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How to Increase eCommerce Sales for Retail Stores

Starting and running an eCommerce business is never easy unless you put in place the right strategies. In the eCommerce world, opportunities are less and competition high, and you, therefore, need to do things differently to enrich your site’s shopping experience. Increasing sales is a crucial goal for all enterprises, but it requires both dedication and effort. Here are various tips to help you boost sales and run a successful online retail business.

Optimize your site

You only have a few seconds to grab customers’ attention once they land onto your site. Therefore, invest in quality product images, make your site responsive, and quick to load. 

Also, make the shopping process seamless and eliminate any unnecessary steps during the checkout. Use the necessary tools to improve your clients’ details security. Cloud computing is cheaper, and it will also help you access customer data to help understand their needs better.

You may also want to consider search engine optimization to reach a wide range of potential clients. To achieve this, do keyword research to determine how clients search for your products online. You can then include the appropriate title tags, keywords, body copy, and image alt tags.

Enable Mobile Shopping

Ensure that your site is well-optimized for the mobile phone application. Most clients, especially millennials, love shopping from their phones or tablets. You can also consider building a mobile app to improve customer experience, which will boost sales. Further, run mobile-specific adds on Facebook to help direct potential clients to your product page.

Automate your Email Marketing

Emailing is one of the most effective online marketing strategies that give you a chance to engage with your target clients easily. However, automation will help boost your marketing campaign and smoothen the process further.

You can use pre-set triggers to send timely messages to your clients. For example, if a client abandons their cart, he will receive an automatic email to encourage him to complete the transaction. As soon as a potential client trips an online trigger, he will receive an email inviting them to check out the products.

Offer more Discounts

Everyone loves getting good deals, and discounts are thus a great way to improve sales. Use regular offers to trigger inactive leads and keep previous buyers engaged. The more you give away, the more prospects will perceive your brand, resulting in more sales. Include some gifts in your business financial plan, use them to improve people’s perception of your products, and it may boost your profit margins shortly.

Discounts act as an excellent method to introduce your products to people and tempt them to purchase more. Also, reward your repeat clients by offering a loyalty program where you give them some points to enjoy more products, free shipping, or discount coupons. Further, you can include a free shopping promotion.

Active Engagement on Social Media

Social media advertising is a great way to drive visitors to your site and convert them into paying customers. Use multiple social media channels like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter to reach out to a million users interested in your products.

Target different people with varying ads to reach out to a specific customer base. Also, remain active across various platforms to grab your target customer’s attention. Engage your followers by answering all questions concerning your products and following up referrals.

Ensure Excellent Customer Support

To stand out in the competitive market, you need to deliver exceptional customer service. Set aside a reliable help desk to respond to your customer’s concerns swiftly. Your level of service significantly affects your business sustainability, and you may want to avail of various mediums in which clients can reach out to you.

Invest in a customer service technology like live chat or chat both to help in engagement automation in context chats. It will help push the client to ask questions, which may boost conversion rates by creating a great shopping experience.

Summary

If you experience slowing or stagnating sales, you need to adopt new strategies to market your products. Create a secure website, offer a lot of promotions, get active on social media, and optimize your site for mobile devices. The above guideline aims at shining light on how to increase eCommerce sales.

Guest Post: About the Author

Emily Lamp is a professional writer, working closely with many aspiring thinkers and entrepreneurs from various companies. She is also interested in technology, business growth and self-improvement. Say hello to Emily on Twitter @EmilyLamp2.

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.

Relocating a Business: 5 Factors You Need To Know

Relocating a business can be a very complex issue, whether you’re moving to another state or just down the street. To make everything run as smooth as possible, you need to plan the move carefully. The stakes are very high and there are a lot of things that could go amiss if you don’t organize everything down to the last detail. There are some factors you should make your priority in order to avoid future trouble.

Proximity to Transportation and Accessibility

When picking a new location for your business, one of the most important things to take into consideration is transportation options. In metropolitan areas, a large number of people rely on public transport, so if you have access to metro or bus stations it is good for both your customers and your employees. It provides the staff with a convenient and easy way to travel to work. Plenty of them might even be happy that they don’t have to get behind the wheel every day! Some people, however, find public transport intimidating and foreign so you should inform your employees about their options ahead of time. Organize a meeting with the staff before relocating and let them know about the nearby public transit options.

