12 Things Entrepreneurs Need to Know
By Rieva Lesonsky
1) 4 Musts for a Successful Website
Quiet Light Brokerage just released an infographic mapping out the four necessary pillars to creating a successful and valuable website. Proper implication of these necessary fundamentals will make your website’s worth increase dramatically.
Check out the infographic below.
2) 5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your 1st Digital Media Strategy
Guest post by Naz K Rasmussen, a freelance journalist who writes about Scandinavia, tech and living a digital nomad life in Bali. Connect with her @thenazmussen.
Entrepreneurs often start businesses because they master their products. The notion that they also have to fend for them in the digital sphere to get to market can seem like an unnecessary stress. In fact, Gartner says one of the biggest obstacles facing marketing leaders today is not knowing where to begin with their digital strategies. While being bombarded with ‘must-know hacks’ and the ‘latest marketing tools’ is sure to scare off some traditional marketers in small businesses, creating a digital strategy does not have to be intimidating.
Marketing on steroids
Let’s look at why a digital strategy can put you ahead of the curve. Marketing channels influence buyers who’ve just realized they want to spend money. As they explore their options, however, they are yanked in different directions by your competitors grappling for their short attention spans. How do you get them hooked on you? If conventional marketing drives brand awareness, then you should think of your digital media strategy as marketing on steroids—it prompts calls to action and gives you a loud, identifiable brand.
What does a digital media strategy call for? For starters, a website—45% of SMBs don’t have any site at all. And then there’s social media. It sounds harsh, but you may be seen as less relevant without an active social media following—a badge of honor in business today. Only around 50% of organizations have a defined digital media strategy. If you go through the basic questions below, you will already be well on your way to defining your strategy and recognizing the natural steps that will lead to your first digital marketing strategy.
- What are your business’s marketing goals? Is it to drive people to your new website? Is it to have thousands of likes within a certain time frame? Think about your different channels: If your website is the main channel then what do you want it to do? Can your customers buy something on your site? Is it purely informational? The point is—quantifying your chief goals is imperative to the way you carry out your online presence.
- Who is your ideal buyer? To understand your audience, ask yourself: What demographic, behavior and psychographic profiles do my current customers have? A good trick is to draw up a “buyer persona” based on your most profitable customers. Creating a profile for the type of customer you don’t want buying your products, can also be beneficial to keeping your brand strong and audience loyal. This information will inform marketing channels, tactics, and content.
- What is your visual personality? Your brand, its core colors, logo integration, and typography, are your voice. A clear voice personifies your brand and, complemented with original and curated content, builds trust with your audience. Your tone should speak to your “buyer persona”. As customers discover more and more brands online, websites are also becoming shop windows for your brand. Most important and impactful, perhaps, is a well-designed brand, with a coherent design and brand package.
- What are your keywords? Keywords are the holy grail of digital. If your visual identity helps buyers resonate with your personality, keywords are what helps them find you in the first place. Keywords are how you optimize your website and social media profiles to show up when people search the Internet. Start by looking at your competitors’ websites and their keywords—what phrases do they repeat? Marketers often talk about “long tail keywords”—these are the phrases your audience is more likely to use when they are about to make a purchase. Google AdWords Keyword Planner is your friend; here, you can find traffic for different words. When you find your keywords (ideally no more than four or five), use them on your website, web pages, and in your social media profiles. Using keywords will put you ahead of the 63% of marketers who have admitted to optimizing their websites based on their intuition!
- What social media will be your claim to fame? Once you’ve determined your keywords, buyer persona, and visual identity—it’s time to look at additional social tools in your arsenal. Which social media channel is right for you? The major players, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Goolge+ and Tumblr all boast hundreds of millions of visitors. Vine has about 42 million.
The wider you cast your net, the more likely you are to convert the audience into sales. If you don’t have many resources, excelling in two is better than half-heartedly publishing on five or six channels.
Twitter is right for you if you want to reach both men and women and a younger audience. If they are information junkies, then they’ll be Twitterati. If your business is a natural authority on a certain topic, then micro-blogging topic-based news and timely insight are a must.
