How to Leverage Customer Reviews to Grow Your Small Business

You shouldn’t underestimate the importance of customer reviews to support and expand your business. The vast majority of consumers read reviews before making a purchase and use social media to help them decide. Customers who take the time to write reviews want to see them posted and discussed. Moreover, prospective customers want to read reviews. Therefore, for better or worse, customer reviews are necessary if you want to sell your products or services.

It’s your challenge, and opportunity, to leverage customer reviews to the benefit of your business. Check out these tips on getting the most from customer reviews:

  • Make search results work for you.

    By increasing your online visibility, you can increase website traffic and exposure to customer reviews. You can use these reviews for SEO and search rank purposes, as well as showcase your excellent offerings.

  • Share positive reviews in your marketing efforts.

    Most consumers will have a better perception of your offerings when they are exposed to positive reviews. For example, if a customer gives you a great review on Yelp, feature it on Facebook and Twitter. There is no harm in bragging, especially when sourced from a happy customer.

  • Take negative reviews seriously.

    Don’t be defensive when you receive an unflattering review. Instead, respond to it by offering your assurance to address the issue. Then, do just that – use the review to improve your products and services. Reviews can reveal all sorts of problems, whether at your store or on your website. If multiple reviews identify the same problem, your top priority should be to fix it.

  • Good reviews can improve your profit margin.

    When you receive consistently good reviews, you’ll likely see an increased demand for your offerings. That should allow you to raise prices and beef up your profits.

  • Answer questions.

    If you have a small business, you probably have a manageable number of customers who have questions. In other words, you should take the time to answer all the questions you receive on your website and social media.

  • Use reviews to gather intelligence.

    You have competitors, right? It’s worth your time to monitor their reviews on sites they don’t control. It’s a great way to learn about their strengths and weaknesses. Use that information to adjust your own business to accentuate why you’re better than the competition.

  • Invite bloggers to review your offerings and then link to those reviews.

    When a popular, authoritative website links to yours, you gain some valuable link juice that gooses your SEO. Therefore, consider contacting well-known bloggers and influencers and ask them to review your business. See if you can suggest the link’s anchor text to extract maximum SEO value. You can encourage bloggers to review your business via an affiliate program in which you actively promote the products of affiliates.
    The affiliate program’s financial incentives can encourage bloggers to review your offerings.

  • Make your website review-friendly.

    That means asking visitors to leave reviews and making it easy for them to do so. Make reviews easy to find, whether on your website or on mobile devices. Don’t ignore valid bad reviews, as these make your business more trustworthy. Of course, always respond to the negative reviews in a positive, non-defensive way.

  • Seek reviews and comments through email campaigns.

    You should be building your customer email list all the time. Use that list to ask for a review whenever a customer makes a purchase.

As you can see, there are many actions you can take to get more value from customer reviews. It may take some extra work, but when leveraged properly, that additional work should pay for itself many times over and help you grow your business.

How to Increase Your Visitor-to-Lead Conversion Rate

Website traffic is an important metric that reflects the relevance, popularity, and engagement levels of your small business. More people on your site means that you’ve optimized your site very well with ample content and keyword implementation, technical specs, and other nuances that elevate your site’s ranking. It gives you a competitive edge, and it lets you connect with more people in your audience. Their presence is another representation of your standing, but it’s far from the only metric that you should keep an eye on when you’re growing your business.

Transforming that initial spark of curiosity into actual sign-ups and purchases is a whole other issue for small companies, seeking to improve their conversion rate and their customer loyalty. To turn your website visitors into genuine, qualified leads, buyers, and subscribers, you need a targeted strategy for your business. Here are a few steps to consider that can help you boost your CRO and make use of all that traffic on your site!

Implement site-wide CTAs

Website visitors want a sleek, simple, no-fuss experience every time they find themselves perusing your pages. However, some incentive is always a good idea, especially when you know how to effectively scatter call-to-action buttons that inspire them to subscribe or make a purchase. Your CTAs need to be simple, brief, but also clear so that your visitors will know what they should do next.

Your blog posts, your product descriptions, videos, images, all of your content on your site is an opportunity to place an effective CTA that will generate better leads. Use your FAQ page to link back to relevant pages, and post CTAs to entice people to decide with ease. Sometimes, a powerful CTA will do you more good than an entire blog post about the perks of your specific product range.

 

Use social proof to your advantage

Every small business owner knows that building credibility takes time and dedication, not to mention numerous strategies for effective marketing, branding, and communication with your audience. But leveraging your existing credibility is possible when you use tech to show your website visitors that they can trust you like so many others already do. This phenomenon is called social proof, and there are tools that serve to showcase social proof to your website visitors that also help convert more people into leads and buyers.

Small businesses can benefit from integrating a conversion rate optimization tool into their website so as to present social proof to each visitor in a simple, but effective way. The tool will generate notifications every time someone makes a purchase and let your browsing visitors know – this will, in turn, help them take the leap and buy from your business thanks to those brief social cues that others have done the same.

Publish customer reviews

Building trust is the key prerequisite for earning more leads, let alone more purchases and long-term loyalty. In addition to social proof and showing that others have successfully purchased from you, user-generated content is one of the most effective ways to showcase previous customers’ trust and inspire more people to feel comfortable trusting your brand. Wondering where to begin? Start with publishing up-to-date and relevant customer reviews on your site.

