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Which is the Best Online Marketplace: Amazon, Etsy or Ebay?

Small Business Trends - Sun, 2016-06-26 18:00

When you sell crafts online, choosing the right platform is paramount. There are plenty of different options available to handmade business owners. Three of the most popular are Etsy, Amazon and eBay. But each one offers different options and benefits for handmade shop owners. Here are some comparisons and basic information that can help you make the best decision when it comes to choosing Handmade at Amazon, Etsy or eBay.

Which is the Best Online Marketplace for Your Crafts? Amazon

Handmade at Amazon is a relatively new offering from the ecommerce giant. It allows artisans and handmade business owners to set up their own shops on the popular platform.

Audience

Amazon has over 250 million customers worldwide. So there’s definitely access to a wide array of potential customers. However, not everyone who visits Amazon is specifically looking for handmade goods, so it’s not exactly a targeted group of customers.

Listing Fees

Amazon doesn’t charge listing fees, but instead takes a percentage of each transaction.

Image Options (free, charged and limitations)

Amazon lets you add one main image for each product and then up to eight alternate images for each listing, free of charge. Amazon also specifies that main photos should depict only the product for sale, not drawings or renderings, and no props that don’t come with the product.

Final Sale Fees

Currently, Amazon takes 12 percent of each sales, with the sale price calculated to include shipping. Starting August 1, 2016, that rate goes up to 15 percent.

Video options (available or not)

Sellers don’t have the ability to add video to listings. However, Amazon itself can add videos for certain vendors, but only those who are part of invitation-only vendor programs.

Payment options

Amazon accepts a variety of different payments, including credit or debit cards, checking accounts, Amazon gift cards, Amazon Points and even cash on delivery in some instances.

Inventory Management features (can you easily export items to and from your site to these sites?)

You can add your products through Amazon after you apply and get accepted. But you have to add the information for each listing. There’s not a simple import feature for you to add products from another site.

Rules and Regulations

To sell on Handmade at Amazon, you need to apply and get accepted. You also need to sell only items that are handmade by you or a member of your team, if your team is under 20 people. You can also set your own production time and even offer custom products. But Amazon only lets you set production time for 30 days out.

Store Availability (Is a store available versus just individual listings?)

With Handmade at Amazon, you get a unique storefront with a custom URL and artist profile. There, you can tell your story and offer ways to connect with customers. And of course, you can showcase all of your products for sale in that storefront, though they’ll also appear alongside other handmade products on Amazon when customers search or browse within a category.

Etsy

Etsy has long been considered the leading handmade marketplace. The site includes handmade crafts for sale, vintage items and even craft supplies.

Audience

According to Statista, Etsy had about 24 million active buyers as of 2015. Unlike eBay and Amazon, those shoppers are primarily interested in handmade items, rather than a variety of other goods.

Listing Fees

Etsy charges 20 cents per listing. And listings are good for four months before they expire. You can pay an additional 20 cents to relist items that have expired or sold.

Image Options (free, charged and limitations)

Etsy lets you upload up to five photos with each listing. There’s no additional charge for adding photos beyond that initial listing fee. Etsy recommends using photos that are a maximum of 800-1000 pixels wide and landscape or square images for the main photos.

Final Sale fees

Etsy charges a 3.5 percent transaction fee on every sale. You can pay those fees, along with the listing fees, once per month.

Video options (available or not)

You can create and upload a shop video to your main shop page. Etsy doesn’t have strict requirements for these, but recommends videos be around two minutes or less, landscape, and a max of 300 MB.

Payment options

Each Etsy seller can specify which payment methods to accept, including PayPal, credit cards, Etsy gift cards and Apple Pay.

Inventory Management features (can you easily export items to and from your site to these sites?)

You can add each listing individually on Etsy. But there’s no automatic upload or transfer feature.

Rules and Regulations

Etsy allows sellers to list items that are made by hand, vintage (must be at least 20 years old or more), or craft supplies. However, the definition of “handmade” has changed in the past few years, to the dismay of some Etsy buyers and sellers. The site is much less strict now and will allow users to sell items that are mass produced in some ways. So an item can feature original artwork but be actually produced on a mass scale.

Store Availability (Is a store available versus just individual listings?)

Each Etsy seller can set up their own individual store with its own header photo, profile and policies. Shoppers can view your products within your store or within Etsy categories or search results.

eBay

eBay is mostly known for online auctions. But some handmade business owners have found the platform to be helpful in selling crafts.

Audience

eBay’s user base grew to about 162 million active users in Q4 of 2015. However, not all of those users are interested in purchasing handmade crafts. In fact, some active users are primarily interested in selling rather than buying.

Listing Fees

The fees for eBay sellers can vary based on the type of listing, since you can host both auction type sales and fixed-price sales. In general, it’s free to create your first 50 listings per month, and then 30 cents per listing beyond that.

Image Options (free, charged and limitations)

You can add up to 12 images for free with each listing with eBay picture hosting. That also includes zoom and enlarge features so customers can get an up-close view of your products.

Final Sale fees

eBay also charges 10 percent of the total amount of the sale, which includes the item price, shipping and any other costs that you charge to the buyer, aside from sales tax. The maximum fee is $750.

Video options (available or not)

You can add FLASH files for sound or video on each eBay listing. So you can upload a video to a third party service like YouTube, then either link to or embed the video into your listing page.

Payment options

Sellers can select the payment options you want to accept, including PayPal and credit or debit cards. You can also choose to accept payment upon pickup.

Inventory Management features (can you easily export items to and from your site to these sites?)

You can create listings directly on eBay. Or you can upload your inventory data or listing templates through CSV or Excel files.

Rules and Regulations

eBay offers the ability to sell a wide array of items. So you don’t have to worry as much about restrictions on handmade items specifically. However, there are rules about listing items in specific categories. For instance, if you list an item as fine jewelry, it needs to have a fine metal setting or a fine gemstone included. Fashion settings are not permitted without fine gemstones in that category. There are also restricted and prohibited items, such as alcohol or hazardous materials, which generally aren’t allowed on eBay unless they’ve been pre-approved.

Store Availability (Is a store available versus just individual listings?)

You can create a dedicated store if you have an eBay seller account, credit card on file and a verified PayPal account. eBay also offers options for Premium or Anchor Stores as long as you have a high seller performance level.

Knitter Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Which is the Best Online Marketplace: Amazon, Etsy or Ebay?" was first published on Small Business Trends

Nomad Wallet Offers Phone Charger for Entrepreneurs on the Go

Small Business Trends - Sun, 2016-06-26 15:30

What would you say if you knew there was a stylish leather wallet with a built-in charging system for your smartphone?

Well, the Nomad Leather Charging Wallet looks like a normal wallet except it comes integrated with a battery and charging cable for charging up your phone or tablet wherever you go.

Ingenious, right?

The idea is that while it can sometimes be tough to find a place to recharge your phone while o the go, you would seldom leave home without your wallet. That’s where the Nomad Charging Wallet comes in. The wallet doesn’t only hold your cash and cards. It also includes a battery hidden within its spine with enough juice to bring an iPhone 6s up to full charge.

Obviously you can use external battery packs or battery cases to charge your phone on the go, but the thing about these charging solutions is that they tend to be bulky. Also, charging your phone from your car or looking for the nearest receptacle may not always be an option.

And given that some small business owners and entrepreneurs need to travel a lot and constantly have to stay in touch for business, the charger fills a need. Now it’s easy to bring a portable charger that you can never leave behind to help you get through the day. It’s also easy to take on business trips so you never find yourself left in the cold with a dead phone and no power source in sight.

Nomad Chargers – Designed to Fit Seamlessly into a Smartphone User’s Lifestyle

Nomad Goods, Inc., is the company behind the Nomad Charging Wallet, and a number of other innovative tech accessories for smarphones and smartwatches.

The company prides itself in making useful items that double as device chargers. The items fit seamlessly into a user’s lifestyle, freeing you from the need to always have a traditional charger on hand.

Company co-founder, Noah Dentzel, started thinking of these solutions when traveling around Spain. He was tired of trying to keep a phone charger handy. So he thought: why not nest device chargers into everyday items?

Partnering with Brian Hahn, the two co-founders conceptualized the Nomad chargers, starting with the NomadKey. The NomadKey is a small USB jack that clips easily onto a keychain, ensuring you never have to worry about forgetting your charger. Unless you forget your keys,Q of course.

Noah and Brian kept the momentum going with new products, including the Nomad ChargeCard, Nomad ChargeClip, Nomad Plus and Nomad ChargeWallet.

A Peek at the Nomad Wallet

The company claims the Nomad Wallet is crafted from high quality Horween leather. It features a 2,400mAh lithium-ion backup battery that takes roughly 2 hours to fully charge. According to the company, the battery utilizes an advanced SoC (system on chip) microprocessor that allows it to fit into the folds of the Wallet.

Hidden inside the Wallet is also an Apple MFi Lightning or Type C cable that you can pull out and use to charge your iPhone or other device. Simply connect your phone through the Lightning cable to charge.

You would expect the Wallet to be big and bulky considering that it comes with the battery and Lightning cable tucked away inside. The company claims the product is just about the same size as a normal wallet. It measures 9.5cm (height) x 12.5cm (width) x 2.5cm (max thickness), says Nomad.

There are two styles of Wallet: a classic bi-fold option for more cash and card carrying capacity, and a slim version for light and minimalist carry. The Bi-fold can carry six cards, along with bills in the wallet’s main compartment, while the slim fold can carry four cards along with bills in the main compartment.

If you’d like to buy the Nomad Leather Charging Wallet, it is available for pre-order on the company website priced at $119.95. Shipping of the wallets is expected to begin July 30 (for the Lightning) and August 31 (for the USB C), with free shipping in the U.S. and $10 shipping charge worldwide.

Image: Nomad Goods

This article, "Nomad Wallet Offers Phone Charger for Entrepreneurs on the Go" was first published on Small Business Trends

Six Eye-Opening Mobile Trends for 2016

Small Business Trends - Sun, 2016-06-26 12:00

A big problem that so many businesses face is staying on top of what is new in the niche.  But just because something is hard does not mean it’s not possible.  Generating new ideas often comes after a good hard look at what’s on the horizon.  An easy and effective way to do this is with a close examination of what is trending in your business’ market.

Those of us in the mobile business face great challenges when it comes to following trends because technology is changing so fast.  As soon as one idea becomes popular, it is quickly washed away — only to be replaced by something newer, faster, smaller, and more portable.  That is unless you dig deep and find what is on the horizon.

Here are six eye-opening mobile trends for 2016.  By looking at them, you can help yourself think through your next mobile venture.

Keep Your Eye on These 6 Mobile Trends in 2016 Invest in Smart Phone App Development

Smart phones will soon be to future generations what rotary phones were to the “Happy Days” generation, and the numbers support this growth.  This means that the demand for applications for these phones will be on the rise.

