6 Security Tips For Small Business Websites

Website security is something that matters just as much to any business with an online presence, though the reasons vary. An enterprise-level company has a huge amount to lose from a data leak — customers might desert it, and its reputation might be left in tatters. A small business, however, is trying to get established, and its website is key to that: should it become compromised, it might completely arrest any momentum and prove very costly to address.

If you’re running a small business website, then, it’s important that you commit the necessary time and attention to maintaining a reasonable level of security. Fail to manage it, and the consequences could be dire. Here are 6 simple tips for how you can keep on top of it:

Don’t leave passwords around the office

When you’re just starting out, or you just don’t have a large enough operation to feel like a viable target, it’s very easy to form bad habits when it comes to password security — even to the extent of leaving your admin passwords on sticky notes attached to PC displays. This is a really bad idea! At some point, you’re likely to want clients, business partners and/or prospective employees to visit your office, and you can’t afford to have them learn your login details.

A lot of businesses manage to get through the digitization process without truly grasping the basics of cybersecurity, so this is your opportunity to revisit the essentials. Sure, it’s unlikely that someone who sees your password notes will do anything with them — but if someone unscrupulous doestake the opportunity to access your system, they could blackmail you for money, or leak your data just to be vindictive. Don’t take the risk.

Update your plugins when possible

Whether they’re billed as plugins, extensions, apps, or add-ons (this will depend on the CMS you’re using), you can accomplish a great deal with plugins — they’re often free, and can add a huge amount of functionality to a small site without the budget to invest in custom development.

That said, every plugin you add constitutes a fresh security risk, because it has extensive access to the main system. If one of your active plugins got hacked, the hacker may well be able to take control of your entire website — and the longer you go without updating your plugins, the more vulnerable they become to attack.

You may be able to enable automatic updating, so consider that if it’s an option, but the only thing that ultimately matters is that you install updates when they’re available.

Use two-factor login authentication

Two-factor login authentication demands more than just a username and a password to gain access to a system — it adds a second step, usually in the form of a temporary verification code sent to a phone number or email address. Add it to your website, and you’ll make your admin dashboard far harder for hackers to access. Here’s a more extensive guide to give you pointers.

Use a website host you can trust

If you’re not running any enhanced ecommerce features, and using a popular platform like WordPress, then find a suitable host to back you up. If you’re an online merchant, that’s still a great option, though you should also consider hosted ecommerce platforms because they’re designed to scale: either WooCommerce or Shopify would be a great choice, the former being a self-hosted WordPress plugin and the latter being a paid SaaS option.

Make regular site backups

Over time, the amount you have invested in your website will inevitably go up. You’ll accrue valuable content that brings in traffic, resources that establish your expertise, and (eventually) a notable level of domain authority. Leaving aside the prospect of blackmail for a moment, you still have a lot to lose from a hack — namely, the current form of your website.

Imagine that someone gained access to your admin dashboard and deleted every post on your site, or even got into your hosting account and deleted the entire website. Would you be able to recover? If you get into the habit of making and storing full-site backups, then a hack — no matter how catastrophic — won’t be able to completely shut you down, because you’ll always be able to go back to a slightly-older version.

Follow industry news

Security demands change over time, and while some threats enter public awareness, many only get mentioned in industry publications. Even if you don’t understand the underlying principles (you may not be particularly technical), it’s worth following such publications, visiting them occasionally so you can scan the headlines.

In the event that you read about a new type of hack or fraudulent activity that’s making waves, you can take action to guard your website against it, and be more alert about possible signs of intrusion. Sites like ThreatPost and the TrendMicro Business Security blog are particularly worth checking out for small business owners.

These days, the website of any small business is its primary hub: its main platform for communicating with the world, promoting its wares, and driving interest. Given that importance, it makes no sense to give security short shrift. It needn’t be especially complicated to protect your site, so follow these tips, keep an eye on developments in the website security world, and you’ll have a stronger foundation for further growth.

Guest Post: About the Author

Kayleigh Alexandra is a writer and campaign designer for MicroStartups, a website focused on the charity world, and microbusinesses. With years of experience in the sustainability, marketing and creative the industries, Kayleigh knows how to grow a business from the ground up. Visit her blog or follow her on Twitter @getmicrostarted for the latest startup and entrepreneur-based news and tips.

6 Ways to Increase The Value Of Your Business Over Your Industry Competitors

Instead of trying to shoot for the moon in terms of your company’s aggregate value, it might be better to measure your success against the competition in your industry. If you can increase the value of your business compared to those in your industry, you will capture market share and be that much closer to achieving market dominance.

Here’s how to do it.

Understand Customer Options and React Accordingly

The most important thing you can do as a business owner or manager is put yourself in the position of a prospective customer in need of your product or service. Get a sense of the options on the market. Consider what differentiates the competition from your business. This is not to say you should steal the competition’s ideas; rather, you can enhance your offerings all the more if you understand what customers have to choose from.