Yes, those on Google are also important for your SEO purposes, but make sure that your website visitors are greeted with a few words of encouragement from your previous customers, too. In addition to having a dedicated page for customer reviews, you can publish them right next to products they purchased for further trust-building, and play them on a reel on your homepage, too. Star ratings work well when combined with written reviews and testimonials, but you can also add video reviews from customers as well as influencers.

Rely on regular analytics

To nurture better leads, you need to understand where your tactics might be going wrong in the beginning. In addition to regular A/B testing of your landing pages, you should also keep tracking engagement rates and conversions across your website, too. With that kind of data at your disposal, you can spot the kind of CTAs, product descriptions, landing pages, and other content that have the most effect on your website visitors to actually engage with your brand.

This is the only way to notice if a certain page keeps “losing” visitors and sending them off your site because of too many distractions, a popup that’s annoying them, or a misleading invite to make a purchase. Measure and record the results of each of your campaigns, and keep an eye on the performance of every single part of your site. That will help you gain the necessary data to tweak the entire website for better lead conversion.

Conversion rate optimization is highly dependent on data and customer behavior, but also your own creativity and persistence when it comes to refining your approach over time. Customers change and their preferences change with them, so keeping up with their needs is a key piece of the puzzle. Plus, continuously monitoring industry trends is necessary for your small business to stay competitive since there will always be more eager businesses joining the playing field. Turn more website visitors into quality leads and buyers, and you’ll also improve your customer loyalty and your brand reputation over time.

Guest Post: About the Author

Sophia Smith is a lifestyle and social media blogger, and graphic and UX designer. She is an aesthete and photography lover by heart who absolutely loves everything that includes visual communication. Sophia is also very passionate about yoga and mindful living. Lately, she writes about digital marketing topics, from content to social. She has contributed to a number of publications including Women Love Tech, Leader Maker, Legal Reader, Businessing Mag, Ruby Connection, Cause Artist, and many others. You can find out more about her writing by following her on Twitter. 

Where Should You Spend Your Marketing Budget in 2020?

In general, small businesses allocate 7% to 12% of their gross revenues to marketing. This compares with the Small Business Administration’s suggestion of spending 7% to 8% on marketing. Of that amount, the total budgeted to digital marketing is expected to rise to 45% in 2020 compared to 42% in 2019. The biggest share of digital marketing expenditures will go to video marketing, and social media ads will account for 25% of the average digital marketing budget. Let’s dig a little deeper to see how you should spend your marketing dollars.

Calculating Your Marketing Budget

It’s not too hard, just follow these steps:

  1. Identify your gross revenue: This is revenue before any expenses, deductions, or allowances. If you are a new business or the market has changed, you can use estimated revenues.
  2. Determine your ideal marketing budget: If your company is younger than five years old, your budget should be in the 12% to 20% range. You need to spend a high amount to help establish name recognition. Older companies should budget between 6% and 12% unless you are establishing a new brand name.

For example, assume your business is a startup and you expect to gross $100,000 in the first year. With a budget between 12% and 20%, your marketing expenditures should range from $12,000 and $20,000.

On the other hand, let’s say your company is 10 years old and grosses $1 million annually. With a budget of 6% to 12%, you should expect to spend between $60,000 and $120,000 this year on marketing.

Allocating Your Budgeted Funds

To know how to allocate your 2020 marketing budget across online and offline channels, you should review what worked in 2019. To start, identify the 5 to 10 most successful 2019 marketing strategies in terms of leads and sales. Break down the information to categorize your previous-year marketing spending, including:

  • Branding
  • Email
  • Events
  • Public relations
  • Print ads
  • SEO
  • Social media
  • Training
  • Website

The quality of your marketing data will help determine how much value you can extract from this exercise. To the extent possible, you want to spend money on the strategies with the highest marketing return on investment (ROI).

Understand 2020 Digital Marketing Trends

As you ponder your marketing expenditures, consider these trends:

  1. More than 90% of customers claim to rely on influencers to help them decide on purchases. In other words, it makes sense to allocate money for influencer fees.
  2. You really can’t afford to ignore video because it gets results. You can create streaming or live video for a modest cost. Check your community resources for companies that can handle video for you.
  3. Sophistication is on the rise. Look for increased use of artificial intelligence, video search, and 5G networks.
  4. You can better convert website visitors to leads by making your site more interactive. Think about adding live chat, quizzes, games, and even virtual reality.
  5. Do you understand micro-moments? These are instances where folks reflexively utilize their device(s) to do, watch, discover, buy, or learn something. In a micro-moment, people are ready to decide and/or spend money. For you, this means helping visitors act on their micro-moment. You do this by providing value, including timely articles, links to valuable resources, tools, help desks, etc., on websites and apps.
  6. Be aware that smartphones may eclipse websites this year in terms of video-based advertising.
  7. Concentrate your marketing on social media sites most relevant to your potential customers, be it Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
  8. Never forget that content is king. That means you should allocate sufficient budget to pay for high-quality, authoritative, and timely articles employing SEO features to drive an organic presence in search results.

How IOU Financial Can Help

Frequently, a mismatch develops between revenue collection and marketing expenditures. In other words, you may need to borrow money to exercise a timely marketing strategy. IOU Financial can provide quick, hassle-free funding so that you can realize your marketing objectives on your timetable. Contact us today for more information.

