Small Business Toolbox – June Twenty Eight

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

Cyfe – Create a custom dashboard that houses your social, marketing and web analytics all in one place.

Quabel – Free browser based writing tool that lets you write distraction free.

jd-houston-quote

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

Do Your Business Goals Align With Your Life Goals?

Planning your life goalsDoes your business free you to enjoy life or has it become a ball and chain than keeps you from doing what you really want in life?

When you’re just starting to put together the ground work for a new business, before you start anything, you should sit down and think about your goals.

Not your business goals, but your life goals.

There are lots of unhappy small business owners.  Maybe they’re not making the kind of money they dreamed of.  Maybe they feel like a slave to their business, never able to take time for themselves.  Maybe they just don’t like their business anymore (it happens).

I think the really happy and successful business owners are not only doing what they love, but doing something that aligns with their life goals.

My first real business (I had several mini failures) was in retail.  It was something I thought (emphasis on “thought”) I understood and it seemed like the perfect fit for me.  I like people, I enjoy relationship style selling, I could wrap my head around how it worked.  Great fit indeed.  Man, I was so wrong.

It was about a year into it that I realized I made a mistake.  Actually, it was like a month into it but I was in denial. Unfortunately the lease was already signed, the construction was paid for, the employees were hired and the bank loan I personally guaranteed was in full force. Not something I could easily back out of.

The business I was originally in love with went totally against what my real life goals were.  I didn’t realize it until it was too late.  Yeah, I’m an idiot, but it happens all the time.

So what was the problem?

Number one, I never sat down to think about what my life goals really were and if this business was in-line with them.  I was blinded by the endless possibilities of money, prestige and what I thought would be freedom.  Number two, I think I let my dreaming get in the way of reality.  If I sat down and looked at my life goals, I would have realized that brick and mortar retail was not the best fit.

Life goal and business goals

My Life Goals

We homeschool our 4 kids (when I say we, I mean my wife, on top of helping run our business).  One of our goals has always been educational travel with the kids.  Instead of reading about history, we could travel around the world and let them experience it first hand.  I guess this goals fits into our bigger goals of building a really strong family.  What family wouldn’t want that as a goal?

I have some other life goals, but in the end, my main life goal revolves around experiences with the family.

But here was the problem, the business I chose was not conducive to my life goals.

When it comes to retail:

  • You have a fixed location which ties you to a geographic area
  • You have tons of overhead and potential financial responsibilities
  • You have employees that need you to train, manage and mentor
  • You have enormous pressure to market and keep people walking through the doors due to your overhead

I think it was the exact opposite of what I should have chosen as a business.

Now let me say there is nothing at all wrong with retail, I’m actually still involved in it and do enjoy it, but it required enormous overhaul (and a few years) on my part to get it working properly to fit in with my life goals.

If I had chosen a different type of business, I could have saved myself lots of heartache and stress.  It’s like trying to force a square peg into a round hole….if you push with enough force you may eventually get it through, but wouldn’t it be easier if you chose a round peg to start with?

To make things work I had to learn how to hire and train great people, learn how to let go and delegate and to build operational systems that could take me out of the equation when possible.

So what would I have done differently?

  • I would have started with understanding what my real life goals were as a starting point
  • I would have evaluated if the business I wanted to start would help or hinder those goals.  You have to be honest here, it’s easy to gloss over things when you’re in love with your business idea.
  • I would have done more research.  If I had spoken to more retailers, I would have learned more about what I was getting into and challenges I was going to face.
  • I would have made sure my life and business goals were in-line with each other.

It’s never too late to re-align your business and your life.  It’s easier to do it from the beginning, but if you’re in the middle, you can do it too.  If I did it, anyone can.

 

 

Four Things You Can Learn From an Unhappy Customer

improve my customer serviceDid you know that as a business owner, unhappy customers are one of the biggest learning tools in your arsenal?

While you want to make all your customers happy, you aren’t going to learn a lot from your happy customers. Your unhappy customers, on the other hand, have much to teach you, so stay connected with them in order to improve your business and their experience with your business.

