The Homegrown Hosting Blog (A Small Orange)

How to Install WordPress with A Small Orange

  WordPress is one of the most popular blogging platforms around why you ask? It is easy to install and it has a great user-friendly interface. But WordPress is not only a great platform for blogging, but also building a great website. With A Small Orange’s WordPress Optimized Hosting Plans, you can quickly get the WordPress site of your dreams up and running.   This article will walk you through the steps of how to install WordPress on your A Small Orange hosting plan.     In addition to the video here are the steps you will need to install WordPress. If you have already purchased your A Small Orange WordPress Optimized account, you will want to start in the “New Account Information” email you receive after you purchased your plan. In the email, scroll down to the bottom and click the log into billing button, this will take you to the login page. Enter your Login information, this will be the email and password That you created at signup. Next accept the terms and conditions and login. You will now be in the customer portal where you will be able to see your WordPress Optimized plan under the ‘Product & Services’ section Click the ‘active’ button next to your plan, this will bring you to your plan details page Next you will need to log into Cpanel, your web hosting control panel. To log into Cpanel, scroll to the bottom of the plan details page and click the ‘log into Cpanel’ button, you will now be automatically logged into Vpanel To install WordPress scroll down to the ‘Softaculous Apps Installer’ section and click the WordPress button You will now be on the WordPress install page , click the ‘install now’ button You can now select your domain, change site settings such as your site name & description, and change the default admin details such as username and password for security purposes Here you may also delete the default directory so that WordPress is installed directly on www.yourdomain.com. As you scroll down there is also an advanced option section, there you will see the option for automated back ups – we recommend backing up your site weekly so you always have a current version of your site Now you can select a theme for your site, this is optional so if you don’t select one a default theme will be installed. This can always be easily changed later, so no need to worry now. Next you can fill in the email you would like the installation details sent to and then click install Installation may take a few moments, please be patient. Once installation complete you will now have successfully installed WordPress on your site. To view your site click the site URL, to make changes to your website, click the administrative URL this will bring you to your WordPress control panel   You have now completed your how-to install WordPress tutorial, we hope you enjoy your new WordPress Optimized Site!   The post How to Install WordPress with A Small Orange appeared first on Blogging, Small Business, Web Design & Hosting Tips - A Small Orange.

How to Deliver Great Customer Service This Holiday Season

Customer service is crucial during the holidays, but retailers are typically at their busiest during the holiday season. Not only is it important to have your website up and running for the holiday season, it is also important to make sure your customer’s are feeling merry and bright. How can you make sure your small shop takes care of its seasonal customers? Start putting all the elements of great customer service in place now. Answer customers’ questions before they ask Good customer service begins long before a shopper picks up the phone or sends an email. By providing clear, easy-to-find information about your store policies and your products, you can reduce the need for shoppers to contact you for basic information. Here’s the store policy information that should be on each page of your site, or linked with a prominent button on each page. Cutoff dates for delivery by Christmas Shoppers don’t want to get halfway through checkout only to learn that the presents they’ve chosen won’t arrive in time. Starting on Black Friday, list the last purchase dates by which you can guarantee standard and rush delivery by Christmas.   Free shipping offer and terms Everyone likes a free shipping option. Many high-end retailers like ASOS and Tiffany list their free shipping offers and minimum spend on their landing pages and throughout the site. Your shop should, too. Where you ship If you only ship within the US (or within the Lower 48 states), let your shoppers know up front. If you ship internationally, list all the countries you serve. Be sure to include information about the time it can take for international orders to clear customs. Returns information Spell out your return policy in simple, concise terms. Let customers know whether they can return items for a refund, store credit, or an exchange. Be clear about any time limits on returns, and explain up front whether your store or the customer pays the cost of return shipping and insurance. Customer service contact information When customers do need to contact you, make it easy. Put your phone and email information on each page. Provide as much product information as you can One common reason for product returns is that the item doesn’t match the customer’s expectation. Consider adding higher-quality photos from more than one angle, easy to read size charts, garment fiber content and care instructions, and ingredient lists for food and cosmetic product, and other detailed information to help customers know exactly what they’re getting. Offer customer service worth contacting It’s a good idea to give your customers more than one way to reach you, especially if your customer service hours are limited to your own time zone. Your options include live chat, email, phone, and social media, but you don’t have to offer them all. Most customers prefer to talk to customer service by phone and list email as their second choice, so if your time and resources are limited, focus on those two options. Let customers know when they can expect a response. Make your customer service hours (and languages, if you offer more than one) clear on every page. If you’re lucky enough to have customer service help, make sure those employees are trained to solve customer problems quickly and give clear answers to common questions. If you’re doing it all yourself, remember to breathe deeply when you feel overwhelmed and focus on making the experience a positive one for the customer. When a customer requests a return, work with them to resolve the situation and prevent it from happening again. Handle refunds, exchanges, and credits promptly, and try to learn the reason for your customer’s dissatisfaction. Maybe your product descriptions need updating or you need to find a shipping partner that tracks deliveries. Treat each case as an opportunity to learn—and to avoid customer chargebacks and negative online reviews. It’s a good idea to follow up each customer-service contact with a short survey. The responses you get can pinpoint what’s working and what you can improve for next holiday season. Wrap your products right One easy way your shop can set itself apart from competitors is with amazing presentations. Etsy hammers this home in its trainings for sellers, and reviewers often product packaging as a pro or con. Standout packaging takes some time but usually doesn’t cost a lot. You can make or custom-order hang tags, stickers, stamps, and labels to brand your goods. Pinterest is a great place to find tutorials and inspiration for everyday product packaging and holiday gift-wrap options. Decide now what wrapping options you’ll offer to holiday shoppers, how much you’ll charge for gift-wrapping, and when you’ll start and end the holiday gift-wrap offer. Provide clear pictures of each gift-wrap option so customers know exactly what they’re getting. Step up your shipping options Many retailers—even huge ones—do a beautiful job with customer service and still end up with unhappy customers. Why? Shipping has become a potential problem, especially during the holidays when carriers are at their busiest. Bad winter weather created a perfect storm of delayed Christmas gifts in 2013, and last year some FedEx workers volunteered to deliver delayed packages on Christmas Day to make up for weather delays. You can’t do anything about the weather, but there are steps you can take to help customer orders arrive on time. Set holiday-purchase cutoff dates that factor in potential weather delays. Give your orders a 1- or 2-day cushion beyond your carrier’s cutoff date. Follow basic shipping best practices. Print your shipping labels to follow standard address formats and make the ZIP code large and easy to read or scan. Make sure labels fully adhere to your package, and don’t use recycled boxes that have old shipping barcodes or address information on them. Track every shipment. This costs a bit but it will verify that you shipped when you said you would. Have a plan to help your customers in case there are delivery problems outside your control. If there are weather delays, give your customers the option to send an e-card letting them know that their gift is on the way. After the holiday season, and a little time to recover from the rush, review your customer service performance and plan to make it even better in 2017.   Need the perfect host to get your website up and running in time for the holidays? Visit A Small Orange for all your holiday hosting needs! The post How to Deliver Great Customer Service This Holiday Season appeared first on Blogging, Small Business, Web Design & Hosting Tips - A Small Orange.

What Small Ecommerce Businesses Need to Know About Holiday Fraud

The holiday season is the “most wonderful time of the year” for retailers, thanks to the multibillion-dollar shopping frenzy that begins on Black Friday. Unfortunately, for retailers the holiday gift-buying season is also the peak season for e-commerce fraud. That’s because criminals know they can often push more fake orders through during sales peaks when retailers’ fraud-screening resources are overwhelmed and the pressure is on to approve orders fast and avoid losing business to competitors. To make matters worse, there’s been an explosion in online retail fraud since last year’s EMV liability shift, which made it harder for criminals to use counterfeit magnetic stripe cards at point-of-sale terminals in brick-and-mortar stores. Between last October and the end of Q1 2016, RetailDive reported a 137% jump in ecommerce fraud attempts. Ideally, every retailer would work with a fraud-prevention service that has the most up-to-date data on known criminals and uses biometrics and geo-location to evaluate orders. If that’s not yet in your budget, or if you don’t think you have time to select the right partner before the holiday rush, here’s a list of the fraud prevention steps you can take now to make your shop less appealing to holiday-season fraudsters. Review your existing fraud protection. Who provides it, and what’s included? Payment service providers usually offer some screening as part of their card-processing role. Make sure you understand what your PSP handles, what you’re responsible for, and how your PSP can help you if you have questions. Make sure you are using secure and reliable web host and consider adding on a site lock option to your hosting plan. Don’t assume your business is too small to be a target. Fraudsters know that smaller retailers often have less effective fraud screening protection than major retailers. In fact, they often seek out and share information on vulnerable shops online. Do you have velocity and transaction limits in place with your PSP to flag suspicious transactions for further review? If not, now’s the time to set those up. These limits alert you to screen high-dollar-value orders and multiple orders from the same customer placed in an unusually short time, which are potential fraud red flags (more on those below). Ask your PSP if you’re not sure how to set up those limits. Make sure your fraud protection is scalable. This can be a challenge for small businesses who do it all themselves, but it’s important, because most fraud attempts now are done in rapid-fire style through criminal botnets. Especially during holiday sales peaks, you need to balance the need to keep good customers happy by approving orders quickly with the need to screen your orders for fraud. If you don’t have the resources to accurately screen transactions during heavy sales periods, now’s the time to talk to your PSP about your options this holiday season. Know the most obvious red flags for fraud screening. They include Big-ticket orders from a customer who’s never shopped with you before, especially if they request rush shipping Many orders made by the same customer in a short amount of time using different cards Multiple orders from different customers all shipping to the same address An order or orders made by a new customer for the same item in various colors/sizes/models Customer billing that doesn’t perfectly match the card companies’ Address Verification System (more on the AVS below) Set product-return time limits to reduce the likelihood that scammers will buy, use, and then return your goods for a refund. If you’ve had a problem with chargebacks or returns of used goods in the past, you can block future orders from those customers. Require CVV (Card Verification Value) numbers for all card transactions. The CVV is a 3- or 4-digit number on the back of the card, included to prove that the customer actually has the card in their possession. Limit the number of times the customer can attempt to enter the correct CVV or expiration date before you shut down the order. This can reduce or prevent “card testing” — guessing by fraudsters who have the card number but not the other information. Require that all orders include a telephone number in case you need to contact customers to verify their information. Compare all billing addresses to the Address Verification System used by the card companies. If there’s a mistake, don’t approve the order until you find out whether you’re dealing with a fraudster or a legitimate customer who made a data-entry mistake. Require that your customer sign for delivery, especially if the item they buy is expensive. A delivery signature and timestamp from your shipper can help invalidate false chargeback claims later on. If your current shipping partner doesn’t provide delivery signature service, find one that does. Some shippers will also let you cancel delivery if you learn after fulfillment that the order was fraudulent, which can spare you the expense of lost merchandise. Contact your PSP and/or the customer whenever there’s a question about the validity of the order. Don’t approve the order until you have evidence that it’s valid. Schedule a post-holiday fraud review now so you can see how your fraud protection plan performed. Then you can decide how to strengthen it even more for the 2017 holiday season. This all may seem like a lot to do, but taking these steps now can protect your business from lost merchandise, lost revenue, and expensive chargeback fees, so the most wonderful time of the year is more profitable for your business.   Need the perfect host to get your website up and running in time for the holidays? Visit A Small Orange for all your holiday hosting needs! The post What Small Ecommerce Businesses Need to Know About Holiday Fraud appeared first on Blogging, Small Business, Web Design & Hosting Tips - A Small Orange.