How to Negotiate Rent on Commercial Spaces

When it comes to finding a lease there will be several things on your mind; location, size, affordability, and condition to name a few. But, when it comes to renting out commercial spaces the affordability factor becomes a much more important thing to consider. The fact of the matter is that you need to understand not only how much the rent is, but all of the other costs involved in running a commercial space as well. It can quickly mount up.

This is why, when it comes to a commercial lease, negotiation is a key factor and something you should consider doing. As, if successful, you can easily assure a much safer financial setting for yourself.

So, with that in mind, here are the key ways to ensure you get a good rate when negotiating rent for your commercial space:

What is a Commercial Rental Lease?

A commercial lease is a formal, legally binding, rental agreement between your business and a landlord. The commercial lease is something that allows you to use a space for business activity in return for money.

What is the Difference from a Private Lease?

When it comes to setting up a lease, there is a difference between a private tenant lease and one taken out by a company. The underlying foundation of both is fairly simple: the exchange of money for the use of a property for a set period of time. But, there tends to be much more flexibility and less government-enforced protections for a commercial tenancy. A business tenant is expected to take on much more responsibility and have a higher understanding, especially in comparison to first-time renters, for example.

For this reason, a commercial tenancy is more likely to be negotiable in terms of renting prices and terms. As it is more of a business arrangement than a regular residential lease is set out to be.

Things to Look Out For

Some of the biggest factors when it comes to commercial leases that are important to be aware of are the factors that can affect rent… or may mean financial payouts at a later date. This includes factors such as:

  • Rent Reviews – these can quickly raise the price of your rent and perhaps make the lease completely unaffordable. If you have a rent freeze clause for several years, it is important to know when the review is expected, as you can then determine your financial standing before the increase.
  • Underletting – sometimes a commercial lease doesn’t always work out. Not all businesses last beyond their first two years or so. It’s important to understand if you have options in case this happens. A good choice would be to underlet the space to a different company. But, beware–you are still liable even when you underlet!
  • Breaking the Lease – in some instances, ending a commercial lease early may be necessary. To protect your business you should always try to ensure there is a break clause that will allow you to break the lease early. This can save you financially, as otherwise you would be held liable for rent until the very end of the lease.

It is important to understand these terms and know the financial implications.

Tips for Negotiating your Commercial Rent

Once you understand the basics of a commercial lease, it is then a simple case of actually negotiating it. This can be quite a long process and you are not always guaranteed success. But, if you do manage to secure a reduced rate it can be incredibly beneficial to your long-term business finances.

  • Understand the costs and try to research the area. If the rent seems a little steep in comparison to the competition, then mention it – you may get a discounted rate to match the market!
  • Get a professional opinion. At the end of the day, you won’t find the best rate unless you involve a professional expert to advise on the issue.
  • Do not agree to pay legal fees for both parties, as the landlord should be able to cover their own costs.
  • Understand the extent of the reparation clause in your agreement and what this means for you from a monetary standpoint. Don’t immediately agree to fix everything at the end of your tenancy, as this could mean much more than you expect!
  • There may be some different ways that a landlord may wish to entice you to rent with them. So, ensure you ask about any potential inducements (it may not be money, but it could be a sweet deal).

When it comes to a commercial lease, assume everything is up for negotiation if you have certain needs or want something slightly different. As a tenant, the negotiation process is almost always in your favor so it’s a good position to be in. But, if you feel unsure or unable to negotiate, you can always get someone on your side to help/do it for you.

In these cases, you will end up paying for their expertise. So remember to weigh out their costs vs. the savings you are achieving to determine if it is worthwhile or not.

Final Thoughts

Overall, when you are starting or moving a business into its first official commercial space, it’s important to be aware of your position and how best to take advantage of it. Especially when negotiating your lease, as it could mean a great deal of savings/benefits for your small business.

Guest Post: About the Author

Natalie Wilson is a freelance writer for a number of different business publications. With a range of knowledge in the business and insurance sector, she is an avid researcher and writer in the commercial property valuation field. Natalie is now a freelance writer looking to specialize in the topic. You can connect with her on Twitter.

Improve Your Business Credit with These 7 Steps

It can take a while for a small business to establish a credit rating and even longer to improve one. But make no mistake, your credit rating is an essential element when you seek credit or a loan. It also helps get you approved by landlords, suppliers, and vendors.

Business credit scores are available from several sources, such as FICO, Dunn & Bradstreet, Equifax, and Experian. Although each provider uses its own methodology, the following steps should improve any business credit score.

Check Credit Reports

Each business credit bureau maintains credit reports. You want to check those reports to make sure they don’t have any errors that can hurt your score. You do not have the automatic right to look at your credit reports — usually, a little money has to pass hands. The big three providers are Dunn & Bradstreet, Equifax, and Experian, and they all charge fees. You can also access your credit report through Nav.com. Check your reports for any errors and dispute them.

Establish Your Credit

What if you come up empty when you search for your business credit report? It means that you haven’t established your credit yet. Perhaps you’ve been paying your business bills with your personal credit card, a definite no-no. Naturally, those payments will be reported on your personal credit, not your business report.

You must take some steps to establish business credit:

  • Form an LLC, partnership, or corporation for your business.
  • Receive a federal employer identification number from the IRS.
  • Create a business checking account separate from your personal one. Ensure that the account is titled in your company’s name.
  • Get a new phone line just for your business, listed under your business name.
  • Get a D-U-N-S number by registering with Dun & Bradstreet. It helps you secure federal grants and contracts.