Offer Something Unique

Variety is the spice of life. Differentiate your offerings from that of the competition and your business will ramp up. Even if you offer a product or service with a subtle difference, this unique twist will distinguish you from the rest of the competition. Just make sure the distinguishing factor makes your offerings better than the competitors’ products in some way.

Invest in Your Online Footprint

It is not enough to simply have a website or a Facebook account. Your digital marketing efforts should be a major component of your overall marketing campaign. This means you should have a website with a regularly updated blog, social media accounts on all the major platforms, an active email account and other web-based touch points. Make your company accessible through the web and it will be that much easier to establish a rapport with your target audience. After all, those who seek you out online are inclined to spend for your products and services as they have displayed an active interest in your line of business.

Make Your Employees the Heart and Soul of Your Business

No single man or woman can operate a business of considerable size on his or her own. It is important to recognize the fact that at the end of the day, your employees really are your business. Hire the best employees on the market, invest in your staff to retain their services and your company’s value will eventually surpass that of the competition. 

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse of the Industry

Forewarning of industry advancements and other events of significance really can give your company a meaningful competitive advantage. Continue to research and analyze the happenings in your particular industry. If research is not your thing, consider outsourcing research and writing projects to freelancers who can add insightful content to your online blog. Remain in the loop and your informational edge will provide your company with a significant competitive advantage across posterity.

Consider Acquiring a Competitor

One of the best ways to enhance your company value is to scoop up a competitor. Do your research, determine which companies would provide a strategic competitive advantage and make a bid. Bring the right company into the fold and you will immediately boost your company’s value. Perhaps more importantly, buying out the right competitor can directly eliminate a large part of the competition.

Keep Pushing to Expand Your Market Share

Focus on enhancing the value of your business and it will not be long until you emerge from the pack. Capture additional market share with each passing day and you will get better prices from suppliers, have more leeway with business partners and enjoy lower overhead costs. Continue to push for more and more customers until the competition gives in. You might even win enough market share to attract attention from a larger company looking to merge with or acquire your business.

Guest Post: About the Author

Marla DiCarlo is an accomplished business consultant with more than 28 years of professional accounting experience. As co-owner and CEO of Raincatcher, she helps business owners learn how to sell a business so they can get paid the maximum value for their company.

Are You Forgetting the Offline Marketing of Your Online Business?

So, you’re running an online business or an e-commerce shop, and there’s no need to advertise your business offline?

Wrong!

You should be jumping at every opportunity to promote your products and services and drive offline traffic using both innovative and conventional methods.

Here are a couple of ideas on how to do that.

Local Newspaper Ads

It’s true that many people, particularly younger audiences, use digital sources when it comes to consuming news and learning about new products, but according to a recent media consumer survey conducted by Deloitte,55% of respondentsstill use newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio as their main sources of information.

Bearingthis in mind, you should target your audience with ads in local newspapers.

Moreover, many colleges and high schoolshave their newspapers which means that even if your product and services are aimed at younger people, you can reach them throughthis old-school medium.

Both ofthese options offer you low-cost advertising.

Join Your Local Chamber of Commerce

This is a no-brainer as your local Chamber of Commerce will help you increase brand awareness and make your business come off as more legit in the eyes of your prospects.

For example, if a company is a member of the Chamber, 43% of consumersare more likely to purchase from it.

Besides boosting the reputation of your business, this membership will also positively impact your local SERP rankings, as every chamber has a website. In other words, you’ll be listed on their website and this will put you on your prospects’ map.

Attend Trade Shows

Trade shows and other industry events present you with a great opportunity to build and expand your network, showcase your products and services, and attract new customers.

You will meet a lot of interesting people and possibly strike up some business relationships.

The trick is to prepare yourself thoroughly and promote your business in the best possible light by investing in custom branded bannerswhich will make your booth or display table stand out.

Apart from being in attendance, you should also consider becoming a speaker at such events. This way, your business will gain additional exposure, and you’ll establish yourself as an authority in your niche.

Use Branded Merch

Pens, tote bags, baseball caps, t-shirts, and other ordinary items with the logo of your company on easily turn into powerful advertising tools that keep on giving and building awareness.

Instead of slipping potential customers or business partners your business card, you should give them something that they can actually use. You can be sure that they’ll wear the t-shirtor put their data on the flash drive you gave them.

Unlike a business card, these objects have another purpose other than simply promoting your business.

Finally, whenever people use that flash drive, they’ll see your logo and company name which means that you’ve managed to integrate your brand into their daily routine. This is the brand repetition with a twistsince people have learned how to successfully ignore advertising, but branded merch also provides value which makes it hard to be oblivious to.

Help Your Audience

Freebies don’t always have to be tangible.

You can offer to help your prospects and help them learn something new or solve their problems.

Just like you write blog posts and create how-to guides and videos for your online marketing, you can also do the same in real life.

You can host free seminars or make guest appearances at local radio shows and talk about some of the most common pain points of your audience, and answer their questions.

