Free Up Cash and Grow Your Business

Nearly every business that exists shares a common goal: to make more money and find financial success. You have to constantly focus on cash flow management, profitability and increase the value of your business if you want to prosper. This is why it’s vital to monitor your infrastructure and tweak it regularly. If you’re ready to grow your business, take a look at these three easy-to-implement ways you can speed up cash flow.

Try These Tips to Speed up Cash Flow

Create Incentives for Early Payments and Penalties for Late Payments

Invoicing is often a long and somewhat painful process that may require a lot of back and forth. If it’s challenging to keep your accounts paid up and you loathe having to check in when your clients are late, you might find now is the time to implement a program to reward those who pay on time and penalize those who pay late.

A good plan of attack is to apply discounts to any account paid on time or add some interest to accounts that are overdue. This will encourage payments to come your way early and immediately make a positive effect on your cash flow. This will also save a lot of time eliminating the need to check multiple times to see if the payment has been received.

Utilize Invoice Factoring

Invoice factoring companies let you turn current, unpaid invoices, into cash without adding new debt. Free up your cash to help you meet payroll, add new products and services to your offerings and extend the geographical reach of your business.

Factoring companies allow you to transform your business cash flow and will give you the access to the funds you need without worrying about invoices staying open as long as 120 days. Instead of sitting and waiting for payment, you can proceed with new work, pay employees, or buy needed supplies. Check the online Factoring Directory to help you find the best factoring that aligns with your business needs.

Improve Your Marketing

Any steps you take to make your business better will lead to better cash flow, and marketing is a key piece of this puzzle.

The reason why is because improved marketing slashes your cost-per-lead and boosts the lifetime value of your customers, reaching out to untapped markets. Plus, effective marketing is a way to make a positive first business impression.

In order to improve your marketing, you need to first figure out your areas of struggle and approach them head on. It might be time to implement content marketing if you’re having trouble building the trust of your customers. Utilize content marketing to educate your leads and improve your conversions, boosting your company’s image as a result.

If you want to upsell but aren’t sure what products you should offer, create a survey or use a third-party to help you determine what your next offering should be. Product quality is important for businesses of every size, so don’t lose focus on maintaining the quality of the current and potential goods you offer.

No business likes to deal with lack of funding. It is important to find ways to free up cash to improve your cash flow management systems. Insufficient or unsteady cash flow can prevent your business from providing the best service to your customers. Use these ways to transform your business cash flow, prepare for future growth, and position yourself to make your company better than ever

Essential Calculators

Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is a method applied to compare the cost of a project or appliance with its benefits. Small businesses need to save where they can and one place where companies may be able to lower what they spend is on their energy bills, according to Constellation, which provides solutions for homes and businesses.

By carrying out a cost benefit analysis on commercial appliances and features, businesses can have a greater understanding of their energy consumption, the effectiveness of energy saving efforts, and where further valuable savings can be made.

ENERGY STAR® provides interactive calculators designed to help small businesses estimate energy and cost savings for energy-efficient products.

Take a look at the following three essential calculators that can help you do a cost benefit analysis for reducing energy on several common commercial appliances.

Energy Cost Savings Calculator for Air-Cooled Electric Chillers

In a typical commercial building, chillers can be one of the biggest consumers of electricity. The Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) has calculated that a 175-ton, air-cooled chiller meeting the mandated 10.05 energy efficiency ratio saves money if it costs no more than $5,690 above less efficient models.

ENERGY STAR® provides a cost calculator that small businesses can use as a screening tool, which estimates an air-cooled electric chiller’s lifetime energy cost savings at various efficiency levels.

This cost benefit analysis calculator for reducing energy of air-cooled electric chillers uses an energy efficiency ratio (EER). The EER is the ratio of net cooling capacity to the total input rate of electric power applied in watts.

The efficiencies expressed as an EER are converted into kilowatts per ton using the formula: kWton = 12/EER.

ENERGY STAR’s cost benefit analysis calculator for reducing energy of air-cooled electric chillers only provides data about the relative difference between two equivalent products, all other factors being equal.

When using this calculator, a small business must enter whether the project is a new installation or a replacement. The performance factors must also be entered, including whether the new design will be handling a full or partial load.

The calculator user must also enter the new chiller’s cooling capacity in tons, as well as what the full-load efficiency is of the new chiller in EER. The partial-load efficiency of the new chiller must also be entered in EER.

The cost factors must also be punched into the calculator, including the current cost of energy per kilowatt hour. The user also needs to enter the annual hours of operation in equivalent full-load hours.

When the data has been entered the calculator will determine the energy cost savings of the appliance.

Energy Cost Calculator for Compact Fluorescent Lamps

Lighting is an unavoidable energy cost for small businesses. By using an energy saving calculator, small businesses can see how much they could save in money and harmful emissions by switching to more energy-efficient light bulbs.

ENERGY STAR’s calculator for compact fluorescent lamps determines the payback period for your small business’s investment in more energy-efficient bulbs.

