Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why Building an Email List is Important for Your Business

It’s as simple as this: If you want to be a successful marketer these days, you need a solid email list. Having an email list helps ensure that your message will be in your customers’ inbox and will be welcomed there.

When you've signed up for email from a specific company you're opting in. In other words, you want those newsletters, special promotions or coupons. Every business that has an online presence should have an email list. Truth be told, building an email list is a gold mine for your business.

There are a few reasons as to why building your email list is a good idea:

Building customer loyalty.

If a customer has signed up for your company's email then they are a willing reader. With every email you send out you have the chance to build up that customer loyalty because you'll be treating them to an "insider's" perspective to your business. They want the info, so let them have it! A customer who has already made a purchase through your web portal will know how easy it is to get what they want. When you send that customer information about a new product or a special promotion they'll be inclined to shop again. Just make sure you've got strong call-to-actions in your email that will make them want to click to your site.

Affordable marketing.

In terms of marketing cost effectiveness, you simply can't beat emails. The cost of using autoresponders are much cheaper than they used to be a few years ago… and for less than $10/month you can create a marketing system that will reap dividends! With one click you could reach thousands of customers instantly. Remember these are customers who have asked for you to keep them informed. They want to learn more about your company and receive your promotions - can you say that about direct mail marketing? You can't! Even a small percentage of sales that would be generated by an email blast would pay for your marketing campaign many times over.

Personal touch.

It’s casual and friendly — a great way to build trust with people. As part of your overall online marketing strategy you should set up Facebook and Twitter accounts to build out your social media network. However, those sites require a kind of active participation from your audience without a guarantee of viewing your content. In other words, if a customer only checks their Facebook page once or twice a day they might miss your update in their newsfeed. On the other hand, they're going to open every email you send them because they are checking their "inbox" throughout the day. This includes checking on mobile devices. Additionally, there are no other distractions with reading your email. Facebook and Twitter can be great marketing tools but you'll be competing for attention. With an email you've got a one-on-one contact that is priceless.

Targeted offerings bring extra revenue from your list.

The majority of your customers will appreciate you keeping their private information private. That doesn't mean you can't share affiliate products with your customers. Suppose you're selling personalized coffee mugs. It would stand to reason that someone selling gourmet coffee would appeal to your email list. The key is to be smart with your affiliate offers. If you're selling mugs you shouldn't offer a great deal on tires. Don't give a customer an excuse to opt out of their opt in. Depending on the size of your email list, you could offer it for sale to other companies. Just make sure you haven't made the claim that you wouldn't do that!

Bottom line: Build your email list and it will pay for itself tenfold! 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How to Build Your Social Media Strategy

What is your social media strategy? If the answer is, "I don't have a social media strategy" then you better get on board. Even casual users of sites like Facebook or Twitter can see how successful companies are utilizing these platforms to expand their customer base. Are you ready to get in on all that action? Building a PR outreach program is important in getting media attention for your company. Here is how to do it:

Set goals.

Before you can launch your social media strategy you need to be clear about your goals. Yes, increasing sales should be at the top of the list but get specific. What type of return are you looking for? Do you need to increase sales by 10%? 20%? You can also put social media to work to support brand identity and build a customer base. Nothing wrong with an "All of the above" approach but get some target numbers together.

Keep the conversation going.

As you enter the wide world of social media networking, you need to embrace the concept that this is an ongoing marketing plan. This doesn't mean you have to monitor your company's Facebook page 24/7. However you do need to keep your followers engaged. You don't always have to hit them with the hard sale but ask questions to get a conversation going. Asking to share holiday memories is always a good conversation starter. You can relate your queries to your product without it coming across like a pressure to buy.

Build a content schedule.

Now that you know your goals (see above) you should begin to plot out your content schedule. How many messages will you send out in a day or week? What time will these messages go out? Keep in mind that if you post something on Facebook at 9 a.m. your west coast followers won't be up looking at their Facebook. By the time they do check in, your post could get lost in their newsfeed. Additionally, you'll want to put serious thought into your posts. Don't scramble and post something random just for the sake of meeting your schedule. Work it out in advance.