Your business credit report will record credit-related transactions. It might also include certain public records and other information.

Get a Business Credit Card

This will help you build your credit profile quickly. Use it for business purchases such as travel, entertaining, office supplies, and so forth. Pick a card that offers good rewards, like high cashback rates or miles. Add employees to the card to collect rewards on their business purchases.

Use Vendors that Report Payments

Many vendors report their received payments to the large business credit bureaus. This applies when you pay on terms, i.e., 2/10 net 30, etc. You might already use vendors that extend terms but make sure they report transactions based on those terms. If not, find alternate vendors that do report payments and switch.

Pay Vendors Early

Some business credit bureaus, such as Dun & Bradstreet, give you higher marks when you pay your vendor bills before they are due. For instance, the D&B PAYDEX score tops out at 100, and you can achieve an 80 score by paying your vendors on time. However, to max it at 100, you need to pay your vendors early.

Manage Your Cash Flow with Credit

Your credit score can help you better manage your vendor relations. A good score might entitle you to better terms and lower rates from vendors. That’s a critical aspect of optimizing your operations and financing. Take advantage of the credit limits on your business credit cards to manage your purchase. These are often cheaper than alternatives, such as merchant cash advances. The more interest you save, the less of a drag on your profits.

Borrow Wisely

There will be times when it makes terrific sense to borrow money for your business. For example, you might be presented with an enticing opportunity that requires more cash than you currently have available. Alternatively, you might use business loans to help smooth out volatile or seasonal sales. You can use loans to grow your business and expand its reach.

Let IOU Financial Help

If you need a business loan that is affordable and easy to repay, look no further than IOU Financial. We’ll lend you up to half a million dollars with flexible and convenient repayment methods, including daily automatic payments. This way, you never face a monthly mountainous loan repayment. And remember, IOU Financial reports your payments to the major business credit bureaus, so you can build your credit quickly. Contact us today for more details!

6 Ways eCommerce Businesses Can Cut Their Shipping Costs

Shipping can either make or break new eCommerce businesses. Massive corporations like Walmart and Amazon have shipping down to an exact science, with order fulfillment centers all over the country. Amazon already accounts for around 40 percent of all online sales. To compete, small businesses need to find a way to get their products to consumers quickly without charging them a fortune in shipping. In fact, 28 percent of online shoppers abandon carts because of unexpected shipping costs. When it comes to winning over new consumers, new e-retailers need to do everything they can to lower the cost of shipping without impacting the overall quality of their delivery services. Here are six tips for cutting shipping costs in the eCommerce industry.

Purchase Used Shipping Materials

It all starts with finding the right shipping materials. Companies looking to save money on their shipping costs should consider purchasing used shipping containers. Consumers don’t really care how their packages arrive as long as the product is intact and arrives on time. Purchasing used plastic containers, gaylord boxes and other shipping materials can help these companies save a fortune over time. Many of these containers will just end up being recycled or disposed of eventually so this is one of the best places to reduce costs. Companies can even label their used shipping containers to create more brand awareness. It’s just about finding low-cost materials that keep the company’s products secure.

Print Labels at Home or the Office

Companies can also print their shipping labels at home instead of going to the post office. Websites like Stamps.com make it easy to print shipping labels, which saves the company a trip to the post office. They can have the carrier pick up the package right from their home, office or warehouse without having to worry about pick-ups and drop-offs. If the retailer is using a sales platform, they can connect this software to their printer and the machine will automatically print off shipping labels every time a new order comes in. When getting products out the door as fast as possible is the only way to succeed in the eCommerce industry, companies should try to shave off as much time as they can from the order fulfillment process.

Reduce Package Size and Weight

Most package carriers like UPS, FedEx, and the U.S. Post Office will charge companies for shipping based on the size and weight of their packages. Companies should find shipping containers that match the size of their products, so they don’t end up overpaying for shipping. They still need to leave room for packaging materials that keep their products safe, but the smaller the container, the less the company will end up paying for shipping.

Retailers should also look for lightweight used shipping materials such as cardboard boxes and plastic totes. Reducing the overall weight of the package can be just as important as its size when it comes to trimming costs. To keep their items safe, retailers can use recycled shipping materials like recycled newspaper, cardboard pellets, and other low-cost items. These materials tend to weigh less than other types of shipping materials and they cost less upfront as well. Not to mention they’re also good for the environment.

Partner with Regional or Local Carriers Whenever Possible

While UPS and FedEx might seem like the obvious choice when it comes to shipping, there are other carrier services that might charge less. Companies should spend some time researching the carriers in their area until they find the lowest possible price. They can even use this research as leverage to negotiate with carriers, especially if they plan on shipping out hundreds of items per year.

Some regional and local carriers may only serve a certain part of the country, but if the company’s consumers also happen to live in this area, it might be the company’s best choice when it comes to shipping. Some smaller carriers are doing everything they can to compete with the likes of UPS and FedEx, so some companies might be able to negotiate a lower price, considering the carrier will be grateful for their business.

Purchase Insurance from a Third Party

Depending on the overall value of the package in question, some retailers may want to get insurance for their packages, or at least offer their consumers the option. While signing up for shipping insurance through a major carrier like UPS might be more convenient in the moment, going to a third party can help these companies save money. Third-party shipping insurance providers usually offer a lower rate than some of the biggest carriers in town. Retailers should establish a lasting relationship with an insurance provider, so they can quickly insure their packages without having to go through a carrier like UPS. If the company is doing a lot of shipping, they might be able to negotiate a lower rate per package.

