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How To Ensure Technology Does Not Bury Heartfelt Customer Service

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 20:00

Technology is great. But sometimes we have so much tech that we take the heart, the soul the feeling from what we’re doing.

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books. His newest book, Sprinkles:  Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service will be released in February.  He can be reached at www.chipbell.com. I’ve asked him to share his thoughts on technology and customer service.

Ask a hundred grandparents about how customer service has changed and you will get a common theme–the soul of service has been removed—too much high tech, not enough high touch.  Probe a bit further and you will learn that “soul” is the spirit of other-centered care laced with generosity, true compassion, and an unmistakable desire to add value, not just fulfill an obligation.

We love technology and the great capacities it has enabled.  Self-service has made “store hours” seem quaint.  The experience of time has morphed from overnight to instantaneous.  Our interpersonal connections are no longer limited by back yard fences or cross-town drives; we have social media that links us to practically anyone, anytime.  But, with all the cool stuff, we still enjoy having our hearts race, our spirits lifted, and our moments made special.  It is the power of the extra straw.

My business partner and I were conducting a focus group with family members who had a parent in an assisted living community of our client.  We were searching for a deep understanding of the key factors that drove customer advocacy.  The topic of conversation was a particular nurse in the unit that served dementia residents.  “She gives my mother an extra straw.”  Everyone in the room registered an all-knowing recognition of exactly the meaning of the compliment.  Nothing more needed to be said.  Service had been delivered…and, with soul.

The concept of the extra straw is the same as what sprinkles do to a cupcake; what lighted candles do to a birthday cake, and what a Zappos contact center rep does to a customer conversation.  It is an encounter laced with special attention, a focus on the details of the customer’s experience, and an obvious desire to enrich not just serve.

What makes the “extra straw” so powerful? It is a symbol that gets generalized to your entire organization.  And, it empowers the experience in a powerful way just as poor detail management aversely impacts customer perception broader than the encounter.  Pull into a trashy parking lot of a restaurant and you think about more than where you are putting your vehicle.  Catch a security guard asleep on the job and you consider far more than the work habits of the guard.

Great technology can signal to your customers how much you care.  When Starbucks recently began adding wireless charging Duracell power mats, it communicated to customers a sincere commitment to over-the-top hosting and a “very human connection.”  When UrbanSitter (think Uber does babysitter hunting) added a video feature to the resumes of sitters, customers raved about their enhanced confidence.

What else would the hundred grandparents tell you about customer service?  When you take the soul out of service, you are left with the charm of an ATM or elevator.  Organizations without a valued emotional connection with customers stop growing and become commoditized and fight over lowest price.  Would your customers say they get an extra straw?

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Categories: SMB

Business and Sustainability: A Conversation with Leyla Acaroglu

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 17:00

Sustainability is a subject on the minds of many people, but it’s not something that is typically a priority for most small business owners. Inundated with the never-ending tasks that exist in simply running a business, the small business owner might make efforts to be more ‘green’ in their operation, but creating a fully sustainable business model might seem completely out of reach.

Leyla Acaroglu

At a recent Wix and Infusionsoft Small Business Breakfast, Leyla Acaroglu - designer, social scientist, sustainability provocateur, entrepreneur and renowned TED speaker (Paper beats plastic? How to rethink environmental folklore) - shared her message on the importance of sustainability. During the talk she helped to answer:

  • What is sustainability
  • Why sustainability is important
  • How business, large and small, can create a sustainable business model

You can view the full session here, or watch below.

As 2015 approaches, have you thought of sustainability and the impact your small business has? If so, we’d love to share in the comments below.

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Categories: SMB

vCita Offers Service Businesses Simple Scheduling and Payment Solutions.

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 20:00

While big companies make it easy for their customers to schedule and pay online – it’s at times not that easy for smaller businesses to do so. However, vCita has a powerful and simple solution that makes it easy for businesses who rely on scheduling and payments to implement these options.

Here’s a list of some of the features that vCita offers.

One-Click Pay Now: An online payment form easily added to any web page or embedded within an email campaign. Clients can effortlessly make a payment and get an email confirmation once processed without leaving the website, while businesses easily track outstanding and completed payments.

Advanced Scheduling: Enable clients to schedule a consultation, an appointment or request a service in-sync with you or your staff’s availability. Advanced Scheduling allows businesses to set aside blocks of time for travel, buffers between client meetings or a call—or add a scheduled break into the day, helping to avoid appointment fatigue and overlap. Businesses can also set the schedule to reflect different service offerings on selected days and hours for maximum flexibility.

File Sharing: Easy and convenient online file sharing tracks and records the life of the document in the vCita contact management software, and notifies the receiving party of availability via email or on the next visit through the LiveSite invite. Documents can be shared and viewed on the go, on any device, anywhere.

Email Templates: Automate coordination, reminders and follow-up emails. New email templates will now give greater flexibility and branding options with a design that reflects the business’ brand, color palette and logo. The templates are mobile-enabled with an html email template or a text-only version that works with any smartphone.

Extended Language Support: Offer users the ability to work in native French or Spanish, creating a seamless communication flow between clients and the business.

The vCita LiveSite Web Engagement Platform gives small businesses and their clients a streamlined way to connect and communicate through the web, mobile, social and email. The platform currently serves more than 100,000 businesses globally with an innovative offering that provides a self-service online portal, enabling businesses to create direct interactions with a client base and drive loyalty through online communication and customer-focused activities.

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Categories: SMB

7 Examples of Everyday Technology That Should Change in 2015

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 16:00
What’s one everyday technology you use all the time that you wish a startup would totally rethink in 2015?

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

1. The Printer

As all other areas of consumer technology have raced ahead, one piece of equipment seems forever frozen in the year 1995. Printers are every bit as unreliable, expensive and inefficient as they were 20 years ago. The company that reinvents the printer and turns it into the powerhouse product it’s capable of being could become the next Apple.