Small businesses must enter their existing incandescent lamp wattage, the costs of incandescent lamps in dollars and the incandescent lamp life in hours. You’ll also need to enter the projected wattage for your replacement lighting along with the expected cost of using them and their projected life (6,000 hours for moderate use and 10,000 hours for high use).

Further information required by the energy cost calculator for compact fluorescent lamps includes the number of lamps in the retrofit project, the hours operating per week, the average cost of electricity, the relamper labor costs, the time taken to retrofit all the lamps in the project and the time taken to relamp one lamp.

The calculator enables small businesses to figure the simple payback period for a lamp replacement project, as well as the simple payback period of spot relamping.

Savings Calculator for ENERGY STAR®-Qualified Office Equipment

The savings calculator for ENERGY STAR®-qualified office equipment was developed by the U.S. EPA and Department of Energy in order to estimate the energy consumption and operating costs of office equipment and the savings businesses can make with ENERGY STAR®.

The calculator compares new ENERGY STAR®-qualified products to the average available non-qualified new products. The average savings may vary depending on the use of office equipment and other factors.

Users of the calculator need to type in where their equipment will be used, including whether it is for commercial or residential use, the location, and the electric rate. The average commercial electric rate in the U.S. is $0.128/kWh, but if you know your own rate, you should enter it on the calculator.

Users of the calculator must enter what office equipment they are planning to purchase, as well as the quantities of the equipment. Performance levels of the devices should be stated, as well as the number of units turned off at night and the number of units with sleep settings and low power enabled. The additional cost per unit for ENERGY STAR®-qualified models must also be entered onto the calculator.

Better Managing Client Relationships

So much time and effort is put into acquiring clients, yet very few businesses spend the same energy nurturing existing relationships. This is unfortunate, since a current customer is much more profitable than a new one.

Relationships: The Heart of Business

We, as a business community, often try to make success too complicated. We focus on all of these little fragmented components while ignoring the one thing that matters.

“The key to business success is winning and keeping customers,” entrepreneur Steve Tobak definitively says. “And the key to winning and keeping customers is, and has always been, relationships. The world’s greatest business experts — Peter Drucker, Mark McCormack, Regis McKenna and others — have all said the same thing in one way or another.”

Sadly, entrepreneurs and business owners like to spend all of their time and energy on things like social media, productivity hacks, advertising techniques, etc. These can all be helpful little elements, but their value begins to pale when you look at them within the context of the bigger picture.

“No matter what you do for a living or aspire to become, none of those fads du jour will have a material impact on how things turn out for you or your business,” says Tobak. “But building real relationships with real people in the real world will.”

Client Relationship Management Strategies

Saying relationships are the heart of business success and actually prioritizing relationships are two totally different things. The latter takes a lot of hard work over a lengthy period of time, but there’s no better time to start than now. Here are seven client relationship management strategies to consider.

1. Respect the Client’s Time

Time is the most precious and finite resource you and your clients have. If you want to build healthier relationships, you have to respect their time. Here are a couple of ideas to help you do that:

  • Don’t just tell a client to drop by if they want to meet with you. You’ll inevitably be in the middle of something and have to make them wait. Open yourself up to clients and allow them to schedule appointments with you. There are free tools that can automate this process.
  • Small talk is definitely part of building relationships, but recognize when it’s time to talk shop. Don’t waste a client’s time. Get straight to business and you’ll be seen as respectful and self-aware.

This might seem like a really small thing, but it sets the tone for the rest of the relationship. When you extend respect, you’re telling your client that they matter to you — it doesn’t get much better than that.

2. Get Face to Face

“When things go wrong and the client knows, call. Email does not always translate circumstances or feelings well as there is no voice inflection and a client usually places more value on a phone call,” entrepreneur Marshall Zierkel suggests.

While Zierkel is right — a phone call is better than an email — there’s something that’s even better than a phone call: meeting in person. If at all possible, you should get face to face with clients — when things go right, wrong, or are otherwise indifferent. The more you’re able to be face to face with a client, the stronger your bond will grow.

3. Over Promise and Under Deliver

It’s a cliché saying, but it can’t be stressed enough: over promise and under deliver. If you make this a habit, you’ll rarely put yourself in a situation where you’ll let a client down. Instead, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of looking good — even when you barely exceed your own expectations.

4. Don’t Burn Bridges With Pettiness

How many times do you let small, petty things cost you a relationship with a client? Entrepreneur Craig Valine is one of the first to admit how dumb he used to be in this area. As he explains, there was a time where “I wouldn’t return phone calls; I wouldn’t follow-up with a referral from a client; I’d miss an appointment and not call to apologize; I wouldn’t pay my vendors on time; I’d squabble over a few dollars; or I’d act apathetic from a good deed from another.”

How many times have you let something small and petty cost you a relationship with a client? If you’re honest, burning a bridge rarely turns out to be a positive thing when you look back on a situation. Try to understand this and be willing to lose the battle in order to win the war.