Investing in smart phone app development will certainly yield profit.  In fact, Android’s market grew 65 percent in 2015.

Whether you are considering investing in an app for your business or you are tossing around the idea of starting a white label app development company of your own, you are certain to generate some income and stay current with the market trends.

Knowing How to Use Data Driven Decisions is the Key to Marketing

If your business is not using data to make decisions, it’s a good bet that you are close to (if not already) a failed venture.  You have to use data as the backbone of your decisions — especially if you are in the mobile industry.

Data acquisition in 2016 isn’t the challenge that it was years ago.  It has become much easier to collect and much easier to sort.  If you want numbers, you can get your hands on just about any type of numbers you want.  The key is what you do with those numbers.

Your goal should be to use the data to make connections with potential clients. So what if you know that Mrs. Smith visited Store XYZ seven times in the past month on her mobile device. The trick is finding out how Mrs. Smith’s visits to store XYZ can help your mobile business.

The first step in the puzzle is assuring that your IT department and your marketing department has clear lines of communication.  A solid plan for sharing the information is the first step to utilizing the data you collect.

From there, you need a good team that can actually interpret the data.  Ultimately, your goal in any mobile venture is to find a way to simplify the lives of users.  Your team of data analysts needs to be able to interpret the data and supply it to your marketing department.

After your marketing department is given numbers and statistics that are easy to understand, it needs to take creative and innovative risks based on the numbers.  The more you learn about mobile users and their patterns of use, the easier it will be to simplify their lives.

Of course, there are always going to be people who are just able to follow their gut when it comes to innovation and creative thinking.  If you have one of those guys on your team — you know the type, anything he touches turns to gold — don’t dismiss him.

But for the most effective and practical solutions, look at the data and invest in a team that can interpret the numbers to mean something beneficial to your mobile business.

Say What You Need to Say — 2016 Technology Has Your Back

Don’t hold back what’s on your mind.  In fact, in the near future, you will be able to speak it right to your computer.  The best part — it will understand you.  Many of the industries biggest and brightest are battling with young and innovative start-ups to see who will figure out the best and most effective way to use voice computer interfaces.

Most computers come equipped with some type of voice recognition software, but as we journey into the future, these software applications will become much more innovative, which will allow computers to become even more involved in our day to day routines.

Your desktop is not the only form of technology that is listening to what you have to say. Most mobile devices are already equipped with some sort of voice recognition. Mobile devices are also jumping on board to develop voice recognition apps.  Companies across the globe are looking to develop the most responsive voice apps to stay abreast of the changing trends in the mobile market.

While we are not reaching “Jetsons” status just yet, there are several companies breaking ground in this niche, and it is certainly something to pay close mind to.

“Push” Those Ads — It’s the New way to Spread the Word

Push notifications are a great way to get information into the hands of your customers, and the numbers support it.  First of all, 2/3 of the population owns a smart phone.  And that 66 percent of people check their phones approximately 46 times per day.

That means that you have 46 opportunities EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. to send push notifications to people who chose to download your app.

With modern technology, you can use radiused and geofenced push notifications to offer promotions to consumers when they are near your stores.  To top off the benefits of the push, the best part is there are character limits, so you can say what you need to say in a short and sweet notice.  There’s no need for elaborate and creative copy.

SMS Marketing is the New Social Media

The social media craze has made its mark in advertising — there’s not doubt there.  You have to have a strong social media presence so your customers can engage with your brand.  They virtually do the legwork for you by sharing what you have to say.  But, it’s time to look past social media.  You need to look for even faster and more personalized ways to reach people.

In the past, this was called telemarketing.  Today, telemarketing is a good way to upset people and get called a name or two.  But, this is largely because people are engaging less and less in phone conversations and more and more in text communication.

Phone calls are a thing of the past.  Heck, you don’t even need to call to order a pizza or make a hotel reservation anymore, you can just text your request.  In fact, the research shows that 73 percent of people text.  Of those 73 percent of people, 55 percent of them send over 50 text messages each day.  As SMS messaging becomes the preferred means of communications, it makes sense to use it to advertise.

SMS marketing lets your customers engage with your brand on a personal level.  In fact, app developers are making messaging platforms that are starting to rival the built-in texting applications that come with phones.  Products such as Handcent, Chomp, and Hoverchat, are dominating the Android market.

What this means to you is that you virtually have a direct line to your consumers pockets.  You can tell them everything they want to know about your product.

Let Millennials and Generation Z Guide Your Thinking

Gone are the days of, “If you will build it they will come.”  Today, app developers have to build apps to simplify the lives of their users.  Simply put, this means that you need to look at the subsets of consumers who have technology needs that need met.  Enter Millennials and Generation Z users.

These guys are the ones who are filling the social media feeds with their thoughts, and they are the ones advertising their every move online — and they are doing it from their smartphones.

This means opportunity for you.  What are they talking about?  What do they need?  These kids put it all out there.  Use this to your advantage.  Find out what they need based on what they are saying, then build it.

Conclusion

If you want to compete in the mobile industry, you have to do your homework.  This means looking at the past and learning what has worked, and what has failed.  It also means looking at the data and trying to predict what is needed in the future.

By paying close mind to what’s trending in the industry, you can set yourself up for a successful mobile venture.  These six eye-opening trends should get your wheels spinning.  Look to apply them to what you know about the business and with some hard work, you can develop the next must have app in the store.

Using Smartphone Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Six Eye-Opening Mobile Trends for 2016" was first published on Small Business Trends

The 10 Laws of Trust: Building Trust in a Fast-Paced World

Small Business Trends - Sun, 2016-06-26 09:00

“We take trust for granted, not conscious of how it pervades relationships,” writes Joel Peterson in The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds That Make a Business Great

As Joel Peterson wisely points out in his new book The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds That Make a Business Great, trust is required in every type of relationship we engage in at the checkout counter, board room, or the kitchen table. Yet, trust between consumers and business is at an all-time low, despite all the talk about “customer service” and “relationship-building”.

Why?

What is The 10 Laws of Trust About

The 10 Laws of Trust breaks down trust and how it should be used to create a high-trust environment. The paradox is that most of us think we know what trust is. This is why businesses feel so comfortable using the word “trust”. They expect to know what it is.

The problem is that businesses often run auto-pilot in regards to trust. Because businesses assume they know what trust is and consumers assume they know it, everyone carries on. Businesses create policies and consumers shop for products … until an Enron or Volkswagen scandal shakes up our ignorance.

The path out of this ignorance is a willingness to truly understand trust, something The 10 Laws of Trust tries to do for business leaders who want to establish a high-trust business. The book argues that building that high-trust business starts at the foundation with leadership. Leaders who can be trusted set the tone directly (through policies, budgets, and actions) and indirectly (through their own personal lives) for a business. They are the people that keeping businesses running, even when the spotlight isn’t on them.

From this analysis of trust-based leadership, Joel Peterson extracts 10 laws that he feels exemplify a trust-based leader and business. These laws are stunningly simple (For example, “Keep everyone informed”); however, in practice they aren’t followed. How many companies do you know have policies that require employees to sign off a form for almost every decision they make? How many companies have private meetings or fail to disclose information to the public or employees? This is what Peterson means. Trust is not just a five-letter word. It’s something that you work out and craft like any other part of your business.

Joel Peterson is the Chairman of Jet Blue Airways, a consulting professor at Stanford, and founding partner of Peterson Partners (PPLP), an investment firm managing over half a billion dollars in assets.

What Was Best About The 10 Laws of Trust

The best part of The 10 Laws of Trust is the straightforward way that Peterson deals with the vague concept of “trust”. Rather than engaging in academic “marketing speak”, Peterson breaks down trust into concrete laws and provides simple examples to back up his laws. For people who are tired of reading vague articles about ethics and responsibility, this book should be a nice break.

What Could Have Been Done Differently

The downside of the general and broad nature of The 10 Laws of Trust is that the focus is on principle rather than specific strategies. Recommendations are provided throughout the book; however the book leaves it up to the reader to figure out how to implement them. To provide an example, the book asks readers to be more transparent in budgets and provides examples of big companies (like Zappos) that do. The book doesn’t get involved in the decisions about what to make transparent and how for a specific type of industry or business.

Why Read The 10 Laws of Trust

If your business is suffering from a lack of mission or you just want to ramp up the relationships in your business, The 10 Laws of Trust is perfect for upper-level management and executives who need the inspiration (along with some broad recommendations) to do it. The book is good for any type of leader (on a personal or private level) but the content (style, language, and tone) is geared for the leader (s) who has the authority to implement big changes.

This article, "The 10 Laws of Trust: Building Trust in a Fast-Paced World" was first published on Small Business Trends

Summer Events Feature Stars of Entrepreneurship

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2016-06-25 13:30

Summer small business events are filled with stars — stars of entrepreneurship, that is.

To begin, there is probably no star bigger than Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.

Branson will serve as keynote speaker at Sage Summit 2016 July 25 in Chicago. If you’re planning to attend, you may want to hear from this visionary entrepreneur whose business empire now includes more than 400 countries.

Or, if you’re attending the #BlogHer16 Conference August 4-6 in Los Angeles, speakers will include TV actress Mayim Bialik, star of the TV series “The Big Bang Theory” will talk about launching her latest venture, a website called GrokNation.

Finally, attendees of Small Business Market Expo & Job Fair August 27, 2016, in Atlanta will features speakers the likes of entrepreneurs Sherrod Shackelford and LaVon Lewis, who will discuss better marketing of your brand. See more about our featured events below.

To see a full list or to submit your own event, contest or award listing, visit the Small Business Events Calendar.

Featured Events, Contests and Awards

Sage Summit 2016
July 25, 2016, Chicago, Illinois

Sage Summit is a one-of-a-kind learning, training, and networking event. Hear from celebrity speakers and dynamic thought leaders. Get hands-on product training and one-on-one mentoring. Then rock out to The Killers! Hear from keynote speaker Sir Richard Branson, a man who has created a magnetic brand umbrella that powers the success of his many businesses with a thoughtful mix of adventure, philanthropy, irreverence and entrepreneurship. In a passion-filled keynote address he joins Sage CEO Stephen Kelly, another serial entrepreneur and champion of small businesses everywhere.

#BlogHer16 Conference
August 4, 2016, Los Angeles, California

Join an exhilarating mix of content creators, social media stars, entrepreneurs, top brands, activists and fans at #BlogHer16! You’ll experience inspiring keynotes, up-to-the-minute educational tracks, and of course, fabulous opportunities to network with YOUR community!

Small Business Market Expo & Job Fair
August 27, 2016, Atlanta, Georgia

Don’t miss the opportunity to connect with small businesses, market your organization and tap into a network of entrepreneurs, service providers, financial organizations, business coaches, and franchises.
#SBMExpo
Discount Code
VIP (25% off)

Content Marketing World 2016
September 6, 2016, Cleveland, Ohio

Content Marketing World is the one event where you can learn and network with the best and the brightest in the content marketing industry. You will leave with all the materials you need to take a content marketing strategy back to your team – and – to implement a content marketing plan that will grow your business and inspire your audience.

TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2016
September 12, 2016, San Francisco, California

TechCrunch Disrupt is the world’s leading authority in debuting revolutionary startups, introducing game-changing technologies and discussing what’s top of mind for the tech industry’s key innovators. Disrupt gathers the best and brightest entrepreneurs, investors, hackers, and tech fans for on-stage interviews, the Startup Battlefield competition, a 24-hour Hackathon, Startup Alley, Hardware Alley, and After Parties.

More Events More Contests

This weekly listing of small business events, contests and awards is provided as a community service by Small Business Trends and SmallBizTechnology.

Sir Richard Branson via Shutterstock

This article, "Summer Events Feature Stars of Entrepreneurship" was first published on Small Business Trends

Community Tips for Improving Your Online Reputation

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2016-06-25 12:00

Want your business to make a great impression with online consumers? There are many different ways you can work to get your business in front of people online. And members of our small business community have experience in all of them. Read on for the list of tips below.

Get More Positive Reviews for Your Business

Online reviews can have a big potential impact on how people view your business. People are more likely to invest in products or services if they know that other people have been satisfied with them. So how do you get those positive reviews? Anita Campbell shares some tips in a post for the SBA’s official site.

Reward Business Referrals

When people provide referrals, it can really help your business. In fact, it can even be a good idea to provide incentives for your existing customers to refer others to your business. In this Marketing Innovators post, McKenzie Stephens shares some tips for doing just that.

Set an Online Marketing Budget That Drives Business Growth

Any sort of online marketing plan needs a budget. But if you can create a budget that will actually drive business growth, as George Meszaros discusses in this Success Harbor post, you’ll be in a much better situation. And you can see further discussion about the post over on BizSugar.

Get Your Brand Listed on Top Lists

When customers browse online for new businesses to support, they may come across some lists that include businesses in your particular industry or category. If you are able to get your business on some of those lists, you could better your chances of getting found. Diana Beyer shares some tips for getting your business included on some top lists in this Right Mix Marketing post.

Stop Stressing Over Backlinks

Fishing for backlinks has been considered a worthwhile marketing exercise for some business owners and SEO professionals. But as Kyla Becker explains in this Marketing Land post, that might not be the best use of your time anymore.

Pay Close Attention to Your Landing Pages

Your landing pages often serve as a first impression of your business for customers. So it’s important to create good ones. In this Process Street post, Benjamin Brandall examined various landing pages for SaaS startups and shared his analysis. BizSugar members also shared input on the post.

Improve the Sales and Marketing Relationship

When you get down to it, marketing is all about relationships. Whether you’re selling online or to individual customers, improving your sales and marketing relationships can be a worthwhile goal. In this Cirrus Insight post, Brigg Patten includes some tips for improving those relationships.

Use These Content Marketing Hacks to Speed Up Blog Growth

A great blog can help you make a great impression with online consumers. But if your blog never reaches anyone, it’s not going to have much of an impact. Instead, take a look at this post by Christopher Jan Benites on Basic Blog Tips. And then see what BizSugar members are saying about the post here.

Find Meaning in Information Technology

If you want to make the best possible business decisions, you need to know how to best gather and decipher all the data that’s out there. Check out this post by Andre Bourque of the Social Marketing Fella for some tips on finding the meaning in information technology.

Use Automated and Outsourced Internet Marketing Tools

Marketing your business to online consumers can be a time consuming process. But it doesn’t have to be. As Zac Johnson details in this SteamFeed post, there are plenty of different ways you can automate and outsource various marketing processes.

If you’d like to suggest your favorite small business content to be considered for an upcoming community roundup, please send your news tips to:  sbtips@gmail.com

Thumbs Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Community Tips for Improving Your Online Reputation" was first published on Small Business Trends

20 Steps to Promote Your Business at County Fairs and State Fairs

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2016-06-25 09:00

There’s nowhere quite like a county fair. In small towns across America, they’re usually the highlight of the summer. But county fairs aren’t just for rural farmers — and they’ve got a lot more to offer than petting zoos and pie eating contests.

County fairs and state fairs are also crucial opportunities with which to extend your brand reach and connect with a diverse range of would-be customers.

Some business owners are understandably wary of getting involved in the fair circuit. After all, accounting apps might not feel like an easy sell when you’re competing with a glitzy Ferris wheel for attention. But the truth is, there’s a spot at the fair for businesses of all shapes and sizes — you’ve just got to play to your strengths.

To help get you started, we’ve rounded up a few top tips that will enable you to make the most of your annual fair.

County and State Fair Promotion Plan 1. Become a Web Sponsor

One of the most common and cost-effective sponsorship opportunities will be to enlist as a web sponsor. This will typically earn you a logo or brand mention on the fair’s website, which will enhance your SEO and hopefully increase your own site’s traffic.

2. Get Your Name in Print

They say ‘print is dead’. Yet the fair is one of few places on the planet in which a print advertisement may still generate a bit of business. Event programs are widely circulated and read at these sort of events, and so an affordable advertisement is usually a pretty safe bet.

3. Get Creative with Ad Space

Bigger county fairs are always on the hunt for financial aid — and so just about everything is up for sponsorship. Parking barrels, tractors, picnic tables and horse rings all provide great banner space at affordable prices.

4. Distribute Materials

Every successful business needs a good, old-fashioned street team. The county fair is a perfect opportunity to put that team to the test. If you’ve got promotional materials or fliers, get down to the fairgrounds and make sure they’re getting in the right hands. But don’t just people fliers in silence. Engage with people, work the crowd and give sparingly.

5. Sponsor an Event

We all love fairs for the cotton candy and petting zoos. But at the end of each day when the sun goes down, everything revolves around one big show. Some nights it’s a Cornhole tournament, other nights it’s a demolition derby or a big concert. Either way, each and every event is a brilliant opportunity to get your company name up in lights. Bearing that in mind, you should definitely contact your local fair organizers and ask about event sponsorship opportunities.

6. Become an Event

If money is no object, go all out and turn your company name into an event in and of itself. Plenty of fairs offer event sponsorship deals that will ensure your brand name is tagged onto a big event. You’ll appear on tickets, programs, websites and social media. Although these sort of sponsorship deals may seem quite dear, they’re actually pretty cost effective.

7. Donate an Auction Item

Getting a bid of publicity at your local fair isn’t all about bright lights and tomfoolery. If your budget is fairly non-existent, you can even earn yourself a bit of brand recognition by simply donating free goods or services to the fair’s silent auction. In fact, that’s the easiest way to win customers over one at a time.

8. Set Up a Table or Booth

If your business does have goods or services that can be aptly demonstrated, sold or advertised at a booth, then you should get on board. Food businesses, this is a great time to reach a huge audience. You don’t have to offer your whole kit and caboodle, though. Maybe a food stand that offered a limited range of your offerings. It’s a great way to get your name and great products out to the masses.

Contact organizers about booking a table or booth for peak days across the week, get a few staff members together and show revelers what your business has to offer.

9. Do Some Decorating

County fairs are typically places where rural tradition rings true. All of the bunting, balloons and loud banners might seem overly stereotypical. But at the fair, it’s all part of the fun. Place your products in bushel baskets filled with hay, go crazy on the gingham and incorporate plenty of interactive games.

10. Play the Part

What’s the point of spending ages decorating a booth if the people standing behind it don’t look the part, too? You and your staff have got to embrace the atmosphere and dress accordingly. If your booth has got a theme, run with it. Otherwise, simply capitalize on your typical fair thoroughfare.

11. Give Out Free Samples

If your business has products to sell, it’s always with letting customers try them out first-hand. By incorporating a few free samples as loss leaders, you’ll be able to rope in potential leads, establish brand loyalty and become a very popular vendor.

12. Engage, Engage, Engage

If you’ve got something to sell, rope visitors in with a ring toss – offering product discounts as a prize. This will help to replicate the fair’s carnival atmosphere on a smaller scale and ensure that your booth stands out from the crowd.

13. Plan Ahead

More practically, you should be sure to get yourself a reliable portable card reader. After all, county fairs might be all about tradition, but the tradition of carrying cash is in rapid decay. Likewise, you’ve also got to have all of the resources you might need right there on hand. Don’t forget price lists, product specifications or any necessary replenishments.

14. Keep Customers in the Loop

First and foremost, let your current and established customer base know you’ll be going to the fair. A few friendly faces and known customers popping by your stall could generate a bit more buzz – so you should get on social media, update your followers and create an event that they can bookmark. If you’ve got a regular company newsletter, draft up a new HTML and send out one or two reminders that you’ll be appearing at the fair or sponsoring an event.

15. Work the Crowd

There’s no point sponsoring an event or spending hours setting up a booth if you aren’t going to engage with potential consumers. It’s great if you can rope revelers in with a fair game of your own design, but it also helps to have an identifiable team member working the crowd near your booth. Be friendly, get people chatting and use intrigue and entertainment in order to peak their curiosity and lure them over. Be fun and be outrageous; after all, people have come to the fair to have a good time.

16. Cater to Impulse

Once you’ve caught their interest, it always helps to cater to impulse. That means you should be stocking your booth with a couple of low-priced and easy-to-carry items. Two-for-one offers perform particularly well at fairs.

17. Push Newsletters

Meanwhile, a sign-up sheet is also a brilliant way to get the most out of your county fair presence. Families passing by will usually be clinging onto quite a few things already – meaning your business cards and cumbersome fliers will probably end up getting tossed in the bin twenty feet away. Instead, simply ask people if they’d like to join your mailing list.

18. Offer Incentives

Sometimes it can be difficult to try and coax personal contact details out of potential consumers. That’s why it always pays to try and sweeten the deal a little bit by offering up a special incentive. Offer an exclusive deal or a one-off discount in exchange for signing up. Your conversion rates will skyrocket.

19. Follow Up

Once you’ve made contact with potential leads at the fair, be sure to follow up with unique and engaging content. If you’ve registered a few dozen new customers for a mailing list, create a follow-up letter devoted specifically to your new customers, what was discussed at the fair and items that might appeal to them in particular.

20. Have Fun

County and state fairs are all about getting together, celebrating the great weather and admiring all of the hard work that your community has been putting in to their respective trades. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or what county you’re based in – there are going to be members of your community that will want to check out your business and see what you’ve been getting up to.

Once you’ve finished up pushing your wares, it’s always worth getting involved, too. Grab some cotton candy, enjoy the live music and toast a drink to a job well done. After all, the fair only pops up once a year.