– Brian HonigmanBrianHonigman.com

2. Alarm Clocks

I wake up to the same sounding alarm clock with either music or an obnoxious beeping. I would like someone to combine multiple creative avenues to wake me up pleasantly. Currently the market seems fragmented between sound, movement, light, etc.

– Phil ChenSystems Watch

3. Batteries

It’s time we create a better battery that runs longer, is easier to charge and is really small. It should use something that is readily available — such as body heat — to charge it.

– Jyot SinghRTS Labs

4. Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi originated as a low bandwidth, short range, radio-based solution to provide network/Internet access. However, it has morphed into an everyday technology that competes against itself for range. It needs to be disrupted.

– Lane CampbellSyntress SCDT

5. Email

We spend so much time on email everyday and it’s still a terrible experience. Gmail’s folders — primary, updates, social and promotions — are helpful, and a few of the features in Google’s new inbox app are useful, but email still has a long way to go. In five years, email should be very different than it is today.

– Randy RayessVenturePact

6. Payments

This is already starting to happen, but I think payments are going to be huge in 2015. Snapcash is incredibly interesting and simple, but it’s just the start. Companies that can truly figure out mobile payment systems are going to explode.

– Blake MillerThink Big Partners

7. Integrated Email

We spend too much time digging through email and using it as a collaboration tool. Email is disassociated from the other content, commitments and communications in most projects. We need a new, integrated way to collaborate that combines contacts, calendars, content, commitments and communications into one workspace while integrating the stand-alone productivity tools that we already use.

– Steven BerlinUskape

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Categories: SMB

Online Cloud vs Local Computer File Storage. Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive – Which One Is Best For Your Business?

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 19:00

Over the past few weeks I’ve taken a look at Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. All three of these online file storage products let you store and synchronize your files across multiple devices and let you access them from anywhere you can get an Internet connection.

As I’m writing this, I”d be remiss to not mention Citrix SahreFile and Box solutions as well. For our review we’ll just focus on Dropbox, Drive and OneDrive.

I find all are relatively easy to use and can definitely help you be more productive and save time. While saving files to your computer might be the “norm” for some businesses, those of us who want to work in a mobile world only save files in “the cloud”.

The biggest difference is that OneDrive is fully integrated with Microsoft Office 365 – instead of attaching a file you can seamlessly add a LINK to a file in OneDrive, same holds true for Google Drive and Gmail Users.

The SmallBizTechnology.com team has put an analysis together of these three file sharing services:

With a number of cloud storage options available, the big question is: which service is the best for small business owners? While there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer, an analysis of the similarities and differences will help you pinpoint your perfect cloud storage solution. To help you out, we’ve looked at arguably the best cloud storage options – Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive – to compare features that are of interest to small businesses.

Users

As the numbers show, Dropbox has a significant lead in terms of number of users worldwide, with 50 million or more additional users than the other platforms. However, with each cloud storage option boasting well over 200 million users, all appear to be popular and widespread options.

Free Storage

  • Dropbox – Dropbox is a free download for your computer and mobile devices. It begins with 2GB of free storage, and then you have the ability to earn up to 16GB extra by performing extra activities such as referring friends https://www.dropbox.com/plans
  • Google Drive – Google Drive is available for free to anyone who has a Gmail account. You get 15GB of free storage, which is shared across Google Drive, Gmail and Google+ Photos
  • OneDrive – OneDrive is linked to the Windows operating system and Windows Phone. If you have a Microsoft email account (for example, outlook.com or Hotmail.com) then you also have a One Drive. It begins with 15GB of free storage, with the option to earn up to 5GB by referring friends and 3GB when you back up your camera roll https://onedrive.live.com/about/en-us/plans/

Examining free storage, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive are attractive cloud storage options because they start out with a larger storage space (15GB) without having to jump through any extra hoops or perform any extra actions. However, if you’re using Google Drive, keep in mind that that space is also shared with your Gmail files. If you are willing to go the extra mile, you can get extra space from Dropbox and OneDrive. While Google Drive maxes out at 15GB, Dropbox users can potentially earn up to 18GB total, and OneDrive users can earn up to 23GB total.

Paid Storage

From these prices we see that if you need a smaller amount of extra space, Google Drive or OneDrive are good options, allowing for a small monthly fee of $1.99 for an extra 100GB, with OneDrive also offering a 200GB plan. Dropbox only has paid plans for 1TB of storage. When we compare the cloud storage prices across the 1TB plan, OneDrive offers the lowest prices ($6.99/month or $83.88/year), and while Google Drive and Dropbox are tied at $9.99, you can get a discount at Dropbox by purchasing a monthly plan. Dropbox also offers the unique feature of a business plan.

Full Text Search

It probably comes as little surprise that Google has the best search options available from the three cloud storage platforms we’re exploring. Dropbox’s offering of full text search for business plans was quite recent, and perhaps indicates that all cloud storage solutions are moving in that direction. Whether full text search remains as a feature for paid plans only, or moves on to include free plans, remains to be seen.