5. Set Mutual Goals

Do you ever feel like you and your client are on totally different pages? Well, it’s probably because you are. You have your objectives and your client has his. The solution to this common issue is to set mutual goals from the very beginning.

As soon as you start a new project with a client, sit down together — face to face, if possible — and come up with mutual goals. This puts you both on the same page and gives you something to point to later on when challenges arise.

6. Build Credibility Over Time

It takes time to build credibility, so stop trying to make it happen overnight. So what if a client doesn’t fully trust you the first or second time you meet? You haven’t done anything to make him trust you!

Remember that trust takes years to build and can be destroyed in a matter of minutes. Be consistent and methodical in how you deal with your clients. Focus on slowly building credibility with each and every thing you do and say. With this sort of conscious precision, you’ll eventually wake up and realize that you have healthy client relationships that are defined by trust.

7. Be Transparent and Human

Stop trying to be such a polished version of yourself in front of customers. In an effort to clean yourself up, you’re actually cheapening your image and transforming yourself into someone you aren’t. They don’t want some ideal image of you. They want the real deal.

Mistakes are going to happen and it’s much better to be open about them. This proves that you’re human and, while they may be frustrated at the moment, it ultimately puts them at ease.

How Are Your Relationships?

How would you grade your client relationships on a scale of 1 to 10 right now? If you’re like most, you’d probably struggle to honestly reach a 5 or 6. You might even fall closer to the 1 end of the spectrum, which is — unfortunately — totally normal these days.

In an effort to push your business to the next level, you have to start prioritizing client relationships over things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s hard work, but the payoff can be tremendous

How To Growing a Successful Business

To succeed in business today, you need to be flexible and have good planning and organizational skills. Many people start a business thinking that they’ll turn on their computers or open their doors and start making money, only to find that making money in a business is much more difficult than they thought. You can avoid this in your business ventures by taking your time and planning out all the necessary steps you need to achieve success.

1. Get Organized

To be successful in business you need to be organized. Organization will help you complete tasks and stay on top of things to be done. A good way to do this is to create a to-do list each day. As you complete each item, check it off your list. This will ensure that you’re not forgetting anything and you’re completing all the tasks that are essential to the survival of your business.

2. Keep Detailed Records

All successful businesses keep detailed records. By keeping detailed records, you’ll know where the business stands financially and what potential challenges you could be facing. Just knowing this gives you time to create strategies to overcome those challenges.

Competition breeds the best results. To be successful, you can’t be afraid to study and learn from your competitors. After all, they may be doing something right that you can implement in your business to make more money.

4. Understand the Risks and Rewards

The key to being successful is taking calculated risks to help your business grow. A good question to ask is “What’s the downside?” If you can answer this question, then you know what the worst-case scenario is. This knowledge will allow you to take the kinds of calculated risks that can generate tremendous rewards.

5. Be Creative

Always be looking for ways to improve your business and to make it stand out from the competition. Recognize that you don’t know everything and be open to new ideas and new approaches to your business.

6. Stay Focused

The old saying that “Rome was not built in a day” applies here. Just because you open a business doesn’t mean that you’re going to immediately start making money. It takes time to let people know who you are, so stay focused on achieving your short-term goals.

7. Prepare to Make Sacrifices

The lead-up to starting a business is hard work, but after you open your doors, your work has just begun. In many cases, you have to put in more time than you would if you were working for someone else. In turn, you have to make sacrifices, such as spending less time with family and friends in order to be successful.

8. Provide Great Service

There are many successful businesses that forget that providing great customer service is important. If you provide better service for your customers, they’ll be more inclined to come to you the next time they need something instead of going to your competition.

9. Be Consistent

Consistency is a key component to making money in business. You have to consistently keep doing the things necessary to be successful day in and day out. This will create long-term positive habits that will help you make money over the long term.

 

How to Starting a Successful Business

When you start your own business, you’re certain to hear a lot of different advice. Most of it will come from people who don’t know the first thing about running a successful company. Turn to the internet, and you’ll be overwhelmed by a multitude of articles and lengthy lists on the subject. Don’t make the mistake of overthinking and overanalyzing it all. A few simple steps now can start your business down the path toward success. Here, we outline the five basic tips we’ve followed to help us run our company.

 

1. Begin with a detailed plan.
This one is a must: Develop an in-depth plan that fully details how you’ll attack the challenge ahead. Your plan should define any opportunities you’ve identified, clearly state your mission, describe your target, establish measurable goals, and set deadlines for each milestone along the way. Remember that while it’s important to have a plan, it’s equally vital to be flexible enough to pivot when needed.

Related: How to Write a Business Plan

2. Get out there and network.
Our business would not be where it is today without all the professional networking we did when we first started. We continue to emphasize networking today. Until you’ve established your business, you’ll need to create your own word-of-mouth. Be your own brand ambassador, touting the benefits of working with your business and showing why people should give you a chance.