Give away stuff.

We all like free stuff. Whether it's an informative eBook, a coupon or 2-for-1 sale, offering your followers the occasional freebie will keep them checking in for more. This is a terrific way to build up your "likes."

Follow the numbers.

Once you put all your social media plans to work, you'll want to find out if they are being effective. Every social media platform has some type of analytics program to help you gauge your traffic. You'll be able to see where spikes in visitors occur and adjust your content schedule. Stay on top of these numbers and build from there. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Top Female Entrepreneurs Under 30

Successful entrepreneurs come from a wide variety of backgrounds and they certainly aren't limited to a "boy's club." Here are 10 rising female entrepreneurs you should keep an eye on:

Sarah Prevette, 28, founder of

Hoping to connect like-minded entrepreneurs, Sarah created an online community where these professionals can share valuable business insights and socialize. Questions asked by new startup owners are answered by the entrepreneurs who have already gone through the challenges of starting a business from the ground up. It's a face-paced environment that has attracted tens of thousands of community members and several "angel investors."

Ashley Qualls, 20, founder of

Ashley started her successful online business at the ripe old age of 14 but she was really working on websites since she was nine. The site offers all kinds of tutorials for setting up webpage layouts and HTML programming. Recently, Ashley was offered $1.5 million to buy out her company. She turned it down. Today, her web traffic averages up to 360,000 daily visitors.

Catherine Cook, 22, founder of

If you want a perfect example of brothers and sisters getting along than look no further. Catherine and her brother David founded this teen social site that currently clocks in with 25 million members and revenue topping out at $24 million. Look out Facebook!

Justine Ezarik, 26, founder of iJustine

If the success of an online entrepreneur can be defined by the number of followers than Justine certainly hits the mark. Currently she has over 1.2 million Twitter followers and over 400,000 Facebook fans. That is on top of the 1 million subscribers to her YouTube channel. What is Justine offering? Viral comedy videos. Can that be a business? When you consider that Justine has pulled in around $75,000 from YouTube alone than yes, it's a business.

Lauren Bush, 26, founder of FEED

Not every successful entrepreneur has to stay "online" they can actually get out and help folks in need. Lauren set up FEED as a non-profit organization dedicated to feeding the hungry. Since its inception, FEED has provided over 50 million meals at spots all around the globe. She has accomplished this goal by selling reusable grocery bags with half the profits from the sales going to the meal programs. It's a win/win all around.

Alexa von Tobel, 26, founder of LearnVest

The mission of LearnVest is to help young women foster proactive habits that can provide them with financial security for years to come. The goal is to start early in life and grow towards independence. The site started out with $1.1 million in funding and today has secured over $5.5 million in development funds and has signed up over 100,000 members.

Kyle Smitley, 25, founder of Barley and Birch

Organics are a big business and not just with food. Kyle Smitley understands the need for these types of products and created an organic clothing line for kids. These eco-friendly outfits have become a huge hit with the "green mom" crowd. So far she has managed to place her clothing line in over 25 stores.

Maddie Bradshaw, 15, founder of M3 Girl Designs

What would you do with a million dollars if you were only fifteen years old? You should ask Maddie because that's how much her school locker decoration and jewelry company has brought in so far. Her target are all the young girls her age and who would know better than one of their own.

Rachel Hollis, 27, founder of Chic Events

Chic Events was born in Rachel Hollis' basement in 2004 thanks to her passion for throwing great parties. She's turned that talent into an event planning business that has generated close to a million dollars in revenue. Whether it's a movie premiere, wedding or sweet sixteen, Rachel can make it a Chic Event.

Alexa Hirschfeld, 26, founder of Paperless Post

This is another sibling-founded business started by Alex and her brother that creates cyber wedding invitations. That simple idea has allowed the duo to bring in $6.3 million in funding and rocketed them to profitability within a year of opening their business.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Top 3 Affiliate Niches For the Home Entrepreneur

Affiliate marketing enables website owners to profit from advertising other products and services on their own website. Users visit the website, click through on an affiliate ad and subsequently make a purchase can provide the website owners with a percentage of that sale or a commission for the affiliate based on click throughs.