As for customers, you need to make sure they know how to find you and that they have easy access to your facility. Measure the doorways to make sure they aren’t too narrow and look for any step-ups that make it difficult for people to enter. If some concerns are raised, discuss them with your landlord before you sign a lease or your company could be subject to a lawsuit.

Staffing

There are a few main factors you need to consider concerning your staff.  First, you need to figure out the number of employees you need at your new location. If the new facility is bigger than the previous one, there might be a need for increased staff numbers. Is it feasible to hire more people with the current profit?

Second, can you attract a new workforce? Chances are you will have to let go of some of your trusted old employees as you move to a new location and you might need to hire new staff. If the living conditions in the area aren’t so good, you might find it difficult to find new people to hire. Looking for and training a new group of qualified and skilled workers can take some time at first. Do not forget that new people in the workplace might need some help fitting in. Team building exercises will bring your workers closer together and they will have fun in the process!

Hidden Costs

Looking at the rental price of your new building can be deceiving. Make sure not to take every expense at face value when relocating, as it can be easy to overlook many of the less obvious costs. When comparing two locations price-wise, don’t forget to also include expenses such as utilities, parking lots, flooding possibilities and snow removal costs. The new location might seem more expensive when you first look at the rent, but it could be the more economical choice overall if the price includes heating, cooling, wifi, parking and so on.

This requires a lot of research, especially if you’re moving to another country. Some things to look into are good infrastructure (you don’t want to deal with common power outages!), legal and regulatory structure and the culture. Ensure that the people have adequate education and if local universities provide courses that fit your company’s needs.

The move itself can also be costly and sometimes won’t go the way you planned. To avoid any hassle, you could hire a reliable logistics management services provider. They will do all the heavy lifting so you don’t have to.

Keeping Both Locations Running

This is a thing that can seem obvious at first, but keeping both locations running during the move is extremely difficult and requires a lot of cautious planning. If you don’t think this through properly, you might end up with a lot of unhappy customers! Either figure out a plan to keep the business running during the move, or make sure your customers are notified ahead of time that you’ll be taking a break for some time. Explain the issue to them and let them know when you will be open again. You will probably still end up with some complaints because not everyone will see the announcement in time, so beware!

Apart from the customers, it is also crucial to update your corporate address if you want to avoid orders and mail going to your old facility. Check if all suppliers and delivery services have your new location in mind.

Proximity to Amenities

While access to transportation options may be the most important thing to consider when looking at the facility’s surroundings, it is also a good idea to check if there are local amenities available in the area.

Having lunch options within walking distance is a sure way to keep your staff happy. Inform them about any shops, convenience stores, cafes or gyms you find nearby. Having the ability to run some errands or do some quick grocery shopping after work will be much appreciated by your workers. Keeping employees satisfied isn’t only a responsibility, but a pleasure as well.

Conclusion

Moving can cause a lot of headaches for both you and your staff. This list doesn’t cover all the issues you might face when dealing with such a complicated task, but it will surely help keep you on the right track. It is a risky business, but if you plan ahead carefully and strategically, success is nearly guaranteed.

Guest Post: About the Author

Nick is a blogger and a marketing expert currently engaged in projects for Media Gurus, an Australian business and marketing resource. He is an aspiring street artist and does Audio/Video editing as a hobby.

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.

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.

Why Your Website Isn’t Getting Traffic

If you have a functioning business website, you are on your way to connecting with customers and increasing your sales. The problem is that many business owners don’t realize that website management is not a single step, but a continuous process.

After the website is running, it is imperative that statistics are monitored to make sure that the website is getting sufficient traffic. If you see that there is a lack of traffic to your business site, there are some common problems with easy solutions that can jumpstart your traffic!

Common Problems and Solutions that Inhibit Website Traffic

Broken Links

The online world is constantly changing and evolving; for instance, you may stop selling certain products, rendering the links to those offerings invalid. You may also have linked to another site in your content that has since stopped being active, creating a broken link.

Broken links severely impede website traffic; one source states that “only 23% of users who came to 404 error page, make a second attempt to find the requested page, and the remaining 77% will leave the site forever!”

When Google’s bots peruse websites, they penalize those with broken links, leading your search rankings to suffer. To improve your website traffic, improve search engine visibility by removing 404 error and broken links from your site.

It would be very time consuming to click on every link on your site to make sure it’s working, which is why there are many online tools that can do the job for you. Try Dead Link Checker or Broken Link Checker to quickly and easily find and fix broken links.

