 2017 by Kristen Hicks
The Beginner's Guide to DropshippingBecoming an entrepreneur always involves risk, work, and cost. But the good news for anyone considering entrepreneurship today is that the internet makes it possible to pursue a number of paths to entrepreneurship that involve less risk and cost than used to be possible. One of those paths is to start a business that uses dropshipping.
What is Dropshipping?Businesses that use dropshipping depend on another company to store and ship all the products they sell. Instead of maintaining inventory in a storeroom or storage facility, they trust another business to take care of all the physical aspects of running a retail business and focus on the rest.
The Benefits of Dropshipping for Your BusinessDropshipping appeals to a lot of new entrepreneurs because it takes some of the more costly and complicated parts of running a business of your plate.
1. Much Lower Startup CostsYou don’t need to worry about renting a storefront or storage space, a cost that’s often a considerable chunk of a new company’s budget. And you don’t have to pay for inventory in advance – another huge expense in starting a retail business - you can purchase it as it sells. On top of that, you don’t have to pay the cost of having items shipped to you, since they’ll be sent out directly to your customers. That’s several levels of savings that can make a huge difference in how much you spend to get your business off the ground.
2. Less WorkNot having to deal with physical items doesn’t just save money; it saves on time and labor. You don’t have to worry about receiving shipments and unpacking and organizing the items inside. You’re also off the hook for preparing boxes for shipment or tracking inventory.
The Challenges of DropshippingWhile starting a business that uses dropshipping has its benefits, starting any type of business will inevitably have its difficulties as well.
1. Logistics Can Get ComplicatedA lot of companies that use dropshipping work with multiple suppliers. That means it can get tricky to keep up with who has what in stock and which orders have been shipped. In addition, anytime a customer orders multiple products that are sourced from different shippers, you have to figure out how to manage the different shipping costs in a way that doesn’t cause a disappointing experience for your customer (hint: charging them for multiple shipments separately likely won’t go over well). While the process saves you a lot of trouble when it comes to things like tracking inventory and dealing with shipping yourself, drop shipping creates a different set of tasks and responsibilities you have to plan on dealing with.
2. Dropshipping is CompetitiveBecause of the low overhead costs and easier start-up process, a lot of people build businesses based on dropshipping inventory. Some of those people are willing to price low in order to sell more, which makes it hard for anyone else selling similar products to make the kind of profit that makes the business worth it. This is possible to overcome. If you find a niche or some kind of unique positioning that sets you apart from the businesses competing on price, you may be able to reach the kind of customers who would rather go with a brand they relate to than find the cheapest seller. It definitely takes some work and strategic thinking though, and anyone that decides to run a business that uses dropshipping should expect to tackle that challenge.
3. It’s Still Running a BusinessHanding over a few of the tasks of running a business doesn’t free you from the many other types of work involved. You’ll still need a business plan and strategy. You’ll still need to build a website, do marketing, and offer customer service. You’ll need to do accounting and will probably need to find and hire employees and contractors. If it were easy, everyone would be an entrepreneur. Using dropshipping is easier than some other types of running a business, but any entrepreneur that chooses to pursue this business model should still expect to do a lot of work.
How to Find DropshippersFinding the dropshippers you’ll be working with is one of the most important steps in any business that uses dropshipping, and it can be tricky for a couple of reasons: 1. Many legitimate dropshipping companies don’t do much online marketing. Their websites are barebones and outdated, and they don’t bother investing in tactics like SEO. That means you’ll have to do some research and digging to find them. 2. Some of the websites that are easiest to find aren’t from actual dropshipping companies. Instead, they’re scammers or companies that claim to do drop shipping, while really selling products at consumer prices. If you don’t know better, it’s easy to get sucked in by these businesses because they’re the easiest to find, but they’re not the businesses to work with if you want to build a profitable business using dropshipping. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to find legitimate suppliers.
1. Research the manufacturers of your products.Start by looking into the companies that make the types of products you’ll be selling. Do some digging to find a contact number and give them a call to ask if they provide dropshipping. If they do, they’ll usually be your most affordable option. If they don’t, ask what distributors they work with. The list they provide gives you the next set of names to look into and get in touch with.
2. Browse an industry trade magazine.While dropshippers usually don’t bother much with online marketing, some do actively advertise in industry-specific trade publications. Flip through any relevant industry magazines you can get your hands on and make note of any ads that appear to be from companies that sell the kind of products you’re looking for.