It’s Time to Get Your Site Ready for Holiday Shoppers

Most Americans have a few weeks’ worth of pumpkin-spice flavored snacking and Halloween costume planning before the holiday shopping season begins, but for online shop owners the holiday season is already here. That’s because when shoppers fire up their phones and laptops on Black Friday, your shop must be ready to go, or shoppers will go somewhere else. If you’re serious about getting your slice of this year’s projected $98 billion ecommerce holiday sales pie, here are two site elements to work on now. Maximize your mobile optimization Mobile retail sales during the 2015 holiday season surprised forecasters by almost doubling from 2014, for a total of $12.7 billion. All told, mobile purchases made up 28% of all ecommerce purchases last holiday season, and experts expect mobile to gain popularity year over year. The Adobe Digital Index, which tallied up the post-season numbers, found that consumers prefer to shop on their phones rather than on tablets, something to keep in mind as you evaluate and update your site design. Even if you already have a mobile-responsive online shop, look over it again. What was good enough three years ago may be due for an overhaul now. Clean up the screen Before mobile customers can buy from your shop, they have to be able to see it clearly. View your shop’s homepage on an Android and an iOS phone and look for these customer-friendly design elements: An uncluttered homepage. Some responsive designs preserve desktop navigation tabs and sidebars on smartphone displays, but these elements crowd an already small screen. Large, easy to read text. Even people with perfect vision can struggle to read smartphone screens if they’re using them outdoors, and most of us don’t have perfect vision anyway. Margins around copy and images. Have you ever visited a mobile site with copy and images running from one edge of the screen to the other? It’s distracting and makes readers wonder if they’re missing something or if there’s something wrong with your site. Margins fix this problem. Try check out these web design inspirations to help give you an idea on how to optimize your site’s design. Speed up your page loads The longer it takes your shop pages to load, the fewer customers will stick around. The industry standard is that web pages should load in two seconds or less on a desktop (although if a competitor’s pages load faster, you should aim to match or beat their load times). Grab your Android and iOS devices and time your mobile page loads, too. KISSmetrics says about 30% of mobile site visitors will wait as long as 10 seconds for a page to load, but also says conversions drop by as much as 7% for each extra second a page takes to load. Unless you’re already at the two-seconds-and-under mark, speed up your load times before the holiday rush. If videos, music, or other elements are slowing down load times, get rid of them or exchange them for lighter, faster-loading alternatives. Make sure that you use a web host with ultra fast SSD servers to make sure your site runs as quickly and smoothly as possible. Help visitors find things fast Once your pages load, customers want to find what they’re looking for fast, whether they’re browsing, comparison shopping, or ready to buy. Make it easy for them by putting your search tool front and center, by sorting your products into logical categories, and by returning search results (no surprise here) fast. Now’s the time to make your search bar more prominent on your desktop and mobile pages and simplify or improve your product categories and navigation. Work on your (cart) abandonment issues After you put in all that work making your site better, you’re in better shape for the holidays but you’re not done yet. Just because shoppers can easily load and use your site doesn’t mean they’ll buy. The rate of online shopping cart abandonment is about 75% worldwide. Why do so many customers bail out before buying? A 2014 study found that most of them leave because of something the retailer can fix. In some cases, they’re just doing price research or want to save the item for later. Most back out because they run into unpleasant shipping surprises like long delivery times, high costs, and the absence of a free shipping option. Others don’t want the hassle of creating a customer account. A few hardy shoppers make it all the way to the payments page only to find their preferred payment method isn’t accepted. What can you do to convert more carts? There are lot’s of cart abandonment solutions, you just need to find the one that works for your business. Be clear about shipping costs Put your shipping information on every page of your site. Premium retailers including Nordstrom and Coach do this. You can, too. Offer delivery choices With most retailers, there’s free shipping and then there’s fast shipping. By offering multiple delivery speeds, you give customers more options – especially important during the rush to round up last-minute holiday gifts. Don’t insist that shoppers create an account Some retailers offer the option to check out without creating an account. Others, like Pottery Barn, offer the option to sign in through Google, Twitter, or Facebook instead of creating a separate customer account. Accept your audience’s preferred payment methods If you already accept card payments, you’ve got most US shoppers covered. If you don’t also offer a digital wallet option like PayPal, consider adding one for mobile shoppers who don’t want to key in their credit card number on the bus or get out of bed to find their wallets to complete a late-night purchase. Show shoppers their total cost before checkout Because so many shoppers leave due to shipping-cost issues, it’s a good idea to total everything up as early in the process as possible, including taxes, shipping, and promo discounts, so your customers know exactly what to expect before they enter their payment information. This may seem like a long to-do list, but the potential increase in holiday season sales is worth the effort. Use the time between now and Black Friday to update, refine, and test your site to make sure it will deliver what customers want during the holiday shopping season—an easy, convenient buying experience.   Need the perfect host to get your website up and running in time for the holidays? Visit A Small Orange for all your holiday hosting needs! The post It’s Time to Get Your Site Ready for Holiday Shoppers appeared first on Blogging, Small Business, Web Design & Hosting Tips - A Small Orange.

These 6 Trends Are Changing Website Design Forever

  Remember what the first websites used to look like? Some played music, others caused your mouse pointer to turn into a hamster, and some looked technical enough to take a rocket to the moon. Fast-forward to today. Websites not only look sleek and sexy, but they’re also easy to use. They can also solve our every need. Need to shop? Go to Amazon. Need an answer? Go to Google. Need info on a new hire? Visit their personal website. Websites have gotten a lot better. Each year, they continue to improve. Research, as well as experience, have helped us understand what persuades people online. The knowledge on what makes a great site has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2016, web developers are building responsive sites, using UI patterns that get results, and following other trends to create beautiful sites that perform well. These new sites don’t look like the sites we had in 2006. That’s why we’re uncovering 6 trends that are changing website design forever. Before you freak out about following these trends, remember that nearly half of small businesses in the U.S. don’t have websites, according to a report by Clutch. These trends are meant to make you think about your site– whether you’re thinking of a redesign, in the midst of one, or just want some ideas on how to improve.   1. Need for responsive sites It used to be that we all used the internet from a desktop computer– many of us remember the colorful iMacs. Today, web visitors increasingly use their mobile devices to search, browse, read, and buy. According to comScore, more than 75 percent of all American adults who use the Internet view content from both desktop and mobile devices. In 2015, smartphone usage increased by 394 percent, and tablet usage increased by 1,721 percent. To cope with this change, web developers have begun using responsive design to build websites, operating from the perspective that users might use their website on mobile first. Responsive web design responds directly to the user, based on the device they’re using. What they see changes depending on what device they’re using. For example, on a smartphone, they might see a single view which they can scroll through. On their desktop, they might see multiple columns.   2. The same UI patterns on every site Websites are everywhere– they practically populate our dreams. You’d think that with so many, we’d see a lot of differences between sites. Surprisingly, that’s not the case. You’ll find that the same UI patterns are emerging everywhere. Ecommerce sites, for example, often employ many of the same strategies to encourage visitors to make a purchase. Not only do they often show list prices coupled with sale prices, but they also ask visitors to create an account. In this way, they can keep interested parties engaged with the brand. Check out how similar these two product pages are, even though they’re from two brands (West Elm and Harry’s) selling very different products: At first, it seems like a tragedy, but the reason the same UI patterns emerge again and again is because they work. They’re easy for users to read, and they perform well for business purposes. It’s not a coincidence that West Elm and Harry’s use the same color for their “Add to Cart” buttons. Here are some of the UI patterns currently trending on the web: Hero images (large, vibrant images that take up a lot of space) Card layouts (cards in a grid-like array, much like Pinterest) Long scroll (long, scrolling pages full of information) Hamburger menus (menus that expand to show more options) Breadcrumbs (showing the path from the front page of the website)   3. Attention to the tiny details, or microinteractions Most interactions on the web are so small that we don’t even think about them. These small engagements, based on a single task, are known as microinteractions. For example, when you check a social media post, turn off an alarm on your phone, or skip a song in your music player, you’re having a microinteraction. According to Dan Staffer, director of interaction design at Smart Design and author of a book on the subject, there’s a four-part structure for successful interactions: Trigger: Initiates an action Rules: What happens in the interaction Feedback: How you know what’s happening Loops and Modes: What happens next The funny thing is that when a brand puts effort into improving microinteractions, we notice. Overall, the experience on the web is much better. Web developers are finding ways to make these microinteractions not only seamless, but also delightful. If you’re looking for insights on how you can improve your user experience using microinteractions, check out these ideas from Web Designer Depot.   4. All kinds of animation When people first started creating websites, they often used corny animations (think Clippy from Microsoft Word) for helpful tutorials. Sometimes, these animations were used solely for showing a fun-filled spirit. Animations are making a come back– and they’ve come a long way from a talking paper clip. For example, Slack uses a fun loading animation to keep users occupied, as well as give them feedback when they’re waiting for the site to load:   Other sites use animated background videos to add some motion and interest to an otherwise static site. Spotify animates objects while scrolling, which makes the experience fun, delightful, and engaging. Web developers are using these types of animations in today’s hottest web designs: Loading animations Hover animations Animations as a user scrolls Motion animation Background video animation   5. Flat design Flat design has been in for a while, but it isn’t going anywhere. If you’re designing a new site, you should get with the times and make sure to use flat design. Flat design helps ensure that your site looks modern and crisp. Flat design prioritizes a classic, digital aesthetic, as web designers understand that a simple approach will make things easy on the user. It uses bold colors, without a lot of shading, and uses digital representations– such as icons– rather than photorealistic illustrations. Flat design is minimalist. For example, Stitch Fix uses simple, illustrated icons to help describe its benefits, rather than realistic images. The site uses a gray color, without any shading.   6. Use of modules and components It used to be that when you created a website, you built pages. These pages had all the information a user would need. Pages still work, but web developers are beginning to look at web design more holistically– not just focusing on the page. Today’s web developers increasingly use modules and components. A modular web system uses interchangeable parts that can be called in across multiple pages. Modulation works when you standardize certain components. You can think of components as building blocks, which can be brought in when you need them. For example, with modular design, you could populate some of the same information across multiple pages. Brad Frost, a leading UX designer, posits that interfaces can be thought of much like chemistry. All matter is composed of atoms, which then form molecules, which then form everything else. Design can be thought of in the same way. Frost believes that a web experience can be broken down into smaller building blocks (atoms, molecules, organisms, templates, and pages) to create a better overall experience for the user.   How web design trends should impact you Some web design trends are just that– they’re trends. In a few years, some other design ideas might come in and upend what web designers believe today. However, the 5 trends we’ve outlined here are likely to stick around for a long time. As someone who runs a business website, you should be aware of what the trends are, as well as why people are using them. If you want your site to perform well, you want to be on top of it. Some trends, such as animation, are “nice to have.” They can help keep visitors engaged, and contribute to the look and feel of a modern site. Other trends, however, deserve your utmost attention. With so many people accessing the web via mobile devices, you need to ensure that your site is responsive. You can think of your website as a signal. What message will it give to users when they visit? Is it modern-looking, using flat design? Does it perform well on mobile? All of these factors will contribute to how people see your brand. The post These 6 Trends Are Changing Website Design Forever appeared first on Blogging, Small Business, Web Design & Hosting Tips - A Small Orange.