Facebook—71% of adults use it. In fact, more than half of online adults aged 65+ use Facebook. If your brand will profit from an engaged online community, then Facebook is your pick. Dialogue and two-way exchanges with your audience is key here. If your small business involves photography, sports and recreation or pet supplies, then you’ll be happy to know these industries dominate the network by nearly 95%.
LinkedIn is your domain if you are in B2B, or if your buyers are educated, more affluent (50+% are college grads) and you can provide industry insights or career advice.
Pinterest is the place for audiences who like to express themselves visually. Demographics matter here—42% of online women use it while only 13% of men do. Hot categories are food, home and destinations.
Instagram. Does your product have a strong visual aspect? Or do you sell therapeutic or coaching services? Then the picture and quote-sharing app is perfect for you. Users are typically young and urban.
Embracing digital will open you up to a wealth of audience insights such as who visited your site, how long did they stay, and what did they click on? Google Analytics is a good tool to read these metrics, however, experts can also help unveil a clear, detailed picture of how buyers interact with your site and how you can reach them. With these five basic questions and answers you have uncovered for each, you are already ahead of the pack and ready to grow your audience and online image.
3) Payroll: What’s Costing You the Most Time and Money?
While payday makes employees want to stand up and cheer, payroll is a different story—it often makes HR want to rip their hair out. Running payroll is a long and frustrating process, complete with roadblocks and costly mistakes. At the end of the process, time and money have been wasted and HR is exhausted. And then, the process starts all over again.
This type of payroll process can be a nightmare—but it doesn’t have to be. This infographic below, compiled by Namely, an all-in-one HR platform, serves as a guide to improve the payroll process to save both time and money.
Check out the infographic below to see how to save time and money with a streamlined payroll process.
4) 6 Mobile Commerce Trends for 2016
Guest post by Haresh Kumar, Moovweb. Kumar is responsible for extending Moovweb’s thought leadership and driving overall marketing and communications strategy.
The explosion of mobile over the last few years has been staggering. And sometime this year, the 20-billionth mobile phone will be sold. And not only are there many more mobile devices, we’re all becoming more reliant on them. In fact, 9 out of 10 consumers in the U.S. keep their phones within reach 24/7.
This has significant ramifications for retailers, particularly for online commerce, where mobile commerce already accounts for 30% of U.S. ecommerce and is expected to grow 300% faster than traditional ecommerce. What does the coming year hold for mobile commerce?
Here are the top 6 mobile commerce trends to watch in 2016.
Physical and online worlds will continue to converge. If your brand has a large U.S. audience, chances are good your customers are going to be engaging with you across devices. About two-thirds of Americans own at least two digital devices (a desktop, smartphone, tablet or laptop). And more than one-third own all three. They’re not only using multiple devices, they’re also interacting with your brand in ways that are blurring the lines between the physical and online worlds. Big retailers are highly aware of the overlap between online and physical channels. In response, they’re offering an increasing array of online and in-store options, including:
- Curbside pickup. Interestingly, brands like Target are partneringwith 3rd-party apps like Curbside rather than using their own apps.
- Online reservation and purchase of goods and services such as the online reservation of clothes to then be tried on in-store at Searsor tire changing services at Pep Boys.
- Same-day delivery of items by a range of retailers including Macy’s, Target, Walmart, Kohl’s and Nordstrom.
- Beacon-enabled features including targeted offers, loyalty rewards and mobile payments. Most (85%) of the top 100 retailers are planning to adopt beacon technology by the end of 2016. And Business Insider expects beacons to have a direct influence on over $44 billion in U.S. retail sales in 2016.
Whether it’s in-store-first technologies like beacons or online-first services like curbside pickup, it’s clear 2016 will be a year in which retailers will leverage technologies across the digital and physical channels to offer their customers the best of both worlds in one seamless experience.
Social commerce will remain hot, but will buy buttons deliver? There is a very strong connection between social media and mobile. In the realm of retail, social media is a significant force.