Ticket BoothCandy ApplesSwineFair Ride Photos via Shutterstock

This article, "20 Steps to Promote Your Business at County Fairs and State Fairs" was first published on Small Business Trends

Smart Mom-Rich Mom Looks at Better Financial Decision While Raising a Family

Small Business Trends - Sat, 2016-06-25 07:00

“Historically, the industry has largely ignored women: Advertisements tend to feature older, graying men, with women serving as the arm candy,” writes  Kimberly Palmer in Smart Mom-Rich Mom: How to Build Wealth While Raising a Family.

Women have an incredibly huge influence on purchases of all types directly and indirectly. This is not new (although ignored by the mainstream financial industry). What is new is the increasing growth of women who control wealth, especially those who will do it alone at some point in their lives.

That’s where Smart Mom-Rich Mom comes in.

What Smart Mom-Rich Mom is About

Smart Mom-Rich Mom begins with couponing. Why? The author argues that the financial industry has ignored the financial reality of women. There is an unwritten code that praises women for snipping a “2 for 1” coupon but doesn’t praise them for rebalancing their portfolio. There is an unwritten code that praises women for being mothers but doesn’t accept the reality of trying to work while raising children.

This “unwritten code” is what Kimberly Palmer is challenging. Palmer argues that now is the time for society to take heed of women and money beyond the world of “thrifty mothers”. Women, she says, need to be educated, prepared, and accountable in the world of money to remain financially afloat. As Palmer repeats several times throughout the book, most women (whether through choice or circumstance) will have to make financial decisions on their own. To establish her urgency, Smart Mom, Rich Mom provides stories of women who were left unprepared to manage their finances after a partner’s death, divorce, or becoming a parent.

Her overall message is that women can’t and shouldn’t wait until something happens to get smart about money. This re-education begins at home. Smart Mom, Rich Mom urges mothers to establish proactive habits toward money (saving, investing, long-term planning, etc. ) and income generation (full-time work, part-time work, freelance, etc.). By taking charge of their money, women will be in a better financial position through all of the phases of their life.

Kimberly Palmer has over 10 years of experience in writing about money including positions at US News and World Report and her current role as Work and Jobs Editor at AARP. She is also a speaker, author of several books, and adjunct professor at American University. In addition to all of the above and raising a family, she also started an Etsy side business.

What Was Best About Smart Mom-Rich Mom

Smart Mom, Rich Mom provides a broader view of a women’s financial life than most books. This was Kimberly Palmer’s goal and she carries off this goal with personally insightful information. Readers will get a strong sense of Kimberly Palmer’s ability to help others because she has lived the life she is talking about. Kimberly Palmer is a working mother with two kids. This experience, along with her background allows us Palmer to hone in on important details that her audience needs to pay attention to.

What Could Have Been Done Differently

Smart Mom-Rich Mom isn’t the kind of book with “10 Quick Tips to Earn $100 Easily” kinds of tips. It also does not provide investing advice, like stock tips. It provides a broad overview of some of the important decisions women need to make in regards to money. If you are looking for that, you might find it in another book. The book provides excellent advice (in fact getting very specific), but the point of the book is to get women to start thinking about how to manage their money, not actually how to do it step by step.

Why Read Smart Mom-Rich Mom

Smart Mom-Rich Mom provides advice that is applicable to all women (as well as men because money is money!), but it will be of special interest to working mothers who want some beginner’s guidance on money management. The book delves into the big areas that readers need to pay attention to and why. The other group who might benefit are older women who have never really managed their own finances. The book provides empowerment and true stories of women who were successfully able to balance money with the rest of their lives.

This article, "Smart Mom-Rich Mom Looks at Better Financial Decision While Raising a Family" was first published on Small Business Trends

Brexit Business Impact: Why Should You Care?

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-06-24 17:30

As the results of the Brexit vote were tallied overnight Thursday, the “leave” camp had reason to celebrate while the “remainders” were left stunned by the thought of what an exit from the European Union could mean.

Economists forecast that the separation will result in a tumultuous financial future that will see the devaluation of the British Sterling, the decline of foreign investment in the country and a shake-up of global financial markets. But what will the Brexit business impact be — particularly on small businesses here in the U.S. and in the UK?

It’s the question many small business owners on both sides of the pond are asking, and the answers aren’t hopeful.

Brexit Business Impact

For 25-year-old entrepreneur Tom Cridland, founder of a sustainable clothing company based in Cambridge, leaving the EU could lead to the destruction of his business.

Cridland told CNBC that he was “very apprehensive” that a Brexit could destroy his business.

While sold in the UK, Cridland’s clothing is manufactured in Portugal, an arrangement the open trading policy between nations in the EU has made cost effective.

“If you start adding those import tariffs, and our markups don’t work, then we go out of business,” he said.

Sasha Kocho-Williams, the owner of a London-based microbrewery, agrees. She told NBC News that Brexit could mean the end of her business because much of her ingredients and equipment come from Europe.

“Our fermenting vessels … come from Italy because Italy specializes in high-grade stainless steel for the brewing industry,” she said. “We sell all of our beer in bottles … all of our bottles come from Italy with the exception of our glass containers for selling draught beer, which come from Germany.”

Pessimism appears to be the prevailing mindset among many UK small business owners contemplating the Brexit business impact.

According to a survey from Bidvine, a professional services marketplace, conducted before the June 23 vote, many small businesses in the UK believe they would be forced to raise their prices for local services.

Nearly one-third (30 percent) of business owners felt they would have to raise prices and 81 percent felt prices would go up as much as 10 percent. Eight percent of those surveyed were even more pessimistic, saying they expected prices could rise as much as 50 percent.

The survey revealed that just 28 percent of respondents felt leaving the EU was a good idea, and more than half (56 percent) do not think they’d win any more business if Britain left.

An open letter to The Times newspaper, written Wednesday, a day before the vote, signed by 1,300 UK business leaders said that leaving the EU would cause an economic shock wave that would result in “uncertainty for our firms, less trade with Europe and fewer jobs.”

While the letter represented the convictions of some of the UK’s leading companies, it also warned the Brexit business impact would render smaller businesses vulnerable to “serious economic shock.”

Not every small business owner agrees that leaving the EU is a bad thing, however. One hundred small business owners sent a letter to the Sun newspaper calling on readers to vote to leave. They arguing that the ideals of the EU no longer represent the “best interest of British businesses or the British people. “

Part of their reasoning has to do with EU bureaucracy.

“Small and medium-sized businesses are constantly held back by unnecessary EU regulations and red tape,” the letter said. “We need the freedom to be able to thrive in the 21st century … We believe the only way to achieve this is to vote to leave the EU.”

One expert has looked at the Brexit business impact on smaller companies specifically.

Professor Stephen Roper, Professor of Enterprise and director of the Enterprise Research Center at Warwick Business School, Coventry, England, had this to say in an email interview with Small Business Trends:

“Small businesses need to prepare for a period of volatility as markets react. Gains in terms of reduced regulation and EU membership costs may follow, but are probably some years off,” Roper said.

He added: “Over the next few weeks a weakening of sterling will help exporters, but will make euro imports more expensive, raising all small firms’ input costs. Interest rates too may need to rise raising business borrowing costs. Longer term, European firms may also switch orders away from the UK to insulate themselves from any changes in trading relations between Britain and the EU.”

Brexit Effect on U.S. Small Businesses

How much Brexit business impact will be felt here in the U.S. remains to be seen — espcially for small businesses. But, according to Forbes, there will be implications as markets react.

Forbes said that trade agreements between Great Britain and the EU could be disrupted, and the potential loss of access to the 28 countries that make up the union could “negatively impact” American companies with operations based in England.

Perhaps it’s too early to tell just what impact Brexit will have on small business fortunes in the UK and the U.S. It will likely take years for England to untangle itself from its connection to the EU and only time will tell whether independence is bane or boon.

That’s true for small businesses in the UK at least, Roper explained:

“The gains for small firms from Brexit are probably two to five years away,” Roper said. “There is potential for reduced regulation and new trade deals, but the timing and effects of both remain uncertain. Outside the EU the UK will also be free of EU competition and state aid rules allowing the UK government to provide more direct support to SMEs.”

One thing is for sure, however: In the meantime, uncertainty will prevail.

Brexit Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Brexit Business Impact: Why Should You Care?" was first published on Small Business Trends

Pinterest Conversion Tracking for Promoted Pins Unveiled

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-06-24 15:30

With any type of advertising, it’s important to have a method for measuring the actual results that you get out of your investment. That’s what Pinterest is trying to provide with its new conversion tracking feature for Promoted Pins.

The basic idea is that you can select a pin to promote, then choose a metric that you’d like to measure and add some code to your website so that you can access a report about the actual results of your campaign.

If you’ve never used Promoted Pins on Pinterest, the feature basically allows you to make certain pins more visible to others on the platform. You can choose keywords for your pins and even specify demographic information about the pinners you’d like to target with your campaign. So if you want more people to visit a website where you sell women’s clothing, you can add keywords like “fashion” and then target females in the U.S. — or whatever other geographic locations you want to target. And you can even select specific devices you want to target as well. So if you have a product or service that is more likely to be of interest to mobile customers or Android users, you can potentially benefit from those tools.

You can also set a daily budget for your campaign and a cost per engagement. So if your main goal is to get people to click over to your website, then you can pay per click. And if you want people to engage with your pins on Pinterest, you can pay for that engagement as well.

Pinterest Conversion Tracking

So with those goals in mind, you can now set up conversion tracking to measure exactly how effective your Promoted Pins are. To set up conversion tracking, you need to visit the Ads section of Pinterest and select conversion tracking. Then you can set up an objective to track with one of your promoted pins. You have the ability to track different types of engagements like website visits, check outs or sign ups, depending on what your goals are for your Promoted Pins campaign.

Once you’ve specified the pin, the type of engagement you want to track, and the time frame for your campaign, Pinterest will generate a small snippet of code that you can add to the site where you want to track this  engagement. This can be one particular page of your site or your entire website if you want to measure more general engagement.

So for example, if your goal is to increase sales for one particular product, you can set up a tag to measure page views or check outs on that one particular page. But if your goal is just to get more views or subscribers to your company’s blog, you can add the code to your website template using a page visits or sign up tag.

During or after your campaign, you can go back to that conversion tracking page and access reports about your conversions. Having the ability to access this data can allow you to better evaluate the success of your Pinterest Promote Pins campaigns. If you’re investing money into advertising your business, it makes good sense to constantly monitor what is working and what is bringing in real results. Then you can better understand and make decisions about how to market your business going forward.

Image: Pinterest

This article, "Pinterest Conversion Tracking for Promoted Pins Unveiled" was first published on Small Business Trends

Xero, Shopify and More Make Financial Announcements

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-06-24 13:30

Businesses that need help managing finances online got some welcome news this week. Xero and Wells Fargo unveiled a new financial tool, and Shopify announced that Apple Pay will be available as a payment option later this year.

Read on for these headlines and more in this week’s Small Business Trends news and information roundup.

Finance Xero and Wells Fargo Unlock Financial Web for Business

Cloud-based accounting software platform provider Xero (NZE:XRO) and banking behemoth Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE:WFC) just did their small business customers a huge favor.