Start your own momentum. A wealth of events, trade shows, and networking groups exist to connect you with other professionals. These initial connections can lead to future business prospects, mentors, and strategic partners with the capacity to help grow your business.

Related: Are You ‘Networking’ for All the Wrong Reasons?

3. Surround yourself with the right people.
The right mentors and strategic partners aren’t the only people with whom you’ll need to align. Surrounding yourself with a great team is equally important. Build your staff with smart, talented, and driven employees who share your vision. They can not only transform your business but also accelerate its growth. Hiring positive, can-do employees helps create a culture that encourages teamwork. Foster an environment in which everyone participates, so you can collectively celebrate your company’s successes.

4. Stay ahead of the curve.
You can’t afford to be rooted in the present and solely focused on the day-to-day. It’s crucial to keep one eye focused on the future, including upcoming movement in your industry. If you aren’t anticipating the next big thing, you’re destined to fall behind. Successful business owners study trends and anticipate what’s coming around the bend. This allows them to nimbly adapt and evolve.

Stay current on emerging issues in your field by faithfully reading trade magazines and websites. Keeping pace as your industry changes assures you’ll have your finger on the pulse to predict what customers will want — and which direction your competition might move.

Related: How to Be Successful by Embracing Change

5. Find a healthy work-life balance.
Running a successful business requires an inordinate amount of time and energy. It’s paramount to find a healthy work-life balance, even though it can be a challenge to do so. It’s easy to let work dominate your life. Don’t. It could result in your losing touch with those whom you consider most important. It’s also crucial to take care of your own health and well-being. Your business can’t run without you. You might believe you need that perpetual hustle to stay sharp and succeed. But that pace can and will burn you out, ultimately limiting how much you can achieve if you don’t take time for yourself.

Find ways to maintain perspective and preserve healthy relationships outside of work. Set aside time to get your body active in ways that energize and invigorate you, and schedule catch-up time with friends and family. They’ll help recharge your batteries and inspire you to persevere as you dream even bigger.

Monetize Social Media by Creating Excellent Content

Do you think promoting your blog through social media is a waste of time? Or do you think focusing on social media is less important than your other marketing efforts? Think again.
Over a third of online users turn to social media to learn more about different brands. Over half of marketers who have been active on social media for two years have seen sales increase. And 41% of local businesses use social to drive sales.
Why People Fail at Social Media
One social media marketing educator notes that many people fail to drive profits through social media because of a misconception.
They think all they need to do is post an update asking people to buy. When their followers don’t, these people think social media isn’t effective.
The truth is that generating revenue through social media comes down to three tactics:
Knowing your audience
Speaking to their pain points
Using paid and organic traffic
Importance of Choosing a Niche
Online marketers widely agree that you must choose a niche wisely in order to be successful. You need to know who the members of your target audience are and how they are wired. This knowledge will enable you to create blog posts that speak directly to their desires and fears.
This means that you must take a stand for something, even if you alienate some people. If you’re not alienating someone, it’s unlikely you’re appealing to anyone. You don’t need to be abrasive and antagonistic. But if you don’t stand for something, what do you actually have to offer?
For example, many people surfing the web love to eat meat and have no interest in a vegan-oriented blog. But many others would be very interested in such a blog. If you try to appeal to both groups, you will lack credibility and dilute your message. You will be much more successful by appealing to one or the other.
Finding Your Niche
As online marketer Jerry Low observes, “No matter how well written your content or how beautiful your blog design—if you fail to pick the right niche, you will fail converting your effort into money.”
He recommends several methods for determining your niche. These include doing keyword research and finding out where online advertisers are spending money. Facebook is also useful for narrowing your audience (as well as for generating revenue, as we’ll discuss later).
If you have a Facebook page, you should explore in-depth the profiles of the people who have already liked your page. This ability in itself is a huge advantage of social media because it provides you with an easy way to learn about your potential buyers. The more you know about them, the more successful your marketing will be (and the more profits you will gain).
You can also learn about your audience by looking at your competitors’ pages. Find out which of your competitors’ posts are the most popular by going to Insights > Overview > Pages to Watch.
Another strategy you should pursue is finding out who is succeeding at marketing on social media and then mimicking their tactics. Why are people following them? What problems are they solving? What are the qualities of the most clickable headlines and the most popular posts?
You can also evaluate how your competitors are failing and learn from their mistakes.
Very Common Mistake to Avoid
There is one primary mistake people make when attempting social media marketing. They fail to realize the implications of the fact that they have customers all over the web on a variety of platforms.
Most companies post the same piece of content on all their platforms at once and then don’t think about the post again. If people are following you on several apps and you put the same content on all of them at the same time, your followers will receive multiple notifications about ONE post. But they are only going to read your post on one of those apps.
The result is you are squandering an opportunity to get your followers to notice you multiple times on every platform they enjoy.
Companies should create fewer pieces of extremely valuable content in a variety of formats. You could present one piece of content as an image, video, blog post, set of slides, a list of tips, podcast, quote, and so on. Then spread out your posts on different platforms on different days, using automation software to make the process easier.
The way this strategy could play out is you first publish a blog post on your website on the first day of a campaign. The second day, post on Facebook with a comment to generate emotion and interaction. Next, post on LinkedIn (with a link back to the original blog post) and the next day on Instagram (again, with a link back to the blog post).
The following day, post on Pinterest and the next on Twitter, and so on. This way, you are generating links and sending traffic back to your blog, making the most of every chance to get your audience’s attention.
Ways to Monetize Social Media
As you cultivate relationships with your followers, there are a number of ways you can turn the value you’re providing them into actual income.
One is that you can use social media to capture sign-ups for your email marketing. You could offer an incentive for signing up, such as a discount. Or you could give people the chance to sign up directly through Facebook. Tesla, for example, has a Sign-Up button on its Facebook page that takes you right to a place on the site where you can enter your email address.
The freemium model is another option for generating sales. You can offer something for free or for a trial period as a motivation for users to return and spend money once they know and like your product. Make sure that what you offer is useful without giving away too much. If you give away too much for free, people won’t think your product has much value.
You might consider affiliate marketing, where you partner with a social influencer who has an audience that would benefit from your product. If your interests align, the person or group will drive traffic to your site and get a percentage of the sales you make.
Of course, you can always attempt direct selling through social media. Facebook is a great platform for this tactic. You can showcase your product through images, video, and Facebook Live. And you can add a “Shop Now” button to your page so your followers can easily click through to purchase from your site.
On Instagram, companies will often post a compelling picture of their product and then direct their viewers to shop via a link in the bio. With the new Instagram for Business feature, it’s possible that brands will soon be able to show the prices of their products within each post and enable purchasing within the app.
Lead Generation
Many social networks work well for generating leads and filling your sales funnel. This is especially true for B2Bs. Look for third party tools developed for lead generation on specific social platforms. For example, Socedo is a Twitter lead generation tool.
Oktopost can measure social media insights and identify previous visits if a repeat visitor later subscribes to a list or downloads a white paper.
Use Your Imagination
You’re going to have to be creative in figuring out which platforms are most suited to your company’s marketing efforts. For example, while people commonly go to Instagram to learn more about their favorite brands, most of SnapChat’s users are not on that platform to shop. So SnapChat is not a great avenue for direct selling.
But SnapChat is popular with a younger demographic. If your message is targeted to younger people, you should explore how you could use it.
The nature of SnapChat is lighthearted and often silly, so the app could be a good fit for you if those qualities are in line with your branding. This post has some great ideas for using SnapChat to generate leads.