Finding a profitable niche market is important to becoming successful in online marketing for the entrepreneur at home.  Choosing the right niche will determine what kinds of affiliate products you will be offering and the type of website that you will be creating.  When picking a desirable niche that will work for you, consider the following:

How strong is the competition?  You don’t want to play against high-trafficked websites as you won’t be able to keep up especially if your marketing budget is non-existent. 

Can you make good money?  If your profit margins are less than 30% per sale, don’t bother selling the product. Remember, affiliate marketing should be treated like a business, so make a business plan to determine if your ROI is worth the time.

Can you stand out and be unique? With the thousands of websites out there, you have to be unique to stand out. Either through great content or unique services, make sure that that your prospect remembers you positively.

It also can help to be passionate about the niche you choose, especially when you’re just starting out.  It’s usually harder to stay motivated when you don’t care much about a topic, so being interested in what you’re selling can help to earn you more money.

Here are some of the top affiliate niches for you to develop as an online entrepreneur.

Personal Finances

Everyone wants to make money or save money. Your niche business can tap into those desires. You will be showing others how they can save money or start a business. In doing so, you should strive to present honest and valuable information – from interviews to researched articles.   

When it come to saving money, there are many topics you can tap into including reducing debt, finding the right car loan, budget planning or retirement savings. If you can focus on any one of those single areas with helpful product you'll be ahead of the game. As an affiliate business, you can offer products such as eBooks or newsletters. There is certainly an abundant array of those products to choose from in the financial niche market.

Self-Help Topics

This niche can cover a broad spectrum of topics. You should try to focus on one popular area such as organization, self-improvement, relationships or motivation for success. Within those areas you'll be able to utilize the material offered for sale by many reputable life coaches or self-help gurus who have already achieved a level of success and notoriety.

Added into the variety of written information, you could also offer podcasts and videos as part of a complete program of self-help. There are even live webinars where you can direct visitors towards. Everything you offer spins back to the idea of you making money for the click throughs. When you can pull a visitor to your self-help site and get them to buy a book about online dating tips or attend a webinar about finding success then you'll be making money.

Weight Loss

People are always trying to lose weight or getting in shape. And for many people, the quicker they lose weight, the better it is for them. Which is why losing weight is such a profitable niche for a lot of affiliates, as everyone is always looking for a quick fix. You can create a quick website that promotes eBooks on dieting, supplementation, gaining muscle or even sports performance.

The advantages of affiliate marketing are many, where you can generate passive income that will pay out over time without having to hold any products. 

...And if your niche is small business - check out the Afffiliate Program!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Top Digital Tools for Virtual Teams

Just because you're situated in one time zone and your associate is halfway around the world doesn't mean you can't get business done. We are truly in an age of instant global interaction. Everything from a conference call to design planning to video chat sessions can be conducted through cyberspace. Here are some terrific digital tools for virtual teams:


Before you can set up that cross-country meeting you need to know when everyone on your team will be available. 

Doodle lets you survey the group for the best time and day for a meeting. You don't have to register with Doodle and you can get it up and running in a few mouse clicks. 

Timebridge takes virtual scheduling to the next level by letting you set the best time but also an agenda, action items and allows for notes. If you'll be using audio-conferencing then Timebridge lets you attach the numbers via

Working Together

Once the meeting has been set, you might find he need to go over documents together or brainstorm in a creative session. To accomplish that you'll need to create a virtual environment where you can share a "cyber whiteboard" along with the ability to chat in real time. Here are some wonderful collaboration tools: lets you have an ongoing teleconference while sharing desktop documents or programs.

Speek is a 100% online conference without a phone number or pin. Team members will go to a designated link to join in the call. There is even an option to send a text to that link and get in on the discussion.

