Category Archives: Strategy

Starting, Operating and Securing a Successful E-commerce Site

In my mind, there are three keys to success for any e-commerce site. First is mastering the startup phase and building process themselves to ensure success. Second is developing a solid marketing plan aimed at providing you with month over month growth in income. Third is securing it all from hackers and con men.

Running a successful online business isn’t easy, but mastering these three keys certainly makes it run a bit more smoothly.

Startup

Choose your niche and implement niche marketing in your business operations. It is safe to say that you are not the only one with a brilliant idea. It is pretty common for self-starters to want to have a broad range of items for sale. A great example is cell phone cases, which is a hot market as we all want to protect our beloved mini-computers. This is a decent niche; however, you are entering an extremely competitive world of quality case-makers. I recommend you narrow it down to one original, functional and specific type of case.

Marketing your Site

If you would like to see consistent growth, direct marketing is essential. You have two choices; you can sit and wait for consumers to find you or you can find them. By running promotions and advertising through social media you can achieve just that. You will also want to seek out repeat business through email. In any business, customer service is the best way to earn trust thus opening the door for word of mouth advertising.

Next, familiarize yourself with SEO. Hopefully by this point you have basic knowledge on what SEO is and simply need a refresher course to enable you to use it properly. If you don’t have a blog, you will want to add one to your site ASAP. Linking your blog to your products is one of the most overlooked ways to drive traffic to a site. Other good tactics are guest posting and participating in forums. Through forums on your niche, you can link visitors directly to your products.

Blog posts is key. If you aren’t much of a writer, it’s time to hire one or to become proficient in the craft. Continue to produce quality content and you will see an increase in visitors as well as sales. You will also want to update old content sporadically to regenerate leads. Another sound piece of advice is to repurpose old promos and reuse them via the web.

My final tidbit on maintaining a quality site is to analyze regularly. Through tools such as Google Analytics you can stay current on traffic as well as sales. You will also want to keep tabs on your SEO performance. Through this you can change your strategy as needed.

Risks and Security

One of the biggest and most obvious risks is credit card theft. Sophisticated cyber criminals also known as hackers use bot nets to coordinate attacks against unsuspecting sites. They find those that are vulnerable and steal the credit card information of consumers. This is bad for business, but is avoidable.

In 2004 five credit card security programs linked together and formed the PCI DSS. Basically they have created an extra level of protection making sure you as the merchant meet basic levels of security when it comes to cardholder data. There are 12 requirements you must comply to unless you want to risk losing the ability to sell online. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these guidelines.iStock_000010784876XSmall

Another security issue you could face is one of physical belongings. Just because you are running an e-commerce site doesn’t mean you don’t have important information stored in your PC and your home. Solve this problem by investing in two things:

First, you will want to purchase cloud backup. By doing this you are essentially storing all important information including bookmarked pages, passwords and account information. You can retrieve this information by simply logging into your email from any computer.

Second you can never be too safe with your physical belongings. As vigilant as you are about securing networks, creating hack-proof passwords and backing up to the cloud, you have to think of the physical security of the device as well. I purchased an alarm for my home from http://www.securitychoice.com/ and it’s worth mentioning that Security Choice reports the most common targets of thieves are small grab-and-go electronics like laptops, tablets and cell phones. I run my business from home, but if you have a storefront or warehouse, the same principles apply.

Running an e-commerce site is a way to fulfill your dreams of being your own boss, but going into it blind can be an expensive investment that is doomed to fail. Taking the right precautions can very well help you succeed.

What did you do when you started, operated and secured your e-commerce?

5 Ways to Create Better Content

Looking for ways to create better content for the web? Want to write concise and powerful articles that get response? Need to create quality blog posts that don’t get ignored? If yes, then go through the following five tips on writing top notch web content:
#1: Focus on Relevance

Whether you’re creating content for your website or blog, it has to be highly relevant. You’re after all creating content for your target audience, so what’s the use writing about your mother’s cooking or your brother’s dog if it doesn’t relate to your topic?

Web readers not only want information, they want relevant information. The first rule of creating better content is to create content that your readers want. You just can’t make them read your content if it they’re not interested in what you’re writing.

