Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How to Create an Inspiring Home Page for Your Small Business

Now that you’ve decided to build a website for your small business (congratulations, BTW), there’s no room or reason for procrastination. Right now, your potential customers are on their smartphones, tablets and computers looking for products or services like yours. The facts don’t lie:

-- At least 85 percent of today’s consumers use the Internet to find local products and services.
-- More than one-third of U.S. smartphone owners use their phones to find store locations online.
-- And people used their phones, tablets and desktops to shop online to the tune of more than $70 billion in 2013.

Most likely, your competitors are already online. You’re losing out if you’re not.

Of course you’re busy. You’re probably answering phones and taking orders and shipping product and buying supplies and cutting checks and doing all the other stuff entrepreneurs do to get their big ideas off the ground. Without a lunch break. Maybe even without a paycheck. I’ll wager that’s because you’re committed to making your small business succeed, whatever it takes.

So take a deep breath, carve a few hours out of your schedule (without forcing your children to eat canned corn for dinner), and let’s get started on that website.
Home page basics
Your home page is usually where people land first on your website, so that’s a good place to start planning. This is where you’ll begin to tell your business’s unique story through a number of must-have home page elements: strong headline(s), tagline, inspiring image(s), products/services, call to action, contact form, social widgets, and kudos (endorsements, badges, logos).

This <link to SBDC Website Content Creation Worksheet> will guide you through brainstorming each of these key home page features. Even if you’ve only got five minutes to spare, use it to fill out a section at a time. Before you know it, you’ll have created all the content that you'll need to get started.
Tagline
This is the one-liner that sums up your business. It generally occupies prime real estate near the top of your home page, near your logo. Let’s say you’re in the business of organizing closets. Your tagline might read something like: We organize your closets so you can get on with the rest of your life.
Strong headlines
Short and punchy headlines on each page of your site quickly tell visitors what your business is all about and what you’ve got to offer them on that page. The idea is to capture their interest with just a few, well-placed words. The one or two headlines on your home page usually give a snapshot of your main offerings. For example:

-- Get organized in a day!
-- Fast, professional & affordable service
-- A few skeletons? No problem! (Well, maybe not. But it’s kind of funny, right?)

For tips on writing meaningful headlines, see Best Practices for Website Content.
Inspiring images
You need powerful, visual elements to attract visitors’ interest and to balance out the text on your home page. First, choose a compelling central image or a video to anchor the page. For instance, you could embed a YouTube® video that gives a before-and-after closet tour or a high-quality photo of a beautifully organized closet. Next, pick smaller images to illustrate key sections of your home page, such as a photo for each of the primary products or services you highlight on the page.  

For tips on creating videos with your smartphone, check out this article.
Products and services
Wet visitors’ appetites for your products or services by calling them out on your home page. You can highlight them in a short, bulleted list (with a link to your site’s products/services page), like this this:

-- Free closet consultation
-- Full-service installation
-- State-of-the-art shelving
-- Before-and-after pics for your scrapbook

Another option is to pick a handful of key products/services to call out on your home page with mini-headlines (called “subheads”), followed by short descriptions. This option works well if you have strong corresponding images.

Bonus: There are plenty of templated design options to make your layout look great.


Call to action
This is the main thing you want people to do after they visit your website, expressed in an exciting, active way. Along these lines: Call today for your free consultation!

Contact form
It’s important to make it as easy as possible for customers to get in touch with you in whatever way works best for them, so you’ll want to include all of your business’s contact information on your home page. Many template-based site builders also include a map feature. Add a contact form to your home page to make it simple for visitors to shoot you a message -- and as a way to generate leads from your website.

Social buttons
Your website is a perfect platform to connect with customers—especially when it integrates feeds from social media sites like Facebook® and Twitter®. By adding “Share” and “Like” buttons on your home page, you can cultivate relationships with existing and potential customers, establish credibility, and build your online brand.