The Complete Guide to Free Online Training Courses for Entrepreneurs

In an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) discussion on Reddit, serial entrepreneur (and founder of Tesla and SpaceX) Elon Musk said, “It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree – make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e., the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.” Musk also said that he feels most people are capable of learning more than they think they can – they just sell themselves short on trying. Whether you’re working to launch a new business or to grow an existing one, it can be easy to only focus on what you know and stick with it. Musk makes a valid point, though – you’re capable of learning a lot more. Even if you intend to delegate and outsource responsibilities within your business, it’s still beneficial to improve your skill set through education. Rather than head back to a traditional university, you can enroll in a number of free courses, or take advantage of free resources, to gain knowledge in various areas of business. Here are some of the best free courses available online, providing a broad education on effective leadership, marketing a new business, search optimization, growth strategy and planning, and getting a new business off the ground.   Management and Leadership Courses Effective leadership takes more than a title and a nice suit)   Leadership, or lack thereof, can have a significant impact on the growth of a business. As a business owner, improving the way you manage an organization and how you lead your team should be a priority. Many of the skills and insights imparted by these courses aren’t typically things you come by naturally – they’re developed through experience and education.   1. Master Class Management Masterclassmanagement.com offers free access to a variety of courses on topics such as how to organize and manage departmental goals, hiring and retaining top talent, mediating and handling conflict, the art of communication, and much more. The courses are not scheduled, so you can work them into your agenda at your own pace. Testing is provided for each course segment. Get free access here   2. Latitude U – Supervising Difficult Behaviors You may not have challenging employees now, but as your business grows it can be helpful to understand how to work with different personality types. This free course can help you learn how to identify difficult behavior, as well as common triggers that can cause such behaviors to manifest in even exemplary employees. You’ll also learn effective and common strategies to manage difficult employees in the workplace. Get free access here   3. Latitude U – Level 5 Leadership This course is based on material provided in the Ann Arbor SPARK Entrepreneur boot camp program. It was originally designed to help business leaders and entrepreneurs improve their management style. The focus is on building personal humility and professionalism that elevate employee relations and drive employees to share the vision of leadership in order to maximize growth. Get free access here   4. University of Michigan – Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills Every business owner should learn to master the art of negotiation. It comes into play when dealing with suppliers, vendors, contracts for employees or property owners, distribution channels, and more. The course is offered through Coursera and was created by the University of Michigan. Led by George Siedel, Professor of Business Administration and Business Law, the course includes over eight hours of video lectures that provide a wealth of material on how to improve your negotiation skills. This is also a course that can and should be shared with department heads and sales staff who deal with outside parties and have the autonomy to negotiate. The full course is available for free; however, you have the option of paying for the course license if you want to receive a certificate upon completion. Get free access here   5. University of Illinois – Foundation of Everyday Leadership This course is designed to focus on helping business owners achieve harmony both inside and outside of the workplace. You’ll learn about the head and heart of everyday leadership, decision making as an individual and in a group, and how to manage motivation. The ultimate goal is to discover and understand how leadership skills are critical to the success of your business, and the foundations of effective leadership skills. This course, taught by Gregory Northcraft, Professor of Business Administration, and Harry J. Gray, Professor of Executive Leadership, in conjunction with the University of Illinois and Coursera, can be taken for free and offers paid options for completion with a certification. Get free access here   6. HP LIFE – Effective Leadership HP Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs (LIFE) offers a free course on becoming a more effective leader, which focuses on examining how different leadership approaches impact the workplace. Leveraging different leadership styles, including when and how to use them, will make you a far more effective leader in all aspects of business. Get free access here   New Business Launch Courses There are a lot of moving parts involved in making a startup launch and soar   These courses are best suited for freelancers, contractors, and solopreneurs who want to take their ideas to a new level, launching and scaling a startup from the core idea or concept. It’s a complex task, and these courses will help you navigate common trouble areas for founders working to launch their businesses.   1. University of California – Essentials of Entrepreneurship If you’re ready to take the next step and launch a new business concept, then this course from the University of California, Irvine is where you should start. The course materials cover the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, including skills, feasibility studies, strategies for launch, and the basics of a startup. Material is delivered in both readable format as well as through videos, and will empower you with the tools and skills to move forward with prepping your business for launch. The course is available for free without testing material, but is also offered in a paid version that includes testing and certification with Coursera. Get free access here   2. University of Maryland – Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies This course, taught by Dr. James V. Green, Director of Entrepreneurship Education at Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, is perfect for any aspiring entrepreneur looking to turn a sound idea into a growing business. The included materials cover analyzing opportunities, improving strategic decision making, and building an innovative business model to help you launch. It’s a sound introduction to entrepreneurship, industry, and to understanding the markets you’ll operate in. The course is available for free without testing material, but is also offered in a paid version that includes testing and certification with Coursera. Get free access here   3. Degreed – Entrepreneurship Learning Pathway This curated selection of course materials, articles, and videos includes 12 self-paced lessons that begin with the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and the process for developing a business. The material moves from basic through advanced content that covers everything from economics to social entrepreneurship, risk assessment, tools, and real-life case studies. Get free access here   4. Carnegie Mellon – Entrepreneurship and Business Planning This course from Carnegie Mellon is taught by Renaissance Consulting’s Mark Juliano. It’s a comprehensive course designed to provide active or aspiring entrepreneurs with all the information they need to get a new business concept off the ground. Topics covered include building a team, finding financing, building a competitive strategy, writing a business plan, sales and marketing, legal issues, and much more. Even if you own an established business, the course is a strong fit as it includes Carnegie Mellon’s Masters in Information Systems Management program. Get free access here   Growth Strategy and Project Planning/Management Courses Every business starts small, but it takes skill and strategy to grow in the right way   Growth doesn’t really occur by luck or happenstance. The odds are slim that a campaign or activity will go viral and generate a large volume of consistent business and growth. The most successful businesses achieve their growth through strategic deployment and careful planning and execution of campaigns. These free courses will help you improve your approach to strategy, development, planning, and execution for more sustainable growth.   1. Northwestern University – Scaling Operations: Linking Strategy and Execution This 5-week course from Northwestern University, taught by professors Gad Allon and Jan Van Mieghem, will teach you how to build a more stable and scalable business. The course includes material on sustainable frameworks, marketing, outsourcing strategies, and the development of scalable workflows to improve operational efficiency. Get free access here   2. Udacity – How to Build a Startup One of the best ways to learn how to scale a business from launch is to learn from an entrepreneur who has achieved success on multiple occasions. The course is taught by Steve Blank, who has launched and grown eight Silicon Valley startups and authored multiple books on entrepreneurship. This course focuses on growing a startup by understanding the needs of the customer, and following a Customer Development Process. With this information, you’ll be able to develop, test, and validate any new ideas you have using data from actual customers. This greatly reduces waste from ineffective deployments, and improves the success of future product launches. Get free access here   3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology – How to Develop Breakthrough Products and Services This is another graduate-level course available for free through MIT’s Sloan School of Management. This work-at-your-own-pace course focuses on developing major innovations by concentrating on the needs of the individual customer and end-user. Those kinds of innovations are the most likely to contribute to long-term, sustainable growth in your business. The course includes a variety of reading material, assignments, and video lectures from the actual course taught at MIT. Get free access here   4. University of California – Fundamentals of Project Planning and Management Even seasoned business owners and entrepreneurs have the occasional struggle with keeping up on projects and tasks and getting things executed. You can minimize a lot of those bottlenecks by improving the planning. This course combines the most critical elements of project management along with team leadership to help you take better control of project planning. By better leveraging the teams you have in place, you can lead every project through milestones and critical deadlines for more successful deployment. The course is available for free without testing material, but is also offered in a paid version that includes testing and certification with Coursera. Get free access here   Marketing Courses Learn marketing on every channel, from paid and owned media to earned media from your fans   You don’t have to manage your own marketing as your business grows. Many SMBs outsource to marketing agencies or work with independent consultants or contractors to come up with creative campaigns for growing a business. With that said, you can save a lot of time and money by learning the fundamentals of digital marketing, and managing more projects in-house. With even a basic understanding of startup marketing and strategy development, you can be more involved, guiding campaign strategy to achieve the results you’re looking for.   1. Wordstream – PPC University Wordstream provides a one-stop shop for learning the fundamentals of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. This PPC 101 course provides information on keyword development, different types of ads, understanding cost per click and cost per action, how to optimize for conversions, and improving your results with Google Adwords. The PPC 101 course is available as a complete free download. Additional resources are available for advanced learning. Get free access here   2. Google – Online Marketing Challenge You would be hard-pressed to find a better source to learn about online marketing and search marketing than from the people who hold the largest market share in search. This Online Marketing Challenge course from Google is packed with a wealth of video content that covers everything from search engine marketing, to mobile strategy, social marketing, AdWords, and more. Get free access here   3. Constant Contact – Social Media Quickstarter Constant Contact has made a name for itself in the world of email marketing, but it integrates with social channels, as well, to help promote the content you send. It offers some insight into what works best for various social channels, which it has compiled into a course to help you get the most out of your social media efforts. The Social Media Quickstarter offers the step-by-step instructions you need to start building your social media presence across all of the top social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and even Snapchat. Get free access here   4. CopyBlogger – Internet Marketing for Smart People The team at CopyBlogger is well respected for its knowledge of how to use the right words to get the right response from an audience. This is a 20-installment course packed with 16 eBooks, and covers everything you need to know about copywriting, content marketing, keyword research, and more. The lessons are sent via email, so it’s easy to digest the content as you see fit. Get free access here   5. HubSpot – Inbound Marketing Training The inbound marketing training program from HubSpot is completely free and is packed with over 15 classes and additional materials. All the content, direct from HubSpot, will help you master inbound marketing and all the channels used for those efforts. Through the courses, you’ll learn about blogging, SEO, email marketing, building effective calls to action, and more. Once you’ve finished, you can take the certification exam and become Hubspot certified, totally free of charge. Get free access here   6. University of California – Conducting a Thorough Market Assessment Through its OpenCourseWare program, the University of California provides access to courses and lectures for free. This one-hour lecture from Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits, entrepreneurs and co-authors of The Entrepreneurs Guide to Customer Development: a Cheat Sheet to the Four Steps to Epiphany, will help guide you through determining who your ideal customers are, and understanding the strategies and tactics to make a strong connection with them based on your market. Many startups fail because of a lack of interest from the audience they were targeting – this quick lecture can help you avoid that failure and build a stronger relationship with your target audience. Get free access here   7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Entrepreneurial Marketing The MIT OpenCourseWare project offers free access to a number of courses, including the Entrepreneurial Marketing course. This course is part of its graduate program and is taught by professor Jin Gyo Kim. While it’s a graduate-level course, it focuses specifically on marketing concepts, methods, and strategies for startups and entrepreneurs in the early stages of business development post-launch. It’s a great course for those who are working with limited resources and could benefit from a deeper understanding of marketing. Get free access here   8. HP LIFE – Build a Business Through Social Marketing This course, offered by HP LIFE, is designed to help entrepreneurs and small business owners identify the range of opportunity in social media marketing, and how to create social media campaigns that provide more reach among specific target audiences. Get free access here   9. Open2Study – Write for the Web A lot of digital marketing efforts revolve around copy and content, and a lot of what you do to engage an audience will be based around writing online. If you don’t feel you’re a strong writer, and you don’t have the resources to outsource this aspect of marketing, then this is a course we recommend. It covers the differences between writing for print and the web, effective formatting, maintaining content online, and how to engage your audience through content. Get free access here   Search Engine Optimization Courses Learn SEO tactics that put you in front of customers, whether globally or in your neighborhood   Paid marketing can be an effective way to get your brand in front of your target audience, but it comes with a cost. SEO helps improve the visibility of your content and your online presence, consistently and progressively bringing you more organic traffic that is highly-targeted and costs you far less to build and maintain. These courses help cover the basics so you have a better understanding of how to build your organic visibility.   1. Udacity – Website Performance This one was developed by Google and, through a simple one-week course, teaches you how to optimize any website you own to improve speed and performance. Since site performance affects the user experience and can impact conversions, and site speed can directly impact your search rankings, this is a smart choice to ensure that your website works as intended and doesn’t inhibit your business growth. Get free access here   2. Open2Study – User Experience This is an online course that every business owner should take, even if you don’t directly work with or manage your own website. It examines how users interact with a website. The course provides an overview of the general principles of UX. Course materials also include information on the techniques and tools professionals use to improve user experience and keep visitors from leaving a site due to poor experience and performance problems. You’ll learn best practices for a user-centric design process that provides improved conversions and greater trust development among your audience. Get free access here   3. Distilled – Technical SEO Most of the SEO done by brands and marketers can be achieved through on-page optimization and simple tweaks. Still, you can’t ignore the more technical elements that can impact your organic search visibility. This course lays out the aspects of technical SEO you need to pay attention to when building and improving any website. You’ll learn how the search algorithms crawl, see, and interpret the content of your site to make it easier to diagnose and fix problems. Get free access here   4. Lynda – SEO Training Tutorials Lynda.com is a network full of lots of courses on various aspects of SEO. Many feature short video lectures that are easy to get through in a single sitting. While Lynda is a paid service, it does offer a 10-day free trial. This will let you jump in and check out a course or two that look really attractive without having to pay the premium initially. Get free access here   5. SEOBook – Comprehensive Training SEOBook’s free training center has a wealth of information on social interaction, link building, on-page optimization, keyword research, and offsite optimization. There’s even course material on copywriting, PR, and content marketing for effective SEO. Get free access here     Have you taken any courses online that provided substantial value and helped you grow your business? Share your story with us and tell us about your courses in the comments below. Image Sources: Shutterstock, Harpoon Brewery, Shutterstock, Shutterstock, Shutterstock     The post The Complete Guide to Free Online Training Courses for Entrepreneurs appeared first on Blogging, Small Business, Web Design & Hosting Tips - A Small Orange.