#2: Be Quick to Introduce Your Purpose

A lot of web writers make the mistake of dragging the article and creating suspense before reaching to the actual purpose of the article. When you’re writing content for the web, always remember that your readers have a short attention span.

So no matter what type of content you’re writing, you should not only have a purpose, but you should also be quick enough to introduce it to your readers right in the first paragraph. In short, get to the point in the beginning so that you can expand upon it.

#3: Use Action Words

People consume content on the web with an aim or purpose in their mind. They want to change something about their life or learn something new. So if your content doesn’t give them the motivation to act on the information you’re giving them, it’s useless.

This is why it’s important that you focus on using action words. Tell your readers exactly what you want them to do. Take them by hand and guide them by using an active voice, instead of a passive one. Keep the flow moving.

#4: Leverage Bullet Points

More of your readers will skim or scan through your content when compared to those who read. Why? Because not everybody has the time or inclination to read everything you write. People move from one piece of content to another quickly on the web.

By using bullet points, you make it easy for your readers to scan through your content and stop by any point that interests them. Short lists are great when it comes to creating web content. They’re way better than big chunky paragraphs.

#5: Write Short, Snappy Sentences

Writing short sentences is an art, but it can be learned. The reason why you should aim at keeping your sentences short is because you’ll be able to convey your ideas swiftly without wasting a lot of space and your readers’ time.

Work on writing in a concise manner as it not only shows your writing prowess but also makes your overall content appealing. Try and use only those words that actually contribute to your content and cut out any unnecessary ones. Check out MediaWhiz on Twitter and see how they present quality information in a concise manner.

Creating content for the web is no rocket science. If you know how to talk, then you know how to write good web content. It really is that simple.

Moving First – Take Advantage With Your SEO

 

As we all know, making the first move in business has its advantages. What not everyone realizes is just how effectively you can leverage this situation in terms of SEO. I’ve been doing SEO for years and I also own an online pool store, so when I got wind of a particular big opportunity, I jumped at it. The results were impressive.

The quick back story here relates to the Americans With Disabilities Act. After being signed into law by George H.W. Bush, pieces of the legislation have slowly been rolled out. When I heard the deadline for assisted pool access was being given a deadline of March 2012, the light bulb went off. This was going to be big.

The main form of assisted access that would meet these regulations was hydraulic pool lifts. This was a very small industry with only a couple fairly large players who never had much competition, because, let’s be honest, how many of these things have you ever seen? But, now there were going to be 300,000 pools in the United States that needed a pool lift.

The Plan, Part 1 – On Site Changes

First off, we needed to carry the major lines of pool lifts if we wanted to have any chance of reeling in web traffic to our store. We added the most popular products from the major players and made sure we had unique content about the lifts on each page. Google is not a big fan of duplicate content, so we got away from the manufacturers’ descriptions and wrote our own descriptions. We made sure to have page titles that included the brand, model number and major keywords for the category, namely “pool lifts”, “swimming pool lifts” and “ADA pool lifts”. We added a category for pool lifts in our main navigation and also added a link to the main pool lifts page off of our home page.

Aside from products, we wanted to make sure we were set up as an educational source as well. Considering ADA compliant lifts cost somewhere between $2,000 and $6,000, we knew there would be plenty of potential customers who wanted to do their homework before making that kind of investment. So, we did our homework and wrote our own educational guide. Again, we avoided copying directly from the ADA site, as Google would see that as duplicate content and it wouldn’t help us out in that capacity. While it wasn’t perfect, what we had for content definitely set us up as well as the top couple players.

The Plan, Part 2 – Link Building

For the average business owner, the unknown key to ranking high in Google is link building, that is, finding high quality, relevant links to your pages. We knew pool lifts wasn’t the sexiest topic, but we knew we could at least find a few places that would likely link to us – we just had to figure out where they were and what our pitch would be.

We had an established relationship with a site called Swim University, which has a blog about anything pool related, so we reached out to the site owner and offered an explanatory post about these new regulations. Shortly thereafter, we had a link live on that site (which you can see here). This was a good start, but we still wanted more links to beef up our status. We found more guest writing opportunities on sites dealing with disabilities, as we found them to be receptive to our cause (such as this Cerebral Palsy site). We also maintained two high ranking blogs of our own for Swimtown, so we created posts on those that linked back to our pages. Finally, when we realized it was difficult to get listed on a lot of other disability resource sites and pages, we figured we’d build our own. We put up a directory to help people find qualified installers (a real need for the end customer) and promoted it to installers so they would get themselves listed. The end result of that is our site poolliftinstallers.org, which has a big ad for Swimtown on it and also links back to our site. Two birds, one stone.