Kudos
Have you been recognized for any remarkable achievements? Do you participate in professional or trade organizations? Do you support specific charitable causes? If so, use your home page to showcase the badges, logos, certifications and guarantees that testify to your street cred. Also, pick a quote from your strongest customer testimonial to feature on the page. Like this dazzling endorsement: “Thanks to the pros at Clutter-Free Closets, we no longer face an avalanche of basketballs and tennis rackets every time we open the closet door!”  

Most template-based website builders, including GoDaddy’s Website Builder, also offer prompts and/or sample text in each of these areas to help you move through building your home page. From there, you’re only a few pages away from publishing a website that will put your small business in front of all those customers looking just for what you’ve got to offer. Now, about that canned corn …

Calling all SBDC professionals! You have exclusive access to all of our training materials referenced in our blog, please visit the Americas SBDC website Members Only area. A complete GoDaddy Training Materials webpage is available under "Partner Resources." To get the login info to the Members Only area please email marketing@americassbdc.org now. Please note only SBDC professionals have access.

Bio

 A former small business owner and newspaper journalist, and a published nonfiction author, Andrea Rowland helps craft compelling communications for today’s go-getters through her work as an editor at GoDaddy. Connect with Andrea on Google+. The world’s largest domain name registrar and Web hosting provider, GoDaddy gives small business owners the tools to name their idea, build a beautiful online presence, attract customers and manage their business. To get more tips for your small business—including articles, videos and webinars—check out the GoDaddy Training Hub.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Success Story: Florida

Joe and Son’s Olive Oils comes to fruition with help of Florida SBDC at USF

In the summer of 2011, Andrea Messina Gebbia had an idea for a retail business and a partial business plan. All she needed was some direction to get her started. That’s when she reached out to the Florida SBDC at USF.

“My family has been in the grocery business here in Tampa since the 1930s, so I always just sort of had this passion for food and cooking but never really wanted to go to culinary school,” Gebbia said.

Gebbia’s great-grandfather, Giuseppe (Joe) Favata, left Sicily and eventually established Joe and Sons Grocery in historic Ybor City, in 1938.

“He, like me, was just trying to pursue his American dream,” she said. “This was my way of paying tribute to the family store.”

Joe and Son’s Olive Oils opened in November 2011 on Bay to Bay Boulevard, as a retail store specializing in olive oils and balsamic vinegars.

In 2011, prior to opening her doors, Gebbia sought out the FSBDC at USF for training and consulting.  “I’d heard it was a wonderful resource for people starting a small business and I just kind of needed some help,” she said.

She went on to take three training seminars and meet with multiple certified business consultants in their areas of expertise, including finance, marketing, taxes, bookkeeping and web optimization.

She says she has learned some valuable lessons along the way.

“I was scared to death to start a business with the economy the way it is and [the FSBDC at USF] didn’t tell me I was crazy,” she said. “What I got was two-fold. Not only did they provide great information but I think it helped me with my confidence to move forward.”

Gebbia has taken the advice she got from experienced consultants, and put it to work in her business.

“Yanina taught me that I can’t just sit back waiting for customers to come in,” she said. “So I’m at monthly fresh markets  in Hyde Park and Carrollwood. I get so many people that say ‘I see your place all the time, I’ve been meaning to come in.’ I think that little bit of personal interaction is what it takes to get them to stop in versus just drive by.”

Yanina Rosario is an associate director and certified business consultant with FSBDC at USF.

Implementing consultant recommendations into her business has resulted in one full-time and five part-time employees, and more than $200,000 in gross revenues in 2013.

“The bulk of everything she got from us, she’s actually implemented,” Martin Zients, FSBDC at USF certified business consultant, said. “She’s taken advantage of our services – lock, stock and barrel.”

Moving forward, Gebbia said she intends to stay connected with the FSBDC at USF.

