Thursday, February 28, 2013

Top 5 SEO Myths That Need to Be Broken

As you enter into the e-commerce space, you're going to be learning all about driving traffic to your website. One of the first (and most important) concepts you should learn is about Search Engine Optimization or SEO. Simply put, the goal of SEO is to increase the rankings of your website when a specific search term or phrase is entered. Depending on the topic this can be a crowded field.

For instance, Google "locksmith" and your hometown. What you're sure to come up with are dozens of pages of locksmiths businesses. If your business is among those ranking on the first page you stand a much better chance of garnering that new customer. Along with understanding SEO you'll also run across some SEO myths.

You would follow these myths at your own peril because they might end up preventing traffic to your site as opposed to increasing traffic.

Here are the top 5 SEO myths that need to be broken.

You only have to optimize your site once.

Wrong. You might get lucky with your first wave of comprehensive SEO content and achieve that number one ranking but you won't be there for long. All of your competitors will be working on their own SEO strategies which can knock you off the top ranking at any time. This means you've got to consistently improve your SEO on a regular basis. Look at it this way: Would you only have one "special sale" for your business to attract customers? Of course not! The same can be said for SEO.

Links to social bookmarks aren't considered SEO.

Actually they are. Adding social networking bookmarks to your content are becoming an important and viable component to a comprehensive SEO strategy. Based on the findings of recent surveys, close to 14% of a website's ranking power can originate from sites like Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus. In other words, fire up those accounts and make sure they're part of your website.

You should always be posting content.

Yes and no. The myth is that without new content your site won't be picked up by search engines. The key issue is one of relevancy. Your content needs to be relevant for the search. If it is content for the sake of content then you're defeating the purpose. Making content relevant is at the heart of successful SEO and that will be determined by many factors both on your web pages and off those pages.

Forget title tags and meta tags; they don't work.

That would be a big mistake. This is where those on/off page factors come into play. A common mistake by webmasters is to title home pages as "home" as opposed to the keyword in title tags. Going back to the locksmith example, you shouldn't tag your landing page as "home" but "locksmith in Austin" (or wherever). Focus on a 160-character meta description of your content that will include a relevant keyword phrase and you'll come out a winner.

You can't have enough backlinks.

Yes you can. Backlinks link other websites to your site. It's a way of expanding the potential for traffic. However, once again it comes down to a matter of relevancy. You want to establish your website as a place of authority that means you want quality backlinks and not general spam. Linking to news stories and videos work but you'll have to occasionally go back and make sure those links aren't broken. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pricing Mistakes that can Slow Down Sales

Pricing your product is just as important as your marketing plan. In fact, without the right price you could see all of your hard efforts of your marketing collapse around you. Not only can solid pricing turn your account books from red to black, but it can also help engender strong customer loyalty.

You should know what it costs to make what you're selling and get it to your customer. How you determine the price on top of those hard costs could be the make or break of your business.

Here are some common pricing mistakes that can slow down your sales or even bring them to a screeching halt!

Pricing without a strategy.

Your pricing strategy should always support your company’s marketing and operational goals. If you’re holding a discount promotion on a product at below cost, make sure that you can upsell your customer so you make a profit down the road. Likewise, price raises can only work if the customer feels that they are getting a lot of value from your company. A good pricing strategy should allow your products to be sold, with long-term profitability goals in mind and also being competitive. 

De-valuing your service or product.

Underselling is just as bad as overselling when it comes to pricing. You might know down to the penny what an object costs to manufacture and deliver but what about all the other costs associated with selling that product? What does it cost for you to hire a staff, rent a space and market that product? Those line items should all be factored into your price point. Remember you're hoping for volume sales to amortize all of those overhead costs.

Chasing your competitors.