Connecting with unhappy customers

Before you can learn from your unhappy customers, though, you should make sure you’re connecting with all your customers. It’s a good idea to put yourself out there on social media and to use technology in general to ensure that your customers can reach you with their concerns.   One National Performance Review report notes that the best way to connect with customers is to ensure that they can easily leave feedback for your business, whether that be through phone surveys, online surveys, or just a business Facebook page.

What you can learn from your customers

Once you start connecting with your customers, pay particular attention to your unhappy customers, as they generally have the most to teach you. Here are just four of the main things you can learn from customers who are unhappy with your products or services, for whatever reason:

1. What’s important to your customers

It’s important to listen to the language your customers are using and to keep track of what customers are complaining about. Are they unhappy about shipping times and costs? Maybe they find your customer service or FAQ page lacking, or they can’t figure out how to use your product most effectively?

Listening to the complaints of your customers and where they are trending will help you figure out what your target demographic finds important. It could be excellent products, lots of choices, customization options, or fantastic customer service. Letting unhappy customers tell you what’s most important to them will tell you where you’ll get the best return on your investment by making improvements to your products or services.

2. How to improve customer service

Often times, unhappy customers are unhappy with some aspect of your customer service. Again, listen to your customers to see where their complaints are trending. If, for instance, you get many complaints that customers have to wait on hold for a long time when contacting your business about a problem, then you may want to consider increasing the number of workers who handle your hotline so that you can take a higher call volume.

As you’re listening to the complaints of unhappy customers, pay particular attention to what they think of your customer service. Maybe that isn’t the problem at all, but chances are likely that your business could improve in at least one area of customer service.

3. How to improve your product

Of course, some customers may also be unhappy with your product. They may simply not have gotten what they were expecting, and you certainly can’t satisfy everyone. But satisfying the greatest number of customers with your product should certainly be the goal. Yet again, it’s important to follow the trends when it comes to customer complaints. Are your customers having trouble following assembly directions? Then you should look at clarifying them. Do many customers complain about the same part on your product breaking easily? Consider reengineering the piece so that it’s sturdier.

Any time a customer is unhappy with your product, whether they’re connecting with you through your customer hotline or through your Facebook page, get as much specific detail on what they dislike about your product as possible. The more detail you can get, the more information you’ll have that will help you improve your product moving forward.

4. How to improve sales of your product

You can hire all the marketing experts you want, but the real experts on the marketing experience you provide to draw people to your product are your customers. Only those who are being targeted by your business and who are on the receiving end of your marketing efforts can tell you exactly what effect your marketing campaign is having on your customers.

Listen and Talk to your customers

Improving product sales is often as simple as talking to customers – including unhappy ones – about your marketing process. If you’re coming across as too aggressive or consumers are offended by a part of your marketing campaign, they’ll let you know. Then, you can make changes to ensure that you can sell more products with your marketing plan.

Are You Prepared or Just Lucky?

“I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been ‘lucky.'” ~Oprah Winfrey

The truth is, you make your own luck.  Rather, you make your own opportunities.

How many opportunity have passed your way, but you didn’t see them?  You maybe you didn’t see them because you weren’t prepared to see them.  It’s hard to see what you can’t recognize.

Waiting for things to “happen” to you will always leave you at the back of the line.  Going out and “making” things happen not only gets you to the front of the line, it allows you to create your own line.  Like the great Zig Ziggler said, “there are no traffic jams on the extra mile”.

One of my favorite motivators of all time is the late Jim Rohn.  He talked a lot about opportunities, and being ready for them.  “….you never know when it’s gonna happen, that one thing that turns your life around”

Prepare well before you need to.  Keep your antennas up at all times.  Create your own luck.

Jim Rohn Life Quotes

Mobile Web versus Responsive Web Design

With most people now accessing the web via phones, iPads and other mobile devices, website owners are faced with choosing between the two current methods for optimizing their websites for the smaller screen.

 

While use of mobile devices such as smartphones and iPads has clearly outstripped desktop use, the performance lag of typical websites on these devices has a definite and profound impact on user satisfaction and the potential bottom line for business web sites. While the majority of users expect websites to load faster on their mobile devices than a desktop, the fact that traditional websites have poor performance on phones and tablets is a definite problem. The culprit is that the screen resolution and network speeds do not allow for full website rendering on the smaller and less powerful mobile devices. This drives away website visitors that could have been customers, in droves.