Insufficient Content

Another reason that your website may be lacking in sufficient traffic is because no one knows it exists. You must lead online users to your site, and one of the most effective and affordable ways of doing so is with content.

Including product descriptions, website copy, articles, blogs and press releases on your website plays a big role in improving traffic. One survey found that sites that publish 16 or more new articles per month saw 3.5 times more traffic than sites than with 4 or less blogs per month.

Make sure that the content is relevant to your audience, and is informative and engaging. Include photos, diagrams and videos if possible to make your content more interesting to readers.

Poor SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a strategy that tells search engines, specifically Google, what words or phrases are relevant to your brand. By conducting a search on Google Adwords Keyword Planner, you can get detailed information about what relevant keywords online users are searching for, as well as how much competition each word has.

Once you have this data, you can include these keywords in your content, or base your content on the incorporation of these keywords. Ideally, you want to focus on keywords with the highest search rates and the lowest competition.

It may be beneficial to hire an experienced internet marketing professional or content writer to help increase your internet traffic. If you need help investing in this endeavour, IOU Financial can help by providing a small business loan of up to $300,000. Call us today to find out how you can become pre-approved and financed in 24 hours!

3 Podcasts That Every Business Owner Should Listen To

It’s important for small business owners to continue educating themselves on running a successful business, managing employees, marketing and customer service. This is the only way to stay ahead of the competition by learning about the latest trends and concepts in your industry.

The roadback that many business owners encounter is lack of time; with spending all of their time managing their company, they are not always able to attend classes or read books. After reading today’s article, however, no one will be able to give the excuse of not having the time to sharpen their entrepreneurial skills as we will explain how to learn on the go, while driving in the car or during a morning jog – with business-related podcasts.

Dorm Room Tycoon

This podcast is led by William Channer, who is not only the co-founder of Panda, a smart online news reader, but also a journalist and co-author of Ways to Connect: On Interface and Product Design. Channer provides his real life experience in the business world, along with other well-known entrepreneurs and industry leaders, to help individuals grow their startups.

Channer has over 150 podcasts with the likes of co-founder of PayPal, Max Levchin; founder of Tumblr, David Karp; founder of Basecamp, Jason Fried; and co-founder of Recode, Walt Mossberg.

Popular topics on his podcast include:

  • Preparing for Startup Growth
  • Why Marketing is Everything
  • Building a Consumer Product
  • Pursuing Disruptive Ideas
  • How to Acquire Users

Mixergy

If you wanted to take advice from an entrepreneur who became a millionaire in his 20s, than you want to listen to Andrew Warner’s podcast, Mixergy. He was able to start an internet business that generated over $30 million dollars a year with no business experience.

When listening to his podcast, you’ll hear over 1,110 episodes containing interviews with the likes of Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales; star of Shark Tank and founder of Corcoran Group, Barbara Corcoran; and Jessica Jackley of Kiva.

Popular topics include:

  • Selling on Amazon? Don’t miss this interview.
  • How to build a company using the psychology of incentives
  • Case Study: Hiring a salesperson
  • Finding Your Message, Building a Tribe, Changing the World
  • Why sell a profitable company to take a risk on a new one?

The #AskGaryVee Show podcast

The host of this podcast,Gary Vaynerchuck, has an extensive resume and professional experience. His first win happened straight out of college, when he took over his family’s wine business and grew revenues from $3 million to $60 million in five years. Since then, he has started Vayner Media, co-founded VaynerRSE, a $25 investment fund and has invested in companies such as Uber, Facebook, Tumblr and Birchbox.

Gary shares his extensive knowledge of business ownership in segments that include his advice on business practices as well as segments from his public speeches and interviews.

Podcasts include:

  • When You Get to Do What You Want To Do, You’ve Won
  • Triple Down on Positivity
  • Losing the Micro Battle to Win the War
  • Instilling Confidence
  • Overnight Success

Once you hear the interesting ideas of these industry leaders, you will need capital to realize those goals. IOU Financial wants to help you grow your business with small business loans of up to $300,000 in under 48 hours. Contact us to learn more.

Creative Ways to Attract Local Customers to Your Small Business

Nothing is more disheartening to owners than an empty store, a phone that doesn’t ring, or a website with few visitors. You know you could make sales if only more customers would visit. Well, don’t sulk, get creative. Here are a few ways to draw in more customers:

Signage:

A sandwich chalkboard in front of your store can be a great attention getter. It’s ephemeral nature (you redo it every day) makes it timely, and when you use it to advertise one-day specials, you can expect to attract more customers. Restaurants use this technique all the time, but your retail store can easily adopt it. If the weather is bad, stick a banner in your window instead.