The Results

This was by no means perfect, but the original deadline for the lifts was March 15th, 2012 and was later pushed back to May 18th and once again to January 31, 2013. Needless to say, the waters have gotten deeper and more competitive since that second deadline. But, a large number of lifts got moved by that second deadline and as we were ranked in the top 3 for our main keywords (and a huge number of other lift related terms), we saw some huge benefits from our efforts. Here’s a snapshot of the traffic.

 

Obviously, the huge rush was at the first deadline as every hotel owner and commercial pool in the country panicked to either buy a lift or learn more, and the graph above is just organic search traffic that included the word “lift”. We peaked the week of the deadline with 1,717 lift related visits, but typically were getting 400-600 per week (due to Google not providing all search data, our true traffic numbers were likely substantially larger than this). I’m not at liberty to say exactly how much revenue this turned into, but I can say pool lifts have been a huge contributor to our sales being up more than 250% year to date for 2012.

 

About the Author: Adam Henige is the owner of Netvantage Marketing, a search marketing agency as well as Swimtown Pool Supplies, an online pool store.

Improving the Contract Management of Your Business

by Jenna Smith

When you want to save money for your business, one of the greatest tools that you can purchase is contract management software. Contract management software will help your business cut down on the cost of legal fees. It will also help a business manage its relationships with all of the entities that are involved in a business. A business may have contracts with vendors, partners and others.

When a business has software to manage all of these relationships, it is able to operate in a manner that is compliant with laws and adheres to the agreements that a business has with these individuals. Here are some ways that contract management can benefit your business:

1. Obtain contracts as soon as you need them.

Some small businesses choose to hire full-time legal counsel to manage all of the contracts that a business has with vendors and supply chain managers. The problem with this is that a business owner may not always have access to the contracts that it needs in a timely manner. A business owner may not be able to obtain access to contracts that it needs for a presentation or a meeting with a particular vendor. A business owner may simply want to review one of the conditions of a contract, and he or she may not be able to access this contract because it is in the hands of legal counsel.

2. Have full control of your contracts.

Having powerful contract management software gives a small business owner more control over his or her legal affairs. A business owner is able to revise the terms of a contract at any time. A business owner may decide to add in a certain condition that requires additional payments for services for a particular client. In another instance, a business owner may want to strike a clause from a contract for a particular vendor.

Having access to this software allows a small business owner to be able to make independent choices about the way that he or she does business. If a business owner wants, then he or she can simply forward the contract to a lawyer and request that particular changes be made.

3. Revise contracts when necessary.

Contract management software gives an individual the opportunity to revise contracts in only a moment’s notice. It also empowers a business owner and gives him or her the opportunity to read through contracts at any time. There is no need to get in touch with a lawyer to obtain access of contracts that have been drafted.

Overall, contract management can help your business operate in a matter that is compliant with federal laws and keeps all of your employees aware of changes in company policies. It is essential to devote resources to the process of managing contracts for your company.

Using Google+ to Increase Visibility

In the world of online marketing, there are limitless options that you could pursue which can all help boost your reputation whether you are a small storefront operation or one of many logistics companies. One of the newest tools that businesses are now using is Google+ as it has greatly improved over the last year to aid with SEO – a feature other social media sites can fully offer. How can Google+ help you increase your online visibility and improve your search engine opposition?

Local Search

One way in which Google+ can significantly help your business is in local search. In the past, Google Places was the tool of choice for businesses to use when they want to be found through local search. Google Places recently converted over to Google+ Local with most of the same features.

With Google+ Local, you can be found when people search for phrases that are related to your niche. For example, if someone types in “pizza” Google could show some local results based on the searchers location. Google will look for any Google+ Local listings in the area for companies that specialize in logistics. This will then bump that company’s Google+ listing up in the rankings above some of the bigger world-wide companies.