13 Steps to Building a Thriving Blog for Your Solopreneur Business

As a solopreneur, you’re responsible for everything. You get to handle everything from building your website, to sending invoices, to marketing your services. There’s no boss to handle the hard stuff. There’s no accounting department, either. But all these tasks leave most solopreneurs super busy. When it comes to gaining new clients, most of us don’t have time to go door-to-door pitching every business in town. Instead, we focus on how we can get our name out to as many people as possible. One of the tried-and-true tactics? A business blog. Many solopreneurs focus on building a thriving web presence because it’s the best way to generate interest and sales. By publishing blog posts as little as a few times per month, you can keep in touch with current clients, gain the attention of new ones, and elevate your legitimacy to anyone who comes across your business. Here are the 12 steps to building a thriving blog for your solopreneur business: Step 1. Understand blogging 101 Unless you’re a freelance writer or marketer who’s worked extensively in the blogging space, you might have misconceptions about how blogging works. For example, many assume that if they simply publish blog posts, they’ll find their way to the right people. In fact, successful blogs have well-thought out promotional plans that go beyond sharing a link on Facebook or Twitter. Before you start blogging, understand that:   Your content will need to be great. If you aren’t a strong writer, or aren’t willing to edit for grammar, it’s unlikely that you’ll pick up readership.   You need to put readers first. You might want a blog to boost SEO rankings, and that’s perfectly legitimate, but you need to serve your readers first, no matter what. What do they want to hear about? How can you help them?   Educational content wins. You’re in business for a reason, and it’s because you have a unique perspective and experience in a certain industry. You can use a blog to educate potential customers on the space. Design and formatting matters a lot. Your content needs to be easy to read, and readers trust content more if your blog looks polished and professional. Make sure to format your content in short paragraphs with headers– this will make it easy to read. You’ll need to promote your content. Publishing a post isn’t enough. In order to be successful, you’ll need to find clever ways to promote your articles.   Step 2. Determine your goals Why do you want a blog in the first place? Is it just because everyone else is doing it? No matter what you’re selling, it’s important to determine goals before you start publishing. That way, you’ll be able to measure results over time, and figure out if you’ve been successful.   Here are some of the most popular reasons solopreneurs blog: Boost SEO efforts (companies with active blogs get an average of 97% more links to their websites)   Show thought leadership in your industry   Generate brand awareness among partners, friends, existing and prospective customers Create a sales pipeline that generates leads (B2B marketers blog get 67% more leads than marketers who don’t)   Step 3. Decide on an audience, then get to know it The best blog content is laser-targeted, but one of the biggest mistakes solopreneurs make is neglecting to decide on an audience. When they blog, they give generic advice that could be for anyone. Often times, solopreneurs blog for their peers, rather than their audience. This results in an echo chamber effect. There are hundreds of freelance writers writing about freelancing writing. It’s compelling content, but it’s unlikely prospective clients are reading it. If a freelancer’s goal is to use a blog to find more clients, writing about freelancing is unlikely to help.  However, if they write about how businesses can leverage freelance writers, they’re likely to attract their target audience. Ask yourself:   Who am I writing to? Why have I chosen to write to this audience? Will writing to this audience help me achieve my goals? What do I know about this audience already? What are their biggest issues that I can help them solve? How can I learn more about my audience and their needs?   Step 4. Figure out a blogging platform Unless you’re a web designer, it might be difficult to wrap your head around the technical aspects of starting a blog. Hosting? Design? Ugh, where to start? Most solopreneurs use WordPress, but they use WordPress.org, rather than WordPress.com. With WordPress.org, you’re responsible for hosting your site, which you can do through A Small Orange or another hosting company. WordPress was built with bloggers in mind, and designers have built tons of WordPress templates to make it easy to create a fabulous blog. Allison Fallon, a Tennessee-based author and writing coach, uses a custom WordPress theme powered by the Rainmaker Platform for her blog.   Step 5. Read successful blogs from solopreneurs The most successful writers always advise aspiring writers to start by reading. When you read, you begin to internalize what flows. You’ll become better at writing your own sentences, and will soon develop your own style. When it comes to blogging, you should read successful blogs from solopreneurs. Some blogs, such as those from photographers and interior designers, are image-heavy. These blogs opt to showcase beautiful spaces rather than overwhelm with words. Others choose to use words to educate their audiences. The choice is up to you, and depends a lot on what business you’re in. Some favorites to check out: Creative Class – Content that matters to freelancers by Paul Jarvis Matthew Morgan Photography – Beautiful photos that serve as a portfolio SkinnyTaste – Healthy recipes from Gina Homolka’s kitchen Step 6. Hone in on voice and tone The best solopreneur blogs have a living, breathing human behind them. This person has hopes, dreams, and a unique take on the world. This human is YOU. Many solopreneurs struggle to publish blog content because they feel as though everything’s been said. Thing is, you’re unique. If you can capitalize on what makes you different from other solopreneurs, you’re bound to be successful. Jay Acunzo runs Sorry for Marketing, his personal blog on all things content. Rather than writing standard listicles and tips on how to write content, Jay puts his personality on display. When you visit his blog, you’ll see that he’s outlines his beliefs and unique angle at the get-go. To hone in on voice and tone, think about what makes you special. Are you funny? Are you weird? Are you quiet and introspective? Whatever the case, don’t try to be like anyone else. Go for a voice that feels like you.   Step 7. Decide on frequency When solopreneurs start blogs, they often set lofty goals about how often they’ll publish. They assume they’ll be able to churn out three blog posts per week without considering how much time and energy goes into great content. Our advice is to start slow. Consistency matters, but not as much as great content. You’re better off publishing a riveting, compelling, and well-researched blog post once per month than publishing a mediocre posts once per week. Step 8. Draft up a bevy of blog post ideas It’s hard to sit down every time you write a blog post and rack your brain for topics. That’s why it’s best to come up with a list of blog post ideas at one time. You can even use tools like HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator or Portent’s Content Idea Generator. These tools are a little silly, but they’re great for inspiration. If you feel like it’s still hard to come up with ideas, pay a freelance writer or content marketing consultant to come up with a long list for you.     Step 9. Come up with a promotional plan Many solopreneurs believe that if they publish great content, people will find it. Thing is, thousands of articles are published each day, and it’s harder than ever to rise above the noise. If you want to be successful with your blog, then consider the following promotional channels: Social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn Syndicating blog posts on LinkedIn and Medium Forums like Quora and Reddit Industry-specific channels (For example, marketers hang out on Inbound.org) Guest blogging on other more trafficked sites that cater to the same audience as you do Email marketing (explained in the next section)   Step 10. Build an email list Don’t overlook the power of building an audience and communicating with this audience via email. Gone are the days when people visited a blog multiple times per day to check if there’s anything new. People want content delivered straight to their inboxes, and that’s why most solopreneurs rely heavily on their email list, whether they’re blogging or not. Email produces more ROI than social media. If you can build your email list, you can build your audience. You can sell this audience on products and services. For more advice on how to build our list, read 9 genius ways to build an email list. Step 11. Check your analytics As you get more and more invested in building a blog, you’ll want to understand how you’re doing. That’s why you need to check your analytics. Most marketers and bloggers rely on Google Analytics to assess how they’re doing. Pay attention to: Time on site, especially time on blog posts (this will show whether people are actually staying and reading your content) Where visitors come from (Facebook, Twitter, email, organic search, other websites) Most visited blog posts   Step 12. Don’t be afraid to change up your strategy Ultimately, it takes a long time for a blog to grow. If you aren’t seeing results right away, don’t give up. It takes months of plugging away at it to see the results you desire. As time goes on and you learn more about blogging, as well as your audience, feel free to change up your strategy. Blogging isn’t a fixed science– it’s more of an art. You’ll learn a lot as you go along.   Step 13. Give yourself a pat on the back Being a solopreneur is tough– blogging is just one thing in a long list of things you have to do. Make sure to go easy on yourself throughout the process and to take breaks as needed. Congratulate yourself for small successes, and remember that even if you’re reaching a small number of people, that can still count for a lot. After all, how many clients do you really need to be a successful solopreneur? Give yourself a pat on the back– you can do this! The post 13 Steps to Building a Thriving Blog for Your Solopreneur Business appeared first on Blogging, Small Business, Web Design & Hosting Tips - A Small Orange.