“As a small business owner, I’ve been a little bit of a slave to the business, but now, moving forward, I really want to focus more on building and growing the business,” she said. “I’m considering opening up another location in north Tampa, so, at that point, I will certainly be looking for some advice to make sure that we’re not growing too fast. I’m going to continue to meet with consultants and take classes as needed.”





Monday, October 27, 2014

Why permission based marketing matters

Constant Contact has long been an advocate for permission-based marketing. We know that it is the best route to developing the long-lasting customer relationships that small businesses work so hard to achieve —the relationships that can drive customer engagement, and encourage repeat sales and valuable word-of-mouth for your business.
Over the summer, this topic was brought to the fore in the world of email marketing, as Canada began enforcing a new Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL). The legislation requires all those that market to Canada with commercial electronic messages (email, some forms of social media, etc.) regardless of where in the world they are located, to adhere to the some of the strictest anti-spam regulations in the world or risk serious penalties: up to $1 million for individuals and up to $10 million for businesses. (Note: Visit Constant Contact’s CASL Resource Center if you’d like to learn more.)

Even if CASL doesn’t affect your business, it serves as an essential reminder of how important it is to get your customers’ permission before adding them to your email marketing list. Along with helping you develop stronger ties to your customers, permission-based email has better open rates, less spam reports, and is generally more effective.
Following are 10 tips from Constant Contact to help ensure you are marketing with permission:
1. Collect email addresses the right way
If you’re adding a new contact to your email list, it’s important that you have consent, either implied or express. Implied consent is inferred based on actions, such as having an existing business relationship (making a purchase or donation, for example). In order to maintain implied consent to comply with CASL a contact must take a business action with you at least once every two years. Under CAN-Spam there is no need to maintain implied consent, it is assumed until the receiver indicates they no longer wish to receive messages. Express consent is obtained when you explicitly ask your potential contacts for permission to send them email, and they agree. Once you obtain express consent, it is good forever or until someone opts out.
When possible we recommend obtaining express consent.
2. Be straightforward at the point of sign up
When asking people to join your list, be straightforward about what type of content you plan
to send. Special offers, promotions, and exclusive content are great incentive for people to join your list but if you don’t follow-through, you could lose them as a reader and possibly as a customer.
3. Give people the option to opt-out
Permission can be given, and it can be taken away. It is very important that every email you send has the option for the recipient to unsubscribe or “opt-out.” Interests may change over time and communications may no longer be valuable to a given subscriber.
4. Add a permission reminder to your emails
Whether they are a valued customer, a prospect who expressed interest or a client you want to keep in touch with — adding a permission reminder will add credibility and help provide context for your email.
5. Respect your audience’s privacy
Trust will play a big part in whether or not someone decides to join your list. Your privacy policy should be clearly posted. It adds credibility to your company and your email even if recipients do not click on the link.
6. Keep your contacts up-to-date
People change email service providers, jobs and email addresses at random. Often, you’ll be the last to know. Ask for updated information and give subscribers an easy way to change their email address. This will ensure that your communications continue to be received if, and when, they make a change.
7. Don’t overwhelm your audience
Respect the privilege of communicating with your customers and prospects by taking care not to communicate too often. Think carefully and plan how many, and what kind of communications you send to your subscribers.
8. Be diligent
Some subscribers will reply to an email to unsubscribe instead of using the automatic unsubscribe link. Monitor your inbox for unsubscribes, and complaints, then make sure you remove unsubscribe addresses right away and take action on any grievances.
9. Watch your reports
There’s a wealth of information just waiting to be discovered. Always pay attention to your unsubscribe rate — if you are losing more than 0.5% of your subscribers per month, you need to make adjustments. Opens and click-throughs can also indicate where you might be missing the mark.

10. Never buy or rent a list
Permission is not transferable. Today, subscribers want to receive email from those companies they have subscribed to, not an unknown third party. Don’t be fooled by the false promise of ready-to-buy lists.