Educational workshops are another way of getting in touch with your audience and offer them something of value.

Cross Promotions With Complementary Businesses

By joining forces with a company which offers complementary products or services, especially if it’s a brick-and-mortar business, you can find a great offline channel to promote your offer in a context.

Another good idea is to partner with a local business with a strong offline presence but no online experience and reach. This partnership can be beneficial for both sides as you can be featured in their offline promotional efforts and vice versa.

Leverage Guerilla Marketing Tactics

These unconventional methods can draw your audience’s attention without spending a fortune.

Graffiti allows you to spread the word about your business by using dull city walls as a canvas. They’re highly visible and it’s hard not to take notice. Just make sure to obtain all the necessary permits.

Leaving sticky notes at random places such as coffee shops, libraries, or bus stops is a great way ofcapturing people’s attention in a subtle and yet memorable way.

Or you can sneakily leave branded pens at banks or other places where people might need them,

As you can see, these methods are pretty simple and straightforward, and by neglecting offline marketing, you’re leaving too much money on the table.

Guest Post: About the Author

Michael Deane is one of the editors of Qeedle, a small business magazine. When not blogging (or working), he can usually be spotted on the track, doing his laps, or with his nose deep in the latest John Grisham.

9 Tips to Create an Engaging Email Marketing Campaign

Email campaigns are so popular and thoroughly analyzed that it seems impossible to add something new or improve the process. However, things are changing and evolving so rapidly that even email marketing keeps advancing year after year.

Every once in a while, industry leaders and clever marketers come up with something fresh and exciting. There are all sorts of hacks, tools, and tactics to test here, but we want to select the most promising features only. In this post, we will show you nine tips to create an engaging email marketing campaign.

1.   Write a Standout Subject Line

A subject line may as well be the most critical element of an email message. How come? The reason is very simple – it is the first thing receivers see in their inbox. This is why each subject line you create has to be eye-catching and attractive.

The best examples usually include details such as:

  • Numbers: People love when you quantify statements.
  • Humor: Everybody likes a good joke.
  • Emojis: If well chosen, visual components can be very interesting.
  • Questions: Posing questions, you immediately invite subscribers to engage.

You can try anything else that the target audience might seem amusing, but these solutions work well on almost all occasions.

2.   Segment and Personalize

Marketers who do not segment and personalize emails in 2019 are certainly not going to keep pace with competitors. You have to divide the target audience into different segments like new leads, returning customers, and others. Of course, each of these groups demands a different content.

But you need to go one step further and personalize messages. Start with a name since reports prove that emails with names in subject lines have a higher open rate percentage.

Jake Connor, a digital marketer at Assignment Holic UK, claims that personalization has to go beyond names: “The goal is to tailor the message so as to fit the subscriber’s previous interactions with your brand. For instance, someone who already bought one of your products may want to learn more about similar items from your portfolio.”

3.   Keep It Concise and Well-Structured

This goes without saying, but too many content creators still don’t pay attention to the style of email writing. Keep in mind that emails have to be concise and straightforward because nobody wants to read more than one page of text.

Essay writing services always suggest using enough whitespace to divide each unit and make your email eye-pleasing. At the same time, you need to create a nice structure with several paragraphs, introduction, body part, and a very logical conclusion.

4.   Offer Real Value

You don’t launch email marketing campaigns just to remind subscribers of your existence. On the contrary, you must have a good reason to address followers and add real value to your messages. What does it mean exactly?

It means you need to create content that really means something to your fans. For instance, prospects who are already near the end of the sales funnel could receive an exclusive discount. It’s a great way to keep them engaged and ready to make the first move.

On the other side, subscribers who are still getting acquainted with your business require a more subtle approach, so you can send them educational content such as infographics, industry reports, tutorials, and so on.

5.   Organize Q/A Sessions

This is the email marketing model we don’t see too often even though it has a huge interaction potential. Namely, you can organize Q/A sessions and let subscribers ask you anything they want brand-wise. Invite them to send you questions throughout the week, while you can collect the best inquiries and answer in the next newsletter. The hack makes people feel acknowledged and serves as a genuine loyalty booster.

6.   Add Only One CTA

The golden rule of email marketing is that one message must contain only one call to action (CTA). We are not suggesting that you shouldn’t add several CTA buttons throughout the content, but each one has to lead to the same landing page or some other type of external content.

This is quintessential because multiple CTA options can confuse your audience and stop them from taking any action. Of course, it would be a disaster for your campaign, so you better make sure to think it through carefully and select only one CTA that serves your business objectives at a given moment.

7.   Use Digital Tools

After everything you’ve read so far, you probably understand that email marketing can be pretty difficult if you do it single-handedly. But instead of doing everything alone, you should make use of digital tools to improve and speed up the process. It’s not possible to mention all tools here, but some of the practical platforms include:

8.   Schedule Emails Cleverly

Although 91% of users have no issues with promotional emails, it doesn’t mean you can bombard subscribers with everyday messages. You must schedule emails cleverly to make the biggest impression on potential customers.