Shopify Announces Apple Pay as New Payment Option

The release of the new iOS 10 was not the only announcement made at the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco recently. The tech giant said that Apple Pay, Apple’s mobile-payment service, will come to the Web this fall.

Economy Texas, Utah Rank High as Small Business Friendly States, Survey Says

Running a company successfully is a challenge no matter where you are located, but in some business-friendly cities and states entrepreneurs have a relatively easier time. Small Business Friendly States and Cities According to a new study by Thumbtack, San Antonio and Nashville are the friendliest cities to small businesses. Among the states, Texas and Utah are the top favorites.

Nancy Pelosi Says Government, Not Apple, Made iPhone – Really?

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has come under heavy fire after arguing the iPhone was “invented” by the federal government rather than Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). It’s only the latest in what seems a trend among political leaders trying to take credit for innovation and economic development away from entrepreneurs and the business community.

Employment Web.com Announces New Appointments After Yodle Acquisition

Coming soon after acquiring local online marketing startup Yodle, Web.com Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:WEB) has announced some new appointments as it integrates the new acquisition into its company. Yodle, which focuses on local online marketing for small businesses, is an important addition to Web.com.

How the New York Paid Family Leave Act Affects Small Businesses

New York state just passed a paid family leave proposal that some see as the most forward-thinking piece of legislation of its kind ever enacted. Others feel it could turn into a bitter pill that the state’s hundreds of thousands of small businesses may be forced to swallow.

Management New PayChex WORX Small Business Resource Center Provides Advice

Human resources industry leader Paychex (NASDAQ:PAYX) has expanded its digital resource base with the launch of an all-new content hub. Paychex WORX is designed to further complement Paychex’s human capital management services by providing businesses of all shapes and sizes with meaningful tips and tricks to assist them in establishing market dominance.

Advertising New Facebook Ads Promote, Measure In-Store Visits, Purchases

Mobile technology is changing the way people shop. And that doesn’t mean that people are just using mobile payments or completing purchases from their phones. Consumers also use their mobile devices to find physical retail locations where they can make purchases.

Small Biz Spotlight Spotlight: Black Dinah Chocolatiers Makes Chocolate an Experience

Some businesses can succeed regardless of their location. Others are only created with a specific location in mind. Such is the case for Black Dinah Chocolatiers. The founders fell in love with Isle au Haut in Maine. And they built a chocolate business to support their life on the island. Read about their journey and the business in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

Small Business Operations Business Plus Introduces Payment Processing Service – 49 More Tools Coming

Business Plus, a small business management software and hardware technology provider, recently launched a payment processing solution that, it says, gives small businesses a “competitive edge.” The payment service represents the first of more than 50 tools the company plans to launch throughout the remainder of 2016, designed with small business management and marketing in mind.

So Long, Spreecast: Video Chat Platform Will Shut Down July 14

Businesses that have used Spreecast for video chat or larger forum discussions got some bad news last week when the company announced it will shut down the service effective July 14, 2016. The platform, unlike popular video chat options like Skype or Google Hangouts, didn’t require any software or integration with a specific platform in order for people to use it.

Social Media How Much Do Small Businesses Spend on Facebook Marketing? Not That Much

Millions of small businesses are using Facebook but only half are spending any marketing dollars there. New data from Alignable shows that half of the small businesses it surveyed — among more than 1,200 of its users — spent $0 last quarter on their Facebook marketing efforts.

MySpace Hacked — That’s Right, MySpace — for User Info

Shortly before Memorial Day weekend in May, 2016, MySpace (yes, it does still exist), became aware that its user login data was being made available in an online hacker forum without authorization. Time Inc. (NYSE:TIME), the current owner of MySpace.com, later confirmed that indeed the once-popular social media site was hacked and its user data breached.

Startup Why are Business Accelerators Increasing in Number?

AngelList, an online platform that matches high potential startups with investors and employees currently indicates that 578 accelerators are in operation, up from one in 2005. Why the enormous increase in the number of accelerators in the United States over the past decade? What’s Behind the Growing Number of Business Accelerators in the U.S.

Technology Trends 4 New LG X Series Phones Focus on Different Feature Sets

Smartphone makers are doing all they can to come up with the next best thing and until now, each attempt was designed to put more of the best technology in a single device. But there is only so much you can put in a form factor as small as a smartphone.

Apple iMessage Update Lets You Send Payments, Edit Photos, More

Until very recently, the thought of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) ever opening its applications like other companies for developers with APIs and SDKs wasn’t even contemplated.

Apollo 7 Earbuds Deliver Wireless Experience – with Hiccups

Earbuds and earphones that block out the world and let you experience an audio book or take an important call anywhere are important to productivity. And for small business owners and entrepreneurs on the go, they can be vital to letting you stay connected. Over the last decade, companies have spent considerable time trying to improve both headphones and earbuds.

Meem Creates a Smartphone Backup Every Time You Recharge

MEEM is a charger, mini-computer and backup storage device all rolled into one designed to store the personal bits of data in your iOS or Android smartphone every time you plug it in. There is a lot of data on the smartphones you carry, some much more important than the rest. In most cases, the personal information, such as personal photos, has value that can’t be quantified.

Apple Unveils iOS 10 Update with New 3D Touch Pop Ups, More

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) announced some updates to its mobile operating systems across the board during Apple Worldwide Developers Conference 2016 recently. Those updates included some new features and a more open policy for app developers, which will hopefully bring more innovative solutions in the future.

Apple Includes Siri for Mac in Latest Update

The thirteenth version of OS X got a name change to macOS, also called Sierra, and just like its two predecessors Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has decided to keep the alpine theme with its latest operating system. But the feature that is getting the most attention right now is the availability of Siri for Mac.

69 Percent of SMBs Focus IT Budget on Emerging Tech

Sixty-nine percent of small and medium-sized businesses are devoting part of their IT budget for 2016 to newer and emerging technologies. These include technologies like 3D printers and wearable devices, as well as dashboard and data visualization software applications. The stat comes from a new survey-based whitepaper by technology company Insight Enterprises Inc. (NASDAQ: NSIT).

Image: Shopify

This article, "Xero, Shopify and More Make Financial Announcements" was first published on Small Business Trends

Atlanta Hawks, Braves Using Fan Engagement to Get People to the Game

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-06-24 12:00

Most professional sports franchises are small businesses too, with limited budgets and employees. Atlanta Hawks Chief Creative Officer Peter Sorckoff, and Atlanta Braves VP of Marketing Adam Zimmerman, are doing fascinating things to create great experiences for their fans.  In a featured session at ExCom 2016, an event on the future of customer experience and commerce I co-organized with John Lawson, Sorckoff and Zimmerman discussed the challenges and opportunities of utilizing cutting edge technologies to stay connected with their fan base. The panel, moderated by social media strategist Dorothea Bozicolona-Volpe, tackled a variety of issues from using CRM for data collection, omni-channel engagement, mobile GEO targeting, disruptive in-venue technology and more. And while their focus is on fan engagement, the lessons and experiences they share can be used well beyond the world of sports.

Below is an edited transcript of the conversation, along with the embedded video of the session.

* * * * *

Dorothea Bozicolona-Volpe: What types of data and information are you collecting and how do you leverage that information that you are collecting to create better experiences.

Peter Sorckoff: I think sports is probably behind the curve a little bit with the big data phenomenon and we’re working as hard as we can to catch up. We really will collect any data we can, to be totally frank with you. Most importantly buyer data comes to us through Ticketmaster.

Buyer data is interesting but it doesn’t really give us all that much on the behavioral side. When people are in the building we love to collect as much data as we can in that space in place too.  So we have a new integrated Wi-Fi data system. You’ve got to give us five fields of data.

One of the problems in sports is one person usually buys tickets for four people. So we will end up with a pretty significant data on that one buyer but the other three are completely invisible to us and that is that’s a real struggle that I know all sports teams are trying to find solutions for and there are a lot of different tech providers who are trying to trying to solve that for sports teams.

Not only will we know where you parked, where you came from, where your seat was, what entrance you walked in, which concessions you potentially bought, and when you walked in the team retail store if you bought something at the store. We’ve got some technology right now that’s really interesting that we’re beta testing specifically in the retail side to give us a little more insight on which store walls, and how they’re merchandised, actually make the most dollars for us, and facial recognition technology we’re testing now which gives us a sense of male shoppers versus female shoppers based on how things are merchandised.

Adam Zimmerman: I’m keenly interested in the data I can extract from social. I think that the bar of success on social right now is on engagement. I’m really interested in what can I learn from the data and how can I make that actionable with that engagement. So that’s something we’re really studying very diligently. The second thing and some of you might be familiar in sports we have what’s called the territory.

And so there is a restriction that Peter has as it relates to where he can market and he has a team in Charlotte.   He has a team in Tennessee, teams in Florida.  On the other hand, the Braves have a very large geographic territory. Seven states across the southeast mean tens of millions of people. I certainly want to drive people to my building. I’m also keenly interested in how people consume the Atlanta Braves across a very large footprint so that’s something we’re studying as well.

Dorothea Bozicolona-Volpe: Once you have a strategy in place what are the key performance indicators that let you know my strategy is working right.

Peter Sorckoff: We keep it fairly simple. There’s an intent we measure, and then conversion obviously is extremely important. Our relationship honestly with the customer has been very transactional in the past something and we’re really working hard to move away from that.  Really trying to build attribution models and in particular any opportunity we have for direct attribution. We’ll fund until we lose traction; retargeting would be a great example of that. Search is a great example of that because we know we pushed this out either in the social space or over desktop, somebody clicked on it. We follow them all the way through the sales process.

I think probably most sports teams are shifting more and more of their emphasis into digital and into social in particular because you can track efficiencies on your spending against what your strategies are.

Dorothea Bozicolona-Volpe: What channels are you focusing on when you think about social media?

Adam Zimmerman: Major League Baseball’s had a partnership with Snapchat for a few years and we executed the first ever Snapchat program at spring training with the players and they were actually allowed to sit in the dugouts and participate. What Snapchat does is it’s that nexus point of TV meets engaged fan community. That’s why it’s such an incredible platform for us to watch, listen and learn. The live story that’s being created; that curated fan content is really going to be impactful.

Peter Sorckoff: I think of other channels for us. We sort of made our made our living on Twitter for a while mostly because I think what it really did was change our voice. As we made a fairly significant repositioning of the brand over the last two years, Twitter was a great way for us to do regularly demonstrate the new us. The unfortunate thing is we had a really hard time actually making any money from Twitter in particular, so while it serves that purpose and that’s great and we can be topical and be front and center a lot, the most growth that we see is an Instagram. And Instagram has just jumped ahead of everybody by leaps and bounds in terms of growth and appetite for content.