 
Gina Watkins is a leading expert on e-marketing for small business – and has a real passion for helping businesses to succeed. Her ongoing series of dynamic lectures are filled with real-world examples, humor and results-driven wisdom garnered from more than two decades of sales, business development and marketing experience. In addition to owning her own business, she is an award-winning direct marketer, has been featured on WUSA Channel 9's Mind Over Money show, Dr. Gayle Carson’s Women In Business radio show, Morgan State’s Briefcase Radio program, and in numerous other media. In her role as Constant Contact Regional Development Director, she’s presented to more than ten thousand seminar attendees about the keys to success with easy, affordable, highly effective technology tools that grow trusted business relationships.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Launch Your Business Online in 3 Steps

I'm a lucky guy. For work, I get to talk to hundreds of entrepreneurs and people who help small business owners. I've talked to piano teachers, wedding photographers, and roller-derby merchants. I've talked to bloggers, designers, and musicians. I even talked to a guy building a castle for his business in New England. Stone by stone. See what I mean? Inspirational, creative stuff.

A lot of them have one thing in common: they know they should be online, but something is keeping them back.

What is it? Is it too technical? Is it like learning a new language? Maybe. In a lot of cases, it's all of the stuff they think they need to worry about that holds them back: cloud-based computing, HTML, WordPress,Twitter, A/B split testing, analytics, metadata, SEO, image resolution.

Listen, getting online is a lot like learning anything else. No one pulls out Rachmaninoff when they first start learning to play the piano. They learn Chopsticks. They learn Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. They start small, get good, and then go bigger. Getting online is the same. There are three initial steps that you can complete in a couple of hours, and once you're done, you'll have something cool to put on your new business cards.

And it's about as hard as learning Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
Step 1: Register Your Domain Name

Naming a business can be tricky. Some of you already have a name ready to go. Your business is something you’ve been dreaming about for 20 years and you know exactly what you’re going to call it. Most of us, though, we stress about business names like we stress about naming our children. What if it’s too playful? What if it’s not playful enough? What will it look like on a bumper sticker? What will it look like on a sign? What if my friends make fun of me?

And what if the domain name is already taken? What then? Am I going to end up with a name 25 characters long?

That’s a lot to think about. And honestly, it’s worth wrestling over. The right name inspires you to keep going and it can make it easier for customers to remember who you are.

Here’s some good news: you have to worry A LOT less about domain names. The Internet is changing. It used to be that you had a select group of domain name endings that mattered to choose from. Endings like .com or .org or .co.uk. All domain names are unique; once someone buys a domain, it’s taken. You have to think up something else or try to buy the domain name, at a premium price, from the person who owns it now. For these popular domain name extensions, a lot of the good names are already taken.

Well, now you have options. A lot of options. Throughout this year, more than 700 new domain name endings are entering the market. Names like .guru and .club, .photography and .lawyer. And, here are a couple I love – .nyc and .uk. This means there’s a good chance that no matter what you name your business, you’ll be able to find a great domain name to match it.

Want to see a list of all the names on the horizon? Check out the new domain extensions page over at GoDaddy.

Step 2: Get a Professional Email Address

I know, I know, you already have an email address. Yeah, me too. Most of us got one 15 years ago and we use it for everything. But once you have a domain name for your business, you want a professional email address for your business that includes your new domain name. You’re going to put it on everything: your business cards, your social media profiles, inside fortune cookies, on the side of your car. You get the point. You want a branded email address.

It’s professional. It’s exciting. And, shawn@sbdc.guru is so much better than daydreambeliever272@hotmail.com.

My big recommendation here? Make sure you get an email account that can grow with you. Right now you just need something to get you started, but eventually you might want to manage calendars, share files, and add more addresses. Check out something like Microsoft® Office 365 from GoDaddy.

Step 3: Build your website

I’m saving the scariest step for last. It’s time to build your website. You’ve got a lot of different options, but let’s keep it as simple as we can. You can do one of three things: use a simple website builder, brush up on your coding skills, or have someone do it for you.