11 Ways to Automate Processes in Your Ecommerce Business

As an entrepreneur, you’re hands-on in pretty much every aspect of your business. As soon as you wake up in the morning, you dive headfirst into the inventory, product fulfillment, marketing, and operations of your online business. Although it’s personally fulfilling to have a direct impact on the growth of your Ecommerce store, that direct involvement with manual workflows inhibits the scalability of your business. Hard work can certainly yield growth, but at some point, you need to step back and analyze your processes. Some of your tasks should be delegated, while others will eventually need to be automated or refined. If you’re too bogged down with the workload to have any measurable impact, growth will be incredibly difficult.     Optimize and automate your most critical tasks   While every business is run a little differently, Ecommerce operations (and many product-centric businesses) tend to have similar processes and workflows. These similarities present some of the best opportunities for improving efficiency and injecting automation. Keep these four principles in mind when you evaluate how you operate: Conquer repetitive tasks first, specifically the tasks that require a great deal of time but very little thought or value from having a person do them. List and prioritize your tasks to identify the ones that will have the most impact and are easy to deploy. Prioritize the optimization and automation of daily tasks before tackling larger tasks that are less frequent. Go after the tasks that aren’t scalable when performed manually. At first, these tasks were easy to do, but as your business grew, they turned into full-time manual jobs.     If you want a lot more flexibility in your day-to-day, there are many areas where you can get the greatest benefit from either introducing automation or designing a more refined and efficient process. While every task listed here has a certain level of automation, there are still upsides to maintaining some level of human involvement, even if just periodically. 1. Cart Abandonment Do you know how many of your customers abandon their carts before checkout?   Every online business, both large and small, is plagued by cart abandonment. It’s a natural part of running an Ecommerce store. On average, 68% of shopping carts are abandoned. The estimated global value of those abandoned carts in 2015 was nearly $5 trillion. One of the best ways to recapture those customers is through automated cart abandonment emails. An off-the-shelf Ecommerce platform like Shopify or BigCommerce typically offers built-in cart abandonment emails that you’ll need to turn on and configure. You can also use an email platform like MailChimp to create automated cart abandonment emails. Leads generally grow cold within the span of an hour, so the first email should be triggered immediately after a cart is abandoned. If they still don’t return after the first email, then follow up with another email just a few hours later and send a third email within 24 hours. It’s best not to exceed three abandoned cart emails to avoid being flagged with spam reports. The time it takes to set up a custom automated series is worth it: One study showed 48% of abandoned cart emails are opened The average order value of recovered carts is 58% higher than direct consumer orders When manual is okay: Some carts are abandoned due to technical reasons or other issues outside of the consumer’s control. It can be worth it to spend a little time personally reaching out to consumers who don’t respond to cart abandonment emails. Ask them if there’s any way you can help. You might uncover a payment processing issue, a site bug, browser compatibility issues, or other items that you can resolve to recover the sale and prevent future tech-related problems from occurring for other customers on your site.   2. Customer Support Human connection is an important part of delighting customers   Customer service is very much a person-centric division in any company. You never want to fully automate your customer service and remove that human element, but there are a few ways to supplement this department with automation, and streamline your interactions with customers. Rather than forcing a direct interaction with an employee of your company or managing a barrage of emails and tickets, use a customer service platform that provides multiple channels for automated service. Tools like Desk.com give you the ability to create an interactive Q&A segment of your site, as well as a FAQ section and knowledge base. These self-help tools take some of the strain off of your business and help resolve customer issues quickly and efficiently. Customer service platforms also allow customers to submit tickets, rather than contact forms turned into emails. Support tickets can be prioritized and assigned automatically, which gives your team a little more time to manage cases instead of trying to sip from the firehose of incoming email requests. A live chat interface service like LeadChat lets you outsource and automate support for tackling the questions of prospective customers, which can help you close more sales. When manual is okay: Manual customer service is always the best approach. Focus on streamlining this department in a way that still leverages your team but also gives you room to breathe.   3. Inventory Management Eliminate human error with automated inventory management   Even with a small selection of products, it can be time consuming to manually update and keep track of inventory in an online store. Some business owners choose not to track inventory at all, but that can lead to orders being placed when you’re out of stock, resulting in refunds and upset customers. As your business grows, manually updating inventory becomes an insurmountable task and errors will happen more frequently. Ideally, you want on-hand inventory to match online inventory, with product availability updated automatically when transactions occur, returns are processed, and new products are checked in. There are countless software platforms – both cloud-based and locally-installed – that can help with this process and offer integration with popular Ecommerce platforms and other operational software. Look for programs that can potentially scale with you, depending on your growth model, with options like: Multi-channel selling through more than one online store Multisite synchronization for multiple warehouses and fulfillment centers Segmented reporting for each location and selling channel Check out platforms like Ordoro , Finale Inventory and Fishbowl for automated inventory control. When manual is okay: You may still need to do some manual inventory control when you pull stock for promotions, giveaways, customer service freebies, or staff perks, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That takes considerably less time than trying to manually handle all of your inventory management.   4. Online Activities If This Then That is just one of many applications that help automate online activities   There are tons of small tasks that eat away at your daily productivity, many of which are repetitive and chain together across a number of channels online. You complete Step A, then move on to Step B on another site, which requires Steps C and D on a third site before you can wrap up Step E. Some tasks crop up less frequently, but when they do, they can be incredibly time consuming. For example, updating your profile picture on one social channel requires an update to all of your social profiles and business listings, which is no small task. This is where triggered automation can be helpful. Tools like If This Then That (IFTTT) let you create or use existing workflow “recipes” (series of tasks) to automate and free up time. In the above example of the profile picture, a recipe in IFTTT can be triggered so that when you update your profile image on Twitter, it’s automatically updated across all of your other channels. When manual is okay: For more critical tasks that involve your brand and the public, it may be best to limit automation or monitor the process to ensure the end results are what you expected.   5. Accounting and Bookkeeping Automation can help streamline invoice payments and documentation   If you’re drowning in receipts, unpaid invoices and other documents while trying to juggle other accounting duties for your small business, then it’s probably time to try automating this process. Manually updating your ledger and keeping up on numbers with purchase orders, sales, and expenses will eat away at your time, and it can be a headache even for seasoned accounting professionals. A number of software programs are available to help, with much of the more popular branded software (Xero or QuickBooks) capable of synchronizing with your online store through third-party apps. These will automatically pull sales (and even inventory) data into your accounting program to maintain accurate records, including taxes. Additionally, software like Shoeboxed makes it easy to digitize purchase orders, receipts, and other financial documents, and these programs can feed the data to your accounting software so you’re not forced to manually enter each line of data. When manual is okay: Even with automation in place, you still want to work with a professional accountant, either in-house or outsourced with a service like Indinero. They’ll be up-to-date on tax codes and government requirements so you can avoid making mistakes by trying to handle it on your own, and you can focus more on business growth in the meantime.   6. Social Media Buffer is a popular tool for automating content posts across multiple social channels   Marketing an online business can be time consuming. Not only do you need to create content for a blog, but you also need to promote that content. Your marketing will include consistent social posts on multiple channels while curating other relevant content for your audience to fill in the gaps of your content calendar. As you widen your reach, you’ll spend a lot more time monitoring your brand, engaging your followers, and creating content to keep them tuned in. Thankfully, there are a number of applications and services that dramatically cut down on the legwork for marketing your Ecommerce store: Use Buffer to schedule your posts and curated content so they’re published automatically at a time and date you specify. Quuu automatically curates content based on topics you choose, hand-picked by people to ensure the best quality, and pushes that content to your social channels. Hootsuite lets you publish the same update on multiple social channels to minimize bouncing between sites for every new post. Mention removes the process of manual monitoring, keeping a watchful eye on your brand and other key phrases that you target. You’ll get alerts when conversations around your products and services occur, so you can get involved and stay in the loop. When manual is okay: Automation can help you get the content published, but don’t just automate curated content. It’s important to manually create the right kind of posts and reply to your followers. Don’t remove the human element from your social media marketing or your followers will notice and they’ll disengage. Virtual assistants can be invaluable in this area, helping you to write and schedule posts, keep an eye on trending topics, and grow your social following.   7. Product Launch Workflows An automated workflow can minimize lags and downtime before a launch   When you launch a new product that you created or you bring new products into your store, there’s a lot to get done before and after the release, such as: Creating digital assets for promotion on your website Product photos Product descriptions and content for product pages Populating the website with product data like SKUs, weight, and size, etc. Creating email drip campaigns for the release Social post content for organic and paid posts leading up to (and after) launch Building stock and warehouse space With everything you have to manage, it’s easy to fall behind or miss a step. To make sure your product launch goes off without a hitch, you can refine the process by adding approval processes that automate the workflow. Services like Tallyfy make it easy to define the steps within your process, triggering events as you achieve milestones and moving forward when approvals are made. When manual is okay: A product launch is primarily manual due to the number of people involved in deployment. In this case, it’s more about making the workflow more efficient and less about completely automating deployment. This greatly alleviates the stress of product additions.   8. Customer Purchase Follow-up Get more reviews with automated outreach to boost social proof   Reviews can have a tremendous impact on your sales. According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers trust peer reviews over traditional forms of advertising. As many as 90% of consumers say their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews. Ideally, every customer will come back to provide a glowing review after making a purchase, but that’s rarely the case. Data from the Pew Research Center shows that only 24% of American adults post online comments or reviews about a product they purchase. Even for a small Ecommerce store, it would be nearly impossible to manually track and contact customers to follow up on their purchases. Instead, use built-in tools with platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce to automatically send an email a week or two after a purchase is completed. Ask the customer to return and leave a review with a link back to the site or product page and invite them to contact you if there are any concerns. This completely automates the process of acquiring reviews, which improve product sales, and gives you the opportunity to handle any issues that are negatively impacting customers. When manual is okay: Let automation work in your favor, but tie in some manual engagement. Respond to negative feedback promptly and directly. For positive reviews, make it a habit to send a quick email in response to great reviews and personally thank them for taking the time to tell others about your product.   9. Product Returns, Refunds, and Exchanges Platforms like Shopify have built-in refund options to help automate the process   When you sell a tangible product, you’ll probably get requests for returns, refunds, and exchanges. For many companies, these will come through your support center and require direct engagement with every case in order to reach a resolution. Some platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce have options within a customer’s portal or account to automatically flag an item for return or refund. Using these options can reduce touch points and speed up the process. You can also improve the efficiency of this process by having a clearly-written and visible return policy on your website. Having this information readily available online for customers can eliminate repetitive questions and minimize customer service contacts. When manual is okay: Don’t skip opportunities to delight your customers. The key is to reduce touch points but not eliminate them completely. Having someone involved in the process would make it easy to gather feedback on the nature of the return and use that information to further improve the business’ processes or solve the issue so a return/refund is no longer necessary.   10. Analytics Monitoring and Reporting Save time on analysis by running automated reports in your analytics   Many Ecommerce businesses live and die by the data. Your traffic, merchandising, and customer metrics tell you a great deal about store and product performance. It’s something you want to monitor, but you also don’t want to be buried in reports on a regular basis. Google Analytics and other third party reporting platforms like Kissmetrics can be configured to automatically generate reports and provide the data you need at a specific date and time. This can save you the hassle of manually gathering data across multiple dashboards and channels, and instead have it delivered directly to you or pulled with a few simple clicks. When manual is okay: Don’t get into a “set it and forget it” habit with your automated reporting. It’s a good idea to still manually check your metrics from time to time to keep an eye on trends. If you’re gathering reports once a week, then set up a quick manual check of metrics in the middle of each week. This way, you can respond to anything that might need urgent attention.   11. Competitive and Consumer Monitoring Use competitive monitoring tools to avoid manual collection of competitor information   Staying competitive in the ever-crowded online marketplace can be difficult. New competitors pop up every day, especially around popular products or niches. Keeping track of your competitors’ marketing, pricing, product launches, promotions, social outreach, and audience engagement tactics can be a full-time job, but it’s crucial for staying ahead of the pack. After all, 73% of online stores cite competitive pressure as one of the most important factors that go into price changes. For growing Ecommerce retailers, tools for competitive monitoring (for links and social media, for example), gathering consumer data, and pricing intelligence can be invaluable. Compete, QuickSprout, and SEMRush are all great tools to help you quickly analyze competitors’ data on the web, which eliminates the legwork of digging up the information manually. When manual is okay: Accumulating competitive data is important, but you’ll still want to spend time examining the data and understanding what created it. Personally looking into the activities of your competitors from time to time in conjunction with hard data makes it easier to spot opportunities and take action.   Planning for Growth Every entrepreneur wants to watch their business grow beyond their expectations. The best approach to starting on that path is removing yourself from the daily processes when you can. Automate various aspects of your workflows and fine-tune your operations. These actions will give you the freedom to focus on growing your business, as well as the opportunity to actually enjoy the fruits of what you’ve built. How do you use automation in your Ecommerce business? Has it helped you scale your operation? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. Image Source: YouGotToBeKidding, StitchLabs, MarketingLand The post 11 Ways to Automate Processes in Your Ecommerce Business appeared first on Blogging, Small Business, Web Design & Hosting Tips - A Small Orange.