- In 2014, the top 500 retailers earned $3 billion from social shopping.
- Social shoppers are spending more money online than ever before.
- And social-driven retail sales and referral traffic are increasing at a faster ratethan any other online channels
2015 was a big year for social commerce, with the launch of buy buttons on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook. Though Pinterest, for example has 60 million Buyable Pins, buy buttons have yet to gain wide traction on any social platform. However, given the importance of social in terms of both traffic and revenue to m-commerce sites, social buy buttons—and whether they gain a foothold with consumers or not—will be an important trend to watch in the coming year.
The mobile web will continue to outpace apps. Over 85% of mobile time is spent in apps. That’s pretty staggering. A quick glance at this number would indicate that offering an app is an imperative in 2016. But if you dig one level deeper, it gets really interesting: 8 out of every 10 minutes of app time is spent solely in an individual’s top 3 apps. Across industries, the web drives 2x the site traffic of apps. In fact, of the top 30 U.S. retailers only two—Amazon and Walmart—drove more than half of their visits via their apps.
As for revenue, only about 20-30% of a retailer’s mobile sales come from their apps, according to Forrester Research. It’s not surprising therefore that Forrester’s The State of Retailing Online 2015 report found that 56% of retailers say mobile apps would not play a major part in their mobile strategies.
To be clear: apps can certainly play a key role in retailers’ mobile strategies, particularly for their most loyal customers. And thanks to deep linking and Google App Indexing surfacing relevant app content in mobile search, traffic to apps will surely increase in 2016. In fact, already 40% of Android searches turn up app-indexed results. But given its clear leadership over retail apps today, the mobile web will no doubt continue to eclipse apps as the biggest revenue driver for retailers in the coming year.
Consumer expectations will drive retailers to focus on mobile moments. Consumers rely on the their smartphones during countless moments throughout the day. In fact, 91% use their smartphones while completing another task. And as they become more reliant on their mobile devices, consumers expect to get exactly what they need in the moment they need it.
This mobile moments mindset presents retailers with unprecedented opportunities to engage their customers on mobile. Whether consumers are pulling out their smartphones to conduct a product search over breakfast, using the store locator feature to swing by a retail location after work or pulling up a scanable rewards card at the register—mobile moments enable brands to provide their customers exactly what they need in their immediate contexts.
One challenge for many retailers is that popular approaches for adapting desktop experiences to mobile, such as responsive web design, fall short when it comes to delivering contextual experiences. To keep up with their customers’ needs during their mobile moments, retailers that are relying on responsive design to deliver their mobile experiences will need to solve for the limitations of responsive, for example by applying mobile experience optimization (MEO) on top of their responsive sites.
But regardless of the technology they use, in 2016 we will see more retailers focusing on creating mobile experiences that deliver exactly what their customers need in their immediate contexts.
Loyalty will eclipse convenience in driving mobile payments. Tim Cook of Apple declared 2015 the “Year of Apple Pay” when the service launched in October 2014. Yet one year later, it only accounted for about 1% of total transactions in the U.S. Mobile wallets in general have been slow to take off.
One historical challenge was not all retailers accepted mobile wallet payments. But even today, with 1 million merchants, accepting Apple Pay for example, and the mass upgrade to EMV compliant terminals (which means many more vendors in 2016 will be accepting mobile wallet payments than ever before), most consumers will not start using Apple Pay and Android Pay.
The challenge is mobile wallets do not offer enough incremental convenience to shift user behavior—at least not in the next year. A far more significant shift for mobile payments in retail in 2016 is being driven by retailers themselves: mobile payments via retailers’ apps. And while most retailers won’t see many of their customers paying via mobile payments in 2016, mobile payments will experience some growth in the coming year. In fact, eMarketer expects mobile payments to grow 210% in 2016.
The growth of mobile will force brands to optimize mobile checkouts. Retailers are losing $18 billion annually due to shopping cart abandonment. And research shows over two out of three users who add items to their online shopping cart leave without making a purchase. The numbers are even worse on mobile where conversion rates are 70% lower than desktop.