Firstly, make sure to send newsletters regularly. It can be once a week or every 15 days, but it’s crucial to be consistent. Secondly, you should follow big industry events, product launches, and holidays with the corresponding emails.

A good plan of activities is mandatory because it’s not recommended to send more than eight or nine promotional emails monthly.

9.   Measure the Results of Your Campaigns

The last tip is also obvious, but we must not underestimate it. You can’t allow yourself to rely on your feeling or guts. Instead, do your best to measure the results of your campaigns and check the fundamentals:

  • Open rate
  • Click-through rate
  • Conversions and bounce rate
  • List growth
  • Unsubscribers
  • Email sharing and forwarding rate

Conclusion

Email campaigns may be the oldest channel of digital marketing, but it doesn’t mean they cannot get any better. On the contrary, only state of the art tactics can guarantee results and make your emails more attractive than competitors’ content.

We made this post to explain to you nine tips to create an engaging email marketing campaign. Keep our ideas in mind and let us know in comments if you have other useful suggestions – we would love to hear them!

Guest Post: About the Author

Lilian works as an EssayMama. She also works as an editor at australianwritings and assignment masters. Lilian loves doing Edu Birdie reviews. She writes for top essay writing service.

Small Business Owner’s Guide to Podcast Marketing

 Small businesses need to find their voice. Building a loyal audience and customer base around your brand has never been as important as it is today. In modern business, content marketing plays an essential role in promoting your company’s mission and vision and stats tell the tale. Content marketing is used by 86% of B2C marketers, while that number rises to 91% for B2B marketers.It seems that as long as you have something relevant to say and are willing to present it in an attractive manner, your message will be heard.

On the road to discovering your company’s voice, you might want to speak up! One of the more attractive methods of content marketing is, in fact, podcast marketing. Now sure, not everyone will feel comfortable exposing themselves directly to an audience but there are a bunch of reasons why you should give podcasting a go.

For starters, podcasts are becoming more important because they are both a great source of entertainment but also an amazing educational tool. It is a great way to build a close relationship with your audience. Another benefit is that podcasting as a medium of communication is a lot more engaging than some other forms used for content marketing. Finally, making a podcast allows you to perfect your public speaking skills in a safe environment where you control what part of the conversation actually gets released.

How to Make a Podcast

You should know that even though the process might seem complicated, it’s very easy to grasp once you’ve understood the basics.

The Technical Aspect

The most fundamental piece of equipment you’ll need is something to record yourself speaking, meaning a microphone and some basic recording software. Everything else, from studio headphones to sound design software, is there to help you achieve certain levels of production quality. As your need for production quality grows, so will the need for investing additional resources. For example, let’s say you’re looking to go with a video version as well since YouTube is a great place for promoting your podcast. Like all of your company videos, you’ll need to work on giving it a professional look, which will require more investments like getting the right video recording and editing equipment, setting up a place to shoot, etc.

If you’re only starting out, try to determine a standard that you’re satisfied with while staying within budget. The production quality of your podcast is only a small portion of the story.

Content and format

With technicalities out of the way, you need to focus on the format of the show and the content of your episodes. Will it be hosted by more than one person? Are you going to have guests on? Once you’ve determined the format, you have to prepare and research what type of content would be most relevant to the audience you’d like to gather around your show.

SEO is an important part of running a small business in general, but it can add incredible value to your podcast marketing too. For instance, by researching keywords, you’ll be able to define the questions your audience needs answered and you’ll get to do the answering. It will also be of help when you’re optimizing your show notes. If you place your podcast on your website as well, each page should be optimized in order to improve its ranking. If you’re able to afford it, you can even consider adding a transcript of the full show.

Podcast Promotion

Once you’ve produced your podcast, you’ll need to upload it to relevant platforms such as iTunes, Libsyn or PodBean. However, developing a strategy for promoting your podcast is the final piece of the puzzle which will make all the difference.

Social Media Platforms

Using social media to promote your podcast is a must. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will help you build a community while enabling direct contact with your audience. Your episodes are a great source of promotional material, meaning you can use it to create quotes, sound bites, promotional posters, trailers, infographics or anything that your audience might engage with. Once you’ve gathered a significant following, you can include your followers in the production of the show. They can suggest topics for future episodes or you can even create a special, periodical Q&A show where you’ll answer their questions and give them a shout out.

Be My Guest and I’ll Be Yours

Having guests come on your show has great promotional value. They usually have audiences of their own and you will access them via that episode. The size and the engagement level of their audience is an important parameter to take into account when inviting people on your podcast. Bear in mind that they’ll be looking at your reach as well.

Aside from having guests on, you can also make guest appearances on other people’s shows. The same benefits apply here and this is an aspect of podcast marketing that doesn’t require for you to have a podcast of your own. In order to make the most out of each appearance, keep a couple of things in mind. Make sure you go on shows that have an audience which is likely to respond positively to your brand, service or product. It’s also essential that you have your company’s online information in order since your contacts, website, and social media profiles will be available in the show notes. Lastly, consider making a discount offer that only the listeners of the show can use, by offering a promo code or sharing a special landing page. That way, you’ll not only entice them to become paying customers but you can also measure the influence of each individual appearance.