Some 5 Violations will Sink your Website with Google

For website owners and/or managers, there are many paths for online marketing and optimization. From SEO to PPC and content marketing to social media marketing, there is certainly no shortage of ways through which to achieve your goals. However, those options and opportunities for your website come with rules that you have to play by, and if you don’t, you could find your website in hot water.

If you’re reading this and what I’m saying applies to you, then there’s a good chance Google is your search engine of choice for marketing and optimization. In regards to SEO and general website management, Google plays by the rules they’ve carefully developed and continue to evolve over time. The guidelines Google has for website management keep the focus on providing the best experience and information possible for users while also preventing any one website or brand from cheating their way to the top.

Beware Google Violations

That being said, there are many instances in which businesses end up on Google’s bad side or with a penalty without doing so intentionally. You’ve probably heard horror stories of this happening to website owners, seeing a drastic plummet in rankings overnight or realizing they’ve fallen victim to an algorithm update and earned a penalty. Such penalties can severely hurt a website or business, as they can negatively impact traffic, ranking, and performance. In my experience, I’ve seen plenty of websites from clients that were completely unaware they’d done anything to get on Google’s bad side in the first place.

While there’s a long list of things that can get your website slapped with a penalty or red flagged by Google, there tends to be a few common ways that businesses end up in that position. Check them out below, and ensure that you’re actively taking steps to prevent these slip-ups.

Common Ways a Website Gets in Trouble

Black Hat SEO

One of the single most common issues that gets website in trouble is Black Hat SEO. This includes shady practices like cloaking, keyword stuffing, hidden text, using link farms, and much more. In short, black hat SEO practices try and skirt around the rules to get SEO results in half the time. As I’ve said before, there are no short cuts when it comes to SEO, and any practice that tries to take such a shortcut will very likely get you in a lot of trouble. Unfortunately, some businesses hire what they think is a reputable SEO company and later find out that they were doing black hat SEO for their website after being caught by Google. As a rule of thumb, website owners and managers should familiarize themselves with what black hat SEO is so they can spot it early if it’s coming from an SEO provider or avoid it altogether.

Duplicate Content

Many website owners and managers don’t realize what a problem having duplicate content is. This is especially true for e-commerce websites with hundreds of product listing pages, as it can be difficult to come up with unique content over and over again. However, in the eyes of Google, duplicate content directly equates to low-quality or less useful information for users. It’s a labor of love, but the copy on your website should be well written and unique on every page.