But at the same time I don’t know that we have really also devised a great way to monetize that space either. Facebook, which everybody likes to say is trailing in the distance, is probably the one social channel that we have been able to harness from a financial standpoint. And Facebook has now integrated themselves with Ticketmaster where you don’t have to leave the platform to buy a ticket.

So if we get a deep level of engagement we can actually sell product in that same space while we’re engaging which is really fascinating for us.

Adam Zimmerman: Several weeks ago we had NASCAR fans in the audience by chance during the anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Sr. passing at Daytona in an accident.

We respectfully acknowledged that via social channels because Dale Sr. was a big Braves fan. So we put a tasteful piece out on social media and a couple of wonderful things happened for us in terms of social. Dale Jr., his very popular son, acknowledged to us via social media and then happened to win a race that very evening where the reporter said you must be thinking about your dad today and he said I am. ‘I’ve been following social media and I really want to thank the Atlanta Braves for acknowledging my father’. All of a sudden we had ridiculous amounts of engagement – about 35000 people engaged with us through various Atlanta Braves social platforms. Now I have a database of people who identify as an Atlanta Braves fan and a Dale Jr./NASCAR fan. And that would become actionable and you will see that show up in a promotion at some point this season.

So I’m very intrigued with how we can use social to get the engagement that then becomes a database that becomes actionable to drive revenue.

Fan Engagement

Dorothea Bozicolona-Volpe: How do you engage the individual?

Adam Zimmerman: The holy grail in sports marketing is if I knew what you wanted to do around your love of your favorite team, that would be fantastic. So over time we hope that we put programs out there that we hope you’ll like. You pontificate on what players you like and what matchups you’d like to see, whether or not you should fire my coach, so forth and so on. If I’m able to scale that and pay that off I have very impactful targeted promotions. So a few years ago we started this thing. It’s now become ubiquitous called surprising delight where we would watch social media through various social listening tools and if we saw something interesting we would we would reach into that fan’s life and make that happen for him or her. And they were rewarded us.

Now there was a method to the madness. We looked at Klout scores, we looked at a couple other things but we were able to pay off fans hopes and desires in a way that made them fans for life. And I think that is that still becomes the next generation in sports marketing because data technology enables us to do that thing with great effect and with great frequency.

Peter Sorckoff: I think we also recognize along with the rest of the world that people like recognition and they like recognition from organizations or groups that they have deep affinity for. And sometimes it’s the really simple things. It is acknowledging a tweet; actually pushing something back to somebody or  re-tweeting something; even something as simple as liking a post that somebody else has made that gives them some social credibility and acknowledgement from this humongous organization which frankly is not nearly as big as they think it is. But has this huge profile so there’s really little things like that.

Dorothea Bozicolona-Volpe: Adam as it relates to social engagement what are you doing right now to take the data analytics you’re grasping from each one of these experiences you’re creating and monetizing it?

Adam Zimmerman: One of the major programs we’re going to do this year at Turner Field is we’re in a countdown. Each one of our last home games so it’s a final season of Turner Field and we’re going to go from 81 to 80 to 79 to 78 and somebody is going to come and pull down that number. So to go back to my Dale Jr. example when I invite him to come in pull down a number I will be able to take that database of fans and say to them before everyone else hey building is going to come down a number and we love you to be there. And so if they buy tickets if there is some level of monetary engagement I’ll be able to track that. This is an example.

Dorothea Bozicolona-Volpe: I want to talk a little bit about technology inside the venue.

Adam Zimmerman: I think Peter might agree with me; technology is the great arms race in sports marketing.

Peter Sorckoff: One technology that we brought into Philips Arena last year is a 3D video mapping projection system which is if you haven’t seen it absolutely stunning. And it’s a technology that really you don’t see anywhere else so it’s very unique in that way. I’m always conflicted by technology in sports to be totally honest. To Adams point it’s a huge separator and a point of differentiation partly from our brethren, but probably more importantly from the TV experience. I’m less concerned about competing with Adam and the Braves; we actually probably collaborate more than we compete. I’m competing for somebody staying at home on their couch to be totally frank with you and so for me the way I try to frame technology with all of my team is to never forget this is it deeply human and analog experience that people are coming for. And technology is a way to enhance that but not to replace that.

Dorothea Bozicolona-Volpe: How are you using technology as a customer service vehicle?

Adam Zimmerman: You think about all of the customer experience touch points that we have. In all of ways that fans might now very much voice their displeasure instantly with something that we’re doing incorrectly. So how do we how do we figure that out maybe someone’s had a bad experience with parking. Maybe it’s stuff that Peter and I can’t control but it’s still attributed to us and how do we very quickly aggregate and reach out to that fan which we do and I’m sure Peter does as well to try and have that direct one on one engagement with that person if they have an experience that could be better at any point in their consumption of our product.

Peter Sorckoff: I really resisted apps for a long time to be totally honest with you. I kind of think they suck in sports and I’ll put that out there because they’re kind of commodities; you look at the Celtics app in the Hawks app the Lakers app, it’s basically the same thing just re-skinned. And unfortunately a lot of time it is the same content that you find in other places that has also just been dropped and dumped into there. So I think that’s a pretty negative viewpoint on apps.

What we have found in the NBA across the 30 teams is 80 percent of the app downloads are outside the hundred fifty mile marketing radius or DMA of the team. So I don’t really need to build an app for somebody who’s a fan in California, because I have a very hyper local business. I have a building I need to fill right here and partners that I need to drive their business for right here locally.

So that has kind of set the framework for us on what an app should be in the future. What we’re efforting towards right now is an app that should help the fan overcome the encumbrances of coming to a game in person. So imagine if you bought a ticket and the ticket now only lives on your phone completely paperless. And when you get to the game there’s going to be a phone reader. And before you even get to the game when you pull up the app it’s going to use geo targeting; the GPS on your phone is going to know where you are and it’s going to ask you if you want the quickest trip time and directions to the stadium. It’s going to tell you which parking lot is the closest one to the closest entrance with the shortest line to get to your seat. To me that level of utility is now really fascinating and if we want to go back to Big Data behaviorally, I get to really start to understand some things about how the customer is going through this journey of consuming my product. So for me touchless readers where I can order my parking in advance and it lives on my phone. My ticket already lives there I can order food in advance and actually tell them what time I want it ready. So when I walk up to the concession stand my food is already prepaid. I just go to another reader touch my phone and the food is sitting there ready to go. These sound far-fetched but these are actually not that far away.

And I think they again are really going to revolutionize the experience because these are generally the pain points that fans tell us. It takes enjoyment away from coming to a game live. So to me that’s the real utility about the future.

This article, "Atlanta Hawks, Braves Using Fan Engagement to Get People to the Game" was first published on Small Business Trends

How to Determine Mobile App ROI for Small Businesses

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-06-24 10:30

If you have a small business, then you could potentially be going through the difficult process of deciding whether or not to endure the trouble and expense of creating a mobile application. In today’s day and age, it might be a dumb question to ask that since basically every business has a mobile app. However, as with everything, there are pros and there are cons. Some of the biggest downsides are the time, energy, and huge costs that come with preparing the perfect application.

In an effort to outweigh the cons, small businesses need to look to their business development/marketing teams to create a comprehensive marketing campaign. Through this campaign, effective advertising techniques can be utilized in order to make sure the startup app breaks ground and rises above the competition.

Aside from the aesthetics, you want to make sure that in it’s basic form, the application actually works as a useful tool that helps to create a long-term relationship with your target customer base. Small business will also have to pay attention to success factors such as level of consumer engagement, number of downloads, and overall profitability and revenue.

First, The Basics for an Effective Mobile Application

The most important thing to notice about the times we live in is that very few things that need to get done, can be done non-digitally. If you want to play games, you don’t need Scrabble — you’ve got Words with Friends. You need to go to the grocery store? No need. Someone on TaskRabbit can do it for you within the hour and you don’t have to go anywhere. Need to get across town? No need to call a taxi service. Just use Uber and they’ll be by your place in five minutes.

Let’s be honest, consumers have been spending excessive amounts of time shopping, doing work, and being social (how ironic) on their mobile devices. Therefore, it has been the job of business owners across the globe to incorporate something to add some ease and helpfulness into the lives of their customers and potential customers.

The main thing to remember here is that the easier it is for your business to interact with your target audience, the easier it will be for them to keep coming back. And, it might even stir up conversation between them and their friends about your business, all-helpful towards generating revenue. Also, depending on your type of business, you want to make sure that if there is any reason that customers need to order something, they can do it with the utmost amount of ease.

Most applications can increase order frequency by making the ordering process faster and easier. For example, Domino’s Pizza has made ordering pizza such an easier task by simply allowing you to order your favorite pizza by sending the pizza emoji to their customer number if you have a specific pizza type saved on your Domino’s Profile. Not only the emoji feature, but the pizza tracker, and various coupon specials have helped to increase user engagement, build customer loyalty as people create pizza profiles, and moreover, has helped customers receive so much more from their services. Basically, it’s super important to make sure that your app connects with your customers and helps to give you a competitive advantage over competitors in the market.

Next, try to focus on solving a business problem. The apps that can solve a business problem by allowing customers to get more done in less time, use resources efficiently, keep the footprint green, and present a professional image will continuously receive downloads and generate revenue.

You also want to make sure that your app doesn’t get “lost in the sauce” amongst all of the other thousands of apps that are downloaded daily, so it is especially imperative to make sure that your app stands out from the crowd. One of the most unspoken ways of getting more people attracted to your app is making sure that the application is available on all platforms.

If you want the app to operate on different platforms, such as iOS, Windows, and Android, it may be best to also think about getting a Web application instead of a native application. The difference between the two is that a native app is usually an app that can be downloaded on the specific device itself from the application store provided by the mobile service, such as the Google Play Store or the Apple Store.

A Web app, however, is an application that can be used on any device and can be accessed without being downloaded onto the device. This approach allows your app to work on a wealth of platforms — desktops as well as phones and tablets, if it’s designed properly. Of course this is going to cost more money, but if you think that the investment will bring enough return in the long run then by all means go for it.

One piece of advice, it is often best to cover your bases in terms of customer and audience outreach instead of showing favoritism to those customers that can be found using only a few of the different platforms. You do not want to neglect potential Android or Windows customers by only producing an app for Apple based products. This unfortunately is a big problem especially with Windows phone users, as they are even unable to own very popular apps such as Snapchat! As much as the consumer segment is small, the segment still matters!

Finally, Steps in Measuring Mobile App ROI

As much as mobile applications have become such an important part of a business and their marketing strategy, many businesses are still having trouble trying to figure out how to measure the application’s return on investment. This is important, because being able to measure the mobile app ROI will aide the business in increasing numbers with multiple key metrics, such as customer lifetime value, customer retention, cost per acquisition and audience engagement.

Step 1 — Define Your Goals

Most business models show that there are four basic steps in measuring mobile app ROI. The first step is defining your goals. There are always two categories where you want your intentions to lay, and that includes evaluating your workplace efficiency or evaluating consumer interaction.