However, 2015 was a pivotal year for mobile shopping. This holiday season, for example, mobile played a bigger role than ever, with a 45% increase in mobile traffic and 82% increase in revenue. In fact, smartphones generated over 57% of traffic and nearly 30% of revenue over the holidays. And with mobile commerce expected to grow at a rate 300% faster than traditional e-commerce, more brands will focus on implementing a seamless checkout experience in the coming year.
All of these trends will generate some buzz in the coming year. And more importantly, they will all create unique opportunities for brands to provide their customers with better mobile experiences in 2016.
5) 5 Must-Haves for Your Shopping Cart
Guest post by Stephen Fontenot, Marketing Communications Specialist at Hostway Services, Inc.
When it comes to offering a top-notch customer experience, one aspect of a retailer’s website is often overlooked: the shopping cart. Once content has been optimized, merchandise is showcased and the overall look and feel is tailored, some companies might call it a day. However, the work isn’t quite done yet, as the shopping cart can mean the difference between your customer enjoying their shopping experience, or abandoning it for a competitor.
Even if a retailer has a beautiful site and popular merchandise, a shopping cart that is confusing, difficult to use or doesn’t appear secure could cause customers to jump ship. For this reason, it’s important to ensure that the cart is a top priority.
But what features should a cart include, and how do these contribute to the overall customer experience? Let’s take a look at five must-haves:
1) A streamlined checkout process. As a customer, there’s nothing worse than seeing a multi-step, convoluted checkout process. Once shoppers pick out the items they’d like to buy, the retailer should make it easy for them to complete their purchases without unnecessary steps and collecting more information than necessary.
One way to avoid this is to offer express and/or guest checkout. Express checkout enables repeat customers to simply login and double-check the address, payment information and other data used on previous purchases instead of filling out all of these details with each transaction.
Guest checkout prevents a new customer from having to create an account if they aren’t ready to. While helpful, this process can also add extra steps to checkout.
“The checkout process at many online stores can be as frustrating, if not more so, than standing in a long checkout line at a brick-and-mortar store,” Network Solutions pointed out. “When visitors are ready to buy, your e-commerce shopping cart must make it as simple as possible.”
2) Diverse payment options. Another shopping cart essential is support for a range of payment options. Credit and debit cards, PayPal accounts and digital wallets like Apple Pay have all shifted the way shoppers complete transactions. Providing support for all these options can also quell concerns about security.
Some consumers may still be wary about entering their credit or debit card numbers, particularly as news of high-profile data breaches become more common. Accepting PayPal or Apple Pay payments can make hesitant customers more confident, and encourage them to complete their purchase.
3) Clear signs of security. A shopping cart should also feature obvious signs of security. Encrypting payment details isn’t just a beneficial way to prevent unauthorized access to customer data, it’s also part of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards. As such, any organization that in any way deals with payment card information must have encryption in place.
An SSL certificate can provide this encryption, and display recognizable icons that signal protection is in place. In addition to a seal on the checkout page itself, many SSL certificates will also adjust the display of the address bar so that a small, green lock is visible. In this way, customers know that their sensitive information is adequately safeguarded.
4) Product images for multi-item sales. Another helpful feature is the inclusion of large product images, not only on product pages, but during checkout as well. Practical Ecommerce noted that having the ability to see the items being purchased, and even zoom in to view finer details, is one of the best ways to communicate with customers.
In addition, featuring images is advantageous for customers who are purchasing multiple items. Instead of only including the name of the product, which could include numbers or other identifiers solely for the use of the brand, a photo makes it easier for customers to remember what they’re buying and ensure that sizes, colors and other details are all correct before completing their purchase. This prevents confusion or errors that could lead to cart abandonment or subsequent product returns.
5) Order tracking capabilities. It’s important that customers can glean as many details as possible both before and after their purchase. This extends to order tracking capabilities—shoppers want to know when their items are being shipped and when they can expect delivery. Consider sending notifications via email or mobile—customers appreciate being kept in the know, and the brand will be top of mind.