Be Aware of Hidden Fees

There are all kinds of hidden fees involved in shipping, especially if the company is shipping to a remote area or a foreign country. Having the customer sign for packages, shipping insurance, rush hour surcharges and more could easily inflate the cost of shipping. Most consumers don’t want to deal with these kinds of fees. They just want to see “Free Shipping” and move along with their day. That’s why the retailer should do this research beforehand, calculating the entire cost of the shipment instead of surprising the customer with a last-minute fee. Retailers should try to find carriers that limit these kinds of fees altogether

Final Thoughts

Reducing the cost of shipping is about more than saving retailers money. Low-cost, reliable shipping is one of the only ways these companies can compete with massive e-retailers like Amazon and Walmart. The more a retailer can save on shipping, the more they can pass on these savings to the consumer.

Guest Post: About the Author


David Madden is an efficiency expert, as well as being the Founder and President of Container Exchanger. His passion and business is to save companies money through the use of used reusable and repurposed industrial packaging such as plastic and metal bulk containers, gaylord boxes, bulk bags, pallets, IBC totes, and industrial racks. He holds an MBA as well as a certificate from Daimler Chrysler Quality Institute for completion of six-sigma black belt training.

Retail Businesses: Improve Your Instagram with These Tips

Instagram is a leading video- and photo-sharing platform that belongs to Facebook. It includes many business-friendly features, including ads, analytics, business profiles, tagged products, purchase page links, shopping lists, support for e-commerce purchases, and more. Instagram is characterized by more engagement and less competition than other social media titans such as Twitter or Facebook. That means you can market your offerings at reasonable ad rates. Check out the following tips to extract maximum value from your commitment to Instagram.

1.    Let Your Creative Juices Flow

To start with, concentrate on solutions rather than products. If you’re a service organization, discuss the processes underlying your offerings. Remember, Instagram is a visually-oriented platform, so you have to look good as you explain the value you provide. Like it or not, you’ll sink or swim based on your visual content. Liberally sprinkle your presence with photos and videos that celebrate your company’s mission, culture, and ways you help your customers.

2.    Optimize Your Entries

You have limited space per posting, so don’t try to cram in too many ideas. Rather, give a single focus to each posting, such as a special promotion, a new product, or a company event. Frequently update the single clickable link (in the Bio section) to point to new content on your website or elsewhere. Use Instagram Business Profiles to give out your phone number and collect comprehensive analytical data.

3.    Make It Meta

You can use Instagram to give viewers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of your company. You can show them how you build your products or deliver your services. Highlight special characteristics of your offerings, such as sustainability and fair trade practices. If you are a manufacturer, show each step in the fabrication process, from raw inputs to production to distribution. Get creative by showing pictures of brainstorming whiteboards and other inside information. As you get feedback, sharpen your postings to reflect the types that work better than others. And to prevent clutter, archive your older posts.

4.    Use Hashtags

Hashtags can increase your reach. You can tailor them to specific campaigns or topics, but always keep them relevant to your content. Set up your main hashtag (e.g., #yourbrandname) and use it occasionally on Instagram and other social media sites such as Twitter. Hashtags help folks find the content they desire. Don’t overuse hashtags — three to five are a good number, even though you can add 30 per post. Also, try some popular ones like #instagood or #tech. Vary where you work hashtags into your postings, from inline to comments to the end of your post.

5.    Share Customer Success Stories

You can @mention others to showcase successful customers and clever collaborators. After all, you can let their excellence reflect back upon you. It’s good marketing (and just good) to support a charity or two, and you can tag them to show your commitment to a worthwhile cause that aligns with your company’s values. You don’t have to be an “official sponsor” of a charity in order to tag them. This technique supplements hashtags, which aren’t necessarily monitored by some visitors. Also, use reciprocal unpaid “shout-outs” to and from your partners. If you prefer, you can use paid shout-outs if your marketing budget permits. Typically, these require payments to a popular brand or influencer in return for their shout-out to you. This can increase your viewership quickly and efficiently.

6.    Offer Exclusive Content to Loyal Followers

Give your Instagram followers first access to exclusive content and upcoming promotions. Let them know that they are being singled out to early information about new events, services, and products. You can even tease upcoming events with enticing photos to build anticipation. Satisfy their curiosity about new offerings, offices, or stores. Try to make your Instagram followers feel special.

7.    Use Analytics to Build Success

You won’t know whether your marketing is successful unless you can measure results. You can use Instagram’s analytics and/or those available from third-parties to measure followers, click-throughs, and engagement. Integrate your Instagram analytics with that from other social media sites.

Conclusion

Is your marketing budget sufficient to meet your needs? Marketing is an essential ingredient when you want to grow your business, but it can get expensive. IOU Financial can help you bulk up your marketing budget for a special push. We feature friendly terms, fast funding, and convenient payment options. Contact us today to get a business loan that you can use to elevate your company to the next level.

10 Ways to Get Traffic to Your Website

The buzz word for increasing sales and conversions for any website is traffic, traffic, traffic. As a small business owner, one of the most significant digital assets you have is your website.

When it comes to driving quality traffic to your small business website, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. There is also no single set-it-and-forget-it tool that is capable of driving quality traffic to your site on auto-pilot.