Advertising Your Podcast vs. Podcast Advertising

Paying for ads to boost the growth of your podcast is great if you can set aside a budget for it. But for small business owners, podcasts are more of a promotional tool rather and that money is usually reserved to be spent elsewhere.

Podcast advertising, on the other hand, can be quite useful in more ways than one. If your audience is large and engaged enough, you can start monetizing your podcast by selling ad spots to other companies. Still, if you don’t have your own podcast, you can advertise your company on other people’s shows and reach new customers that way.

Guest Post: About the Author

Mark is a biz-dev hero at Invoicebus – a simple invoicing service that gets your invoices paid faster. He passionately blogs on topics that help small biz owners succeed in their business. He is also a lifelong learner who practices mindfulness and enjoys long walks in nature more than anything else.

8 Great Lead Generation Tactics for Your Small Business

Even if a company has a winning product, a top-notch customer service model and a team full of overachievers, it won’t go far if nobody knows about it. While the way we generate leads is rapidly evolving, the goal remains the same for small business entrepreneurs: to grow business without maxing out the budget. Thankfully, there are dozens of amazing ways savvy small business marketers can tout their businesses on a dime, thanks in large part to the power of the internet. The best part is, digital marketing has leveled the playing field significantly, so smaller companies can compete with the big guys in powerful ways. Here’s how the best brands are doing it.

Act as the Expert: Try Content Marketing

Content marketing means creating and sharing industry-related content—guest articles, blogs, videos, infographics, etc.—that may be of value to a potential lead. This type of marketing is all the rage, and it works. In fact, according to Marketo, 93 percent of business-to-business companies say that content marketing generates more leads than traditional marketing. On top of that, the pros report that content marketing strategies can earn you three times as many leads as traditional outbound strategies but at a cost savings of 62 percent. There’s no reason why any company should skip this high-yielding tactic.

Rely on Leaders: Advertise on the Right Platforms

Today’s lead generation efforts are all about streamlining and creating hyper-targeted advertisements (more on that below). And with so many industry-specific platforms out there, it’s easier than ever to get the word out about your product or service, so long as you select the right ones. Rather than casting a wide net on social media, take your ads to websites and apps that serve your ideal customer. If you’re in real estate, place ads on Zillow, Redfin and Trulia. If you’re a contractor or a carpenter, funnel some of your dollars into HomeAdvisor, Thumbtack or Angie’s List. There’s a site for just about everything these days.

Market Smart: Tout Your Strengths

If you work in an industry that’s especially competitive where you live, you have to come up with a special formula that can’t be replicated by others. One of the best ways to do this is to play heavily to your strengths and what sets you apart. Advertise why you’re the best choice. Perhaps you earned a special award in your region, or you’re known for completing work in half the time as the other guys. Make sure that the copy on your ads reflects the things that make you different from the competition.

Go Digital: Try Targeted Marketing

Gone are the days of casting a wide net in the newspaper or on TV and hoping blindly for big returns. Now, you can zoom in on your target consumer and play only to him or her. By studying the demographics of your highest value customers, you can create a customer persona that you can then use to advertise on social media, Google Ads and other platforms. These days, you can advertise to very specific users by age, gender, household income, education level and even hobbies and interests. Make sure to capitalize on this opportunity if you’re able to carve out a basic persona of your core customer.

 

Put Yourself Out There: Attend Industry Events

With buzzwords like targeted marketing and search engine optimization(SEO) dominating the sales dialogue, it’s easy to forget that good, old-fashioned networking still works, too. The fact of the matter is that attending industry events is especially effective in certain industries, especially business-to-business fields and niche markets. Attending trade shows, conferences and even industry happy hours gives you the chance to demo your product or service, to make a personal impression and to connect with others with whom you can forge valuable long-term business partnerships. Take it up another level by hosting your own industry event, and make sure to blast it on email and through social media to get the word out.

Go Word of Mouth: Implement a Referral Program

You spend a lot of time ensuring that your customers are happy, so they share your company with their friends and write good reviews online. But, without an incentive, most people won’t go out of their way to share information about your business with those around them, which is why implementing a referral program could be well worth your while. It’s simple: referrals work, with customers being four times more likely to make a purchase when referred to by a friend and referred customers bringing as much as a 37 percent higher retention rate.

Share the Love: Forge Partnerships with Other Businesses

As they say, business begets business. Cozy up with other business owners and entrepreneurs in your industry or area in order to create high-value partnerships that could pay you back royally. Sharing leads and going in on advertising efforts—such as collaboratively sponsoring an advertising campaign or working on a special offer for customers of both companies—can help you earn your company twice the business at half the price. Remember: it takes a village to run a business!