If you're constantly matching your prices to your closest competitors you could be doing a disservice to your business. Unless you're aware of the same overhead and manufacture costs your competitor is applying to their products, their pricing is meaningless. Yes, you should keep an eye on the competition and make appropriate adjustments but don't let that be the total basis for your pricing structure. This issue also comes into play if your slash a price to beat a competitor. In the short run you might get a decent sales bump but those figures could be misleading if those customers won't be coming back for repeat business because they're out looking for the next cheap bargain. Always think of the long game.

Drastic price drops.

Yes, everyone wants to pay a fair price for a product or service. However, if you find yourself dramatically dropping your price for a particular customer they might think they were paying too much for that product to begin with. You don't want to alienate your customers with your drastic pricing policy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How to Make Mistakes Intelligently

In the world of business, a mistake is usually a risk that didn't turn out so well. On the other end, if you take a risk and it pays off you'll be considered a bold visionary. A compelling argument can be made that you'll learn more from your mistakes than your successes. In entrepreneurship, making mistakes is a better way to grow than just doing things safely all the time. Here's why making mistakes can benefit your business:

Getting over the fear factor.

Starting up a new business is filled with a long list of "known unknowns." Will you turn a profit? Will you be able to expand? Will your employees embrace your leadership style? Those types of questions are important to ask from a planning perspective but they should become fear based. You're going to make mistakes. Hopefully, they won't be debilitating from your business but worrying about what could go wrong might just stop you from effectively moving forward. Let go of the fear and embrace the mistake when it happens.

We learn more from failure.

You might not remember when you took your first steps but it's a safe bet you took plenty of falls as well. Did you give up? Of course not! You figured out how to balance yourself and what coordination means. Same thing when it came to learning how to ride a bike. A mistake shouldn't be looked upon as a failure but as a lesson. What went wrong and how can you avoid that in the future? Understanding the answer to that question is going to improve your business by leaps and bounds.

Mistakes make us smarter.

You're simply going to have to learn by doing. When a mistake happens you'll be learning more about your business and probably from a different perspective. This would apply to everything from filing your tax forms to shipping orders around the world. Always think of mistakes as your "learning curve" and you can't go wrong.

Big mistakes can lead to big business.

This comes back to the issue of risk taking. If you're truly striving for a huge success in your business then you're going to have to take a huge risk. As it happens, you might also be making a huge mistake. You can't let a mistake cause you to crumble. Look at the biography of any successful entrepreneur and you're sure to find a history of "striking out" before they hit it out of the ballpark.

Mistakes make for a better manager.

We've all had those moments when we've been smarter than our bosses. When you become the boss you want to get out in front of the occasional mistakes that will be made. Don't make finding someone to blame the primary focus. You really have to figure out "why" something went wrong. Was it a breakdown in communication? Was it not having the right information? Ultimately, a business' mistake will be your own. Accept responsibility and move on. Your staff will respect you for your strong leadership.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When to Act Without a Business Plan

Runners line up at the starting line of a race waiting for that starter pistol to go off. If they start too soon it throws all the runners off. Hesitate after the starter pistol is fired and you could lose the lead.

Now apply this analogy to making a business decision.

Are you waiting too long after the "starter pistol" goes off or did you start running before it was time? The most effective business boss is someone who is decisive and gets the ball rolling by acting quickly rather than waiting for everything to line up perfectly.

Being decisive is not about being reckless. All of your decisions should be well informed.

When is it a good time to act in starting your business?

Renting Space

Every business needs a work space even if you're just starting out working from home. When your business takes off and you're ready to expand you'll need more space. If you are investing in a franchise business than location is key. You need to put together a list of requirements to make your business a success.

How many parking spaces will you need for staff and customers? Is foot traffic important to your business? Do you foresee expanding in the near future? How much space can you effectively use? What is your budget for renting space?

Once you have definitive answers and you find a space don't waste time; sign the lease.
It might need some cosmetic improvements or better air conditioning but if a majority of your requirements are meant secure the space before it gets away from you.