 

In order to combat this problem businesses are slowly beginning to optimize their websites for phones and iPads. The question that they are faced with is the method by which they optimize the website. Both a mobile site and responsive design will optimize websites for smaller screens while also offering simpler navigation and faster load times. The challenge in the decision process is that there are distinct differences in how they perform this task with each having advantages and disadvantages.

What is a mobile website?

A mobile site is essentially a copy of the website where the server does the work to streamline the page to an optimal size that is smaller and easier to navigate. It accomplishes this via media query that allows it to determine the resolution for the screen size of the device that is accessing it. Flexible images and fluid grids then size correctly to fit the screen with the unnecessary elements of the page disappearing. This can be a more economical method than the more expensive responsive design.

 

The mobile site method requires the use of a different domain than the original site, which can reduce search traffic and increase website management workloads as the user has essentially two separate sites of content to maintain. In addition, links shared from mobile browsers will not register as search link equity with the primary site.

What is responsive design?

With responsive design, the domain remains the same and the only thing changing is the back end code. This method preserves link equity and allows the site to keep all analytics and SEO work at one URL regardless of the device accessing the website. It also has what is called a low “bounce rate,” which means that users clicking on the website return to other search results in lower numbers. Google is big on this method as it avoids redirects.

 

As new generations of phones and mobile devices enter the landscape, mobile sites may need further reworking to stay current. On the other hand, the adaptive nature of responsive design means that it will work on new devices without additional changes or programming. For businesses, the ultimate concern is not which website optimization method to choose, but if they are aware of optimization’s financial implications in terms of site visitors.

 

Current estimates put mobile device use as representing one-fourth to one-third of total site interaction. Consequently, those businesses that do not make the leap to website optimization may be missing out on a significant number of sales. According to Adobe’s 2013 Digital Marketing Optimization Survey, companies with mobile-optimized sites triple their chances of increasing mobile conversion rates to five percent or above.

 

Every business must look at their website and the needs of the business to determine the type of mobile device interaction for their websites. By analyzing each option closely, they can make an educated decision that will allow them to move forward with today’s and tomorrow’s end-user technology. The goal is to stay in step with the way that consumers want to interact with them online.

 

Bio: E. Victor Brown has more than two decades of experience writing about technology, software and web development for businesses. He is a freelance writer for Boomtown Internet Group, a leading Philadelphia web design firm.

 

 

Small Business Toolbox – May Eighteenth

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

Punch Tab – Create contents and promotions to attract and retain visitors to your website as well as various social media platforms.  Free and paid plans available

7 Sticky Notes – Free desktop program that lets you create electronic sticky notes directly on your computer.  No more messing around with paper stickies that can’t keep their stick.

James Allen Quotes

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

Fantastic Cyber Monday Deals For Business Owners and WordPress Users [2012]

cyner monday deals for businessI’m not a shopper.  I hate waiting in line, whether for a great deal or to buy concert tickets.  I think it’s the ADD inside me.

I have never stood in line before in my life for any sort of deal.  This is why I love Cyber Monday, or as it should be called now, Cyber Weekend.  I love the fact that I can get killer deals online without having to waste a day of my life standing in line at some store, only to find out they ran out of stock……before the store even opened.  Yes, employees tend to ravage the best deals before the stores even open to the public.

As a business owner and gadget enthusiast, I wanted to share some great deals coming this weekend that you as a business owner might find useful.  Every year, I stock up on my yearly online services, gadgets and other goodies that I get at a fraction of what it’ll cost me if I decide to purchase next month.  Last year I purchased a years worth of hosting from HostGator (only offering 20% off for the starter plan right now 50% off deal goes live on Nov 23rd at midnight!) for 1/2 of what I would normally pay.  I also purchased several themes and plugins for my WordPress websites that saved me a bundle.

Take a look below and if you see any great deals online, I  only listed products that I personally use and pay for. If there are any other great deals online for businesses,  I’d love it if you posted it in the comments.  Happy shopping!