Let Them Come to You: Leverage SEO

Last but not least, don’t miss your opportunity to garner attention from Google and other search engines through SEO. Boosting your website’s SEO performance can ensure that it appears at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) when someone queries your business and related keywords. Follow SEO best practices, like including keywords in your website and creating high-quality, original copy for each page, in order to trigger Google to rank your page higher.

Guest Post: About the Author 

Jason brings 15 years of deep technology, product development, and marketing experience to Surety Bonds Direct. He has been leveraging Agile practices for well over a decade and is versed in various Lean practices as well. Jason has worked on substantial and complex systems dealing with secure information ranging from payroll and employee systems, to e-commerce, to travel-reservation APIs.

How to Create Loyal Ecommerce Customers Through Relationship Building

Every small business owner knows building relationships is the best way to cultivate repeat customers. But how are you supposed to develop relationships with new customers when your only interaction is a short ecommerce sales cycle? Our advice will help you draw first-time customers to your online store and convince them to return to your small business again and again.

Getting Customers In the Virtual Door

Before you can cultivate repeat customers, you need to attract first-time shoppers. If you have an online store that’s not getting much traffic, ask yourself if your site has these essential features:

A great user experience: An ecommerce store must be both pleasant to look at and easy to navigate. Unless you’re an experienced web and graphic designer, a website builder with ecommerce support is the best way to build a mobile-friendly ecommerce site free of problems that drive customers away.

Compelling, consistent branding: Your brand isn’t just your name and logo. It’s also the colors you use, your typography, and your tone of voice. Keep these elements consistent across your ecommerce site to build a strong online brand.

Reviews and ratings: Along with detailed product descriptions, product reviews generate customer trust. A first-time shopper is more likely to make a purchase if they see that other customers are happy with the product and service.

Fast and easy checkout: Nearly 70% of shoppers abandon their cart before making a purchase due to inconvenient checkout processes. Lose fewer customers by allowing for guest checkout, flexible payment options, and fast and free shipping. Ensure your checkout process is secure, and let customers know by displaying security badges like VeriSign.

Retaining Customers for the Long Term

A shopper’s first purchase gives you an “in.” Now, what will you do with it?

Email marketing: If you collect email addresses (and you should!), email marketing is an easy choice. Email marketing is a casual, low-cost way to build trust in your brand and entice customers to shop. Email marketing can be used for advertising, storytelling, and informing, but the best email marketing campaigns combine a variety of content types.

Making an ask: When you want to get more creative, try asking for help. It’s well-known that asking for favors builds interpersonal relationships, and that same tactic can be applied in ecommerce. Small favors like completing a survey, leaving a review, or tagging a friend in a social media post are a great place to start, but don’t be afraid of bigger asks. Crowdfunding is a surprisingly effective way to get customers emotionally invested in your small business, especially when you offer incentives for their support. And especially for small businesses, it’s also a viable form of small business funding.

Establishing authority: You also need to focus on building authority in your niche. This is especially important if you’re in an industry with a lot of competition. Establishing authority encourages buyers to trust you over other brands, which means they’ll not only buy again, they’ll tell their friends about your business. Content is the go-to strategy for building authority. Post informative, relevant content on your site, and share guest posts on other websites your customers visit. Another innovate strategy is expert reviews— instead of you telling customers why your products are worth buying, get a trusted industry name to do it!

The biggest mistake ecommerce first-timers make is assuming that a great product is enough for a successful store. But just like brick-and-mortar businesses, ecommerce isn’t just about what you sell, but how you sell it. By putting customer needs first and building relationships every step of the way, you can turn e-commerce into a major asset for your small business.

Guest Post: About the Author

Lucy Reed considers herself an entrepreneur since she was a kid, from the lemonade stand she opened in her parent’s driveway at age 10 to the dog walking business she started while in college. She created the site GigMine.co to help like-minded business people take advantage of the growing sharing economy. 

7 Things to Know When Writing Your Business Plan

Every business needs a strong business plan. Whether your motive is to attract potential investors or to have to a clear direction, your business plan is critical for your success. However, writing a business plan isn’t that easy. There are plenty of free online templates to help you out, but they don’t include all of the important details. Here are seven things to know when writing your business plan. 

Do Your Research 

The first thing you should do is research your market, your objective, and your product. You’ll have to spend twice the time evaluating, researching, and thinking about your business plan. To write a strong business plan, you need to know your company, your competition, your market, and your product as much as possible.

It’s up to you to know everything about your business and the industry before launching it. Read trade magazines and publications about your industry and find your target audience.

Determine the Purpose of Your Plan 

business plan can serve multiple purposes. It should provide you with a road map with different directions to plan your future and avoid any potential mistakes. You should keep this in mind if you’re self-funding or borrowing money to grow your business. For example, if you’re launching a fashion label, then you need to know the amount of money needed to start a clothing line.

If you want to attract potential investors, then your business plan should have a different purpose in mind. Since your business plan should attract investors, you want to make it as clear and concise as possible. When you clearly define your plan, make sure that you define your goals as well.