We have gone a bit in detail about the latter, consumer interaction. But many businesses also neglect to realize that mobile app ROI could be used in evaluating the workplace. If you are noticing that sales are not increasing as they should and as they have the potential to, then maybe it isn’t the lack of response from your reach that you should be looking at, but rather the areas responsible for creating the reach! If they are lacking at what they are supposed to be doing, then subsequently, there will not be an increase in the revenue you see coming in.

And it may not even be the employees in the workplace, but it could also be a lack of proper asset management within the company, therefore you may not be able to place funds into what is the second step — Development Costs.

Step 2 — Developmental Costs

This step is crucial, not only because you may need to make sure you are keeping within the confines of the budget you may have placed aside, but also because you are going to need it to measure it against the third step in order to get your final mobile app ROI.

Development Costs is the bigger subset that includes the cost to design, develop and implement the app. You also need to keep in mind that after the app has been developed, there needs to be a team for maintenance and support which adds to long-term development costs.

Step 3 — Key Performance Indicator Placement

The third step would be KPI (Key Performance Indicator) Placement. The definition given for a Key Performance Indicator is a “business metric used to evaluate factors that are crucial to the success of an organization. KPIs differ per organization; business KPIs may be net revenue or a customer loyalty metric, while government might consider unemployment rates.”

So basically, the foundation of your company will be determinant of the KPI you use. Depending on the first step and whether you are defining customer interaction or workplace efficiency as your goal, the metrics may differ.

For customer interaction, you may want to know if your app is bringing back customers, or if any campaigns you’ve started is the reason for an increase/decrease in leads. For workplace evaluation, you may want to know if there has been an increase in cross selling or upselling in sales, or if there has been an effort to decrease maintenance costs.

The more metrics you analyze from these apps, the better you can estimate of value of success for your business. These metrics help you to look at campaign efforts from different angles, and can help you maximize your results in any way you would like.

It’s up to your marketing team to mix, match, and combine different important factors in order to get the best results. Be sure that you have also done your research on the best analytics engine so that it pulls the most important data for you.

Step 4— Measure Key Performance Indicators Against Developmental Costs

For the last and final step, you want to measure you key performance indicator results against the development costs. It’s better to do this if you have a projected lifespan for your app, or at least the amount of time you would want to keep spending to upgrade and maintain the app.

You basically can do this with a simple calculation: Find the Net Present Value of the Advantages, {(Potential Revenue x LifeSpan) – (Cost of Debt and Equity)} DIVIDED BY {(Development Costs) + (Yearly Maintenance x LifeSpan) – (Cost of Debt and Equity)}. This figure should give you the estimated mobile app ROI.

Conclusion

Remember, success takes time, patience, and unfortunately some money. But if you plan it right, strategically play your cards, and have a great marketing team to help push you forward, success with your new mobile application won’t be too hard to reach.

Mobile Phone Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "How to Determine Mobile App ROI for Small Businesses" was first published on Small Business Trends

One Simple Tactic to Writing Website Copy That Sells

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-06-24 09:30

If you want your business to be successful online (and who wouldn’t?) you need to give some serious thought to your website. Is the design important? Absolutely, it adds to your credibility as a business. But what’s even more important — and severely underrated — is the copy you use to convince your prospects to take action with you.

With the right messaging, your website can be your biggest sales tool, persuading your audience to become customers, all day, everyday, even while you sleep.

The One Mistake Most Businesses Make on Their Website

If you could say only one thing on your website, what would it be? It would probably be a good idea to talk about the business itself, and what makes your offering so amazing, right?

100 percent wrong, but all-too-common.

When prospects are coming to your website, the harsh reality is: they don’t care about you or your business. They really don’t even care about what you do. All they are looking for is how you can help them.

Unfortunately, when tasked with coming up with the copy for their own website, most businesses default to talking themselves up. This happens for a couple reasons:

  • They think this will come across as a benefit to their potential customers.
  • They aren’t experienced with the art of persuasive Web copy.

While you may think your customers knowing how great your product or service is will result in increased conversions, there is actually a fundamental disconnect happening. Remember, bringing up the virtues of your business is only an implied benefit, not a tacit one. And most of your audience will have a harder time connecting the dots than you would expect.

Consider the following example landing page’ headline:

Okay, so you’re “#1 Highest Rated.” Whoever wrote this headline probably thought it would be a convincing argument, but it’s missing the most important part — what does your software do for your customer? How does it solve their problem? How will it make their life easier/better/pain-free?

Here’s what you should do instead.

The Tactic to Writing Website Copy that Sells

When it comes to writing persuasive web copy, you really only have to accomplish one thing.

Tell your audience exactly how your offering will benefit them.

Sounds simple, right? By turning your brags into benefits, you can much more effectively communicate with, and convince your target audience to take action. Take a look at the following example landing page Lyft uses to target drivers:

See how the headline combines two solid benefits into one compelling statement? They could have easily just said “Drive for the #1 Rated Rideshare Service,” but it lacks the same level of enticement.

Would you rather work for a highly rated company, or make good money while choosing your own hours?

Would you rather hire “Your neighborhood plumber since 1965,” or have your issue “fixed fast with a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee?”

By specifically calling out what your customers get out of the deal, as well as letting them know how that will improve their life in some way, you will increase your conversions dramatically.

Getting Started

Go through the copy you’re currently using, line by line. Whenever you see a braggy statement about your company, ask yourself how you can turn it around into a concrete benefit for your customers.

So you’ve been a family-run business for three generations? While impressive, you’ll want to convey why that’s something your customers should be interested in. For example, you could turn it into a reason why they can trust you.

Final Thoughts

Whenever you’re trying to convince somebody to do something, you have to give them a reason that’s all about them. We can’t help it — we’re mostly wired to minimize our own pain, and maximize our own pleasure. By clearly stating how you can do that for your customers, your website will start to become a much more persuasive sales tool for your business.

Writing Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "One Simple Tactic to Writing Website Copy That Sells" was first published on Small Business Trends

4 New LG X Series Phones Focus on Different Feature Sets

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-06-24 08:30

Smartphone makers are doing all they can to come up with the next best thing and until now, each attempt was designed to put more of the best technology in a single device. But there is only so much you can put in a form factor as small as a smartphone.

The new approach by LG takes a step back and deploys devices that specialize in one particular aspect of smartphone technology above all others. The four new LG X phones are part of a series the company launched earlier this year.

Introducing the LG X Series

The first two phones, the X Cam and X Screen focused, as the names suggests, on the camera and screen. This time around the new phones called X Power, X Mach, X Style and X Max also focus on different components.

The new X series phones share many of the base specs of LG’s flagship G and V series handsets, but they add on the specialized features. The information LG made available on these phones is very limited, so we will have to wait until they are released later this month to find out the exact specifications. The price and availability for each device will be announced locally in each market.

The X Power

This phone has one of the largest battery capacities of any smartphone on a slim 7.99mm body with 4,100mAh (Samsung Edge 7 has 3600 mAh and the Apple iPhone 6 Plus has 2915 mAh). So the power is considerably more than the top brands in the segment. Additionally, LG said the company’s fast charging (PE+) technology allows the X Power to be charged twice as fast.

The X Mach

The X Mach is built for speed and performance, with support for LTE Cat. 9 3CA for faster data transfer and a 1.8GHz processor to manage power intensive applications. It also has a QHD IPS Quantum display, a curved form factor and a large 1.55m sensor camera.

The X Style

According to LG, the X Style differentiates itself with curving lines, extra-slim body, and a large display. It is made to consume multimedia content.

The X Max

LG has provided even less information for the X Max than for the other three phones, with the company saying only that it has a “Large display” — but the size of the screen hasn’t been made available either.

The New LG Strategy

LG doesn’t even appear on the list of “Top Five Smartphone Vendors, Shipments, Market Share and Year-Over-Year Growth, Q1 2016 Preliminary Data” by IDC. How will the company’s strategy pan out as most other manufacturers adopt a more-is-better approach for their devices?

The company might find an audience with small businesses that need the specific technologies the X series of phones bring. Still a full set of specs and more importantly a menu of prices must be available before business owners can know if the phones are worthwhile.

Image: LG Electronics

This article, "4 New LG X Series Phones Focus on Different Feature Sets" was first published on Small Business Trends

Business Plus Introduces Payment Processing Service – 49 More Tools Coming

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-06-24 07:30

Business Plus, a small business management software and hardware technology provider, recently launched a payment processing solution that, it says, gives small businesses a “competitive edge.”

The payment service represents the first of more than 50 tools the company plans to launch throughout the remainder of 2016, designed with small business management and marketing in mind. They cover such categories as CRM, accounting, sales, customer support, HR, telecom, marketing and website development.

Payment Processing Service Features

What does Business Plus payment processing have to offer that other services such as PayPal, Dwolla, Square and Apple Pay don’t?

The company touts features such as affordable pricing, elimination of unnecessary payment fees (cancellation, monthly statement, monthly minimums, and PCI compliance), and services such as debit and ACH processing, dynamic currency conversion, point of sale and “pass-through” pricing, all of which, it says, makes smaller businesses more competitive with their larger counterparts.

The payment processing service is available on most commonly-used platforms, including mobile devices, terminals, online, ecommerce, point-of-sale systems and even pay-at-the-pump locations.

Integrated Product Platform

Although feature-rich, what makes Business Plus worth considering isn’t just the payment processing service but the more than 50 different products that will be rolled out during 2016, all of which are built on an integrated, SaaS-based framework.

Other products scheduled for release include:

  • VoIP-based Telecom – includes hosted PBX with payment integration, custom music and messaging and multiple call profiles;
  • Sales & Accounting – an online bookkeeping system that lets businesses budget and manage all aspects of accounting, convert records from other bookkeeping software platforms and get help from professional accountants. The integrated sales tool provides customer invoices and quotes, automatically calculates sales tax and manages shipping and logistics to customers;
  • Service/Customer Relationship Management – allows businesses to manage contacts and view team engagement activities. The platform includes Google Apps for Work (Gmail, Calendar, Drive) task, lead, project, contract and device management, as well as team collaboration, live meetings, e­signature and a password vault.
  • Marketing – a program that enables businesses to survey customers, conduct A/B tests, manage integrated campaigns across multiple channels, track referrals and publish reports.
  • Human Resources – manages compensation disbursement with digital pay stubs for employees and contractors, employee benefits, charitable contributions, on­ and off­boarding, performance management and other human resource activities.

Business Plus users will no longer have to manage or set up connections between disparate tools across a range of vendors and platforms, hoping they can communicate. The platform stores all data in a central location and is accessible by all the products.

Consider the following as examples of the platform’s interoperability:

  • The payment processing product connects with the phone service, accounting and website products;
  • The phone product connects directly to accounting, so members can offer their clients a way to pay through the automated pay-by-phone feature without having to setup, maintain or pay for a separate phone system;
  • Members who operate an online store no longer need to pay extra gateway monthly or per transaction fees to accept payments through their website.
Membership-based Pricing

Another distinctive of Business Plus that small businesses may find attractive is its membership-based pricing model, which the company developed with the needs of small business in mind.