Excessive Guest Blogging

Google just recently issued a warning about abusing guest posting in order to gain links. To be clear, guest posting is by no means a black hat or shady strategy. However, having an article published across many different sites or guest posting low-quality content is considered a violation of Google distributor guidelines and should be avoided at all costs. For bloggers especially, it’s important to focus on building relationships that open up valuable guest posting opportunities. The posts you guest blog should be your best work and in no way reflective of spammy or less useful content, or Google will eventually catch up with you.

Slow Page Speed/Poorly Performing Site

This matters a lot, because Google regularly crawls sites and accounts for how functional and accessible they are. Having a slow page speed, not being mobile friendly, or having a difficult to navigate site shows Google that your site isn’t the best option for users to find in their search results. By now we know that page speed, mobile friendliness, and ease of website crawling are factored into algorithms. Checking to see how your website performs through user testing and testing page speed are both things website owners should check on if they haven’t already.

Hacked Websites

Security is a big factor for Google, because they want to know that user information is secure on the websites they visit. Hacked websites are up 32% in the past year, posing a significant threat to the performance and success of websites as well as the security of users. Securing your website is an important and necessary step all webmasters must take if they intend to be successful on Google. From simple practices like implementing two-step authentication to purchasing more advanced security packages, it’s in your interest to make your website security airtight to avoid a penalty from Google.

Provide Exceptional Customer Service in eCommerce

Since shopping online implies there is no personal interaction with a sales person, many customers grow frustrated if they encounter issues with the website or an order. To make matters worse, lots of online businesses fail when it comes to customer service by offering slow, delayed responses — or not offering them at all. Poor customer service can drive customers away faster than anything else. In fact, 3 out of 5 customers have not completed a purchase due to poor service.
eCommerce Customer Service Ideas
Providing stellar customer service with your e-commerce business can do wonders to make your company stand out amongst the competition. This process is not always simple, but it can mean a world of difference when it comes to sales. Here are 5 ecommerce customer service ideas to consider.
1. Have an Easy-to-Understand Return Policy
One major concern many online customers have is the hassle of returning a product. Since anywhere from 15-30% of online purchases are returned, having a clear return policy for your online business is extremely important. Writing out detailed instructions, of which are listed multiple times on your site or in emails, assures customers they can purchase with confidence.
Be sure to clearly state if you provide a full refund, partial refund, or offer store credit. You may also want to consider extending your return window, or even offering a lifetime guarantee. Offering easy and free returns influences 68% of online purchases, so you want to make the entire process as simple as possible for your customers.
Purple, an online mattress company, offers an excellent example of a well-defined return system. Their site lists out details for each product, from bed sheets to mattresses, and clearly states which returns will be refunded and which will not. If customers have further questions or concerns, Purple also includes their return department’s email address and phone number so customers can contact a customer service representative directly.
5 Ecommerce Customer Service Ideas – Have an Easy-to-Understand Return Policy
2. Personalize Each Experience
Online customers crave a more personalized buying experience. In fact, over 70% of American consumers expect personalization from online businesses. Personalization can include offering customers personal shopping account logins that record past purchases, shipping addresses, and suggest related items for their next order. One easy way to offer some personalization is by using marketing automation to send out triggered emails with special offers tailored the past shopping behavior of each customer.
Personalized shopping can take many forms. Don’t be afraid to get creative with it. More importantly, use personalization to address customer concerns in shopping online vs. at a physical store near them. For example, Bluestone, an online jewelry company, found a unique way to bring their brand experience to the next level. Customers can set up an appointment online and a consultant will come directly to their homes, allowing them to try on the jewelry in the comfort of their own home.
5 Ecommerce Customer Service Ideas – Personalize Each Experience
This “try before you buy” service gives customers some peace of mind (especially before making an expensive purchase) as well as provides a personalized shopping experience by allowing the customer to choose which pieces to view. The company even offers a “design your own” feature for rings, earrings, and necklaces – providing a truly personal experience for each customer.
3. Ask for Feedback
As the great musician Stevie Wonder once said, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Customers are not very likely to leave a review, especially a positive one, if you do not ask. Sending out a follow-up email asking customers to rate their experience or to write a short review increases the likelihood they will leave feedback. Make sure you include their comments on your site or social media; as customer reviews play a major role in purchase decisions.
Take the instance of an online purchase for an air vent cover for a HVAC. Unless the item or purchase experience was exceptionally wonderful (or terrible), it’s highly unlikely for such a product to receive a review. However, one company sent out a follow up email to its Amazon customers with links that made it easy for the purchaser to leave a quick comment and rate their experience:
5 Ecommerce Customer Service Ideas – Ask for Feedback
4. Provide Live Chat
Having a live-chat option can increase customer satisfaction by leaps and bounds. Plus, it’s an easy way to answer questions and concerns instantly. Rather than waiting for an email response, customers can receive assistance right away, which means they are less likely to leave your website without purchasing.
Outsourcing an online chat service is a great strategy, especially for smaller online businesses who can’t afford to hire round-the-clock customer service reps. Sites like Influx will handle online chats 24/7 for your e-commerce business and provide peace of mind for you and your customers.