Generating Social Signals

One of the nice things about the conversion from Google Places to Google+ is that it has a more social feel to it. Now, businesses can interact directly with the public through their listing, instead of just having a static listing up on the Web. This means that companies can share status updates, answer questions directly from customers, and do a lot of other things. Google and the other search engines look at social signals to help with search engine rankings. If a business profile or website generates a large number of social signals and people talking about it, it will only help in the long run.

Write Some Content

When you set up a Google+ profile for your business, you have the opportunity to write blog posts on your profile for others to see. When you do this, you can include keywords that are relevant to your niche in the blog posts. This will help your Google+ profile rank higher in Google, and it can also help your business website ranking in the long run.

Google+ may not be as popular as Facebook, but it does have some potential when it comes to boosting your site’s search engine results. Just make sure that you play around with the service a little bit before you get too involved with the process of creating your profile.

Customers Not Buying? Assessing What’s Wrong With Your Business Model

A guest post by Jenna Smith

Many businesses struggle to figure out why they are not doing as well as they think they should be doing. They may have a great business idea, fantastic products, and good employees, but they might not be doing that great. Many times, a company does not figure out what is wrong until it’s too late. If you are interested in figuring out what your company’s weaknesses are here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Use Neuromarketing

Neuromarketing is a field of marketing that aims to figure out the responses that customers have to a given set of stimuli. You can go to a neuromarketing workshop to learn the basics of the discipline, and to get an idea of how it can help your business. This has the potential to significantly improve your ability to reach people through advertising.

2. Focus Groups

Another way to improve your business is to use focus groups. Focus groups can tell you exactly what is wrong with your products or services. For this process, you simply pay the focus group a nominal amount to get the information that you need.

3. Surveys

It is also good idea to offer surveys to your customers on a regular basis. If you complete a sale, include a survey and ask the customer to fill it out. This can give you valuable feedback that you can use to improve your operations.

4. Hire a Consultant

In many cases, hiring a consultant who is an expert in your industry can be a good way to assess your weaknesses. A consultant will be able to look at your business from an outsider’s perspective and tell you what is wrong with it. A good consultant will be able to make specific recommendations as to what you should be doing as opposed to what you are doing now.

5. Split Testing

Split testing is a method in which you try out different strategies to see which ones work the best. For example, if you have an online marketing campaign, you can try out multiple ads to see which ones get the most clicks. This can help you maximize your advertising dollars without a lot of additional effort.

If you’ll take the time to improve your business, there is no limit to how well you could do in the future. If you’re sick of what you are currently getting, don’t be afraid to change.

How to Successfully Pitch a Hard Sale

A guest post by Jenna Smith

Becoming a great salesperson involves the ability to communicate good ideas effectively. The salesperson has the highest paying position on a marketing team. The reason for this is because the salesperson is the one who is actually responsible for the sale. Therefore, it is critical that people in the commercial world know the following rules for successfully pitching a sale:

Focus on the Customer

No matter what type of sales you specialize in, your primary goal should be to connect with the customer during your sales pitch. You need to customize your pitch to cater to the specific problems and needs of your customer. Keep in mind that the customer is not going to buy from you just to make you feel better. They will have no problem telling you no if you don’t deliver a convincing pitch. So concentrate on the ways that you can improve your customer’s life. This should help you to get your foot in the door. Taking tips from Bob Beck Sales Expert can help you to become an excellent salesperson too.

Be Memorable

Do whatever it takes to make yourself stand out from other salespeople. For example, engage the customer in conversation about some of their hobbies. If you find that you and the customer share a common interest, then latch on to that and use it to your advantage. Having something in common with the customer can help you to connect with them on a personal level.

Maintain a Positive Attitude

Keeping a positive attitude is a crucial component to making a successful pitch. Your real emotions will show through during a sales pitch, so if you are tired and bored, the customer will inevitably notice this and they will probably not buy from you. After all, if you are not excited about your product or idea, why should your customer be excited?

Prepare for Your Pitch

Do the necessary research to be an expert on whatever you are trying to sell. Be prepared for any question that the customer could possibly ask you. You will also need to ask the customer questions yourself. Try to find out exactly what the customer is looking for so you can be certain they are satisfied.