“Every dollar counts when you’re operating a business,” said Jonathan Cooper, co-founder and CEO of Business Plus in a prepared statement. “SMBs are forced to compete with larger businesses that have greater resources and deeper pockets every day. We wanted to change that with our member-based platform.”

The membership cost-sharing approach allows Business Plus to offer a simplified pricing structure that takes the volume equation out of the picture.

“Since we are membership-based, the larger we grow, the less our members pay,” said Cooper in an email to Small Business Trends. “We are able to pass our savings on to our members.”

Cooper cited as an example the fact that business phone services such as RingCentral, Nextiva and Vonage take a volume approach to pricing. The more users a business has, the more affordable it is per line. Business Plus members pay a flat monthly fee to access all its products at wholesale rates.

The company offers four membership levels: Entrepreneur, Startup, Venture and Business. Pricing ranges from $25 per month to $95 per month.

Each comes with slightly different per transaction fee and credits, which, according to the company, are internal monies used for per transaction items such as toll-free minutes, mass text messaging, direct mailings and more.

Base membership includes payment processing, electronic invoicing, contacts manager and reporting. From there, members can choose which products they would like. All products are offered a la carte so members only pay for those they need.

Another way the company’s membership model saves customers is with credit card rates. Members don’t have to worry about negotiating credit card processing rates. Instead, the company passes all of the costs through to the member with no markup on its part.

“In credit card processing, interchange rates are set by the card brands (Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express) and are the same for all merchants,” Cooper said. “In order for most processors to make a profit, they add a markup percentage and monthly fees to the interchange rates. Business Plus takes the membership-based model and passes all fees and assessments directly to the members with zero markup.”

Visit the Business Plus website for more information on payment processing, the other products and membership pricing.

Image: Business Plus

This article, "Business Plus Introduces Payment Processing Service – 49 More Tools Coming" was first published on Small Business Trends

Is It Ever OK to Let the Expletives Fly? Even in Acronyms?

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-06-24 06:30
So I don’t really swear in my cartoons. Occasionally I’ll write in a well-chosen curse word that I LOVE, show it to my wife, argue with her about it, and then eventually agree with her assessment of “maybe not.” But do acronyms count? I mean, we know what this means (right?), but since I didn’t technically write it, is it OK? Cartoons have used glyphs to signify foul language for almost a century, surely an acronym is fair game. Or is this so well-known now that it’s off limits. I went ’round and ’round on this for a while in my own head, but eventually ended up showing it to my wife, and guess what, she’s totally OK with it. Whew!

This article, "Is It Ever OK to Let the Expletives Fly? Even in Acronyms?" was first published on Small Business Trends

What You Need to Know About Google’s Expanded Text Ads

Small Business Trends - Fri, 2016-06-24 05:00

Expanded Text Ads are coming to Google AdWords. Are you excited? But more importantly, are you ready?

Expanded Text Ads were one of several huge AdWords changes Google announced Tuesday — if not the biggest. I still can’t believe that Google will soon actually increase its ad text limits by 2x!

So what exactly is changing? Here are 10 things advertisers need to know about Expanded Text Ads.

1. What Are Expanded Text Ads?

Expanded Text Ads are 2x bigger than current text ads. The new ads are designed to maximize your presence and performance on mobile search results with a bigger headline and an extra long description. (And with a mobile-first mindset, whatever works on mobile is going to get applied to desktop too.)

Expanded Text ads will show across all devices — desktop and mobile — and will wrap automatically based on device size.

Google began testing Expanded Text ads in Q2 of 2016.

2. Why Is Google Making This Change?

Google is calling this the biggest change to text ads since AdWords launched 15 years ago.

Several months ago, Google began thinking about what an AdWords ad would look like if they created AdWords in today’s mobile-first world, where more than half of the trillions of searches conducted on Google per year are done via a mobile device.

Google’s first move toward creating a unified experience across devices came in February when they killed off right side ads on desktop. Now with the constraints of desktop right-side ads gone, this change seems like a natural progression from the super-sized headlines introduced in 2011.

3. How Much Bigger Are These Expanded Ads?

Expanded text ads are 2x bigger (math nerd alert: technically 47 percent bigger) from today’s AdWords text ads.

You now have a total of 140 characters of ad copy space to use, marking the end of the current 25-35-35 limits. No comment from Twitter as yet about their thoughts on Google adopting a 140-character limit. Here’s a little more info on the changes from the AdWords blog:

So make all those extra characters count. Create eye-catching and emotional ads that searchers can’t resist clicking on.

4. What Do The New Expanded Text Ads Look Like?

Here’s a before and after of what the ads will look like on mobile and desktop:

And here’s what Expanded Text Ads will look like in the AdWords interface:

5. How Much Are Headlines Expanding?

Advertisers will have two 30-character headlines when Expanded Text Ads become available later this year.

Advertisers currently are limited to a 25-character headline.

That’s means our headlines will soon increase by 140 percent!

6. How Much Will Descriptions Expand?

Advertisers will have one 80-character description line.

Advertisers currently are limited to two 35-character description lines.

That means descriptions will increase by 14 percent.

7. What’s Changing With Display URLs?

AdWords will automatically extract the domain from the final URL.

Advertisers can then add up to two paths to enhance the display URL (using up to 15 characters).

8. Will This Improve CTR?

Yes! More text means greater visibility. Early reports indicate that Expanded Text Ads are seeing CTR increase by as much as 20 percent.

At WordStream, we’ve observed CTR increase by around 12 percent by adding ad or call extensions to mobile text ads — so we expect increasing the character counts of headlines and description should result in more clicks.

Regardless, you can bet we’ll be closely tracking the performance of this new ad format as it becomes more widely available.

9.  When Will The New Ads Roll Out?

Google hasn’t officially revealed when all advertisers will have access to Expanded Text Ads. Keep an eye out and we’ll update when we know more details.

10. What Should You Do To Prepare for Expanded Text Ads?

Raise your Quality Scores now! Quality Score is already the most important metric in your AdWords account, but it’s about to become even more important.

Businesses that occupy the top spots will take up the most valuable SERP real estate – especially for commercial queries. It could make anything below position 2 or 3 on mobile devices irrelevant!

Here is some helpful reading on Quality Score: Hacking AdWords: Winning at AdWords the Weird Way.

Additionally, you’ve got a lot of ad text optimization ahead of you. You’ll need to make sure your text ads are all rewritten to take advantage of this new format. Google is giving you 2x more space with Expanded Text Ads – so be ready to use it to your advantage!

Images: WordStream via Google

This article, "What You Need to Know About Google’s Expanded Text Ads" was first published on Small Business Trends

New PayChex WORX Small Business Resource Center Provides Advice

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2016-06-22 17:30

Human resources industry leader Paychex (NASDAQ:PAYX) has expanded its digital resource base with the launch of an all-new content hub.

Paychex WORX is designed to further complement Paychex’s human capital management services by providing businesses of all shapes and sizes with meaningful tips and tricks to assist them in establishing market dominance.

Small Business Resource Center

Launched at the start of June, Paychex WORX offers users a wide array of expert articles, videos, white papers and infographics meant to keep users up-to-date on emerging business trends and provoke discussion between entrepreneurs.

According to Andrew Childs, Paychex’s vice president of marketing, the content hub will subsequently enable business owners to ensure that their companies are able to evolve in line with their respective industries.

“The business landscape is continuously evolving, particularly as it relates to regulatory and compliance matters,” Childs said in an interview with Small Business Trends. “Staying up-to-date on trends, business demands and new technology can be challenging but failing to prepare and comply can lead to costly consequences.”

“Paychex WORX gives employers the knowledge to empower their businesses and their people to be successful,” Childs added.

Paychex is one of the most established names in payroll, human resources and benefits outsourcing.

Since launching in 1971, the company has grown from one employee to a team of 12,000 that serves more than 500,000 business clients across America.

Paychex specializes in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions geared at streamlining a wide range of tedious business administration tasks. By integrating payroll processing and insurance services, Paychex also works to customize its offerings in order to provide each individual client with its own, bespoke SaaS solution.

“Paychex has a full suite of human capital management services, including payroll, HR, retirement and insurance,” Childs said. “We know that employers are looking to take their businesses to the next level.”

“Paychex created WORX to help them do just that — providing the knowledge, tools and resources to help advance their business at every stage.”

In addition to useful how-to articles, the company’s new content hub also offers a range of business calculators, videos and interactive webinars designed to assist would-be entrepreneurs work out start-up costs and HR expenses.

By addressing client needs through various media platforms, Childs says that business owners are more likely to benefit from the expert knowledge that the Paychex team has to offer.

“Paychex WORX offers a digital destination for content of all mediums,” he said. “It highlights the breadth of our product offering, expertise and ability to help businesses of all sizes with a wide range of human resource and financial information.”

Image: Paychex

This article, "New PayChex WORX Small Business Resource Center Provides Advice" was first published on Small Business Trends

Shopify Adds Apple Pay as New Payment Option

Small Business Trends - Wed, 2016-06-22 15:30

The release of the new iOS 10 was not the only announcement made at the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco recently. The tech giant said that Apple Pay, Apple’s mobile-payment service, will come to the Web this fall.

Shopify, a cloud-based, multichannel commerce platform designed for small and medium-sized businesses, is among the first companies to publicly state that it will offer the service as a payment option.

Shopify Apple Pay

“Currently, online shoppers encounter a lot of friction when trying to purchase items on a mobile device. Apple Pay can help provide consumers with seamless purchase experiences,” the Director of Engineering at Shopify Jason Normore said in a recent company release. “Shopify’s mission has always been to enable our merchants to offer their customers the best experience, and that’s why the announcement of Apple Pay coming to the Web is so exciting. Now more than 275,000 small and medium-sized businesses are laying the groundwork for a better shopping experience on iPhone, iPad and Mac.”

The ecommerce giant went on to say that more than 60 percent of all checkouts that are initiated on Shopify stores come from mobile but only 40 percent of the visitors actually complete a purchase.

Up until this point, consumers could only complete Apple Pay payments through a mobile app. Shopify, however, believes that the arrival of the service on the Web will mean merchants will now be able to provide a simplified checkout via Safari with Mac, iPhone or iPad, and this will increase the likelihood that more visitors will click the “buy” button.

In addition, developers will now be able to add Apple Pay functionality through the iMessage Apps SDK, meaning that small business owners will be able to customize iMessage conversations with shoppers that will allow in-message purchases.

This long-awaited option will no doubt compete against global companies such as PayPal and give both merchants and customers another option for making ecommerce transactions.

Image: Shopify

This article, "Shopify Adds Apple Pay as New Payment Option" was first published on Small Business Trends