You’ll need to combine a mix of different channels and approaches with the aim of driving the right visitors to your website, increasing conversions, engagement, and sales for your small business.

In today’s online business world, competition is cut-throat. The internet today has over 1.5 billion websites, and over 200 million are active. How can you generate the much-needed quality traffic to ensure that your small business stands out like the North Star?

As a small business owner, you may not have the big marketing budget to undertake expensive marketing campaigns and paid ads aimed at driving quality traffic to your website.

Are you looking for simple, budget-friendly, and highly effective ways to get more traffic to your small business website? Here are some guidelines you should consider.

Create quality content.

When it comes to generating the right traffic for your website, good quality content is sacrosanct. Content is indeed King, and it ranks as one of the top 5 factors for generating quality traffic to your website as outlined by Google.

You can use a mixture of short and long-form content, infographics, or video formats depending on the kind of audience or readers you are targeting with your content.

Your readers should also be able to share your content on various social media platforms easily. Including a share button in your content would be a great way to achieve that.

You can create top-quality content in various forms like;

  • Webinars
  • Whitepapers
  • Emails and Newsletters
  • Podcasts
  • Articles or Blog content
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • eBooks, and many more.

Although you may not need to use all these formats, having a plethora of content formats at your disposal will help you to reach a wider audience. Good quality content is a great way to keep your visitors engaged.

Imbibe SEO best practices.

Making your website content friendly to search engines is a great way to drive quality traffic to your small business website. Make sure you leverage both off-page and on-page SEO to get the maximum benefits for your website. When it comes to maximizing SEO for your website, here are some must-haves you’ll need to consider;

  • Title tags: This is the unique title or clickable headline given to a particular web page on your website.
  • Meta Descriptions: This is a summary of about 155 characters that describes a particular web page.
  • Keywords: They are relevant words and phrases added to your online content to help improve rankings on search engines.
  • Image ALT tags: They are used to describe images on your website.

Optimizing your website with proper SEO practices is a great way to drive high-quality organic traffic to your site.

Use Hashtags.

Using hashtags in your posts on social media is a great way to extend your reach to a broader audience. When users search for products and services with your hashtags, you’ll get more quality traffic to your website.

Ensure your website is mobile-friendly.

There are lots of visitors who want to access your website through the use of their mobile phones, tablets, and other devices; you need to make sure that your website caters to their needs by ensuring that your website has a responsive design.

Research undertaken by Statista revealed that over 52% of website traffic was generated through mobile phones in 2018. Today, more and more users are accessing websites through their mobile devices; you don’t want to miss out on a large amount of traffic all because you do not have a mobile-friendly website.

To check the mobile-friendliness of your website, you can use this Google tool.

Use email marketing.

If you’re looking for a cost-effective way to drive quality, organic traffic to your website, then email marketing will quickly be your best friend. A lot of marketers today say that email marketing is dead, yet, it is still one of the most powerful tools to create awareness for your offer and drive a ton of traffic to your small business website.

Do you know that a staggering 72% of customers prefer to receive information about products and services through their emails? As a small business owner with a limited marketing budget, email marketing is a pocket-friendly approach you can use. If you are yet to take advantage of email marketing, you need to start building your email list now.

List Your Business on GMB, Bing Places, etc.

Creating and optimizing a free Google My Business (GMB) listing is a great way to drive traffic to your website. In fact, you can get as much as 7 times more visitors if your Google My Business listing is well optimized.

A lot of potential customers are looking for businesses daily on Google My Business and other online business directories such as Bing Places and Yelp. Make sure to link your website to these online business directories so that you can drive more traffic to your website and grow your business.

Leverage social video sites

Videos are valuable assets and great tools that can be used to attract new customers and keep your existing customers engaged. Thankfully, social video sites like YouTube or Vimeo are great platforms you can use to host your video content online.

When you create captivating and engaging video content, you can add your website address in the video description column on the social video site. This way, you’ll get traffic back to your website when visitors click on your website link.

Always make sure you post interesting, captivating, and informative video content online. Do not forget to include a call to action (CTA) so your audience can take a particular action.

Use Guest Blogging

Guest blogging is another way to increase traffic to your website. Guest post on reputable blogs in your niche; invite other prominent business owners in your niche to guest blog on your site. You can use both ways to drive blog traffic to your small business website.

You can post content on relevant blogs in the local language of your target audience with the help of online translation services like The Word Point and other brands. Guest blogging also portrays you as an industry leader in your niche.

Be Active on Social Media

The enormous role played by social media in driving traffic to websites of business owners and entrepreneurs cannot be over-emphasized. Your social media audience can quickly become visitors to your website when you share engaging content on your social media page from time to time.

As a small business owner, you should endeavor to maximize the use of top-performing social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Linkedin, etc. Being active on social media is also a cost-effective way for you to interact with your target audience and build a community of loyal customers.

A survey carried out by Campaign Monitor revealed that 69.6% of small business owners use Facebook to drive traffic to their website, while 48.3% and 47% of small business owners use Instagram and Twitter, respectively.

Build Backlinks

Create links on other reputable websites of industry influencers in your niche that points back to your site. This way, your business is exposed to a larger audience, and your website will reap the benefits in terms of quality traffic.