Go DaddyBlack Friday Sale! $1.99 .COM! $7.99 additional .Com’s from GoDaddy.com. While I’n not a fan of their hosting services, they almost always offer the lowest prices on domain names as they are always sending coupon codes out once you sign up.  Their domain interface (DNS) is also easier to use than most other domain name providers.

Headway Themes – If you use coupon code: hwblackfriday at checkout, you can save 33% on everything they sell, including all themes and blocks.  This is the WordPress theme framework that I use for almost all of my websites.  They’ve come a long way since I first starting using them almost 3 years ago.  It may be the most flexible theme framework out if you’re not an experienced web developer.  It’s powerful enough for the most demanding websites and easy enough for a beginner to create a great looking website.  The blocks they have added are fantastic and allow you to create some great stuff.

Moo – My favorite place to buy businesses cards.  They are offering a storewide 30% off sale from Nov 22nd to Nov 27th.  If you’ve never heard of Moo or purchased their cards, check out their site and be amazed with what you can do with a business card.

Blue Host – Though I use Hostgator (50% off Hostgator goes live on Nov 23rd at midnight)for most of my websites, I still have and use Blue Host, they were my first hosting provider.  They offer shared hosting at the best price you’ll find online.  They are currently offering $3.95 a month hosting packages for unlimited websites and storage.  They have been around for a longtime and have a history of reliability.

WP Engine – $25 off the first three months of service for Thanksgiving Weekend 2012. If you use WordPress and have a higher traffic website, or just want your website professionally managed, WP Engine is tops.  If you’re just starting out online, I’d probably start with a shared hosting account first, as it’s a bit of a jump in price to go from shared hosting to a managed service like WP Engine.

Smilebox – From November 22nd through the 27th, new customers can get an annual Club Smilebox premium subscription for just $23.88 (regularly $39.99), a 40% savings.  I’ve been using SmileBox for about 4 years now, we use it to send custom e-greetings to our customers throughout the year.  They also offer a great free version, though the paid version allows for more customization, like uploading your own music.

Sugar SyncBlack Friday Limited Time Offer: Save 30% on Your First Year of SugaySync.  SugarSync is a great cloud storage service that backs up and syncs all of your computers and mobile devices into one account.  This means I can access files from both of my home computers and my office computer right from my phone.  I’ve been a paying customer of theirs for over 2 years and the automatic backups saved my butt 3 years ago when the hard drive on my old desktop crashed.  I was able to recover 4 years of family pictures because of SugarSync.

LaptopsBest Buy, Dell and Microsoft are all offering great deals for new lap tops for under $400.  In addition, they are throwing in lots of add-ons for certain purchases like free shipping and accessory packages.  I’ve done away with a desktop now for over 3 years and find the portability and power match any desktop these days.

**If you’re looking for other, more general Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals, check out Bradsdeals.com!

 

How To Successfully Pitch Your Next Guest Post [infographic]

Guest posting, or guest blogging, can be such a great way to get your name out there and to connect with other bloggers.  It’s also one of the best ways to get links pointing back to your website, which drives additional traffic back to your website and is great for seo.

As the owner of several active blogs, I often receive guest post requests from other bloggers as well as websites looking to gain exposure (and links) for their site.  When it comes to pitching me for a guest article, some of the things that really bug me and decrease your chances of getting your article published are:

  • Your email is not personalized. It’s easy to find out who I am if you take 30 seconds. Don’t start off an email with “Dear Webmaster” or “Greetings Madame or Sir”
  • Don’t blow smoke up my butt by making me feel like I should be privileged because you’re offering me a “totally free” article and all you ask for in exchange are a few links placed in the article. This one is aimed at seo agencies, train your teams better, especially the overseas ones!
  • Generic articles.  I’d love an article personalized just for my audience.  If you’ve pre-written an article that you’ve pitched to 30 other blogs in addition to mine, it’s probably not a very good article.  People love actionable, insightful articles. The world doesn’t need another article on “Why you should be doing social media”.

If you’re just starting out and new to the world of guest posting, there are a few guidelines you should keep in mind when you’re getting ready to pitch a blog for a guest posting opportunity.  This infographic courtesy of GuestBlogPoster.com is a great reference for anyone looking to get into the world of guest blogging.

The guest posting guide for bloggers