3. Attend a trade show.If you can afford it, an industry trade show will be one of the fastest and most effective ways to make contact with the suppliers in your industry. Research the relevant tradeshows in your area and determine which make the most sense to attend. When there, spend time in the exhibits area talking to various suppliers and making contacts you can follow up with once you get home.
4. Go deep into Google.If the first three steps produced a decent sized list of suppliers for you to consider, then you may not need to bother with Google. But if you still feel you need more options, then be willing to really spend some time and go further into the Google search results than you usually do. SEO consultants sometimes joke that the best place to bury a body is on page 2 of Google, but you should be prepared to venture that far into the results to find legitimate dropshipping suppliers. One trick to help you find a relevant supplier more quickly is to limit your searches by location. A dropshipping company that’s located close to where most of your customers are likely to be will end up costing you less in shipping costs, so it pays to get specific.
5. Make sure they’re legit.Any company that charges ongoing fees will cut into your profits needlessly. Legitimate dropshipping suppliers may charge an upfront set-up fee and/or a per-order fee, but they won’t ask you to pay recurring fees that aren’t tied to specific orders. Consider placing a couple of test orders with a company early on so you can see the quality of the items yourself. These are the products that will be associated with your business and the brand you work on establishing; you want them to be up to your standards. Ask about the technology a supplier uses. A company that runs efficiently will make your life easier, so look for a supplier that’s willing and able to communicate and process orders online. Don’t be surprised if a dropshipping supplier won’t provide much detail on pricing or how they do business before you’ve set up your company as a legal entity. Their business model is based on selling to other businesses rather than directly to consumers, so you’ll need to demonstrate that you represent a legitimate business before they’ll be prepared to work with you.
How to Build Your Dropshipping BusinessLike any other type of online business you start, you’ll need to go through a few main steps in order to establish your dropshipping business.
1. Choose your industry.This is an important step to take before you start looking for dropshippers to work with. The industry you choose to work in will define the types of products you seek out, the audience you need to reach, and the branding you develop. Keep in mind that for a dropshipping business to be profitable, it helps to find a niche that’s largely underserved. Instead of selecting a broad industry, try to find a subset of that larger industry that doesn’t have too many sellers in it yet.
2. Research your audience.Every business is dependent on its customers, so do all the research you can to understand who you’ll be selling to. Develop personas based on your research to help guide your branding and marketing. This should also help you pick the best products for your company, since you’ll gain an understanding of the types of products that most appeal to the people you want to reach.
3. Define your branding and positioning.Now you have to develop your brand. Figure out what to call yourself and how you’ll position yourself in the industry. You want to figure out a way to set your brand apart from others selling similar items. That’s the only way not to get stuck competing on price. At this stage, consider bringing in a marketing consultant to help you get started on the right foot.
4. Determine your pricing.It’s not just you, pricing is difficult for every entrepreneur. You need to figure out prices that cover your expenses and make you enough profit to make running the business worthwhile, but that aren’t too high to detract customers from buying. Do some browsing to see what other businesses are charging for similar products so you know the range you have to work within. Don’t try to be the cheapest option, but also don’t try to be the most expensive when you’re just starting out. Figure out a number somewhere in the middle that will work for you.
5. Build your website.The most important single tool that every online business has is your website. Find a reliable hosting provider that offers fast speeds and put together a site that looks good and is intuitive for your visitors. You can use website builders that make it easier to build a website on your own, or invest in a graphic designer to give it more of a professional touch. Your website will be the main face of your business, so make sure you build one worthy of the brand you want to project.
6. Create your marketing plan.Getting the website out there is the first big move to launching your online business, but your next big challenge is to get people to your site. That requires marketing. Consider hiring a marketing agency or consultant to help you create a plan that will get your website in front of people in your target audience. Do some research into tactics like SEO, PPC, content marketing, and email marketing. Your positioning is important to helping set you apart, but your marketing is what will really launch you ahead of competitors – but only if you do it well.
7. Develop your customer service plan.The first sale is always the hardest to make. The businesses that succeed in the long term are the ones that are able to get customers to come back. Make sure you have a customer service plan in place to ensure that every person who buys something from your business has a stellar enough experience to want to do so again. Offer discounts and incentives to repeat customers to encourage loyalty. Decide early on what guidelines and tactics you’ll use to nurture the relationships you have with your customers and keep them coming back. Yes, dropshipping is competitive. But good positioning, marketing, and customer service are the three most important tactics any business can use to rise above competitors. If you’re providing an experience that’s superior, you can get away with charging more without driving customers away. By making smart business decisions early on, you can enjoy the savings of dropshipping without falling into the trap of competing on price.