Moreover, when reputable websites link to your small business website, Google trusts your site more. Here are some link building strategies that you can use to kick start your link building campaign;

  • Ask your friends to refer to your website from theirs.
  • Have a working business relationship with other brands.
  • List your business on reputable and trustworthy online business directories such as Yelp, Thumbtack, Yellow Pages, Better Business Bureau, etc.
  • Post content on aggregator websites like Reddit, Popurls, AllTop, Feedly, etc.

Wrapping things up

Generating quality traffic to grow your small business website can seem like a hard nut to crack if you do not know how to go about it.

If you do not want your website to become a glorified business card, then you need to start using the tips mentioned above to ensure that your website gets the right amount of traffic.

One thing is certain; you need to find ways to grow your small business irrespective of the marketing budget available to you. You need to start seeing good returns from your small business website, and generating quality traffic is one way to ensure that this happens.

Guest Post: About the Author

Thomas Lore is a 23-year old translator. He is also a creative and diligent freelance blogger, who is always seeking for new ways to improve himself. Thomas is very versatile and he wants to reach the tops with his writing skills.

Taxes in 2020 — Small Business Checklist

As we ease into the next tax year, it’s the right time to assess what’s new for businesses:

  1. Minimum wages:

    They went up in 13 states. You’ll need to refigure the withholding and deductions on affected employees.

  2. W-4 forms:

    They’re new for 2020, reflecting the removal of allowances for calculating paycheck withholdings.

  3. Overtime rules:

    About 1.3 million additional workers will now get overtime if they earn less than $35,568, up from last year’s threshold of $23,660.

  4. Retirement plans:

    If you offer a 401(k) or similar plan, you can:

    1. More easily recommend annuities.
    2. Collect a larger ($500) credit to set up a retirement plan if you have 100 or fewer employees.
    3. Collect a $500 credit for the adoption of auto-enrollment.
    4. Increase the maximum default percentage of compensation from 10% to 15%.
    5. Include more part-time workers in your retirement plan by reducing the minimum requirement from 1,000 hours to 500 hours in at least three consecutive years.
    6. More easily establish Multiple Employer Retirement Plans among two or more employers.
    7. Set up a new plan by your filing date in the following year rather than December 31 of the current year.
    8. Face higher penalties for failing to file returns and employee benefit plan reports.

As you assimilate these changes, you should prepare your checklist for 2020 taxes.

The 2020 Checklist

Hopefully, you’ve already started on your 2020 Tax Checklist. Here are the items we recommend you include:

  1. Mark your calendar for important deadlines:

    1. January 31, 2020: W-2/1099-MISC form distribution.
    2. March 15, 2020: S-Corporations and partnerships filing deadline.
    3. April 15, 2020: Deadline for sole proprietorships, single-member LLCs and C-Corporations.
    4. October 15, 2020: Deadline for filing extension returns.
  1. Identify the required forms for company filings:

    1. W-2 and 1099-MISC for employees and independent workers.
    2. Sole proprietors require Form 1040 and Schedule C.
    3. S-Corporations require Form 1120-S.
    4. C-Corporations require Form 1120.
    5. Partnerships require Schedule K-1 and Form 1065.
  1. Assemble your information:

    1. Bank statements
    2. Credit statements
    3. Income and expenditure reports
    4. Accounting documents
    5. Gross receipts
    6. Sales records
    7. Previous year’s return
    8. Depreciation schedule

 

  1. Compare business and personal expenses.

    • You need to avoid inconsistencies and overlaps between the two. Be careful to explain when you used personal funds to pay business expenses and business funds to pay personal expenses.
  2. Get on top of your 1099s.

    • You may be issuing them to contract labor and vendors. Also, you’ll be receiving them from some customers. Keep tabs on all of these in case of audits.
  3. Review your deduction opportunities.

    • This is best done with or by your CPA or bookkeeper. You must properly account for your business deductions, including items like equipment, travel, and supplies. But you should also search out less obvious deductions. If you work at home, make sure you take the maximum home office deduction. The same is true business mileage. Keep good records in case the IRS seeks proof.
  4. Review your estimated payments and payroll deposits.

    • You don’t want to overpay these items, because you can use the surplus payments for other reasons.
  5. Consider an extension.

    • If you find yourself facing complexities you hadn’t anticipated, you can file for an extension to work out the solutions. You’ll still have to pay your taxes on the due date, but you’ll be able to take the time necessary to file a clean return.

What If You Owe Taxes?

You may find that you own significant taxes for 2019. Maybe its because you earned more than estimated, or that you failed to take sufficient payroll withholdings. If you are a sole proprietor, you might have posted insufficient quarterly estimates.

Whatever the cause, if you have an additional five- or six-figure tax bill, a business loan will allow you to meet your tax obligations without draining equity from the business. Turn to IOU Financial for fast, easy funding with convenient repayment terms. We can take some of the sting out of owed taxes by allowing you to pay the IRS on time and then repaying your loan in affordable installments. We look forward to helping your business sail smoothly through this year’s tax filing.

Business on a Budget: Smart Spending Tips for Business Owners

For new and experienced business owners, balancing income and expenditures is never as easy as it seems. There is a qualitative cost to every decision made, and extreme cost-saving measures can make it hard to attract employees. Spending too little on marketing can cause a business to become invisible to potential customers, too.

Short-term profits can inspire investor confidence but sustaining a company over the long term requires a different kind of thinking. Retaining employees that can grow a company is hard, especially in an era when the internet allows employees to search for a new job with a click of a button. Employees need to be motivated to maximize their output—and that motivation often comes from feeling like they’re being invested in.