MeetingSamurai sets up a virtual version of a board meeting that offers terrific note-taking features. You'll be able to vote on measures and then "park" agenda items to deal with later. All of this plays out for all the participants to view in real time.

Google Drive was formally known as Google Docs and is a very popular option among business professionals. What many users don't even realize is that there is a chat feature which is perfect for conference calls. This is great for those much-needed brainstorming creative sessions.

ConferencePad is perfect for the iPad users on your team who want to opt for remote collaboration. With this app you'll be able to view and make notes on any document presented to the logged in team. Even if you're in the same conference you can plug into this app and forego all the cumbersome power point presentation equipment. Everyone can just look at their pads!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

3 Best Social Media Books to Read

Understanding how to get the most out of social media takes an expert. Here are three books by the leading experts in the field.

Likeable Social Media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand, and Be Generally Amazing on Facebook (And Other Social Networks)

This is New York Times best-seller is all about achieving success through online word-of-mouth marketing around the simple premise of being likeable. The best recommendation for any product or service often comes from a friend. If you can get a network of friends to recommend a site or page than that's half the battle. This informative book provides helpful insight in how to tap into the power of this specialized form of marketing. The methods presented in this tome have been utilized with great success by such a diverse range of companies as 1-800-FLOWERS.COM and the Ford Motor Company.

Author Dave Kerpen is an expert in this field. As the cofounder the social media-marketing firm Likeable, Dave is among the brightest and most successful leaders in this industry. His tried and true methods have a proven track record of success and he is definitely someone you'll want to listen to for your own social media campaign.

The Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools, and Strategies for Business Success

Presenting helpful information about social media campaigns means you need to stay ahead of the curve. The Social Media Bible is now in its updated third edition. Presented in this 700-page tome are all the important resources for big and small business to utilize the far reach of social media. With this updated edition you'll be able to find out how to bring in iPad users and apps, Foursquare and other location-targeted networks. Find out the latest about Google's every changing search engine algorithms. That information alone is worth buying this book!

500 Social Media Marketing Tips: Essential Advice, Hints and Strategy for Business: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, and More!

Yes, you read that right: This amazing text presents 500 social media marketing tips. Included in those tips are links to over 130 video tutorials which can greatly enhance your learning curve. Among the top social networks covered are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and YouTube. The expert tips will show you how to build your brand and engage with customers. When you consider that 22% of all North American online activity is spent at sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest than its clear this is a realm your business needs to tap into. 500 Social Media Marketing Tips will show you the way.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Write an eBook and Promote Your Brand

If there is one thing folks like getting it is something for free. Whether that's a food sample at a grocery store or free shipping, freebies are a decent way to build up customer loyalty and increase sales. It might seem odd to make money by giving away stuff but that is often the case.

With an online business it's challenging to come up with that free item to attract customers. However, there is one item that could be a big benefit to your company and your brand. That would be an eBook.

An eBook is probably better thought of as a self-published extended pamphlet. Most business eBooks are anywhere between 10 to 50 pages and contain plenty of graphics and photos. You don't need to be the next Hemingway to create an eBook. In fact, there are many reputable companies which can do the work for you.

So why have an eBook giveaway? Consider these benefits:

Increased Conversion Rate

In the world of online marketing, a conversion is when a recipient performs an action that you want on your site. By offering them a free eBook as an incentive to subscribe or join your website, it increases your conversions.  

Increased Subscriptions

You should have a newsletter that promotes your online business. The more customers who subscribe to your company newsletter the bigger your email list will become (see above!). Visitors to your site who aren't on your mailing list can join when they register to receive their eBook. It's a kind of quid pro quo incentive.

Increased Promotion

If you're plugged into social media (and you should be) then releasing an eBook to your already loyal customers is a great way to generate increased promotion. You can encourage those folks on your network to share the eBook with their friends. If the eBook is engaging and informative then they won't have any problem sharing.

Increased Customer Awareness

An eBook allows you to provide information about top selling products or services and also launch new ones. Just because you have a customer who made a purchase and subscribed to your newsletter doesn't mean they are aware of everything your company does. Let the eBook spread the good news. 