Follow-up with the customer

Give the customer information that they can read in order for them to learn more about what you are selling. Make sure the information is designed well, as this will give you a better chance of a sale. If you were unable to make a sale at the initial meeting, give the customer time to read the materials you have given them. When you feel enough time has gone by, contact the customer and ask them if they have any questions about the product or if they need more information.

A successful pitch is all about attitude, preparation, and connecting with the customer. If you can master these things, there is no limit to the sales that you can achieve.

 

 

How to Use Your Business Card to Get More Customers

The following article is sponsored by PrintRunner.com

You’re probably NOT using your business card very effectively.  I know I haven’t been.  In fact, i spend so much time online that I often find myself WITHOUT my business card when I need it.  In fact, I’ve put all my basic business card information in my email signature and have basically ignored the different ways that I can use my print business card as a promotional tool rather than a place that holds my contact information.

How to be a guerilla marketer — YEAH – I’m talking to YOU

Running a business is serious business.  But the biggest mistake small business owners, entrepreneurs and solo-preneurs make is taking themselves TOO seriously.  Take a look around you and notice how people feel about big stodgy corporations — it isn’t very nice.  You don’t want to be a part of that.  So stop pretending that you’re some big-ass conglomerate and start realizing that the reason your customers choose you is because of who you are.  Once you get over yourself, suddenly all these terrific ideas will flood your brain and you’ll become a more creative marketer and a customer magnet.

Let’s take the BORING business card as an example.  The traditional small business owner sees a small piece of paper that holds contact information — B-O-R-I-N-G!  The guerrilla marketer sees a small piece of real estate that can fit into pockets and cup holders and coffee tables and kitchen counters.  He or she sees an opportunity to connect with their ideal customer and give them a quick USEFUL helping hand with the situation that they find themselves in.

The one step that many of us simply ignore is taking the time to think about who our ideal customer is, to put ourselves in their shoes and take the time to think about what THEY ARE THINKING and HOW THEY ARE THINKING IT.  Trust me, you’re going to think this is waste of time — I’ll bet you’re thinking that right now.  It’s not – it’s the most profitable time you’ll spend on marketing your business.

3 minutes before and 3 minutes after.  Take some time (like a day or a week or month) to simply observe your ideal customer.  What are they doing or thinking  3 minutes BEFORE they should call you and 3 minutes AFTER they purchase your product.  Inside of that small space, you’re going find some real gold.

Say you own a restaurant.  Chances are that your ideal customer is a parent on the run from school to sporting event.  They are crazy busy and they are probably feeling guilty for not providing that traditional sit down family dinner.  They opt for the drive-thru or a pizza when they could probably have a healthy meal or picnic or something.  That’s what they are thinking 3 minutes before they head for the drive thru.

What can you give them that will be a no-brainer- get stuff from YOUR restaurant instead?  This is something you can put on  print business cards and hand out at the soccer field.  Or hit the soccer field with some samples and a kiosk AND print your phone number and a coupon on a business card.

Put your business card into EVERY piece of correspondence.  You still pay bills, you still send mail — so why not include your business card (that promotes an irresistible offer).  And don’t be too proud to include one of these creative business cards inside letters and cards that you send to friends and family.

Use your business cards as note cards.  While I often advocate using both the front and the back of business cards – in this case, why not leave the BACK of your card BLANK and use it as note paper or brainstorm paper and give it to the person that you’re talking to.

Print something useful on the card.  Back to the 3 minutes before and after.  You want to give people a reason to hold on to your card.  So put something useful there.  If you’re a card or stationary shop, you might print a list of holidays (the traditional as well as the creative – for example September 14th is National Cream Filled Donut Day so you can remind folks to send a card (and a donut?).

And there you have it — just a few creative ways to use your print business cards — don’t just stop reading — start brainstorming!  You can get those cards printed over at PrintRuner.com

4 Easy Ways to Make Your Business Card Stand Out

This is a sponsored post by PrintRunner.com

The friendly folks over at PrintRunner.com asked me to write a few articles about marketing materials.  Yesterday I talked about the issue of whether or not you still need a business card (you do — but what you put on your business card has changed  - so check out that article for the details)

One truism about business cards is that they don’t hang around much anymore — unless you’re one of those people who collects them.  The standard life cycle of a business card may be the couple of hours that it sits in your wallet or suit jacket before it gets transferred into your contacts list.  It might not even be that long — if you use a tool like “CardMunch” where you snap a photo of your card and then have it transferred to your contacts or LinkedIn contacts.