Cutting corners isn’t worth it if it kills a business’s image or employee morale. Here are the basic ways owners can spend their money wisely while still investing in the future.

Employee Benefits That Matter

Sometimes business leaders assume that “networking opportunities” are a great way to attract young professionals. While this is true for extroverts who want to build a name for themselves, many entry-level employees are more concerned with basics like health insurance. Older employees may also be seeking good 401k contributions, and time off matters to employees who have kids or want to travel—but one thing is for sure: Free luncheons and gym memberships don’t retain employees.

Health insurance is expensive, but it’s a much better use of money than catered networking events and yoga classes. Even if your labor force isn’t facing a high turnover right now, remember that employees’ priorities change as they have families or start to face health problems. They may seem to enjoy working for you, but they may seek out employers that offer better health insurance benefits, leaving you scrambling to find their replacements.

Keep Travel Costs Low

Travel can seem like an inevitable cost of wooing new clients and establishing trust with suppliers, but now it can often be replaced with video calls. While sometimes in-person meetings are necessary for inspecting supplier facilities or other manufacturing-related work, they are often just to make meetings clearer and more efficient than the standard conference call. Video calls offer a perfect balance of coordinated visuals and reduced costs for all parties. Travel can also burn out employees with families at home, so it’s not always a perk that attracts or motivates employees.

If clients begin to expect visits from executives, then it can be hard to stop those visits later on, so it may be best not to start them in the first place. Plus, the money saved by minimizing travel can be passed on to customers. Since travel is such an avoidable cost, it makes sense to keep it low at first, and then increase that budget if managers insist that it is needed.

Buy in Bulk

While buying in bulk requires some foresight and planning, it can be well worth it in the long run. Basic office staples like paper and printer ink cartridges have a near-indefinite shelf life, so stocking up on them is an excellent option for reducing long-term costs. It can also make it more worthwhile for you to do specific tasks in-house—like printing large quantities of newsletters and other essential documents.

Coffee and other cheap food items should be kept around the office as well. Instead of having someone run out for coffee ahead of meetings, encourage employees to use a basic stock of coffee, sugar, and creamer to avoid wasting time or being late for the meeting. For employees who are on a deadline or simply forgot to eat lunch, having granola bars stashed in the kitchen can make a huge difference in how quickly they’re able to get back to work.

Avoid Catering

Catered lunches are nice for meetings on a tight schedule, but they’re ultimately a waste of money. In many metro areas, even having sandwiches and chips delivered can cost over $15 per serving. Pizza can be cheaper but can still add up to hundreds of dollars per month for large departments.

Catering is only necessary for meetings with clients when the meeting location is far from most lunch options. It’s great for offices in a far-flung industrial park, but for urban offices with a variety of sandwich shops nearby, it’s better to give employees time to grab their lunch. Plus, catering for a large group can be tricky due to allergies and other dietary restrictions.

Choose the Right Location

Having office space in a high-traffic area is important for businesses that need to regularly attract new clients and customers. However, the exact location of that office can be tricky to figure out, especially in expensive metropolitan areas. While downtown offices can be great for visibility and networking, they might not be feasible for new startups or companies with razor-thin profit margins.

For businesses that have a strong manufacturing focus, offices near an industrial park can be just as good as downtown space. Opening a store downtown may seem like a great way to grow a business, but if most local shops are closer to the suburbs or in another trendy area, then that downtown location may be a waste of money.

Getting the best value possible will come down to a balance of location, size, and available amenities, so be prepared to sacrifice one of those three. Depending on the location, parking and other auxiliary costs could be more expensive as well.

Seek Employee Development

Sending employees off to special training can seem like an unnecessary cost, but it can be a huge asset to a growing business. Clients care about reliability and skill and being able to tout your employees’ certifications can help significantly in competitive and crowded industries. Even if the training doesn’t matter to clients or customers, it could be worth it for small businesses that need to run more efficiently on a shoestring budget.

Carefully research training in your industry to determine which ones will offer a significant return on investment. A vaguely titled training provided by a random consultant may not be worth the money, but a certification course offered by a university could be a game-changer. Of course, local and online options are preferable to far-flung training with high travel costs.

Negotiate with Everyone

Suppliers, vendors, landlords, and even lawyers all come with a price tag. However, that price tag can be surprisingly flexible—especially if you have a long-term healthy relationship with them. In economic downturns, landlords are particularly willing to negotiate a cheaper lease instead of risking losing a major tenant.

Negotiation is an art, so special training may be necessary to get results without hurting relationships with clients and suppliers. Plus, it’s far easier to negotiate cheaper hourly or per-unit costs when buying in bulk, so start with your biggest bulk expenditures. While your savings may not seem like much at first, they’ll add up after just a few months.

Your business’s overall outlook can improve quickly with negotiation skills and other tweaks to spending practices. Even businesses with low overhead can see savings when per-employee expenditures are taken into account.

Guest Post: About the Author

Tania Longeau serves as the Head of Services for InkJet Superstore. Tania oversees a team of Operations and Customer Service Reps from the Los Angeles headquarters. Before joining InkJet Superstore, Tania was a team leader and supervisor working for one of the biggest mortgage and real estate companies in the country. She is a happily married mother of one who enjoys spending time with her family and reading in her leisure hours.