Synchronization

  • Dropbox – If you’re using the desktop app, Dropbox will constantly be checking for file changes and automatically syncing when changes are detected. The mobile app syncs on demand only, in order to conserve bandwidth and space https://www.dropbox.com/en/help/82
  • Google Drive – The Google Drive app will automatically sync to the “My Drive” section of Google Drive on the web. There are also options to turn off sync, to sync individual files and to sync items that are not currently in your My Drive folder https://support.google.com/drive/answer/2375083?hl=en
  • OneDrive – The OneDrive will automatically sync across devices and computers. There are also ways to redirect folders to your OneDrive folder and select files that you do not want to sync. When you have the OneDrive desktop app you can also access all files on your PC remotely. http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/onedrive/windows-app-faq#1TC=other

All three cloud storage options allow for automatic syncing, so your folder is up to date across all devices. Microsoft’s ‘Fetch’ feature, which allows you to access your PC, is a helpful addition because it gives you access to files you may have forgot to place in your OneDrive folder. http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/onedrive/fetch-files-pc-ui

File Sharing

  • Dropbox allows you to share files with others in order to collaborate on projects; however only Dropbox Pro and Dropbox for Business paid plans allow you to decide if someone can edit or just view the file. Dropbox also allows you to share files with people who do not have Dropbox by getting a link to the file or folder. https://www.dropbox.com/en/help/19 https://www.dropbox.com/en/help/20
  • Google Drive – When you share files using Google Drive you can choose the type of access granted, including ‘can edit,’ ‘can comment,’ and ‘can view.’ You can also share files with non-Google Drive users by sending a link or an email attachment https://support.google.com/drive/answer/2494822?hl=en
  • OneDrive also allows you to share files with other OneDrive users or links with non-users. The ‘Invite People’ option gives you the opportunity to change permission level (view or edit), and for added security there is an option that requires the recipient to sign in to their Microsoft account every time they access the file, to prevent unauthorized people from accessing the document. http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/onedrive/share-file-folder

The option to designate permission levels, such as ‘view’ and ‘edit’ give Google Drive and OneDrive a lead over Dropbox, which only gives this option to paid Pro or Business users. It should also be noted that all three cloud storage platforms allow you to revoke file sharing permission if desired.

Summary by Cloud Storage Service

  • Dropbox – Dropbox can be a good option for free users who (a) can work with the 2GB storage space or (b) don’t mind doing extra tasks and referrals to get additional space (up to 16GB extra). The free service falls short after that because features such as full text search and the ability to assign permissions when sharing files are only available for paid subscribers. If you’re looking to become a paid subscriber, Dropbox may be a great option for you. The yearly subscription is less expensive than Google Drive, and they have a unique subscription plan for businesses that is not found on the other platforms.
  • Google Drive – Google Drive comes with quite a bit of free space – 15GB – but this is perhaps deceivingly large, since that storage space also includes your Gmail and Google+ Photo space. With no options to increase your free space, you may end up needing a monthly subscription, and 1TB of data costs more than the other two cloud storage options featured here. That said, Google Drive has the best file searching capabilities and great file sharing settings including ‘view,’ ‘edit,’ and even a unique ‘comment’ option.
  • Microsoft OneDrive – OneDrive is a good option for both free and paid users. Although available by download, it comes automatically with Windows 8 versions, making it ready and accessible for many PC owners. The amount of free space, with or without additional referrals, is the most generous of all three cloud storage options we looked at, and the paid plans are also priced the lowest. One drawback is the lack of a full text search option, but it also comes with added benefits, such as the ability to ‘fetch’ other documents from your desktop remotely.

 

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Categories: SMB

IBM Shows The Power of Turning Data Into Actionable Information and Collaborative Email for Growing Businesses

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 16:00

IBM’s an amazing company, doing some pretty good things for growing businesses. Recently it launched business apps for iOS in conjunction with Apple. While Apple knows the power of consumers, entertainment and communication. IBM knows what businesses want and can help make Apple even more valuable for businesses.

During a recent press event IBM showcased the power of data analysis through Watson. It also showcased a new way to communicate, called IBM Verse.

IBM’s Watson technology is deceptively simple and powerful. You take a set of data, maybe in a spreadsheet or database. IBM Watson displays the data in a way that make sense – so you can glean USEFUL and ACTIONABLE information to help you make decisions about your business. There’s so much buzz about “big data” but until you see it in action – you really don’t know what it is or how important it is for growing businesses.

While so many of us live in our inboxes – inboxes are often times overwhelmingly inefficient.  We miss important messages, receive too many unimportant messages and end up using email for a task management tool – sigh.

IBM’s Verse aims to help with that – from the demo and interface I saw – it looks quite promising.

IBM Verse takes a vastly different approach to enterprise email by integrating the many ways employees connect each day – via email, meetings, calendars, file sharing, instant messaging, social updates, video chats and more – through a single collaboration environment.  It is the first messaging system to feature ‘faceted search,’ which enables users to pinpoint and retrieve specific information they’re seeking across all the various types of content within their email. 

IBM Verse uses built-in analytics to provide an ‘at-a-glance’ view that intelligently surfaces an individual’s most critical actions for the day.  By learning unique employee preferences and priorities over time, it provides instant context about a given project as well as the people and teams collaborating on it.  This is in contrast to most freely available mail services that mine a user’s inbox to increase advertising and monetize that data in other ways – an unwelcome proposition for business users concerned about privacy or which operate in regulated industries such as healthcare and finance.

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Categories: SMB

4 Ways Technology Can Simplify Your Office Holiday Party Planning

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 22:00

Love it or hate it, ‘tis the season for office holiday parties! As if you didn’t have enough on your to-do list to handle, you’re office is now tasked with putting together a party plan, choosing a location, time, food, getting everybody on board, and many other necessary duties associated with holiday party planning.

Holiday party planning is a huge project even for small businesses, and if you’re not careful it can draw everybody off task from their regular daily duties. To keep worker productivity up and to handle things more efficiently, it’s useful to consider technology options that can help your party planning venture.

In a recent Nextiva article, our own Ramon Ray shared suggestions of various apps and technology offerings that can make your holiday party planning a success. Before you do things the old fashioned way (i.e. slow and inefficient), take a look at the article to discover some technology that can make holiday party planning simple this year.

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Categories: SMB

Can European Email Marketing Service, Mailify, Beat MailChimp and Constant Contact?