This means that if you want your card to hang around (or if you want to increase your chances of winning at those business card lotteries where you stick your card in a fishboal — it needs to be distinctive and unique.  In this article, I’m going to give you a few ideas on how to make your business card stand out.

  1. Change the shape — One sure way to make your card stand out is to change the shape of the card.  You can round the corners, make it round, smaller or bigger.  In the past, when people used to save business cards inside of those plastic sheets, I used to gripe about cards that didn’t fit in the space provided.  But since my cards are digital now – size doesn’t matter.  So let your creativity shine.
  2. Play with typography –   There are way more fonts out there than Arial or Times New Roman – Typography is a wonderful design element that a lot of people forget about.  The only word of warning I would give is to be sure to use something that is READABLE and understandable.  After all, the point of the business card is to get people to call you.
  3. Color.  The obvious way to use color is to choose a bright one.  But you can also choose unusual colors or interesting color combinations.
  4. Paper.  Paper is another overlooked design element.  You’ll have to work with your printing services provider to see what options are available.  When considering which paper to choose, think about what you like to touch — do you like sleek and shiny or maybe you’re more of a raised letter or textured kind of person.

Business cards aren’t just for communicating contact information anymore.  They are a statement about you, your company and your brand.  Use your business cards as a complement to other marketing materials such as flyers or selling sheets.

Here are a few more examples that I found around the web:

 

 

 

After reading this, you may be feeling lost and lonely; wanting to change and improve your business card, but not knowing where to start.  There are lots of online printing services, such as PrintRunner.com  that offer design services and choices that will help your business card stand out.

3 Ways Going Green Can Save Your Small Business Money

A guest post from Jenna Smith

Although it’s a bit of a departure from the traditional topic for this site, I think it’s safe to say that saving money is something that interests us all, especially small business owners.  And with more and more large companies hopping on the green business bandwagon, you’ve got to wonder if there really is something more to it than just keeping up appearances.  Indeed, if one does just a bit of research, it certainly appears that there is much more to it than that.  The following are just three of the ways that going green can save you some money, increase revenue, and keep employees happy in the process.

1.  Cloud Technology

Many big businesses are already reaping the benefits of this relatively young technology, both in financial and green faculties.  Cloud computing, and remote access technologies from companies like Vivint can provide numerous green benefits for your business, as well as additional security options.  One of the more notable offerings of cloud computing is in allowing your employees the freedom to work from home certain days of the week or month while still having remote access to all the important business information and files.  This can increase productivity, employee morale, be less of a strain on the environment by reducing emissions associated with commuting, and also save time and money also associated with travel to and from the office.

In this same vein, other considerations to keep in mind are Vivint security options and their green utilities, which can keep your business safe, energy efficient, and easily remotely monitored as well.  Finally, IT costs are drastically lowered if you adopt a cloud strategy, as almost anything that needs fixing can be worked on from a remote location by a knowledgeable professional.

2.  Out with the Analog, in with the New

If you’re still using a printer or fax machine for company-to-company communications via paper, you may as well be stuck in the Stone Age with Fred Flintstone.  More and more we are seeing traditional business practices being transitioned over to paperless computing methods.  Not only does using more up-to-date computer software save you money on supplies and costly maintenance, it also saves you time, which any good business professional knows, is money.  In addition, getting rid of all the paper transactions associated with your business is more environmentally sound, and can often times save you money with financial institutions that often offer some relief for paperless banking.

3.  Do Green Business

Although small businesses can’t always be as choosy as big corporations when it comes to who they do business with, if possible, try to build green business connections.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  Making green connections builds the value of green-minded companies, which in turn encourages other companies to join in the effort.  This helps the environment as much as it increases your business’ ethical profile, and can thus land you more and more solid business as the green revolution picks up more speed, which it certainly is doing.

Like most efforts that can save your business money, doing a bit of research about green options goes a long way.  Look into the options and read about some of the benefits bigger companies are receiving by using cloud technologies and other green products.