6) Customer Service Forecast for 2016
We all know customer service is as important to a small business as its sales team. Rajeev Shrivastava, the chief strategy officer at inContact, offers his unique insight into customer service trends this year.
- Omnichannel will take on a more prevalent role in customer service. Most customers likely don’t know what omnichannel is but certainly demand it. For example, a customer that interacts with a customer service representative via online chat expects an agent to have a record of that chat if they later call in. They want to have the same level of expertise and care regardless of the communication channel they use.
- Contact centers and agents will play a more strategic role by helping companies differentiate the customer experience from that of their competitors. Brand value and loyalty will be driven by customer interactions and critical moments of truth along the customer journey, in a true omnichannel manner where the customer could start in any channel and move to another one seamlessly without having to go through a painful hand-off process between agents. This will require a combination of well-trained agents and the right technology they need to create the WOW.
- Contact centers will be expected to achieve customer experience goals and deliver on business metrics such as increasing revenue, conversion rates and retention while reducing costs. To meet those needs, more companies will need to invest in an integrated set of business and operational analytics and workforce optimization tools such as workforce management and performance dashboards for greater visibility and control of their operations.
- Ecosystems of cloud applications for customer interactions and engagement will increasingly dominate over traditional premise software because of the beneficial OPEX vs. CAPEX model, pay-as-you-go pricing, flexibility and agility to make changes and improve services continuously.
7) The Baby Boomer Seller Tsunami: Why 2016 is the Year to Sell
Guest post by Al Fialkovich, Transworld Business Advisors of Denver
Thinking of selling your business in the next five years? Don’t wait. It has been a national conversation in recent years and no one can argue that the impending baby boomer’s retirements will affect how business markets operate currently. It will be no different for mergers and acquisitions and small business sales. With the wave of baby boomers planning to exit their businesses, SME Research predicts that up to two million businesses will be sold between 2017 and 2020. This would increase the market volume 10-fold, to an average of 500,000 businesses each year.
What does this mean for sellers? Right now we are experiencing a seller’s market. There are many more qualified buyers searching for good business opportunities than good businesses available for sale. Over the next three years that will slowly start to flip, until we have a strong buyer’s market where many business owners will be competing for deal dollars. From a basic economic standpoint this means two things for business owners planning on selling in that market after 2016:
- Sale prices will go down
- Competition will increase and it will be harder to sell your business
What does this mean for buyers? If you are in a position to buy a business or add-on acquisition opportunity to your current operations, this time could be incredible for you. Buyers may be able to expand their business operations and overall value during this time through savvy acquisitions.
So what should I do? If you own a business and you are thinking about selling in the next three to five years, don’t wait. Yes, it is true that you can price any company right and it will sell, in any market condition. However, if you want to avoid the unknowns of the potential decrease in valuation put your business on the market now. Just because you sell your business does not mean you have to exit your business. You can construct employment or contract agreements that keep you involved and working for years after the sale.
Worried that the Baby Boomer Sellers Tsunami is going to ruin the value of the company you have spent years building? Have a conversation with a professional advisor like a business broker, business attorney, or a financial planner and begin planning today.
8) Small Business IT Survey 2016
Clutch, a B2B ratings and review site, surveyed small business owners in the U.S. to determine the popularity of IT service providers in the SMB market. The survey also addresses spending trends and satisfaction ratings.
- 69% of SMBs hire outside service providers for IT, a proportion that is relatively consistent across company size.
- Most SMBs can benefit from having a service provider in at least one IT area, regardless of whether the business already has IT staff in-house.
- 39% of SMBs with IT service providers plan to increase their spending on IT services
- Despite difficulties finding satisfactory partners, SMBs continue to see the value in IT services, and many will expand their investment in them.
- Older businesses may also be driven to increase their spend out of necessity.
- 36% of small businesses hire Cloud service providers
- Although just 33% of SMBs have a professional services firm managing their cloud, many SMBs still use the cloud for their businesses. A related studyfound that 52% of SMBs use cloud storage.