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 20:00

Constant Contact is by far the biggest and most well known email marketing company. Mailchimp leads in “cool” and neat features, while Deluxe’s Vertical Response is a serious contender in this market as well. There so many more email service providers such as Emma, Feedblitz (Favored by Seth Godin) and others.

In the past few months and more are coming there’s many new email marketing service providers giving the leaders in email marketing new competition.

From Europe hails the newest entrant, Mailify. Mailify has a fresh new interface and features that a modern email marketing service should have, and a few advanced features that would make even MailChimp blush.

While it’s big focus is on ensuring your emails look great on mobile devices, there is more. But one heart stopping detraction for me is that you have to install it on your computer – from what I can tell it’s not cloud based. Ouch.

Mailify and new email marketing services, such as Robly, don’t have to “beat” Constant Contact and Mailchimp, they simply have to be good enough to do two things a) attract the dissatisfied users of these services and b) attract users who are now to email marketing.

From Mailify’s press release:

  • Geolocation: Pinpoint your reader’s location throughout the world and track opens, clicks and even the reach of your newsletter on social media, including Google Analytics integration
  • Streamlined Interface: From the first time you open the responsive email marketing software, you’ll know what to do and how to get there
  • A/B Split Testing: Find out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to your subject lines, content, and more
  • Template Creation: Short on time? Drag & drop EmailBuilder guides users through a simple drag and drop responsive email template design process – no HTML knowledge needed
  • Freemium: Download and test drive the responsive email marketing software for free before making a decision – with a whopping 5,000 complimentary email credits to start

Mailify also includes other smart design features within its comprehensive email marketing software such as multi-language capabilities; email domain address autocorrect to catch data entry typos – avoiding bounce backs to save money on extraneous send-credits, improve email campaign deliverability rates, and reduce spam risk; traceable results that track opens, clicks and even the social reach of your responsive email newsletter, and more. The email marketing software’s user-friendly interface offers the convenience of Cloud technology to easily stock images and quickly collaborate and share files with others, while the availability of live interactive human support ensures users can hit the ground running – and never look back.

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Categories: SMB

New Service, “Leads”,Help Small Business Reward Raving Customers and Fans

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 16:00

Just about every business thinks they need to use social media in some way. Just about every business knows how to pick up their phone and “send a Tweet”. However, there’s very few businesses who can point to a direct correlation between their social marketing and sales or any other brand life.

A new service, “Leads” from Moment.me  lets you make an offer, identify your most raving customers who are promoting that offer and then reward them.

According to Moment.me’s press release:

Restaurant owners, for example, can pick out regular customers who have shared a photo of a dish and offer them free drinks if they bring friends. Indie music artists can approach the audience who shared videos from their concert. Boutique hotels can offer happy hour specials for relevant tweets posted from their lobbies, and retail boutiques can offer discounts to shoppers posting about their new outfit purchase. This kind of interaction builds a direct relationship between the business owner and their individual customer, thereby improving on the conversion rates of less targeted outreach efforts like online advertising, email marketing, or Facebook campaigns.

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Categories: SMB

8 Tips to Boost Online Sales this Holiday Season

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 20:30

With the holiday season on us, online retailers are working feverishly, planning their promotion,  distribution, and service strategies to cash in on the year end sales. The National Retail Federation estimates that holiday sales accounts for 19.2 percent of the retail industry’s annual sales of $3.2 trillion.

While the year on year growth in e-commerce sales between November and December will be lower this year (13 percent in 2014 compared to 15 percent in 2013), research firm Forrester estimates that US online retail sales will reach $89 billion during the 2014 holiday season. The boost in e-commerce numbers will come from more than 3 million first time online shoppers. Small businesses that are not tapping into this vast e-commerce market are missing out.

Image Source – Forrester

With the build up to the holiday season starting earlier each year, now is the time to prepare your online sales strategy. Here are 8 tips to take this Christmas season head on -