Me? I’m about speed. I think it’s better to get something up and running as quickly as possible. You don’t have time to talk to your niece about building a website. You don’t have time to pick up a book about HTML5 and CSS3. Right now you need to get something live so you can print your website address on your business cards and start taking phone calls. You need something you can put together in a couple of days.

It’s simple. You need a landing page. Something with a photo that represents your business and a way to get a hold of you. That's it. You can grow it into something else later. That's one of the great things about websites. They're pretty easy to change.

There are a number of simple website builders out there. Google® it. Type in “simple website builder” to see what your options are. Here’s what you want to look for:

  • Inexpensive
  • Reliable
  • Beautiful templates
  • Social integration
  • Easy to customize

Just in case something goes wrong, you’ll want someone to talk to 24/7. That’s important. Building your first web page isn't difficult, but it’s nice to have backup.

Check out GoDaddy’s website builder. You can get a three-page website up and running in a couple of hours. That gives you plenty of time to update your business cards and prep your brilliant Facebook® posts.

After you’re live, you can think about moving to WordPress® or hiring your niece. You’re just getting started, after all.

See? No need to overthink it. This is something you can get up and running today. Stick with these first three steps and you’ll have something to write home about before you know it.

BIO

Shawn’s been working in communications for more than 20 years. Fifteen years ago, he built his first website at a public library. Despite the miserable Internet connection, he was hooked and has been helping others get online ever since. Shawn’s passionate about teaching and is convinced that a good story is the best way to do it.

At GoDaddy, he’s led multiple creative teams and been a loud, positive voice for customer service and entrepreneurs. He currently runs the editorial department where he gets to put his creative writing degree to good use.

Connect with Shawn on Google+. The world’s largest domain name registrar and Web hosting provider, GoDaddy gives small business owners the tools to name their idea, build a beautiful online presence, attract customers and manage their business. To get more tips for your small business—including articles, videos and webinars—check out GoDaddy's Training Hub

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Success Story: Ohio

Center: SBDC in Elyria at Lorain County Community College
Client:  Woof House (dog boarding kennel)

Bob Sell had been dreaming about owning his own business for years. After spending 10 years working a second job at a kennel in Pennsylvania, he decided to find a kennel to buy. After a long search, he found a kennel in Sheffield Village, OH and began working with John Guidone, a local commercial bank officer at Lorain National Bank.   Mr. Sell had everything he needed to qualify for an SBA Small Business Loan with LNB, except a business plan. He had never written a business plan, and didn’t know where to start. John connected Bob with Kim Plzak, Director at the Small Business Development Center at Lorain County Community College.   The fact that Bob was out of state did not deter him or the SBDC! Kim and Bob scheduled several phone meetings and exchanged information via email. The SBDC obtained research to assist and communicated regularly with Bob. Bob worked many hours, with the assistance of the SBDC, to write his plan. About two months later, Bob’s plan was complete.

Bob said ‘I had no idea how to write a business plan, or where to start. I really appreciated John referring me to the SBDC at LCCC. Writing a business plan can be very overwhelming. The SBDC was great! They walked me through the process, gave me samples, and helped with the market research. Without Kim’s help, it would have been very difficult.’    Daniel E. Klimas, LNB President & CEO says "LNB is proud to be called a community bank. Our goal is to help small and medium sized businesses with all their financial needs. As a Preferred SBA Lender, we can expedite the loan request, or as in Bob Sell's case take the extra time and lend advice and counsel."  

In late October 2013 the good news arrived that Bob’s SBA loan was approved! Bob moved to Ohio in January 2014 with his new business loan finalized.  Now, Bob owns and operates his own business –a dream come true!

Bob offers some wisdom to new entrepreneurs: ‘Although this process was long and difficult, it was worth it! I have never been so happy to finally own my own business!’