Hiring Staff

If you are interviewing for a staff position and have 12 applicants, interview all twelve applicants. Maybe the first person to come through your office is the one you'll ultimately hire but you deserve to hear from everyone.

Once you've completed all interviews, make that offer. Just because you've found the perfect match for your company doesn't mean some other business isn't interested in the same person. After all, if they are the best they will be in demand.

On the plus side, we're living in an age where instant communication can happen any time of the day or night through texts and e-mails. You should have all of those contact information for any applicant.

Marketing Campaigns

Your marketing strategy will be crucial to determining the success of your business. You should be presented with many options along with a clear understanding of the potential return on your investment. After you’re presented with the plans it's vital to put them into action ASAP.

You don't want to waste time mulling over plans when there are sales to be made and customers to attract. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Best Business Opportunities For 2013

When it comes to starting up a new business there are two basic categories: Those you can get rolling right away or those that need years and expertise to build. For instance, starting up a biotech type of company will require a lot of investment and plenty of PhDs. On the other hand investing in a franchise could be as simple as coming up with the down payment for the business. Looking towards the coming year, here are the top 5 business opportunities for 2013. And yes, these could all be considered "quick start" companies.

Transportation for the Elderly

There is no escaping the fact that the baby boomer generation has grown up and are all heading into retirement. As the population ages, there will be an increased need to provide senior care. This type of specialized care will come in many forms but one thing is for certain; all of those seniors will need a safe and dependable way to get where they need to go. Folks of a certain age or infirmity may no longer be able to drive or take public transportation. An affordable door-to-door driving service can hold a lot of appeal to these seniors and their families. You might have the opportunity to buy into an existing business or start out with a couple of vans, certified drivers and insurance. Either way this is a business opportunity that is destined to expand in the coming years.

Bike Repair and Rental

As folks become more environmentally aware, they will be looking for eco-friendly ways to conduct their daily routines. One way would be to take an alternative method of transportation such as riding a bike. Many cities are helping support these endeavor by providing bike-parking zones. A business that can rent bikes would also be attracted especially in areas where there are tourists. Making simple bike repairs is also a lot easier to learn than fixing a car. This is also a perfect community business which can build a strong customer base in a neighborhood.

General Contractor

If you like working with your hands then you might be quite adept at fixing things. As the economy shows signs of improvements folks will be in the mood for a home makeover. Whether it's a new kitchen or bathroom or converting a garage into a spare bedroom there will be workers to supervise, permits to obtain and materials to purchase. This is the type of business that requires a bit more hustle but you won't be confined to an office.

Home Health Care

Like transportation for seniors, there is also a need for in-home care for the elderly. Being able to provide that kind of service with a staff of certified employees would be of a great benefit to the community. It would also provide decent job security because the demand will always be there. This is also another area where you could receive support from the government in terms of payments and guidelines.

Pet Care

Pet care is a multi-billion dollar industry. Dog and cat owners alike will think nothing of pampering their four-legged friends. A business that offers daily care such as dog walks or cat feeding will bring peace of mind to the owners of those companions. This is a low overhead business as most of the work will be done on location. All you really need to focus on is marketing, bookkeeping and staffing. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

How to Build Trust in Online Marketing

Although the online community can truly have a global reach, businesses depend on more direct contact with their potential customers. To achieve that connection online companies strive to build trust but that often proves difficult without any direct face-to-face communication.

Can you really trust someone that you can't look in the eye? As it turns out you can and hundreds of e-commerce sites have achieved a strong bond of trust from their customers. How can you build up your company's credibility and make your customers feel safe when they shop?

Consider these important tips:

Post a Privacy Policy

You won't be able to conduct any business online without gathering personal information from your customers. That doesn't mean their information can't be kept secure. Making your customers aware of your security enhancements can give them an added peace of mind about doing business on your website. Additionally, you should assure your customers that their information won't be sold to a third party or used for other promotions without their permission. This keeps them in control of their personal data and builds up the trust.