  1. Website images and content. Add photos and images to spread the cheer on your website. It could be something small as flashing stars, lights, or a pop up reindeer that greets the visitor. Be careful not to add anything that slows down your website, or you risk losing customers stressed for time. Add Christmas keywords to your meta tags, website content, images, and product descriptions several weeks in advance to allow Google and other search engines to crawl and index the holiday content. This is a good time to invest in pay-per-click advertising to drive traffic to your website.
  2. Holiday promotions. Instead of competing with the big players on holiday discounts, design offers that add value to your customers. Here are some holiday promotion ideas:
    • Hand out gift cards for select purchases
    • Offer discount on every second purchase
    • Offer free gift wrapping
    • Design promotions that resonate with the local community. For example, for every online sale, donate money or products to local charity.
    • Include special ‘combo offers’ at the checkout stage, encouraging shoppers to buy an add-on product
    • Register with ‘Free Shipping Day’ to offer free shipping with no minimum purchase on Dec. 18, 2014 with delivery by Christmas Eve.
  3. High volume e-commerce days. Even as you plan your marketing calendar from November to January, pencil in special promotions for high-volume online shopping days such as Thanksgiving, Black Friday Weekend, Cyber Monday ( the first Monday after Thanksgiving Day), and the weekend prior to Christmas. Save this handy calendar from Shopify for important online shopping events for the whole year.
  4. Social media strategy. Your holiday social media strategy should be all about getting people to buy your products. Share photos of your most popular gift items. Create contests that encourage customer registration (if you rely on email marketing), product recommendation, and purchases. For instance, every time a customer recommends someone who also buys from you, extend a discount to both. Announce holiday themed giveaways and contests over the weekends. Create attention grabbing social media updates such as “last minute gift ideas” or “5 items less than $20″.
  5. Mobile friendly website. Ensure that your website works equally well on desktops and all types of mobile devices. Mobile fares significantly better than social media in driving sales, as mobile users frequently head to a retail website with intent. Invest in a mobile friendly app for your business as well as website analytics to assess the flow of traffic to your website.
  6. Online shopping experience. Apart from looking at your current website layout and structure, here are some suggestions to improve the online shopping experience:
    • Add relevant recommendations: When the customer browses for a particular item, recommend other similar products or guide him/her to a relevant holiday promotion.
    • Make it easier to search for products: Include an option to search items by customer’s preference. For example, view products by age group, pricing, gender, or by gift recipient (for example – gifts for brother, colleagues).
    • Streamline the shopping cart checkout process: According to Business Insider 74% of online shopping carts were abandoned by shoppers in 2013. The other significant fact is that more than half of these lost orders are recoverable. The right shopping cart can help you overcome these roadblocks. Volusion, for instance, sends emails to potential customers who have abandoned their shopping carts, and encourages them to return to the website to complete their purchase. Shopify includes an up-sell and cross-sell module that displays related products that customers can add to their shopping carts in a single click. Both these software also allow you to create discount coupons. Here is a review of the top 10 shopping cart software to help you choose the right one for your business.
  7. Product delivery. This is the time to ensure that you are bang on with your delivery commitments. Here are important aspects to consider :
    • How much stock should you hold to meet the additional demand, without ending up with a huge surplus?
    • What will be the order cut-off date for customers, for delivery before Christmas?
    • What is the policy on returns and refunds during the holiday rush?
    • Will you offer free shipping for purchases over a certain value?
    • Apart from delivering at the customer’s address, will you deliver directly to the gift recipient?The delivery challenges do not stop at Christmas. There will be plenty of shoppers looking for after season discount schemes.
  8. Support staff. Be prepared to meet the challenge of yearend sales by ensuring you have enough staff to coordinate higher delivery volumes and customer queries. Incidentally, retailers will hire between 725,000 and 800,000 seasonal workers this holiday season (source – National Retail Federation).

The holiday season is perhaps the most important time for selling online. However, start promoting for Christmas only when you are ready with all the crucial aspects of fulfilling the sales promise. Provide quality products, backed with quality service and your products will sell. Have a successful holiday season.

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Categories: SMB

Dropbox for Business: Offering Features Making It More Powerful

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 17:00

I’ve been a long time Dropbox user and like how simple it is to use and how it quickly synchronizes files across devices. Millions (I think) use Dropbox (for consumers) but it’s Dropbox for business that has advanced features that make it even more powerful.

There’s two new features Dropbox has released. One is full text search and the second is Dropbox for groups.

Here’s information about these two new features:

Groups is a team management tool for businesses of all sizes that speeds up on-boarding and makes collaboration even more efficient and easy. Beneficial for both team members and admins, groups ensure that that the right people have access to the right files, with peace of mind for the admins who can manage groups across the entire team to ensure the correct sharing, security, and folder settings are given to team members.

Full-text search makes finding files on Dropbox much easier and faster, so you don’t have to waste time opening folder after folder trying to find that one document you need (the one with the name you can never quite remember). 

Now, when you type in a keyword, Dropbox instantly returns all documents that contain that word or phrase anywhere in the file — even for docs that were uploaded just seconds ago. (And considering that more than one billion files are saved to Dropbox every day, we’re pretty excited about that turnaround time!)

Full-text search is available today for searches in English, on the web and on Dropbox’s iOS and Android mobile apps.

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Categories: SMB

Price Matching: Crucial Advice for Small Business Owners

Fri, 12/05/2014 - 19:00

Price matching has recently become one of the best tools in business competition. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but just in case, price matching refers to a business policy where if a customer can find a lower price at a competitor store, the business will match – and sometimes even beat – the competitor’s price. It’s all a game to lure customers to your own shop instead of the competition, since price is often times the number one factor in where a customer decides to shop.

Price matching has been around for a while, but it’s become a little more complicated lately, with the growth of online shopping. Since store catalogs, prices, and sales ads are at the tip of everyone’s fingers, consumers have started a practice called ‘webrooming’ – researching items online before they buy in the store. They also may engage in ‘showrooming’ – checking out a product in store before they buy it online. These tactics put the power in the hands of the consumer, who has the ability to gather price facts and make an informed decision.

Price matching is often a tool of large companies that, in an effort to guarantee the lowest prices for their customers, may match prices found in other sales ads or on websites, or even beat those prices by as much as 10%. But can price matching work for small business owners, and should they consider a price matching policy this holiday season?

That is the topic of discussion in Ramon Ray’s (Small Biz Technology and Smart Hustle magazine) recent article for the Endicia Savvy Shipper blog, titled “Price Matching: What It Is and How Your Business Can Keep Up This Holiday Season.” In that article Ramon tells us a little more about price matching and how small business owners should deal with price matching as they try to maximize holiday sales.

Before you adopt a price matching policy – or decide against one – I suggest you check out Ramon’s advice.

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Categories: SMB

Facebook Restricts “Salesy” Posts In 2015. 4 Things Small Businesses Can Do About Facebook Marketing Challenges

Fri, 12/05/2014 - 17:00

The Wall Street Journal reports that in 2015 Facebook will restrict the commercial posts Facebook allows on pages. Understandably, Facebook needs and wants to generate more and more revenue. While this move WILL affect all businesses, especially small businesses, there’s several things small business owners can do.

Invest in paid advertising – there’s nothing wrong with investing in paid advertising. Most of the “viral” campaigns you see and other awareness campaigns came about because companies spent MONEY on advertising. Don’t just spend money without measuring the results of the campaign and ensuring you are getting results.