- The least popular service among SMBs is mobile app development, indicated by just 17% of the sample. However, this area is expected to grow. Data from a previous Clutch studyindicates that app development is a small but increasingly popular marketing strategy for SMBs supported by do-it-yourself app builders.
- Managed service contracts are the dominant payment model for IT services, cited by 59% of SMBs.
9) Majority of Parents & Millennials Value Healthcare Benefits
A recent online survey of American adults, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Collective Health, revealed health benefits would drive job choices for 78% of Americans. The percentage of Americans who say competitive benefits would factor into their job choice jumps to 86% among those currently on an employer-sponsored plan. The survey also found that even among employed Americans, the majority are unprepared for an out-of-pocket medical expense of $5000 (60%), and are confused by health benefit options available to them (63%). Parents and Millennial women proved to be the most impacted—80% of Millennial women (ages 18-34) and 69% of parents with a child under 18 in their home said they are not prepared to handle an out-of-pocket medical bill adding up to $5,000.
When deciding on a new job 57% of Americans say they wouldn’t take a job with a company that didn’t offer competitive healthcare benefits. When dependents are introduced, that percentage increases to 81% for parents with a child under 18 in the home.
Yet despite emphasizing the importance of workplace healthcare benefits, 61% of Americans are often still confused by the healthcare options available to them (e.g. PPO vs. HMO, provider, FSA/HSA). Millennials and parents with a child under 18 in the home admitted to being the most confused when it came to healthcare benefits:
Additional findings from the report include:
- 67% agree that competitive healthcare benefits are more important to them than other workplace perks such as gym memberships, free food or standing desks.
- 61% of U.S. adults shared they are not prepared to handle an out-of-pocket medical bill of $5,000 or more.
- 71% of 18-34 year olds said they are not prepared to handle an out-of-pocket medical expense of $5,000.
- The majority of Americans want reliable healthcare coverage and are willing to pay a premium for it: 66% of U.S. adults would prefer a plan that takes more out of their monthly paycheck but that covers more of their medical bills.
10) Help for Real Estate Professionals
If you’re in the real estate business you’ll want to check out this free ebook on how to select the best real estate marketing automation software from Software Advice. As an example, below is a chart of digital marketing channels used by real estate agents.
11) Telephone Analytics for SMBs
IOVOX, a global cloud-based provider of telephone analytics, recently announced the availability of its call tracking and analytics solution for SMBs. With IOVOX, SMBs can utilize the same powerful tools used by large global brands to understand in real-time the effectiveness of their advertising and the efficiency of their call handling.
IOVOX emphasizes that despite all the hype around ecommerce, the telephone is still a small business’s lifeline and vital to delivering a first-class customer experience. In fact, two thirds of all small businesses identify the telephone as their most important source of clients.
In addition to campaign performance, the IOVOX dashboard reveals missed calls, customer information at a glance and the busiest time of the day for incoming calls. IOVOX also evaluates an SMB’s ad performance in comparison to local campaigns in more than 30 countries where IOVOX conducts business, providing customers with aggregate data previously available only to the largest of brands with the deepest of pockets.
Prices start at $20 per month, with no contracts. Customers can sign up for IOVOX services directly or with trusted resellers.
12) Managing Your Cash
CashUp Solutions has created a new cash management system that digitizes physical cash payments at point of sale. The company has teamed with Ellenby Technologies, an innovator in smart safe technology and leading manufacturer of smart safes, to create a simple and compact solution that automatez in-store cash handling for merchants and makes cash less time consuming and more profitable.
CashUp Solutions works with financial institutions that want to strengthen relationships with their walk-in merchant customers by providing an affordable cash management system that optimizes front-end cash handling for merchants and enables efficient cash processing for financial institutions.
For the first time, bankers are now able to offer their small chain retailers and multi-location businesses a cash management solution specifically designed to provide greater cash visibility, transparency and accountability while streamlining the entire cash handling process from collection through to bank deposit.
Smart safes are one industry solution that has been known to help cash intensive businesses dramatically reduce the costs of dealing with a high volume of cash payments from customers.