Pick a Reliable Payment Processor

Chances are that by the time a customer reaches your online store they will have already been accustomed to shopping online. That's a good thing because you want smart shoppers. To help support this you should be dealing with a reliable payment processor such as PayPal, Moneris or others. Not only are these processors extremely user friendly but they also provide various consumer protections like tracking payments and chargebacks. This is something customers truly appreciate.

Put Testimonials to Work for You

If there is one thing the Internet has taught us is that everyone likes to share their opinions. You can put positive reviews to work for your company by making them available on your website. Invite customers who have had a positive experience to post a review in exchange for a future benefit or coupon. When a new customer reads these types of reviews they'll have a sense that your business is indeed reputable and trustworthy.

Be Visible on Social Media

Every business is based in a community. Being highly visible on Facebook, blogging and forums helps build credibility with your prospective customers. They appreciate that you’re trying to reach out to them and that they can communicate with your business representatives.  Develop a relationship with your customers and create a community that revolves around your company’s brand, products or values.

 Be Real

You have a lot of faith in your product or services as you should. However, that doesn't mean those things you're offering "will forever change a person's life" or "revolutionize their very existence." Customers are leery of the hard sell. On the other hand,finding a way to use humor in your marketing campaigns can generate good feelings. When in doubt always go for the smile. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Top 10 Sales Mistakes Small Businesses Make

It's easy to track sales figures and determine just where your business stands with regard to making its quota for the month. However, what those numbers might not show is exactly what mistakes are being made by you or your sales force. Even with decent numbers there is always room for improvement. See if you recognize any of these top 10 sales mistakes in your company's sales staff.

1. Not taking the time to listen to your customers.
Every decent salesperson has perfected their pitch. Sometimes it's hard to stop that "train" once it is rolling down the track. However, when you stop listening to your customers you're missing out on the ability to adjust your pitch to meet their specific needs. Listening could open up an entirely new and winnable approach.

2. Making the hard sell.
Being passionate about the product you're selling is a good thing but you need to know when to back off from the hard sell. If your sales pitch is all about pushing towards the sale then you might find your customers backing off from such aggressiveness. This mistake goes hand in hand with the "not listening" one. Take a breath and give your customers a chance to process.

3. Not doing research on your product.
Often a salesperson thinks they've "got it" when it comes to pitching a new product or service. Yet, that rush to hit the sales floor could hamper a sale if that agent isn't as familiar with the details of the product as they should be. It's hard to anticipate every question a customer might have but that is certainly a good goal to strive for.

4. Jumping to the close.
The "ABC" of sales is "Always Be Closing" but that doesn't mean jumping to the close right out of the gate. A customer wants to feel like they are being taken care of. That holds true for someone shopping in a store or online. Take the time to build a relationship with the customer. Online this can mean providing them with engaging content that they care about. Once that relationship has been firmly established, making the close will be a lot easier.

5. Forgetting to close.
The opposite of the sales mistake above is not getting to the close. Every sales pitch should end with some kind of call to action such as, "Can I place this order for you?" Don't assume the customer will always jump in and offer the close. Be subtle but make sure it's part of the experience.

 6. Veering off the sale.
You definitely want to build a relationship with your customers but that doesn't mean spending hours talking about the great game from last weekend or swapping recipes. Too much chattering can have you veering off the topic at hand which is the sale itself. Nothing wrong with getting comfortable with your customer but keep focused on the goal of closing the sale.

7. Not knowing who you're selling to.
If you're operating out of a store or online portal you won't really know who a customer is when they approach your business. However, if you are going out to make a sale you need to understand who you're approaching and what their needs are. That holds true for a client lunch or working the trade show floor. A little research will go a long way.

8. Being too "smart".
Sales people like to think they can size up a customer with a quick look. While a majority of those first impressions could be accurate just as many could be wrong. Don't assume you have everything figured out about a customer by the way they dress or their look.