The Ultimate Content Marketing Stack for Solopreneurs

  When you’re only a one-person shop, developing and implementing effective content marketing strategies can be tough. Unlike bigger companies who employ entire teams dedicated to things like blogging, graphic design, social media promotion, article curation, social advertising, and email marketing, you really only have one person to rely on to get  the job done: yourself.   If you were able to spend the entire day working on launching and fine-tuning content marketing strategies, it might not be so bad…but most entrepreneurs can’t spend all their time working on one aspect of their business. If you’re like most solopreneurs, you’re in charge of everything—from sales and customer support, to fulfillment, product development, marketing, and everything else in between.   But here’s the problem: if you want to build a successful business today, you really can’t ignore content marketing. These days, you can’t afford to put it on the back burner. It’s too important.   So the question is, how can you get real ROI from content marketing and still be able to focus your time and energy on all the other areas of your business that also require your attention and ultimately help drive growth?   ANSWER: you need to build and use a content marketing stack.   What is a content marketing stack?   Simply put, a content marketing stack is a collection of tools, resources, processes, and documents you use to help organize, optimize, automate, and streamline your efforts. You can build “stacks” for nearly every aspect of your business: sales, growth hacking, technology, customer service and support, etc. The purpose of the stack is to make your job easier and allow you to become more effective in whatever task you’re working on and whatever goals you’re attempting to achieve. Think of your content marketing stack like your toolbelt—it should include everything you need to get the job done.   As you probably already know, you can’t really be an effective content marketer without using the right tools. When you’re in the early days of creating and sharing content on your blog, it’s easy to do everything by hand, but if you want to scale and see more results from your efforts, you eventually need to hire more people, use more tools, or both.   Putting together a content marketing stack is the first step you can take toward building an effective, sustainable, and scalable content marketing machine for your business.   How to get started   What you end up including in your content marketing stack will depend entirely on your needs. Every stack is different depending on a number of factors, such as your skillset, your audience, your budget, and your goals. For example: If you’re not a strong writer, you might consider tapping into a freelancer network to help you create original content for your blogs, social media updates, and emails. If you know that you’re audience responds better to visual content rather than text-based content, you might invest less in writing tools and more in tools that help you create original videos, images, and infographics. If you have a very limited budget that you can allocate toward content marketing, you might need to invest in free tools rather than premium tools. If your goal is to drive more traffic to your website, you might invest more heavily in SEO and advertising tools rather than other tools.   To determine which tools, processes, documents, and other resources to include in your stack, it’s helpful to ask yourself the following questions:   Where do I need the most help? Is there an area where I’m not as skilled at or one that has been taking too much time? What has been working and what hasn’t? Are there tools that could help me scale or automate my efforts in order to yield more results? What else could I be working on in my business if I had more time? If I were able to spend less time working on content marketing, how could it benefit my business? What areas could I outsource or automate? If I were to eventually hire another person to help me with my content marketing efforts, what tools, processes, or documents would they need in order to be successful?   These and other questions will help you zero in on your biggest needs and opportunities and will allow you to start building your own customized content marketing stack from the ground up.   The ultimate content marketing stack   Every content marketing stack will look a little different, but here’s a beginner’s list that includes a handful of recommended tools, blog posts, templates, and other resources you can consider as you build your own stack: Tools Here are 8 tools you can use to streamline, automate, and improve your content marketing strategies:   Grammarly: this tool helps you edit and optimize your blog content in real-time, saving you from having to go back and spend time making multiple rounds of edits before publishing a post.   Buffer: this tool helps you write and schedule social media posts ahead of time. Instead of manually re-sharing a new blog post on Facebook and Twitter every few days, you can use Buffer to write a series of Facebook posts and tweets all at once. Trello: this tool can help you manage the entire content creation, publishing, and promotion process from start to finish. It’s a visual tool that leverages the kanban system. You can use Trello to build your content calendar, assign deadlines, build checklists, and integrate with Google Docs, Slack, and other tools you might already be using.     Canva: this tool makes it incredibly easy to create original visuals and graphics for your blog posts. As mentioned early, you might find that your audience prefers or responds particularly well to visuals over plain-text. If this is the case, you need an easy way to scale the creation of visuals. Canva is a great tool to leverage to make it possible.   Mention: this tool helps you keep track of mentions of your company, name, or products across the web. Instead of having to waste time manually searching Twitter and Facebook for mentions, you can use Mention to get alerts sent directly to you. You can also use the tool to manage and respond to mentions in real-time—all from one convenient location.   Moz Keyword Explorer: this tool helps you quickly identify SEO opportunities, based on real-time analysis of keywords and phrases that relate to your business and products. It’s an incredibly robust tool, and definitely worth checking out. To learn more about this tool, read this write-up from Rand Fishkin.   Zemanta: this tool helps you distribute your content across the web. It helps you penetrate new audiences by sharing your content on other popular media and publishing sites. As you already know, content promotion needs to be a huge part of your overall content marketing strategy. Zemanta is one tool among many others that can help.   Buzzsumo: this tool helps you curate content and connect with people who can help you share your new blog posts. It’s also a great tool to use when you’re trying to come up with new blog post ideas.   Templates & Processes   In addition to tools, your content marketing stack should also include templates and processes. Remember: you want to be in a position where you can hand your entire stack and responsibilities over to someone else in case you get to the point when you’re in a position to add a hire to your team. Here are some examples of templates and processes you might include:   How to Write a Blog Post (example from Buffer) How to Find and Hire Writers (example from Grow and Convert) How to Perform Keyword Research (example from Hubspot) Content Audit Template (example from Buffer) How to Come up With Great Blog Headlines (example from CoSchedule)   Outsourcing Resources   If you have the budget for it, you can also outsource some content marketing tasks that you aren’t comfortable performing because of your lack of skill, or because they simply take up too much of your time. If you’re in this position, here are some outsourcing resources you could include in your content marketing stack:   WriterAcess: use this network to connect with freelance writers who can help you write blog posts, social media updates, and emails. 99Designs: use this network to connect with freelance designers who can help you create blog post images, social media images, infographics, case studies, fact sheets, and other marketing collateral. VideoPixie: use this network to connect with videographers who can help you produce simple how-to videos to use in blog posts, product videos, explainer videos, and more. Leverage college campuses: if you have other areas within content marketing that you’d like more help with, consider finding a college student majoring in marketing, business, english, journalism, or design and hiring them as an intern.   If you’d like to see and review more tools and resources before putting together your content marketing stack, check out this extensive collection curated by Nicolas Nemni.   What other tools have you added to your content marketing stack recently? Tell us in the comments below!

10 Events You Wish Were Part Of The Olympics

    The modern Olympics is a global tradition that dates back to 1896. Since its rebirth in Athens, Greece; sports like tug-of-war, croquet, and softball have fizzled out, while golf and rugby union are in. We know fingers are crossed for the incorporation of future events like rock climbing and karate, but we thought of a few others we’d really like to see.   Zorbing: Measuring 10 feet in diameter, with approximately two feet of soft, cushy air, you know you’d want to see your favorite athletes take these bad boys out for a spin on Brazil’s rough terrain.   Chia Pet Grooming: Where famous barbers and reputable botanists come together to complete on a classic novelty item, who wouldn’t be at least a little curious to see what styling methods grow out of this event. Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia!   Yo-Yo Battles: This would make “Walk the Dog” and “Around the Corner” look like kid stuff. Duncan sales would soar with adults, while kids would ask if there’s an app for that.   Planking: Anyone who’s held the plank position for longer than 17 seconds knows exactly why this should be right up there with the triathlon! Abs burning. Arms trembling. A gold medal in planking would really be something to brag about. And that’s not even getting into the unusual locations.   Extreme Ice Cream Cone Making: Assembling the perfect soft serve ice cream cone is a feat that would finally be recognized! Scores would be based on the cone’s towering height, the aesthetics of its swirl design, the homogeneous scattering of rainbow sprinkles, and of course, its delicious flavor. Where can we get an application to judge this event?     Pokemon Go: Gamers from all over the world would tune in to see who which country has got what it takes to catch ‘em all!     Giant Yellow Slide Races: The Fun Slide. The Big Slide. The Yellow Slide. No matter what you call it, you don’t just want to see this event – you want to be in this event! Controversies would be less about who took steroids and more about who put wax paper on the bottom of their mat.   Capture the Flag: Nothing reflects 207 nations competing for the gold better than a friendly game of Capture the Flag. With “jail” an actual holding cell on the sidelines instead of a colorful hula-hoop, the stakes just got a little bit higher!     Old School Texting: What was once a part of everyday communication could now be seen as a unique skill and lost art. Only the best of the best T9-ers would be eligible to complete in this Old-School Text-Off.     Ultimate Hopscotch: It would take weeks to sketch the multiple miles of squares and numbers for this intense hopscotch game. With the current record set at 3.75 miles, the game would have to span at least that!   What Olympic events would you like to see?            

The Craziest Olympic Moments Of All Time

  Preparing for the Olympics is a full-time job. Athletes train round-the-clock for the chance to represent their country, compete with superstars from over 200 nations, and take home the bronze, silver or gold. It’s a chance that only comes around, for each category, once every eight years, so it’s no wonder that from time to time, things get a little weird. In honor of the 2016 games in Rio, here are some Olympic moments that topped the charts, and not in the traditional way.   Deathly Cold Waters   Inspired by the Olympic Games in Ancient Greece, the 1896 Olympics in Athens was the first of the modern series that we’re all familiar with today. Over 200 athletes representing 14 nations competed in sports like weight lifting, fencing, shooting and gymnastics.  But being the first of its kind isn’t what made 1896 Olympics so crazy: The 1200-meter swim was held in the Bay of Zea. With 55 degree temperatures and 12-foot waves, the gold medalist, fifteen-year-old Alfred Hajos from Hungry, had said that he was more concerned about surviving the waters than he was on winning the race.   A Fowl Delay When it comes to competitive rowing, every second matters. So during the 1928 Olympics at Amsterdam, when Australian Henry Pearce paused in the middle of the Single Sculls so that a family of ducks could swim by, it was pretty crazy. Even after taking his little break, he still brought back the gold!   An American Hero     In the 1960 Rome games, Wilma Rudoph, nicknamed “The Tornado: The Fastest Woman on Earth” became the first American woman to win three gold medals, despite having polio as a child. She changed the way female athletes were viewed, the way African-American athletes were viewed, and she proved that any challenge could be overcome.   First Doping Scandal   The 1960 Rome games also birthed what’s often referred to as the first doping scandal. While the death of Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen was initially blamed on heatstroke, it was revealed years later by one of the doctors who performed the autopsy that several drugs were found in his system, including amphetamine. This discovery would lead to drug testing at subsequent Olympic games.   A New Audience   Okay, so it seems the 1960 Rome games were just straight up cray-cray. It was an opportunity for people to see these events on television for the first time. With satellites still being a few years in the future, CBS paid today’s equivalent of nearly 4 million dollars for the exclusive rights in the United States to tape and edit the games. This generated a whole new interest in the Olympics for everyday Americans while also altering commercialism forever. Hello, sponsorships!   The Korbut Flip   Gymnastics ranks as one of the most highly viewed summer Olympic events, so when seventeen-year-old Soviet Olga Korbut performed an unprecedented move on the uneven bars at the 1972 Olympics in Germany, you can bet she received quite a bit of attention. A cringe-worthy backwards summersault from standing position off the high bar, the risk associated with  “The Korbut Flip” has banned the move from future Olympic games.   A Heartfelt Rescue   Whether it’s for the fame, the sense of accomplishment, or a reason all their own, every Olympic athlete will tell you just how badly they want the medal, so in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, when Canadian Sailor Lawrence Lemieux sacrificed the silver to rescue his capsized and injured competitors, people were more than a little surprised by his heroic actions. The International Yacht Racing Union reinstated his second place ranking and he received the prestigious Pierre de Coubertain medal of sportsmanship.      