Virtual Reality Arcade

That’s right — arcade businesses no longer need to consist only of video games from the 80’s and cheesy prizes. There are already businesses around the world that are integrating this new technology into their offerings.
Take the case of Playdium Virtual Reality arcade in Causway Bay, Hong Kong. It’s located directly above Razer’s Hong Kong store and is decked out with all of the latest VR equipment. There’s even a virtual boxing ring that offers a workout akin to an afternoon at the gym.

Basically, this new technology offers businesses an opportunity to update an old concept. Most people consider arcades to be fun places to visit. But if all you have is a standard assortment of old games, there’s nothing to set yours apart from all the rest.
So instead, you could invest in some VR equipment and offer games and experiences that work with the technology. You could even have customers choose the experiences they want, like a boxing ring, racing game or even a flight simulator.
The possibilities are only increasing when it comes to virtual reality. And businesses that take advantage of those new opportunities could find a lot of early success.

Building an Organic Following on Twitter

Twitter may be free to use, but the platform definitely requires time to leverage correctly. Using Twitter to market your brand also requires a strategy. Start by building an organic following on Twitter with these 10 steps.

Free Twitter Marketing Strategy

Use Your Real Name in Your Profile

If you put all the other pieces of a Twitter marketing strategy together properly, prospects will be interested in you. Success rests on having a completed profile that’s authentic. Use your real name and a real picture. If you’re looking to get creative, you can adopt a customized background. Remember to add a bio and website info too.

Get Verified

The blue badge gives your account the creds it needs to sell goods and services by telling visitors you’re authentic. Submit a request by filling out a form. You’ll need a phone number and verified email address as well as some other information you can find here.

Add Video

Seeing is believing. Besides, video helps you to engage with prospects and returning customers alike. Download the app that allows you to record, edit and share videos. Remember, videos don’t count toward your 140 character limit. You’ll also get an automatic loop for anything 6.5 seconds or shorter.



Use Twitter Chats

Engagement is the name-of-the-game and the best way to grow your Twitter following organically. Twitter Chats are effective. Why? Because they draw in users who interact. Those are the very people that retweet and spread the word about the goods and services you sell. Here’s some free Twitter chat tools.

Create A Post Schedule

It’s  good to have lots of ideas for compelling tweets. Better if you’ve got the time and ability to put them all into 140 characters and best if you schedule them to release incrementally. Scheduled tweets can be added  to existing campaigns and even organized for up to one year in advance.

Create Twitter Moments

You need to have a loyal following to to sell stuff and that’s just what this feature can do for you. These are current and relevant topics all corralled into one place. Create one of your own via the web, or through iOS and/or Android.

Take Advantage of Direct Messages

Following up is important when you’re looking to turn a prospect into a client. This private conversation feature allows for a personalized engagement touch. You can also receive and send them on your phone via SMS. There’s even a way to create a deep link to take public conversations private.

Put Together a Twitter Team

Use this feature via TweetDeck and you can have multiple people sharing one account. Perfect for the team with members on the road who still want to participate. Add up to 200 marketing team members but be sure to coordinate the image you want to show to the world.

Use Advanced Search

Chances are, when you’re running a small business, time is of the essence for everything you do. Using Advanced Search helps your marketing efforts by funneling searches to specific people, dates and more. It’s an important tool to see engagement patterns and trends so you can make the right decisions.

Engage

There’s no substitute for having the dedication to practice good customer service even in cyberspace. If you’re going to take the time to use Twitter for marketing, you need to be all in. That means responding to the Tweets your clients send you and to each and every query from prospects too.

Insurance and Home Based Business

How do you protect your home business from risk? People who run a business from their home may not know what kind of insurance is needed. Small Business Trends spoke with Gary Capone, Vice President of Field Services, Franklin Mutual Insurance, about 10 things you probably didn’t know (but should) about insurance and your home based business.

Home Based Business Insurance Facts

Your Homeowner’s Coverage Isn’t Enough

“Homeowner policies give almost no coverage for your business,”  Capone says, “and this is something that most people don’t realize.”  He says there’s usually no liability coverage under a homeowner’s policy and very limited contents coverage for your business.

You Can Have Off Premises Exposures

Your liability with a home business can extend beyond your front door. For example, it’s common to run a hair salon in your house. However, if someone has a reaction to the dyes you use after they leave, you can be held responsible. Same as any other shop.

You Can Get What the Big Guys Get

Many small business owners who work from home don’t know they qualify for the same coverage as bigger places.

“A commercial policy even has options like accounts receivable coverage,” Capone explains.

You Need Coverage When the Business isn’t Under Your Roof

If you’re just fixing cars in the garage part time, you can be held liable. What’s more, separate structures on your property that you use for business have no coverage at all without a business policy.