This success story has gained interest from the Cleveland SBA office and they have chosen it as one of their local success stories.  The photos attached were taken by the SBA and feature, Bob Sell, owner and Kim Plzak, SBDC Director.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Success Story: Wisconsin

Fox Valley Entrepreneur Believes in SBDC “Magic”
When unexpected and costly building renovations threatened to delay or possibly end Ray Reinders’ dream of launching his own IT business, he turned to the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at UW Oshkosh. SBDC director, Colleen Merrill, was instrumental in connecting Link Computing with financial resources that supported the start of the business in October 2013.

“A friend of mine said, ‘go to Colleen Merrill. She makes magic happen,’” Reindeers says. “Colleen understood what I was trying to accomplish. She worked up numbers and business concepts, and told us what we should expect. She cut every piece of red tape imaginable. Within a month I had a $90,000 loan to complete the project. I can’t imagine doing all that on my own.”

Link Computing

Once financing was secure, Reinders was able to put his focus on business development. Merrill help him implement processes and procedures that were scalable, efficient, and transferable.  By developing these tools, the company was in a position to grow at a pace they determined, hire additional employees, and feel comfortable knowing a plan was laid out.

SBDC director Merrill says, “Ray is one of the most determined, talented, and compassionate business owners I have had the pleasure of meeting. His growth is based not only on sound business decisions but also on true passion for what he does.  He continues to outperform his projections and is an asset to the community he supports.”

Link Computing Solutions provides IT service and support to residential and commercial clients in the Fox Valley. His wife, daughter, son and son-in-law work in the family business. Based on the early success of the company, Reinders anticipates hiring additional employees.

“I don’t want to become too big, too fast,” he says. “We know our business model works. My goal is to one day give this business to my kids.”

For more information on this successful IT business, go to www.linkcomputing.com.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Protecting Intellectual Property Locks

Every small business should have a basic understanding of the laws that apply to protecting intellectual property. It is the only way a company will be able to protect their unique creations and ideas from competitors. There are four major ways a small business can obtain legal protection for intellectual property (IP).

Trade Secrets
This is business information that a company keeps secret. This information gives the small business an advantage over their competitors. It could be a device, method, formula and more. A trade secret example could be anything from the ingredients used in a food product, to the process used for creating an object. This cannot be protected by registering it. A small business must control access to this type of information. Companies must use Non-Disclosure Agreements, employment covenants and more to protect their trade secret.

Copyright
A small business may have created literature to sell their product that should have copyright protection. Copyright protection could also include music, computer software and more. In theory, copyright protection occurs the minute the work in created. When a small business holds a copyright, they will be able to better prove their case if a copyright infringement lawsuit becomes necessary. Details of copyright registration can be found at the US Copyright office website.

Trademark
A trademark is a design, phrase, or symbol that identifies the creator of the goods. The golden arches of McDonald's, as well as its phrase “I'm Lovin' it, are examples of registered trademarks. In theory, trademarks are acquired as they are used. Registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides the business who created it with a better chance of protecting the trademark.

Patent
This gives a small business the rights to their inventions. Having a patent will enable the small business to keep others from manufacturing, using, or selling their invention. A patent is obtained by completing the application process from the USPTO. There are three different types of patent applications: process, plant, and design. The details of each can be found the USPTO website.

A company's unique ideas will become more valuable as the business grows, so it's important for the business owner to identify and protect their intellectual property regularly and thoroughly.

This post originally appeared on the traklight.com blog here on August 26th, 2014, titled 4 Ways To Obtain Legal Protection For Intellectual Property.



Mary Juetten, Founder and CEO of Traklight.com, developed the idea for Traklight while earning her JD and has leveraged 25+ years of business experience to globally launch Traklight in less than three years. Traklight is an innovative software company with a mission to help educate and empower you to be proactive in identifying, protecting, and leveraging your ideas for your startup, invention, or business. Through the use of online IP identification tools and resources, Traklight users can protect their IP, and prevent infringement disputes and subsequent losses of large sums of money. Follow Traklight on Facebook, Twitter, or their blog.