9 Genius Ways to Build Your Email List

  Businesses of all kinds are taking advantage of email marketing–in fact, 82% of companies use email marketing technology, according to Ascend2. These businesses aren’t jumping in because everyone else is doing it. They’re using email because it brings results. Email is one of the oldest digital marketing tactics, but it’s also one of the most effective. Although there’s a lot of chatter about the importance of social media, you are 6x more likely to get someone to click-through to your website through an email campaign than through a Tweet, according to Campaign Monitor. Many businesses are using email to encourage leads down a sales funnel, as email leads directly to revenue. But you can’t leverage email marketing without building a list of subscribers. That’s why we’re sharing 9 genius ways to build an email list.   Why building your email list matters Businesses use email to educate their audience, encourage prospective customers down a sales funnel, and educate existing customers about how to use products and services. Ecommerce businesses often use email to send out promotions, complete with discount codes. Here are some of the most common emails sent by businesses: Confirmation emails Product updates Notifications Welcome emails to new customers Transactional emails Upgrade emails Reminder emails Promotional emails Newsletters Educational emails Businesses that have solid email marketing strategies gain customers from the channel, but they can’t do so without an email list. So if you can work on building a list, you’ll be well on your way to getting the results you desire. The people who have opted into your email list want to hear from you, making them the perfect audience for education and promotional emails. People are more guarded about their email accounts than their social media accounts, so email engagement tends to be higher. Additionally, Ipsos found that 85% of people use email, while only 62% use a social media site.   Tactic #1. Make it easy to opt-in It sounds obvious, but many businesses don’t make it easy for interested parties to opt-in to their email list. If you want to build your base of followers, you need to make your subscription form prominent on your website. For example, Jon Morrow of SmartBlogger makes it easy to opt in to his weekly tips by featuring an offer prominently on his website. He doesn’t simply encourage visitors to sign up, but offers them something useful in exchange, which is a cheat sheet for writing viral blog posts. You can also encourage people to opt-in when they make a purchase. This strategy works especially well for eCommerce businesses that can remarket to those who are already happy. For example, American Eagle asks people if they want to receive email updates when they make a purchase. Tactic #2. Target the benefits that matter to your audience Who is your audience, and why would they want to hear from you? Without explaining why it’s worth joining your email list, you’re not going to get anyone to sign up.  People want to know that they’re going to get educated, learn about new products, or get discounts. One of the best examples of targeting an audience is from Groove, which makes simple help desk software for small businesses. Groove has a blog dedicated to their startup journey, specifically their quest to reach $500K in monthly revenue, and it’s remarkably honest. Groove targets small businesses and startups, so their call-to-action is written with the audience in mind. Not only will the audience benefit from learning everything Groove has to share, but they’ll also get to go join Groove in the journey.   Tactic #3. Create an asset that’s impossible to resist Not only should you have email opt-in forms on your blog and website, but you should also create marketing assets that subscribers can only get if they join your list. This has been one of the top strategies used by HubSpot, and it’s worked well for the company as the assets have been perfectly targeted to an audience of marketers. The key to this strategy is to make sure the asset is something subscribers actually want, and to not oversell and under deliver. You also need to make sure that the email content you follow up with will resonate with the audience who signs up to get the material you previously promoted.   Tactic #4. Hold a promotion, giveaway, or contest One way to encourage email list sign ups is to hold a promotion, giveaway, or contest. If you’re able to promote something relevant, subscribers will get excited, and be willing to offer up their email addresses for a deal. One of the most buzz-generating campaigns came from The Girlfriend Collective, a legging company, which gave away free leggings to anyone who subscribed to their email list. Rather than spend their marketing budget on traditional ads, the team figured their best marketing asset was their product, so they decided to ship them out for free. Kate Spade, the designer retailer, encourages people to sign up for an email list by offering surprise sales. In order to shop the sales, which offer a hefty 75% off, people have to enter their email address, subscribing to get updates from the retailer. Tactic #5. Create content that hooks people in Many businesses focus on building their email lists, but they forget about why people would want to receive updates. Most of the time, people subscribe to an email list so they can get great content delivered straight to their inbox. Help Scout, a help desk solution, has done a terrific job of creating long-form content that people really want to read. The content, which focuses on various aspects of customer service, has been so engaging that their email list grew to 30,000 new subscribers in the first 12 months. Not only is the content smart, easy to read, and genuinely helpful, but it’s also well-presented, and includes custom images. The effect is a professional blog filled with good advice that people want to sign up for.   Tactic #6. Host a free webinar This tip is similar to creating an irresistible asset, but it’s a more tangible way to get potential subscribers involved in your business. If you host a webinar or training course, staffed by experts, on a topic that is near and dear to your audience’s heart, then they will willingly sign up to receive updates from your business. For example, Unbounce hosts webinars giving advice on how to optimize landing pages. The company promotes the webinars before they happen, collecting as many sign ups as possible. The nice thing is that when the webinar is over, the recording can still be used as a marketing asset. Tactic #7. Try pop-ups, pop-overs, slide-ups, and other subscribe forms Many businesses use pop-ups to entice customers to join their email lists. OptinMonster uses pop-up forms to encourage readers to subscribe, usually touting various eBooks or other assets. Although these pop-ups may feel very in your face, they actually work. In a test by AWeber, popups drove 1,375% more email captures than a traditional sidebar opt-in form. Even so, you have to be careful when using pop-ups. Sometimes, people may subscribe to your list even though they aren’t that interested, resulting in low open and click-through rates. You might try different kinds of pop-ups. Many opt for a small box that slides up, rather than a full-on pop-up, or a bar that runs across the top of the page.   Tactic #8. Build an email course One of the best ways to encourage people to sign up for your email list is to offer an email course. You can use content you already have to create an email course which you send out via email on an automated basis. For example, Buffer has a few different email courses on how to do social media, including a 10-day course on becoming a social media expert. When someone signs up for this course, they’ll get 10 days of content to help them master social media, but they’ll also be added to Buffer’s email list. Tactic #9. Focus on what your audience wants You’re not going to build an email list using one quick hack. Instead, you need to focus on creating great stuff that makes people want to stay in touch with your company. Ask yourself what problems your customers are having, and make sure your content helps them solve their problems. You need to create content– whether it’s blog posts, eBook, videos, or webinars– that truly resonate with your audience. You need to create assets that are not only well-written, but are unique and perfectly targeted to your audience. The more specific and targeted you can get, the better luck you’ll have building an email list. Once you have content that people actually want, you can employ any of the email list building tactics above, and see success.      