BONUS! Download our free small business eBooks:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Are Tradeshows Worth the Investment?

It's a safe bet that no matter what type of industry you're in there will be at least one tradeshow that will be applicable for your business. The question then becomes do you attend as a "visitor" or a "vendor"?
Obviously, being a visitor will be less costly and still give you the opportunity to network but it might not be a productive as being a vendor with a booth. Would that kind of investment be worth the effort? Here are some tips to help you focus on determining if your tradeshow sales efforts will provide a viable return on your investment.

The first step is to factor in all of your costs and expenses. These would include:

Floor space costs: What will you be charged by the organizers for booth space?

Exhibit costs: If this is your first time at a trade show you'll be building a booth from scratch. How much that will cost depends on the size and design elements.

Labour costs: When you bring your booth to the tradeshow there may be union workers standing by to assemble it or you may require your own staff for set up/take down.

Marketing: You need to advertise in trade magazines and the tradeshow catalog to let visitors know where your booth will be, as well as having marketing collateral at your booth.

Giveaways: What will you give away at your booth? Every visitor should leave with something that has your company logo, web address and contact info.

Booth hosts: Will you and your employees be manning the booth or will you have to hire local hosts? Or both?

Travel and entertaining: It's going to cost you something to get to the tradeshow, plus added costs for accommodations and food. You'll also want to include money for entertaining: drinks and meals for potential clients.

Contingency: On top of all those costs add another 15% to 25% to your budget as a contingency line item in case of extra expenses, which there will always be!

Set Your Goals

Now that you know what your hard costs are, what are your goals for the trade show? Do you need to land a certain amount of new clients? Are you setting up pre-orders for products? If this is a consumer show and you'll be selling your product directly out of your booth, then you should have targets for each day. Whatever those numbers are, you have to be realistic. It might be hard to gauge if this is a new type of trade show, but if you're setting up a booth at something like Comic Con in San Diego then you know you're going to have a lot of foot traffic!

Once you have those goals set, make sure your booth staff is aware of those and check in every hour to make sure they're hitting those goals. If not, you might need to ramp up the promotions and get your staff out on the floor.

There are no guarantees with a tradeshow. However, if you've attended as a visitor in the past then you know what works and what doesn't. Put those principles to the test in your own campaign.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Growing a Company from the Startup Phase

Congratulations! You've got your startup running and things appear to be going smoothly. It took a lot of planning and hard work but it finally all came together.

Now what?

There will come a time in the life of every business when you should take it to the next level of success. Is it time to declare you are no longer an official startup but a fully-fledged business? Are you ready to make that leap? Here are some insightful tips to help you manage the next phase of your business growth:

Expanding your staff with smarter people.

Just because it's your business doesn't mean you always have to be the smartest guy in the room. In fact, you would do your company a great service by seeking out future employees who you consider to actually be smarter than you. This is a sign of confidence and strength where you're putting the needs of the company ahead of your own ego. That's a good thing!

Don't rest on success.

Hopefully, you've had a good quarter or two in terms of profits. Take a moment to celebrate and then get back to work. Resting on your laurels won't help your business move forward. You should have the same sense of urgency now as you did in the first week of your operation when you were struggling to make it a success.

Look for the repeat business.

The most profitable businesses have customers coming back time and again. By creating a loyal customer base you are setting yourself up for long-term success. Yes, you need to add to that base but you need to spend just as much effort keeping previous customers satisfied. Don't hesitate to reach out to them by offering incentives for purchases or asking for feedback. Make them feel appreciated and they'll always come back for more business.

Be a hero.

Customers appreciate when you go the extra mile to help them. If you tell a customer an order will be ready in a week, try to have it ready in half that time. You'll come out looking like a hero and they'll be back for more business. And yes, it's okay to pad an estimated delivery time because in the long run that can help you if something goes wrong.

Keep an eye on your prices.