Use direct marketing to reach your customers and prospects – ensure your web site, blog and email marketing are in to top shape. Ensure they LOOK good and that the CONTENT is good and indeed SERVES your audience. Invest in small business sales and marketing  software, like Infusionsoft, to power you business. Also remember, search engines are indexing the “world wide web” for free – sot he more great content you have online the more chances there are for you to be found.

Invest in SEO – SEO is an expertise and while there are many lousy SEO scam artists out there, there are many good ones. Like my friends at Ajax Union and others. An SEO specialist can help fine tune your content to ensure it’s at the top of search engine rankings.

Video is amazing – start doing video to build your branding in a much more personal way. You can do it on your own or hire a video marketing expert like my friends at Multi Vision Digital.

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Categories: SMB

Ramon’s Radio Interview On Tech Disruption, Race and the Law, and Smart Hustle

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 17:00

Ramon had a 3 part interview with America’s Small Business Advocate Jim Blasingame. We discussed how technology is disrupting so many businesses, the launch of Smart Hustle Magazine and Ramon’s thoughts on Ferguson and Race in America.

Listen to Ramon’s comments on Race in America and the Law

Hustle vs Smart Hustle – Which One Are You Doing

There’s Disruption, Like Never Before. Why and what can you do about it?

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Categories: SMB

3 Ways Technology Gives Your Small Business Limitless Boundaries (USA Today Supplement)

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 19:00

This article, by Ramon, was featured in a USA Today media supplement…

Think back 20 years ago. Before the internet, social media and mobile marketing was popular. Running a business was different; starting a business was much different. You had to rely on local marketing, phone calls and plane rides to expand your business. Today, thanks to the internet and the rise of social networks, a very small home-based business in Indiana can compete just as effectively as a 120 person business in downtown Los Angeles.

Read the full article here.

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Categories: SMB

Congrats to Jim Blasingame – 17 Years Educating Small Business Owners On The Radio

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 17:00
Jim Blasingame is one of the foremost authorities on small business growth and recently celebrating 17 years broadcasting “The Small Business Advocate Show”. Congrats Jim! Leading expert on small business and entrepreneurship and award-winning talk show host, Jim Blasingame, celebrates the 17th anniversary of the radio program,  The Small Business Advocate Show.

Since November 17, 1997, Blasingame has been the only syndicated host talking to America’s entrepreneurs on live radio every weekday. And because of his show’s global simulcast since January 1998, he’s considered an Internet streaming pioneer. Also this week Blasingame marks the 15th anniversary of his weekly ezine, “The Small Business Advocate

Ron Crider, President of Global American Broadcasting Satellite Network, which has produced Blasingame’s show since 2001, said, “Jim is a true professional and one of the most dedicated talk show hosts I’ve seen in my more than 30 years in radio. Congratulations to Jim and his team on another awesome milestone.”

Internationally recognized as “The Voice of Small Business,” Blasingame conducts more than 1,000 live interviews annually with his Brain Trust. From these live interviews, more than 2,700 podcasts are produced annually. Blasingame also has video channels on YouTube and Vimeo titled Three Minutes to Success.

“When we began, we wanted to provide entrepreneurs with the information, resources and inspiration they need to start, run and grow a small business,” says Blasingame. “Thanks to the support of our audience, Brain Trust members and corporate partners, we’ve accomplished that goal and continue to deliver multi-media resources for small businesses, including the new mobile site and our new video series.”

“Congratulations to Jim Blasingame on his 17th anniversary,” said Steve Forbes, President of Forbes Media. “I’ve been a member of Jim’s Brain Trust for years and he’s a great interviewer; but more than that, his peerless commitment to serving small businesses and promoting entrepreneurship comes through in everything he does.”

Blasingame is a prolific writer on small business and entrepreneurship. His weekly syndicated column appears in newspapers and business journals, plus online publications, including Forbes.com, FoxBusiness.com, Nasdaq.com, plus his ezine. His third book The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance was released in 2014. To date, Blasingame’s books have sold over 125,000 copies combined. He is also a high-energy keynote speaker, where he teaches big businesses how to speak small business as a second language and small businesses how to compete with the big guys.

“We’re very proud of Jim Blasingame’s 17 years as the world’s leading small business expert, and of our partnership with him for the past 10 years,” said Jay Mincks, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Insperity, Blasingame’s presenting sponsor. “As a thought-leader Jim has helped countless entrepreneurs start, run and grow their businesses; as a futurist he helps them see a little farther over the horizon, all of which closely aligns with Insperity’s mission.”

For his work and leadership on behalf of small business, Jim has received national awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, American Chamber of Commerce Executives, Association of Small Business Development Centers, FORTUNE Small Business magazine, and New York Enterprise ReportTALKERS Magazine identified Blasingame as one of the most important radio talk show hosts in America.

The Small Business Advocate® Show is the flagship brand of the media company, Small Business Network, Inc. (SBN), of which Blasingame is founder and president. SBN produces and distributes multi-media small business resources worldwide. Insperity is the presenting sponsor of all SBN media.

The SBN Web site is SmallBusinessAdvocate.com. The Small Business Advocate® and The Age of the Customer® are registered trademarks of Small Business Network, Inc.

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Categories: SMB

Is Your Content Marketing So Good You Stop The Scroll? @GaryVee Asks.

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 21:00

Gary Vaynerchuk, at a recent event with Dave Ramsey and Seth Godin, and said on #AskGaryVee (Gary’s Youtube show), Gary said your content should be good enough to stop the scroll.

When people are on their phones flicking through their social posts, emails and other content – what do they stop on?What do they keep scrolling past?

Your content must be created for the 2″ cell phone screen and also for the 21″ computer screen.

By “content” – I’m not just referring to Instagram posts, but I’m also referring to your blog, email newsletter, web site and everything else.

Ask yourself, is your content so compelling that YOUR TRIBE (thank you Seth Godin), your AUDIENCE, STOP and read it – or do they keep going past?