Create a Company Profile

The company profile includes the history of your organization, information on your audience and target market, the resources used, and the products and services you provide. It should also include how you plan to solve a problem and what makes your business stand out from others. When you create a company profile, you can include it on your website’s About page.

Company profiles are often seen on the company’s websites and are used to attract the right customers. Your company profile can also be used to describe your company’s mission and goals in your business plan. It’s one of the most extensive parts of your plan. Having a company profile in mind will make this step easier.

Document All Aspects of Your Business 

Investors want to know if your business will make them money before they put any money into it. They need to know the details of your business. Document everything involved with your business, including the cash flow, expenses, and industry projections. Don’t forget to include other details such as licensing agreements and your location strategy.

Create a Strategic Marketing Plan

A solid business plan should have an aggressive and strategic marketing plan. This includes having marketing objectives such as having a clearly defined content marketing strategy, entering into long-term projects with potential clients and extending or regaining a market for existing products. Of course, a marketing plan will come with its share of costs. You should include a section for allocated budgets for each of your marketing activities.

Adapt it to Your Audience 

The people who will read your business plan are lenders, bankers, employees, and venture capitalists. While it’s a diverse group of people, it’s only a finite group, according to Sewport CEO Boris Hodakel. Each reader doesn’t have the same interests in mind. If you know their interests, you can take those into account when creating a business plan for your target audience.

Bankers want the balance sheets and cash-flow statements, while venture capitalists will be looking for basic business and management concepts. You want to make sure that your business plan is modified depending on your audience. Keep these modifications in mind when creating various business plans. For example, if you’re sharing financial projections, that should be across the board.

Explain Why You Care 

When you’re creating a business plan for a banker, customer, investor, or team member, you need to show why you’re so passionate about your business. You can discuss some of your business mistakes and the lessons that you’ve learned. Explain what makes you stand out among your competition.

Maybe you’re someone who wants to change the world. You want to change the way that customer service is handled or the way online payments are made. Explain this in your business plan. Your passion will show through everything that you do. Explaining why you care about your business will help create that emotional connection with others so they’ll want to support your business.

Guest Post: About the Author

Tomas Smith is a production process specialist at Sewport – an online marketplace connecting brands and manufacturers, former advisor to various clothing manufacturing businesses. He is passionate about process optimization and all things related to garment manufacturing, writing and sharing his knowledge with the world.

5 Keys to Qualifying for a Small Business Loan

Are you looking to secure a loan to grow your business? The numbers aren’t exactly encouraging when it comes to approval rates. Alternative lenders approve around 56 percent of small business loans, while traditional banks (who have less experience with non-collateralized loans) only approve around 27 percent.

Despite these somewhat disheartening statistics, there are several steps you can take to strengthen your application and make the best case for your business.

Keep in mind that lenders are essentially risk managers. When they review your application, they’re looking at the amount of risk involved when it comes to your ability to repay the loan. Follow these five steps to minimize the risk your business represents and improve your chances of approval.

Get Cash Flow Under Control

In the eyes of a lender, cash flow is king. The strength (or weakness) of your business’s cash flow is one of the main factors lenders consider when deciding whether or not to approve your loan.

Ideally, lenders are looking for a history of positive cash flow — when more money is coming in than going out. They want to see that you have enough money to cover all of your monthly expenses, with enough left over to comfortably make a hypothetical loan payment. Dips into the negative are a red flag that indicate risk.

Depending on the lender, anywhere from 90 days to 24 months of your cash flow history will end up under a microscope. It pays to get serious about cash flow management now so you can build up a history that lenders are comfortable with. Intuitive online tools can help you get a handle on your cash flow, and simplify analysis with visuals like charts and graphs.

Check Your Credit

Always check both your personal and business credit before you apply for a loan, and fix any errors that may be dragging down your score. Depending on the lender and the type of loan you’re requesting, one or both reports may be pulled as part of the loan approval process.

Your business credit will likely be taken into account if you’re applying for an SBA loan, or a loan from a traditional bank. If your business is new and has yet to build up business credit, your personal credit will often be taken into account, along with that of other majority stakeholders. In lieu of business credit, banks often judge your ability to repay the loan based on your personal score.

Not only will your credit scores affect your chances of getting approved for a loan, they can impact your interest rate should you get approved. If either your business or personal credit score is low (below 600 for personal credit), take steps to improve it before you apply for a loan.

If your credit is less than stellar and you don’t have the luxury of time to improve your score, you still have options. Alternative lenders are generally more lenient when it comes to credit scores, and often weigh cash flow more heavily when making their lending decision.

Know What to Ask For

Asking for either too much or too little can hurt your chances of getting approved for a loan, depending on the type of lender you’re working with.

Need a loan that’s less than $500,000? Traditional banks may not be your best bet. Historically, they tend to lend higher amounts — and have less experience dealing with loans that may not be backed by collateral.