There is a sense with every start up that they are the "David" going after the "Goliath" of their competition. They can bring down that giant by offering deep discounts to attract customers but you have to be mindful of the long game. At some point, you'll want to get your profit margins up. That can only happen when you increase prices and cut operating costs. When that happens you've really entered the big leagues. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What to Know When You Apply to Work for a Startup

Working with a new startup could mean that every day is "Casual Friday" but that shouldn't be your only motivating factor for employment. In many ways, getting in on the ground floor of a new business can be an exciting and incredibly beneficial learning experience. However, before you apply for work at a startup you'll need to be aware of certain factors which could influence your decision:

Flexibility is a must.

Have you heard of the proverbial "well-oiled machine"? That's a business which is functioning at peak efficiency. If there are snafus, they are quickly dealt with by management. With a start up you might not get any of that. Even simple things like office assignments could change from day to day. When all goes according to plan things should fall into a productive routine but it might take a few months to establish order. You just have to hunker down and go with the flow. If you're someone who is easily frustrated by office upheaval than a startup might not be the right fit for you.

You're a team player now.

Every successful company is built on collaboration between employees and management. That is especially true in the initial phase of a startup business. Although you might have been hired for a particular skill set, often you'll be called upon to pitch in at other areas throughout the company. Yes, this might mean running out for the lunch orders, answering phones or unpacking office supplies in those early weeks. Establishing yourself as a strong leader and team player in the early stages of a startup will help secure your position down the line. 

Don't get comfortable with the perks.

Part of the learning curve with a startup is in understanding the right way to spend the company's money. At first the bosses might be happy to provide free lunches or happy hour drinks all picked up on the company tab. However, as business settles in, upper management will start paying closer attention to that bottom line. As a result all those perks might fade away. Enjoy them while you can and remember that's not why you joined the company.

There will always be risk.

Even if you're working with an entrepreneur with a proven track record of success there is no guarantee that success will follow them into this new venture. You need to go into a startup aware of all the risks. For every success story there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of startup failure stories. If you're okay with accepting that risk then go for it.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How to Forecast Revenues for a Company Launch

One of the first things a MBA major learns is the importance of a well-crafted business plan. A key component of that plan is forecasting revenues. This is essential if you're going to be looking for investors in advance of a company launch. Those investors will want to know how and when their money will be coming back to them. Here are the steps to follow to forecast revenues for a company launch:

Step 1: Determine Your Operating Costs

What will it cost to keep your business open? Factor in everything from rent, insurance, salaries, office supplies, marketing, manufacturing (if applicable) and miscellaneous expenses. Those will be your operating costs. You'll then have a profit margin on every item you sell. That accumulated margin needs to be deducted from those operating costs.

Step 2: Create a Customer Profile

Who are you selling to? By creating a customer profile you'll be able to anticipate shifting trends in your business. You'll also know where to target your marketing campaigns. The majority of laundry detergent is sold to the moms who do the shopping and the advertising reflects that. There is a business adage that goes, "20% of your customers account for 80% of your sales." That's why you really have to understand who you're selling to in order to make an accurate forecast. You'll be depending on those profiles to be accurate.

Step 3: Determine the Reach of Your Campaign

If you're opening a neighborhood storefront then you should know what to expect in terms of foot traffic or customers traveling to your store. However, with an online business your reach could truly be global. How will you know how far that reach can go in order to make an accurate prediction? This might come down to a matter of marketing penetration. For instance, if you're going to advertise on Facebook then you'll be able to know what type of click through rate to expect. You can build a forecast utilizing that information.

Step 4: Size Up the Competitive Landscape

Chances are that whatever business you're starting up, somebody has already beaten you to the punch. That's a good thing because you can learn a lot by studying your competition. If you can find out what type of sales they achieved you should be able to make comparable forecasts.

Step 5: Add it Up

Now that you have all of those numbers you're ready to make a forecast. The best approach is to provide conservative and logical forecasts backed by data. Being conservative means erring on the side of caution and embracing the "worst case scenario" when it comes to sales.