Flash sale:

An intra-day sale can generate excitement if it’s generous – for example, a two-for-one sale or 40 percent off from, say, 1:00 to 4:00 pm. Pick a time when the weather forecast is good. Publicize the flash sale on social media, through emails, text messages, etc. And as mentioned above, list it on you sandwich chalkboard.

Free food:

Nothing packs them in like free food and refreshments. If your store happens to sell snacks, you can use your own inventory for the promotion. Or you can do a cross-promotion with your neighborhood bakery or coffee house. It doesn’t have to be fancy, because the great masses just can’t turn down free food. Hot coffee on a cold day, lemonade on a hot one, Danish on any day – customers and potential customers will enjoy your generosity and might be more willing to buy something from you.

Mobile push:

Double down on your mobile market apps (you use these, don’t you?) to push messages to consumers in the neighborhood who might want to drop into your store while out and about. The message can include a promo code for a special discount or free gift.

Entertain the kids:

A great way to gain the loyalty of local parents is to offer free, supervised entertainment to young kids so that mom or dad can do a little quality shopping. The area can have games, books, a play table, even a balloon-blowing clown. If you run a country store, how about setting up a small petting zoo – you might even be able to charge entry. Make sure you use trustworthy, preferably bonded, employees to mind the kids, and keep your liability insurance up to date. Offer special discounts to parents who bring in their children, that should really heat up sales.

Loyalty:

Many stores have adopted loyalty programs – have you? There are many off-the-shelf programs you can adopt, and the cost is usually low relative to the bump in sales. On a slow day, your flash sale might be triple points for a few hours.

Contests:

We all love to win. Thrill your customers by having daily raffles and contests. For instance, if you are a florist, elicit poems for specific purposes, such as get well or anniversaries. The best poem gets a discount coupon for future use. You can tie this into your email lists (after all, you have to notify winners), which is marketing gold that pays off many times the costs of the contests.

Revamp your website:

If your website has gone a little stale, it’s time to refresh it. There are many techniques to increase website traffic, including fresh and frequent blogging. If you don’t have time to write new content yourself, hire a good freelance writer and flood the zone with interesting stories.

We’ve listed a few good ideas, but there are plenty more out there – use your imagination and, with any luck, you’ll be swarming with new customers before you know it. If you need additional working capital to put these ideas in action, reach out to one of our Loan Officers to see if a business loan is right for your company.

The Pros and Cons of Adding a Blog to Your Website

When it comes business websites, content is king. One of the most cost-effective ways for a small business to add useful content is through a blog. The more often you can post a relevant, authoritative blog, the more you’ll get out of it. Here are some pros and cons of including blogs on your website:

Pros

Establish authority:

Marketing a product or service on the Internet is essential if you want to sell to the widest possible audience. A business blog educates consumers about your offering and the industry in which you operate. Your blog also showcases your talent and authority, giving readers the confidence to buy what you’re selling. Google bestows a higher Page Rank and better search results on websites that constantly offer authoritative, unique content, and there is no better way to create content than through a daily blog. A good blog generates new readers, who then become leads and (hopefully) customers.

Industry-Specific Marketing:

While blogging can help any company, it is especially useful in certain industries such as hospitality. For example, you can use your blogs to establish communication with potential travelers who are looking for, say, a nice place to stay in your community. If you blog about the local sites and events, travelers will come to rely on your information and will be more likely book their rooms with you when staying in your city.

Search Engine Optimization:

Fresh blogs can help get you on Page One of search engine results for your chosen keywords. Blogs should revolve around a cluster of search keywords. Your marketing effort should therefore expend some resources to ascertain the optimal keywords for your business. Online tools and SEO sites can help you with this task. For example, you can use tools like Google Keyword Tool to help you decide on the exact keywords and keyphrases to use on your website Frequent blogs that concentrate on your selected keywords can help enhance your marketing effort by:

  1. raising brand awareness
  2. solving customer problems
  3. exhibiting thought leadership
  4. establishing authority and trust

By peppering your blog posts with the appropriate keywords, you help improve your results when people search using those keywords.

Social Issues:

Sometimes, you blog not only to market an offering, but to express your opinions on social issues. Your blog and the responses it elicits can act as a forum for you and others to express their thoughts on the interesting and important issues of our times. By combining your blogging with social media such as Facebook and Twitter, you have a great opportunity to reach many people who share (or disagree with) your point of view.