Alternative lenders, on the other hand, are more likely to lend small amounts, and the application process can be much faster and easier. The key, of course, is to show these lenders that you can repay the loan (see number 5). To increase your chances of approval with these lenders, only ask for as much as you can comfortably pay back.

Know Why You’re Asking

Would you let a friend borrow $10,000 without knowing what it’s for? The same goes for lenders. A surprising number of applicants fail to tell lenders exactly how they plan to use the loan. Always define how you’ll put the capital you’re requesting to work to grow your business.

A convincing business plan is a great opportunity to remove any doubts a lender may have about your ability to repay the loan. Laying out a plan for the funds you’re asking for will go a long way to boost a lender’s confidence in your business.

Prove You Can Pay it Back

This common sense step goes right back to your all-important cash flow. When a lender scrutinizes your financials, what they’re really looking at is your ability to repay the loan you’re requesting. If you ask for an amount without showing exactly how you plan to pay it back, your application will likely land in the rejection pile.

Cash flow projections will go a long way to show a lender exactly how you’ll cover those loan payments. Fortunately, showing lenders where your business is headed doesn’t have to be difficult. Those same online tools that helped you analyze your past and current cash flow can help you create a future projection that you can hand over with your application to improve your chances of getting approved.

Guest Post: About the Author

Eddie Davis – As VP of Business Development at FINSYNC, Eddie has the great pleasure of introducing a world-class financial platform to partners ranging from financial institutions to accounting, advisory, payment and others parties interested in facilitating better business through automation and analytics innovation.

 

The Best Tech Tools Entrepreneurs Recommend to Boost Business Productivity

As an entrepreneur or small business owner, it’s important to make sure you’re covering all areas of business in the most effective way possible. While you’ll have different priorities at different times, your accounting department is just as important as your customer service department. Each cog is vital in running a smooth and effective machine.

However, as a small business, the chances are you’re doing a lot of these processes yourself, but thanks to the modern age, there are plenty of tools out there to help you get things done correctly while maximizing productivity. This means apps!

Today, we’re going to look at a selection of some of the best apps and tools out there that can help you get every job in your business done to the best of your ability.

QuickBooks

As we mentioned above, accounting is a crucial department you’ll want to make sure you’re nailing in your small business. Get it wrong, even on the tiniest mistake, and this can have huge consequences for your business, especially from a legal standpoint.

Fortunately, the QuickBooks app makes it easy for you to load up and connect your bank accounts to easily keep track of all your finances and get the facts spot on.

Square

Being able to take mobile and card payments as a business is essential when it comes to maximizing your revenue and providing your customers with the best experience possible. Square is an excellent solution for making sure you have all bases covered.

ZenDesk

As above, the level of customer service you offer is essential because this is what people are going to think of your business and will make or break as to whether they recommend you or never come back. ZenDesk makes it easy to offer fantastic customer service from your computer or mobile.

Toggl

When running a small business, it’s easy to get caught up with tasks, and you end up spending way more, or way less, time than you originally planned. Toggl is a free time tracking app that can help you keep on top of things and spending your time and energy in the right places.

Evernote

Every entrepreneurial tool list will mention Evernote, and that’s simply because it’s so effective at what it does and brings so many benefits to small business. “From jotting down notes and ideas for the future to keeping track of employee hours and orders, Evernote can be whatever you want it to be” shares Nina Harper, a business blogger for WriteMYX and Brit Student.

MailChimp

Marketing your business is an essential process you need to go through to get your business out into the world, and one of the best ways to market is through email marketing. MailChimp makes it easy to manage and create your email marketing campaigns, and you can get started for free up to 5,000 people!

HootSuite

Hand in hand with the marketing point above, you’re going to want to market your business on social media to get it out to the masses. While there are plenty of options to choose from, Hootsuite is a great way to manage all your accounts in one simple place.

There are all the features you could need, including post creation and scheduling to answering comments and managing the accounts you follow. Hootsuite, available on desktop and mobile devices, really does have it all.

WordPress

Every business needs a website to be an online HQ for the company, but this can be expensive and complicated if you have no experience in it. “However, WordPress is designed to alleviate these troubles and make it easy for anybody to set up a professional website in no time at all” explains Sarah Coombes, a writer for Next Coursework and 1Day2Write.

Through WordPress, you can manage everything from the theme and design of your website to the blog post and content you’re creating. Everything; all in one place.

Slack

Slack is an instant messaging platform designed to help you and your team communicate in the most integrated and effective way. Slack ensures your team can sign into their workspaces from anywhere to stay in touch and maximize productivity.

Slack is available on all devices, and with the ability to set up an infinite number of channels, which could be dedicated to different projects, different clients, or different departments, it’s easy to stay organized and one step ahead of the game.

Guest Post: About the Author

Emily Marchant is a marketing manager at Academic brits and Origin writings. She is responsible for renewing and retaining existing subscribers through campaigns that involve newsletters, sponsored content, partnerships, ads and events. An excellent project manager and a team player, and a blog contributor at Phd Kingdom.