There is so much noise and information overload that your content must be GOOD ENOUGH, it must serve your audience and cause them to STOP SCROLLING and pay attention to your content.

I stopped to observe this in action one day and decided to make a video about it…

10 ways have compelling content that will #StopTheScroll
  1. Know what your tribe, your audience wants
  2. Don’t be self centered -it’s NOT about you – it’s about them
  3. Use imagery and visuals to attract attention
  4. Keep things simple
  5. Don’t feel you have to “create new content” share other good content
  6. Survey your audience and ask them what they like
  7. Review your analytics to know what’s trending for YOU
  8. Be creative – look for meaning in life and all around you
  9. Use your customer as a foundation for a story. Maybe your product is boring, but your CUSTOMERS are using it in amazing ways
  10. Don’t feel you have to ALWAYS publish content. Instead of Tweeting every second, what about just 2 or 3 times a day – if it’s relevant and useful.

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Categories: SMB

Survey Results: The Joy and Pain of Small Business Ownership

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 19:00

Owning, running and managing a small business is NOT easy. However, as GoDaddy shows in this survey below the JOYS are awesome.

GoDaddy’s press release on their survey was so self explanatory, I’ve just shared it with you here below. Scroll below to see the insightful infographic as well.

Starting a new business is no picnic, with sleepless nights and financial risk, but you can look forward to being happier and having a healthier lifestyle with more flexibility. The perks also include something every cube–farm resident has dreamed of: Working in your sweatpants or even pajamas and maybe even in bed, according to a survey of some of GoDaddy’s more than 12 million customers.

Heading into 2015, small business owners who participated in the study continue to demonstrate their economic resiliency as the vast majority are optimistic about their company’s prospects and are planning on strong future growth.

GoDaddy’s study, which was conducted by Zogby Analytics, included responses from 507 GoDaddy-powered small business owners. The surveyed entrepreneurs overwhelmingly reported owning their own business enables them to enjoy a happier, healthier and more empowered lifestyle than other workers.

Small business owners benefit from many less tangible aspects of entrepreneurship, including things like an unstructured workday that allows time for exercise, seeing family and friends, and yes, deciding what they wear and where they work.

“Nobody ever said starting a small business was easy. The only question was: is it worth it? And this research shows that our small business customers resoundingly say yes,” said GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving.  “Our customers are working how they want, when they want, where they want. That translates not only into successful entrepreneurs, but happier and healthier people.”

Zogby Analytics’ survey found that these entrepreneurs create a work lifestyle that ultimately translates into happiness and a more optimistic outlook on their future. So much so that 83 percent of respondents reported they are happier than they were at their old job, 88 percent are more optimistic about their company’s prospects, and nearly 46 percent would like to see their business double in size.

The survey painted a convincing portrait of the rewards and level of freedom achieved by those taking the leap:

  • Flexibility: More than 6 in 10 (62 percent) owners report that their day is unstructured and they are capable of working around other activities. Only 36 percent report that their day is structured just like a regular office job.
  • Health: By a 7-to-1 ratio, these small business owners said they are likely to eat healthier. 51 percent said they eat healthier, while only 7 percent said they eat unhealthier (with 40 percent reporting no difference).
  • 53 percent of GoDaddy-powered small business owners reported that they are able to combine exercise with their regular workday.
  • Upbeat: A huge majority – 83 percent – report being happier than they were prior to opening their GoDaddy-powered small business. And that includes 56 percent who said they are “very happy.” Less than 4 percent of respondents said they were less happy.

Beyond lifestyle changes, the survey gives a snapshot of 21st century entrepreneurism:

  • A majority (53 percent) generate $150,000 or less in annual revenues and the vast majority (72 percent) have 5 or less workers.
  • A majority (51 percent) say they work at home, but oftentimes in an office set aside for them, as opposed to at a kitchen table (12 percent), out of a car (6 percent) or propped up in bed (less than one percent).
  • The vast majority started a business the old-fashioned way: they emptied their bank accounts or loaded up on credit card to get off the ground. Two-thirds financed their business this way. Others resorted to bank loans (9 percent) or help from family and friends (7 percent).
  • 1 in 4 of these GoDaddy-powered small businesses were launched in the last 3 years. And given the high failure rate of small businesses (the SBA reports more than half will close within 5 years), these small businesses have a track record. According to the Zogby Analytics research, more than half (53 percent) have been open for business for more than 7 years.
  • American businesses are varied, and so are the businesses started by our customers. Professional services is by far the most popular (43 percent), followed by consulting (14 percent), retail (11 percent), manufacturing (5 percent) and a myriad of other ventures, such as real estate, music publishing and instruction, radio broadcasting, arts, packaging, travel services and selling organic vegetables (all of which were among the over 100 responses that small business owners reported).

These businesses are grappling with the challenges and opportunities that digital media pose, but still heavily rely on their websites for their success:

 

  • These business owners still overwhelmingly believe in the power of a domain name. Among these respondents, 83 percent said it’s important to have a personalized website, with a majority calling it “very important.”
  • They believe they need a hybrid of domain names and social media to be successful. Only 4 percent said that they only need social networks. 28 percent said their own website was sufficient, while 58 percent said it’s important to both control their own website and utilize social media to amplify their marketing.
  • An online presence makes a critical difference to these owners. By a 2-to-1 margin, they report that adding an online presence improved sales. 41 percent reported an improvement, with 20 percent saying it did not (and the rest saying they always had an online presence).

“This GoDaddy research provides a window into what makes a small business, especially a very small business, successful in the 21st Century,” said pollster John Zogby. “What is clear is that by embarking on an entrepreneurial career, these small businesses see the world differently. They have seized control over their business life and found a new work / life balance that couldn’t exist before.”