Cons

Resources:

Like most worthwhile things, blogging requires you to commit resources such as time and money. Adding blogs to a website is easy and costs little, but creating good blogs is a talent that needs financial support. For example, you are diverting resources if your employees take time out of their busy days to wrote posts. The other route is to hire a professional freelance writer to create your blog posts. While not overly expensive, you should seek out the best writers with the finest reputations.

Risk:

A poorly prepared blog is worse than no blog at all. A blog is meant to establish your competence and authority, but you’ll achieve the opposite effect if your blog is poor. Some signs of a deficient blog concern:

  1. Poor grammar and syntax
  2. Improper, off-topic or otherwise unsuitable material
  3. Use of too much jargon
  4. Bad or poorly expressed ideas

Clearly, the benefits of blogging greatly overwhelm its drawbacks, especially if you have the resources to write good, effective blogs. Whether timely or evergreen, good blogs deliver benefits that far outweigh their costs.

Are you ready to budget for a blog? Start with the Business Budget Smart Sheet. This resource can help you make sense of tracking and spending, to help you forecast for the future.

Networking Tips for Small Business Owners

Networking is important for all business owners, especially small business owners, because it provides opportunities to generate new business and leads, meet VIP clients, approach investors and get important advice and mentorship. Having access to the right people in your industry can open doors and help you grow your business faster and more efficiently than doing so on your own.

However, some small business owners encounter roadblocks such as lack of time or money and being too shy or intimidated to approach people at events. The good news is that networking is always possible with these tips!

Prepare an Ice Breaker

Many people are naturally shy, which is why it may be very intimidating for them to approach a big name client, possible partner, or mentor at an event. The problem is that there is no point to attend these events unless you proactively choose to network.

Even if you are not a social butterfly, you can effectively approach and start conversations with strangers by preparing icebreakers and elevator pitches. An icebreaker is an effective way to engage with another person without diving right into your pitch. You can follow up on a recent speech, inquire about the person’s reasons for attending the event, or make a comment about the weather or food.

Once you have managed to start a conversation, you will need to get to the point quickly so you don’t lose the individual’s attention or have them turn to speak to someone else. This can be easily done with an elevator pitch, which is a minute-long description of who you are, what your business is and what you hope to achieve by talking to this person.

Invest in Business Cards

Networking doesn’t only have to occur at official events; you never know when you can meet a potential client, investor or business partner! This is why it is imperative to make and always carry business cards to hand out to those you want to get in contact with in the future. Plus, a business card makes you look more professional and serious than simply writing your email or phone number on a piece of napkin.

When deciding which business card to create, you can go the traditional route or attempt to make your card stand out from the rest. Consider your brand and the image you want it to portray to others when designing the cards, remembering that your brand image needs to be consistent across all of your marketing materials. If you own a tax accounting firm, you likely will need to create a more conservative card, while a young tech company or a baby clothing boutique can afford to be more risque with their design.

All cards need to contain the following information:

  • Name
  • Phone number(s)
  • Email
  • Website
  • Address

However, they don’t need to be limited to that information — you can include photos of your products or services, a motto and even a short call to action (CTA)!

Utilize Social Media

You may not be aware, but you can connect with important players in your industry without ever leaving the confines of your business! The truth is that technological advances have made it easier than ever to join online groups, ask questions and communicate with others through a computer or handheld device.


While LinkedIn is a platform typically associated with finding work, it is also the most popular professional networking resource, connecting over 433 million users in more than 200 countries worldwide. Once you create a profile on the site, you can connect with others by importing your email contacts, or manually entering a person’s name or email. Once you make connections with your contacts, you can view their connections, creating a networking circle with very little effort!

Additionally, LinkedIn has many online groups dedicated to specific industries and careers. The members of the groups ask questions, provide advice, hold forums and even organize offline events!

Other social media platforms, such as Facebook, can also serve as beneficial resources to connect with important business contacts online.

There are great benefits to networking, especially the connections and knowledge you can gain from attending conferences, setting up exhibits at tradeshows and traveling to award ceremonies and other events. If you need financial help to afford these networking strategies, turn to IOU Financial! We specialize in helping small business owners grow their businesses with loans of up to $300,000! Plus, if you just found out about an important conference, you don’t need to wait weeks for approval, as we can provide a loan in under 48 hours! Click here to find out more!