9. Ignoring good leads.
Are you an impulsive shopper or do you like to take your time before taking the plunge? Your customers run the same gambit. They either will make up their mind fast or need a little time. For those who can't quite decide you need to follow-up with those leads. This is especially true is someone has asked for additional information. Don't waste a lead.

10. Not expanding the customer base.
A business like a food truck has the ability to go where the people are. The key is finding out those locations. In many respects, you've always got to be on the lookout for ways to expand your customer base. You can't rely on repeat business alone to drive up your sales numbers. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How to Choose a Corporate Name

There are many elements that go into choosing a business name.  Most business owners want a name that not only describes their business but has good marketing potential and stands out from the crowd.  But, more importantly, names have to meet the legal requirements set by the jurisdiction of incorporation.  This is where things can get difficult!   You can choose a name that sounds really cool and fits perfectly with your business, but the government may think otherwise.

To avoid the disappointment of a name rejection, here are some tips on choosing a name that fits with your business AND the legal requirements.

Create a distinctive element.

This is what sets your business apart from others.  Whether it be a coined or original word, geographic location or family name it is important to be original and creative when coming up with this element to avoid infringing upon another company name.

Add a descriptive element.

This part tells the customer the type of business the company does.  For instance, if you’re a tech company you may want to use something like ‘Software’ or ‘Telecommunications’.

Choose your legal ending.

This is the easy part.  Legal endings come in various forms but all incorporated companies must have one attached to their name.  The legal names used in Canada are Inc., Ltd., Corp., Incorporated, Limited, Corporation.

      Make your name memorable.

      An easy to spell name with positive connotations goes a long way in marketing your business.  Keep in mind how this name might look as a logo, on a website, in signage and used in other marketing collateral.  

The criteria used if there is confusion with another company is the distinctive character of each name, the visual or phonetic similarity, the ideas evoked, the manner in which the names are used, notoriety of the name, potential competition between the companies, the nature of services provided, and the territory served by the company.

To avoid paying for numerous name reports, doing a pre-search of corporate names can help you get an idea of what names are already in use.  To avoid disappointment, come up with at least 3 variations of your name, all of which you are happy with, so that if your first choice is rejected you have other options that can meet the requirements.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How to Create Urgency in your Sales Pitch for a Faster Close

When sales are slow and buyers are resistant to new purchases, salespeople often use a variety of tactics to get their prospects to purchase to buy now. The most important and successful is to create a sense of urgency to get people to buy. 

Yet, urgency isn’t something that you force upon your sales prospects.  Instead, it naturally occurs once you uncover your customers’ motivation.  So you have to discover it.

It is done by using the consultative sales approach – by asking the right questions; listening carefully, and your customer’s desires and motivation will appear.

Here are some tips on creating a sense of urgency that can be used depending on your prospects’ scenario:

Tell them it's a limited supply.

Whatever you're offering, if you only have a few left then it's going to mean the person you're talking to has to act fast. That holds true for widgets or shares in your company. The key is to be truthful. You don't want to tell a client you've only got a dozen items left when in truth you've got an entire warehouse. It's all about building up trust. Whenever you've seen an ad offering a special deal for the next hundred callers you know that every caller is going to get the same deal. Don't fall into that kind of exploitive ploy. On the other hand, you might often have a situation that arises which is about genuine limited supply. When that happens, spring into action and see if you can't capitalize on that.

Tell them it's for a limited time.

Deadlines work both for someone who has a project due and for someone who has to make up their mind about a sales pitch. By placing a time limit on a special deal you're letting your client know this is a special occasion. Just make sure you follow through and close out the deadline. This is another aspect of the trust issue. If you tell someone they only have until Friday to get this special price but then that price is offered on the following Monday then how will they ever trust what you have to say? Always remember the client you make happy today is one you can go back to tomorrow.

Tell them it's a better price.

This is probably the quickest way to create a sense of urgency: Just tell them it's going to save them money. The problem with this approach is that you might become stuck with the discount for future sales. If a client knows that can get something cheaper they might just wait until you make that offer. This is what you have to be careful with the discount. Either always have it or never have it.