Zogby Analytics was commissioned by GoDaddy to survey their small business owners. It surveyed more than 500 small business owners during July and August, with a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

Click here to see the original blog post and infographic

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Categories: SMB

Founder of Ugg Must Read Book “The Birth of a Brand”. Ultimate Small Business Growth Guide.

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 17:00

Brian Smith is one of the most humble, smartest and un-assuming business executives you’ll ever meet. When he spoke at the 9th Annual Small Business Summit in New York City you could feel the electricity in the air as he connected with everyone in the audience.

Brian shared his real world experience of helping to build a billion dollar company, Ugg boots and selling it.

Hi book, The Birth of a Brand, takes Brian’s experiences and brings them to life for you to read at your leisure.

There’s no need for me to write more about the book, you can read all the details on Amazon.com . Once you buy the book, check out Brian’s web site to book Brian to speak at your next event.

What will you learn?

Real life experiences of how he harvested the amazing power available to everyone, and utilized it to emerge from fear and live a life of joy and abundance (most of the time, because he’s not done yet!).

How to overcome doubt and impatience in such a natural way that you can get back to enjoying the dream of self -sufficiency that began your own journey.

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Categories: SMB

Are You Measuring Social That You Can’t Track? Dark Social 101

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 16:00

Image Credit: Outsidethebeltway.com

Online marketers tend to overlook Dark Social. It’s a category of social sharing that escapes their attention because web analytics and social media measurement systems can’t track it. Marketers need to work outside these systems to generate Dark Social insights. If they do, they can improve a wide range of strategies in areas including social media, content marketing, audience planning and customer acquisition.

I’ve asked Luis Aguilar, Senior Manager, Business Development, RadiumOne to share his insight on this important topic.

Dark Social is a common part of online life. It happens when people copy and paste content or URLs into private messages, such as emails or IMs. Surprisingly to marketers, this everyday activity has been shown to make up over 72 percent of all social sharing.

A Dark Social share takes just three quick steps:

1)    Copy a web page’s content or URL

2)    Paste the content or URL into a private message

3)    Send it

On most websites, Dark Social accounts for the majority of social sharing. It’s a “wow” moment for marketers when they learn the exact percentage of Dark Social sharing on their own sites. The first person to investigate this type of social sharing to have such a moment was Alexis C. Madrigal, who coined the term “Dark Social” in 2012 when he learned that it was accounting for 57 percent of social sharing on The Atlantic’s website. Since then other brands and publishers have started tracking their Dark Social through specific code included in social sharing widget code HTML to uncover their own private sharing activity. For example, this year, San Francisco based chocolate manufacturer Ghirardelli found that Dark Social accounts for 84 percent of social sharing on its site, Business2Community saw it made up 72 percent of social, and 82 percent for Smithsonian Magazine. With the simple addition of a specific code to their website, any marketer can track their own Dark Social insights.

The second “wow” moment happens for marketers when they apply social sharing insights to their social media, content marketing, audience planning or customer acquisition efforts. The insights need to be inclusive of Dark Social and show what content is being shared, when it’s shared, what devices it’s shared from, and what keywords are being copied and sharing.

To focus social media efforts, marketers need to know how much of their content is shared across public and private channels. This should include sharing across public channels like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+ and a long tail of other social networks. Sharing reports should include sharing across private channels like email, IM, and copy-and-paste activity. Since, on average, public channels represent 28% of social sharing and private channels represent 72%, it’s possible that marketers who overlook Dark Social are focusing their social media efforts on the wrong thing. The best way to foster more sharing is to understand the full social engagement of their articles in order to continue to produce popular pieces of content and publish it to their owned media.

In content marketing, the best insights are those that reveal what people find worthy of sharing. Sharing metrics are the best indicator of content success, more so than Likes or Retweets, because the reader found the content worthwhile to spread it to others ensuring they consume it. Marketers need to know this so they can publish more of it. Content insights from a service like BuzzSumo can help marketers pinpoint their most shared content across five social networks. However, without Dark Social insights, this type of data is limited to what people find useful of sharing in public, which could be markedly different from what people find useful of sharing in private. Marketers should plan content that appeals to all their sharers, public and private.

Dark Social analytics can improve a marketer’s audience planning by helping them understand a new audience of users who receive and click on shares of their content. Dark Social sharing mostly happens between close networks of friends, families, and colleagues. When people choose to privately share a marketer’s content via Dark Social, they are matching it directly to the needs of people they know. With such targeted, specific sharing, the marketer’s content is already likely to resonate with sharing recipients – the next step is to find additional ways to reach these composed audiences. This changes the whole paradigm of audience planning. Instead of planning top down to reach men 18-24, for example, marketers can plan bottoms up, based on their own viral success, to reach similar audiences to those who found them through private, targeted recommendations.

Since Dark Social is such a powerful tool for audience planning, this also allows it to be a powerful tool for customer acquisition. Marketers should take their Dark Social-informed audience profiles and buy media on an impression-by-impression basis to reach people that are very similar to sharing recipients that click. This can be done with an integrated platform that collects the Dark Social data, turns the data into an addressable audience segment, and then can deliver real time advertising to the segment.

Dark Social is happening whether or not marketers use its data and insights. Overlooking Dark Social can skew the actions a marketer takes to favor the audiences they see on social media, without considering the audiences they don’t see. This can affect where they focus social media efforts, what content they publish, how they define their target audience and how they use paid media to acquire customers. It’s really up to marketers to answer, “what the heck is Dark Social?” for their own sites and then put their new insights to action.

Marketers now have the ability to pull themselves out of the dark social ages of sharing. Enlightened by this realm of hidden information, true content popularity will emerge where the benefits will be felt by social and editorial teams alike.

Let’s light up the dark!

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Categories: SMB