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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Is it time to get a SSL certificate?

At first, determining whether or not you need a SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate might seem like a daunting task. What do they do? Do I really need one, and if I do, why? When do I attach it to my site? Don’t worry -- just about every small business owner launching a website for the first time asks the same questions.

The whole concept of SSL might seem like a mystery, but it’s actually fairly clear-cut. Here’s the lowdown:
What is SSL?

Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is a security mechanism that works between a user’s Web browser (like Firefox® and Google Chrome™) and the website the user is connecting to. The website’s software includes a SSL certificate issued by a trustworthy authority. When confidential info needs to be exchanged, SSL is used to encrypt the information before it is sent, and then to decrypt it at the other end, when it has been received.

What are the benefits of SSL?

1.  Protects your information. Unfortunately, the Internet is crawling with cyber crooks looking to steal confidential information. It’s up to you to keep the info on your site secure. SSL protects information that is both received and sent, so if you need to send information out, you’re protected, too!

2.  Brings in the shoppers. Online shoppers aren’t going to spend their money with a company they can’t trust. The moment you slap a SSL certificate onto your site, you are telling your customers you care. And what does that inspire? Loyalty. Return customers. Increased profits. More sales. All things that will make your business more successful in the long run. Nothing shows professionalism like taking care of your customers.

3.  Can increase your search ranking. In addition to increasing website security and site owner legitimacy, SSL certificates can improve your Google@ search ranking. The search giant recently announced it will add a new ranking signal -- HTTPS. Having an HTTPS connection means you’ve got an SSL certificate, which means to Google that your website is more secure and legitimate.

When do you need a SSL?

Do you take personal information from your customers, such as email addresses? Do you ask for payment information like credit card numbers? If you answered “yes,” then you likely will need a SSL certificate. Even the simplest of contact forms require your customers to put in some variation of personal information, and they trust you to keep it safe and use it responsibly. Encrypting that information with a SSL certificate makes it that much harder for all those hackers out there to steal information like usernames and passwords.
If you have an e-commerce website with the ability to accept payment methods online, then you definitely need SSL. In fact, some merchant accounts won’t even accept you until you have one.
When should you attach a SSL certificate to your site?

If you have any intention of collecting any information from your customers, now or in the future, the sooner you add SSL to your site, the better.  
Don’t hesitate when it comes to protecting your customers. Sensitive, personal information is constantly transmitting across the Internet, all of which is prone to unauthorized viewing. Mitigate that risk by attaching a SSL certificate to your site.

To learn more, check out Website Security 101.

Bio

Maxym Martineau is a small-business consultant for GoDaddy and a freelance writer based out of Arizona. She's an avid reader with a love for social media and blogging. Connect with Maxym 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..



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hiring an expert to manage your search engine presence

Lesson Highlight: Hiring an expert to manage your search engine presence

Many business owners are interested in improving their website’s visibility on Google. Some companies offer search engine optimization (SEO) services. This lesson explains how a good SEO company can help you improve your website’s code and content, which could lead to higher positions for your website on a search result page.

Deciding whether or not an SEO company is a good fit for your small business is a tough decision. An even tougher decision is choosing an SEO company that’s right for you.  Before you talk to a potential vendor, make a list of questions that will help you evaluate their skill and experience. And, make sure you feel comfortable working with them. Some example questions:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Can you show examples of your work and share some success stories?
  • Do you follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines?
  • What kind of results do you expect, and in what timeframe?
  • How do you measure success?
  • How can I communicate with you? Will you share all changes made to my website and provide detailed information about recommendations and the reasoning behind them?

We will also talk about the typical services an SEO provides, costs, and resources to help you learn more.




***

Friday 15: Small Business Tips, is a series designed to help small businesses like yours make the most of their online presence. If you missed the September post about advertising your business on Google, check it out here: http://asbdcbizblog.blogspot.com/2014/09/find-out-if-advertising-on-google-makes.html

You can read the full lessons and view more tips for growing your business online at www.gybo.com/friday15. Don’t forget to sign up to receive new lessons directly in your inbox, and make it a habit to grow your business online with Friday 15.  

On behalf of the entire Get Your Business Online team, I wish you great success growing your business.

Whitney Lemon - Friday 15 Host, Google Small Business Engagement




BIO: Whitney hosts Friday 15: Small Business Tips, Google’s series to help small businesses succeed online, in 15 minutes or less.  Friday 15 is part of Google’s Get Your Business Online program, providing small businesses with a custom domain name and web hosting- free for one year.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Simple steps to crafting powerful marketing campaigns

The goal of any marketing effort is to achieve a measurable result—and for many that goal to is often focused on moving your audience to take action. This may sound like an overwhelming task, but with the right approach in place, it does not have to be difficult to develop marketing campaigns that drive impact and achieve great results.  Following are some simple steps that you can follow to help craft powerful marketing campaigns.
1)      Think about the audience you’re trying to reach
Start by thinking about your ideal customer. Who are they? What are they interested in? What problems can you help them solve? Relevance is one of the most important factors of any successful marketing campaign. The goal of your marketing should be to create something that customers and potential customers will appreciate. That’s the type of experience people are going to pay attention to, and it’s also the best way to bring customers back.
Once you’ve shifted your focus to meet the needs of your audience, you can then start to match these ideas with your business goals.
Here’s an example to consider: If I’m a potential student who signed up for a pasta making class with a specialty pasta shop, but I’m not familiar with the different types of classes that they offer, it’s unlikely that I’m going to be receptive to an email asking me to sign up for a new class—how many types of pasta does one really need to know how to make?
Content marketing is different from traditional marketing, because it’s about providing value to your audience as a way to create and grow relationships. You still leverage popular channels of communication — like email, social, mobile, and web — and use content to showcase your business’s personality and expertise. The content you create can be something simple, like a post on social media, or something a little more extensive, like a blog post or an article in your email newsletter. But content marketing isn’t just about creating more content, it’s about creating content that will move your audience to take action.
Even the best marketing strategy won’t do you any good if you’re not willing to follow through, but you’re in the ideal position to create marketing messages that people look forward to. You know your customers. You understand their needs, interests, and expectations. And you create memorable experiences every single day.


2) Align their needs, interests, and expectations to your business goals
But if I receive email from the same shop that explains in detail the variety of classes  they offer (sauce making, wine and food pairing, Northern vs. Southern Italian cuisine, etc.) and also include information about the instructor, his experience, and philosophy — it’s much more likely that I’ll pay attention.
Whether you’re trying to fill a class, generate sales, or attract new clients, you’ll be much more successful when you put the needs of your audience first, and then match those to needs to your business goals.
3)      Plan your content
4)      Do the work
Don’t forget one of the most important things if you are just getting started—it’s okay to start small. Choose one channel — maybe it’s email or one of your active social networks — and look for ways to give something valuable to the people you’re trying to reach. Finding the right balance for your business could mean more opens, more clicks, and most importantly — more opportunity to do more business.


 
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.