Renting the Home? You Should Still have this Insurance

Even if you’re renting the house, you need to be sure your business is covered entirely. These policies cover items like printers and computers even if you don’t own the place.

Take a Bad Bill? A Business Policy can Cover You

Business polices cover more than just the tools of your trade.

“Even a forgery or counterfeit money you’ve collected would be picked up under a business policy,” Capone says.

Lost Income Gets Covered

If you ‘re covered and something like a fire ravages your house, the policy covers lost income and additional expenses until you’re up and running again. A home based business insurance policy makes sure you can make a living even after a disaster.   Make sure you endorse this aspect.

Advertising Injury is Covered Too

This is another coverage resting under the umbrella of what’s good for any business. However, it’s good to have this for a home based business to cover you for libel, slander , copyright infringement and such. It’s perfect for those creative types working on the internet.

Online Issues are on the Radar

Worried about protecting customer contact information and other important data in cyberspace? The chances are your insurance company now has something to cover you.

“It’a a new area,” Capone says. ” A lot of insurance companies are getting into it.”

Your Overall Exposure can be Bigger than you Think

Even if you’re only working from home part time, you’re probably wide open for some kind of liability    Capone concludes by stressing what these small business owners don’t know, can hurt them.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of home based business it is, everybody has exposure ,” he says.

Editing Your Blog Posts

Writing, whether it’s for blogs, social media posts, web copy, marketing messages, presentations, etc., has become part of a small business owner’s responsibilities these days. As a journalist of many years, I don’t think that’s quite fair—but it’s reality.

Bad or sloppy writing, filled with typos, reflects badly on your business. That’s why it’s imperative you edit your work, before posting it.

Tips for Editing Blog Posts

At the recent Unbounce Conference in Vancouver, Canada, Lianna Patch, the Director at Snap, shared her best editing tips. You can find Patch on Twitter @punchlinecopy.

1. Don’t hit send before you edit. Many of you will want to get through the writing and editing process quickly, but that will just result in typos and other errors. “Editing,” Patch says, “is like grooming—you cando it badly.” As the legendary Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is [crap]”—so make sure you take the time to carefully edit your work.
2. What to look for. Patch says there are three questions you need to ask yourself as you start to edit.

  1. Are there jumps in logic or breaks in flow? Don’t expect the readers to fill in the blanks. If your copy isn’t flowing well, they’ll just stop reading.
  2. Is this the way my reader understands and speaks about this topic? You are not writing for you or your friends. You want to write in the language your reader speaks, whether that’s formal or more casual and chatty. Use words and phrases that are common in your industry, but don’t use too much jargon. Your writing should sound authentic, showcasing your expertise, but remember, this is not about you.
  3. Do I need to eat something? While this sounds trivial, I agree with Patch. If you’re hungry, thirsty, tired or otherwise distracted, you will inevitably struggle with your words.

3. The Inverted Pyramid. Patch recommends you tackle editing in four parts, and she adds, don’t try to edit all levels at the same time. Her pyramid:



  • Structure. When you’re editing the structure of your work, you’re looking for gaps in logic. Does the overall piece make sense? Are you asking your readers to take step 3 before you’ve explained step 2 to them? Look at the finished copy, Patch says, and ask yourself what points you made? Are they the ones you set out to make? Is anything missing? When you edit for structure, you’re looking at the big picture, and you’ll be able to recognize where the flow is off, or whether you’ve omitted anything relevant. Don’t overstuff your blog—you don’t have to tell them everything all at once.
  • Paragraphs. Now, go back to your work and make sure your paragraphs have smooth transitions, with simple transition sentences. Patch says it’s important to “format for easier readability,” using subheads and bold type to break up big paragraphs.
  • Sentences. Sometimes, Patch says, sentences aren’t doing enough work. Are your sentences clear? Other times, sentences may be doing too much work. Do you have sentences that over-explain or simply don’t need to be there? Are there run-on sentences (you can recognize these by the appearance of too many commas)? Be aware of how many times you use the words “if” or “while” in a sentence. Use a variety of sentence lengths. Patch cites research showing varying the length of sentences increases reader comprehension and keeps people reading. She recommends using Hemingwayapp.com which shows you how readable your words are.
  • Words. Avoid “danger words.” These are the words readers don’t understand the same way you do. Don’t use jargon or buzzwords. And stay away from generalities—be as specific as possible in your choice of words.

4. General editing tips. Patch recommends you:

  • Edit your own work.
  • Edit later in the day. Research shows we humans are more creative in the morning (so do you writing then) and more analytical in the afternoon.
  • Give your brain a break. Get up, stretch, walk around.
  • Change the font and the text size of the work you’re editing. She says this makes it easier to spot typos, and recommends you blow up the type to at least 16.
  • Print it out and look at it. This too, makes it easier to spot problems.
  • Read the piece out loud. This is one of my favorite writing/editing tips—it helps you spot “danger words” and typos.