The 25 Most Inspirational Olympics Ads Ever Created

Every year, major brands put billions of dollars into advertising in hopes of making a significant return, lifting revenue, and improving their brand visibility. Some of those same major brands spend millions on Super Bowl ads alone, as they try to steal the show through antics and over-the-top humor in order to stand out as the most memorable brand. But when it’s time to sponsor ads for the Olympics, those brands take a very different approach to their messages. Any attempt at humor is often minimal. Instead, they aim to inspire us. Some of the greatest ads from Olympic sponsors grab us, tug at our emotions, and give us pause. They force us to think beyond ourselves and to consider the challenges and plights of others. They tell us that no matter how we feel, what we look like, or where we come from, that we have the opportunity to achieve greatness. Some of the best ads remind us of how we got where we are. Others ensure that even after the Olympics are over, we will know that we are a world united. These ads may generate a great deal of revenue and help these brands reach a mass audience, but some of them provide so much more in terms of what they say to us. Here are the top 25 most inspirational and moving Olympics ads ever created. We recommend having a tissue handy – some of these ads will kick you right in the feels.   1. P&G – Thank You, Mom     Procter & Gamble has created what has been lauded as the most memorable, most shared Olympic video of all time. P&G, in partnership with Wieden & Kennedy Portland, launched a “Thank You, Mom” campaign, with the “Best Job” video leading off for the 2012 London Olympics. The video follows four child athletes on their path to the Olympics, supported by their mothers through thick and thin every step of the way. It will pull at your heartstrings as you realize that it takes the strongest people to make the strongest athletes.   2. Nike – Find Your Greatness     Nike does it again, and again, and again. The sporting apparel giant launched its “Find Your Greatness” campaign around the world to coincide with the opening ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympics. The ad aims to inspire, pushing us to look inward. We don’t begin great; it’s something we try, strive for, and achieve. Rather than focusing on Olympic athletes, the ad shows everyday people aspiring to be great – and achieving that greatness. It’s a state of mind that anyone can fight for and achieve.   3. McDonald’s – Rivals     We all have the capacity to be great, and the competitive Olympic spirit lives on in each of us. Most of us will never win a gold medal, but there are other things that can motivate us to find greatness in ourselves. We can compete against our own goals, or friends, even if the prize is something as simple as a Happy Meal.     4. Adidas – What Will You Take?     Adidas’ ad campaign was created in partnership with agency Sid Lee to support Team Great Britain. The powerful video covers the things that athletes leave behind, and the opportunities, sacrifices, and challenges they encounter as they train and compete to take the gold. It encourages you to embrace the same challenges, share those feelings, and not to let opportunity slip by.   5. Powerade – Power Through     Athletes face challenges every day, and there’s a fine line between the breaking point and breaking through to move forward. The extra effort, the sacrifice, the mistakes, and getting back up together make the difference between the athletes who walk away and the ones who go on to represent their countries as they compete for the gold.   6. Samsung – Are You Ready?     When the athletes head for the Olympics, the world is right alongside them and cheering them on. This ad from Samsung, featuring Olympics ambassador David Beckham, invites the world to get ready for the Olympics. It features Beckham bending an impressively long shot into a gong (unedited to showcase his skill and accuracy), kicking off the events for those watching around the world via their phones as they compete in games of their own.     7. Visa – Derek Redmond     For more than 30 years, Visa has been a proud sponsor of the Olympic Games. This video is just one ad in a series of sepia-toned advertisements published by Visa over the years. Featuring the voice of Morgan Freeman, the ad reminds us that not everyone wins medals, but that doesn’t mean we’ve lost anything along the way. Sometimes it’s not about winning… it’s about finishing strong.   8. The National Lottery – Jenny Meadows’ Mother     This advertisement comes from the National Lottery and tells the story of Olympic athlete Jenny Meadows’ mother and the sacrifices she made growing up, falling in love and supporting her daughter’s dreams, which echoed her own. It’s a beautiful backstory, intended to draw support for the National Lottery which provided funds to help more than 1,200 British athletes fulfill their dreams at the London 2012 Olympics.     9. EDF – Powering the Games     EDF was an official partner of the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympic Games. The ad centered on EDF supplying low-carbon, sustainable energy for the Olympic Park. But there was also a little more to it; the video is a humorous but inspirational reminder that while not all of us are star athletes, we all have that spirit in us. The Olympic Games are a sum of all its parts, and it takes the spirit and skill of everyday people to bring the world together and make it a better place.     10. GlaxoSmithKline – Marlon Devonish’s Exhilaration     This ad from GSK delivers a poignant anti-drug message about the tension and strain athletes must undergo when competing. It takes us inside the body of English sprinter Marlon Devonish to visually experience his emotions, anxiety, exhilaration, and even his breaking point as he preps to compete in the Olympics.     11. British Petroleum – Fueling the Future     BP was a proud sponsor of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Its ad steps away from the traditional highlighting of young athletes and Olympic competitors, and instead features those from the Paralympics. It shows how, regardless of physical differences, those athletes are still driven by the same spirit and passion that brings everyone else to the Olympic Games.   12. Bounty – Let the Spills Begin     This Olympic ad from Bounty features a number of children practicing their skills at home, from gymnastics in the hallway, to ping pong on the table and using an ottoman as a pommel horse. Dishes fall, drinks are spilled, but the training goes on. It’s a warm video calling out parents who sacrifice their homes to nurture the training and dreams of their young athletes.     13. Petro Canada – Dream Big     This ad from Petro Canada features bobsledder Jenny Ciochetti, showing the human side of Olympic hopefuls. Despite the intense training, they still experience fear, wonder, and worry. Ciochetti shared her big dream and wish to one day represent Canada in the Olympics. She later went on to win gold medals in the 2007, 2008, and 2012 Olympics – and never stopped dreaming big.     14. Coke – Home of the Game     Coke created an inspiring commercial for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The video draws on Canada’s pride as the birthplace of hockey, rallying the fans to make sure the world knows where the game came from, and that the inbound Olympic athletes are on Canada’s home ice now. Want to come brawl in their backyard? They’re waiting.   15. Kellogg’s – Celebrate the Start     We often focus on the finish of the races and talk about who will win or who has won the gold. Kellogg’s ad tells us that you can’t have a finish without the journey and to remind us that every athlete’s story has a beginning.   16. Nike – To Victory     Nike’s no stranger to inspirational content. This ad for the 2016 Olympics in Rio shows the backward progression of Olympians 15+ years from now, counting backward as the athletes grow older. It’s a great ramp up to get fans pumped for Rio, but it’s also a clever ad from Nike letting the world know that no matter the year, they’ll be there to help athletes train.   17. Visa – Carpool to Rio     This creative take from Visa is team-agnostic as it gradually builds, showing the comradery and sportsmanship among the different Olympic athletes as they pile in and converge on the 2016 Olympics. While intended to be tongue-in-cheek, it’s also a subtle reminder that we all train together, we all live together, and we all travel together – and that’s how we should support those athletes, as well.   18. Samsung – The Chant     You can’t deny the impressive scale of the Olympic Games when you see that Team USA has over 500 athletes. But step back and consider that all the teams came from something small. This year, South Sudan joins the Olympics as the newest country recognized by the IOC – and Samsung’s ad is certain to fill that nation with pride in their first-ever Olympic team as it celebrates those who overcome even the greatest barriers to compete.   19. Samsung – The Anthem     Here’s another ad for Samsung for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio. Rather than focusing on any individual athlete or team, Samsung instead created a video that demonstrated the diversity and global unity that is the Olympic Games. The video focuses on this moment of harmony with an anthem, inspired by lyrics from anthems from around the world. It’s a moving salute to those who chase their dreams, defy borders, and overcome barriers to join together at the Olympic Games.   20. Under Armour – Rule Yourself     The 2016 games in Rio mark the last time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps will compete. The ad focuses on the grueling intensity of the training that athletes like Phelps go through to compete and represent their country at the Olympic Games. It’s a strong message that shows how we get out exactly what we put in.   21. Canadian Institute for Diversity and Inclusion – The Luge     You don’t have to be a major brand with a massive production budget to send a strong and inspirational message. For the Winter 2014 Olympics, CIDI produced an ad which touched on diversity due to Russia’s anti-gay social policies. Diversity is the heart of the Olympic Games as it brings cultures and people together from around the world. The ad encourages us to celebrate it, and fight for it, so everyone has a right to compete.   22. Nike – Unlimited Future     Champions don’t start that way. They start out feeble, small, and unable to contribute much of anything. Nike’s 2016 Olympics ad stars Bobby Cannavale delivering an inspirational speech to a room full of newborns about shaping their futures, á la Pacino from Any Given Sunday. It’s amusing, but it still makes the feelings start to swell as it shows you how we’ve all come from humble beginnings – even champion athletes and Olympic gold medalists. You can’t control how your story starts, but you can control how it ends.   23. Channel 4 – Meet the Superhumans     Channel 4 launched a striking and inspirational television ad to highlight its role as the official broadcaster of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Its pride is evident as it focuses on these amazing athletes who are rarely featured in traditional advertising by other brands. It highlights the amazing feats of strength and the challenges these superhumans have overcome to make it to the Paralympic Games.   24. Channel 4 – Yes I Can     Following up on its inspirational message from the 2012 Olympics, the creative UK broadcaster returned with another empowering and inspirational commercial in support of the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. The amazing athletes are featured here, showing their passion, drive, and motivation to compete despite their physical challenges – don’t ever call them disabled.   25. Gillette – Perfect Isn’t Pretty     Gillette provides a glimpse into the Olympic training of Neymar Jr., Ning Zetao, Ashton Eaton, and Andy Tennant as they work toward the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Achieving their best is a beautiful thing, but the path, the sacrifices, the pain, and the anguish they endure to attain precision, is anything but.   Which advertisement did you find most inspirational or moving? Share your favorite with us in the comments below:  

How to Prepare for a Website Redesign

  It’s no secret that your website is one of the most important things your business has. After all, it’s often the first thing prospective customers see when they’re researching your services. But the web changes quickly, and your old website might not be cutting it. Many redesign their websites because they want a site that’s optimized for mobile. Maybe it’s too difficult to add new content, or maybe the site looks outdated. Maybe you never liked the site, and feel like the whole thing needs to be overhauled.   Here are some signs it may be time for a redesign: Your needs have changed, and your website no longer meets your needs It’s difficult for you and your team members to update site content The site looks outdated and stale, and needs to feel modern and fresh The content on the site is hard to read and understand You want to incorporate content marketing and SEO strategies You are selling products on your site, and want higher conversion rates   Whatever the case, a website redesign is a large project, and you have to prepare. You should assess your goals, decide how you’re going to manage the project, and determine what content you already have, and what content you need to create. Today, we’re sharing a checklist on how to prepare for a website redesign:   ❏   Item #1: Assess your goals Why do you want to redesign your site, and why is now the right time to do it? Maybe you’re redesigning as a personal project, or perhaps your team decided it was time. Before you embark on a redesign, you need to think through your goals and priorities. You should sit down and write out some bullet points on what you want from a new site. Break it into two categories: function and design. For example, Allstate Insurance needs a website that makes it easy for customers to request quotes, and become leads in the system. The website is functional, and has a nice design, too. It’s not a flashy, modern site, but it meets Allstate’s goals.   ❏   Item #2: Decide how Some companies, especially those that sell products over the internet like Amazon, have entire teams dedicated to web design and development. They have hundreds of people working to make sure the site looks good and functions well. But smaller businesses don’t have that option. Some may have a web development team on staff, especially if they sell online, but others rely on third-party vendors to ensure their website is up to snuff. When doing a website redesign, you have to ask yourself how you’re ultimately going to get it done. Should you use your existing staff, hire a freelance web developer, a local agency, or use a combination of all? The choice depends on specific needs, so don’t be afraid to explore a handful of different options before getting started. If you’re struggling, Blue Fountain Media put together a helpful resource– 10 questions to ask before hiring a web development company.   ❏   Item #3: Do a content audit What content is on your site right now? Is there much of it that you want to keep? What stays in a redesign, and what gets discarded? What new content needs to be created? Content contributes to positive SEO, brand recognition, and can help customers, so you don’t want to throw away everything you have. Still, now is the time to get rid of bloat. During a content audit, you should go through each page on your site to assess what stays, and what goes. The best way to do this is in a spreadsheet. The other thing to keep in mind is that many of your URLs are out there on the web– on other websites, emails, and on social media. When you transfer to a new site, you need to make sure all current URLs are accounted for. If they don’t have a page of their own, they need to be redirected to another page.   ❏   Item #4: Draft a new site map After you’ve done a content audit, you can draft a new site map. A sitemap is is a list of pages on your website. Sometimes, sitemaps are shown as a list. Other times they are shown in categories A sitemap can help you visualize what your site will look like, and where all the content will fit together in a redesign. Creately has a variety of sitemap templates you can use to create a sitemap. If you’re struggling to come up with a sitemaps that meets your needs, you can enlist a freelance web developer or agency for help with this step.   ❏   Item #5: Check out your competition You don’t want to do exactly what your competition is doing — you can never be sure if it’s working for them. However, it’s helpful to see how the competition is positioning themselves online. For example, if Birchbox, a subscription beauty box, wanted to redesign their website, they might check out how Ipsy, another subscription beauty box, is marketing themselves online. Birchbox’s current site is more complex than Ipsy’s, which goes for a simple value proposition and call to sign up. You shouldn’t copy your competition, but you should assess what you like and don’t like about their sites before embarking on your own redesign. You should also look at websites outside of your industry for inspiration.   ❏   Item #6: Decide who the website is for One of the most important things you can do when redesigning your website is to assess who the website is for. Deciding who the website is for will dictate the copy, images, and functionality of the site. A website built for graphic designers should be different than one built for doctors and nurses. It’s essential to know your audience as you go into a redesign. At this stage, you should look into your analytics to find out where people come to your website from. If they come from social media, you want to provide them with an experience that makes sense coming from a site like Facebook or Twitter. If they come via email, you want to make sure they’re landing on the right pages as well.   ❏   Item #7: Gather your team together It’s not just you who is redesigning the website. It’s a big job, and it’s not something you can do alone. Get your team together to get their perspective. In a meeting, ask them: What are your number one priorities for a new website? What’s the single worst thing about our current website? What feedback have you heard from leads and customers about the site? What are websites you admire? What site do you wish ours was like? What would your ideal process be for getting this done? How do you see us integrating our website with other initiatives, like sales, marketing, etc.?   ❏   Item #8: Make sure you have all necessary assets It can take a long time to redesign a website if you’re not organized. You need to make sure you have all necessary assets — copy, images, logos, and everything else– so that whoever is redesigning your website has everything they need to get started. This may seem daunting, but being organized at the get-go will make things much easier down the line. You’ll waste a lot of time if you have to hunt down assets every time your web designer needs something. Before you start the redesign, figure out everything you need. Consider using spreadsheets coupled with a project management tool such as Trello, Basecamp, or Asana.   Preparing for a website redesign A website redesign is a big project, and it’s one of the most exciting things that can happen for your businesses. When businesses redesign their websites, they see positive changes in SEO, more conversions, and happier customers.     Need help redesigning your website? Learn about our Web Builder Plans.     

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