Tell them they'll be getting added value.

The alternative to slashing the price on a product is to add value to that same product. Perhaps there is something you can bundle with what you're offering to make it more attractive to a potential buyer. This type of approach can be combined with the "limited time offer" for a solid one-two punch of urgency. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

How Venture Capital Funds Work

It used to be a popular misconception that venture capital funds only invested in companies that had traction and have proven products. Obviously, that misconception has changed with the large number of risky investments in startups. With the considerable amount of resources and advice available on how to pitch to VC’s, there still is a lackof understanding on how the industry really works.

Innovation has been the key driver of competitiveness within an industry. However, to bring innovative ideas to life requires more than just talent to succeed. As innovative ideas are considered risky for traditional banks to invest in, many entrepreneurs turn to the venture capitalists to bring their ideas to reality.

Venture capital has become an important source of funds for innovative and risky startups that may have a potential for high returns. A venture capitalist invests in a potential company in the hopes that their investment could give them a higher rate of return for themselves in a shorter amount of time.

Due to the risky nature of the investment, the venture capitalist spreads their risk over multiple prospects. This way, they minimize the risk of losing their money in one company and make it back from the one startup that makes it big.

Some characteristics of a VC firm are:

Investing in risky ventures with potential for high returns: VCs usually invest in unproven and innovative ideas which traditional financial institutions avoid. For that investment, they expect a ROI that is higher than usual. In general, they look for a rate o return that is within the range of 25 to 40 percent.

Hands on experience of an industry: VCs have prior experience and contacts which gives them an expertise in better management of the funds deployed. Not only do venture capitalists provide funding, they also provide a network and expertise that can help their investment grow. They can provide technical, marketing and strategic support.

Raises funds from several sources: There is a misconception that venture capitalists are rich individuals who are partnered together to invest in companies. Many VCs are not necessarily rich and almost always manage the funds on behalf of others. They raise financing from institutions such as other investment funds, pension funds, endowment funds, in addition to other successful individuals.

Diversify their portfolio: As mentioned earlier, VCs reduce their risk by developing a portfolio of companies instead of investing their entire fund into one company.

Short-term exits: As high ROI is important for any VC, they always make an investment with an eye for the short-term future. They determine whether they can see a return from their investment within 3-7 years. Their exits can range from getting bought out by a larger company, or taking the company public or even selling it to a private equity fund. 

Advantages of Venture Capital Investments

As a entrepreneurs, you may want to consider funding that range from few hundred thousand to a few million. Normally, you require this funding to grow your company by hiring more employees or the ability to do research and development. When faced with these situations there are many advantages of using a VC. 

These include:

  • Securing a larger amount of money than you could from a commercial lender or government lender, turning your shares into more money in a shorter time frame. VCs normally make a decision in investing much faster than traditional financial institutions.

  • They share the financial risk in expanding your small business.

  • You can get specific experience from different kinds of VC firms, such as those specializing in early stage (startups) businesses or late stage (fully developed) companies.

Some Cons of Venture Capital Funds

Even though a VC firm can review your business and identify a lot of value in your company, it can be a disadvantage to accept VC funding. Some cons are:

  • Losing your majority equity share to investors who are not passionate about your company.

  • Possibility of surrendering managerial control to a VC firm

  • Risking that a VC firm will take your company to a quick exit before it’s ready. 

  • Losing competitive advantage in an industry by sharing privileged information about your business model to others.

Before choosing to work with venture capitalists, ensure that the pros outweigh the cons. The best position for a venture firm to be in is to have a substantial equity stake in a company. A VC earns their fees based on a percentage of the profits they create for their investors.

As the startup business owner you need to be realistic with your available equity stakes in terms of what you're willing to part with and the valuation of your company. It's important to find that balance and understand that first offers should not be generally accepted.