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Ecommerce Blog - Fortune3

What’s Your Value Proposition?

fortune3-e-commerce-value-proposition-imageIs a value proposition really all that big of a difference maker for your business? It can be – if you do it right.

What a value proposition encompasses can literally cause your business to explode overnight. A good value proposition is communicated right away on your home page.

There aren’t very many good ones among either corporations or small businesses.

But here’s an example of one that’s done very well:

Appsumo’s Piktochart

Now, I will warn you there are some curse words on their front page. So if that bothers you, don’t go there.

But what it does really well from a value standpoint is address a huge problem: most presentations are boring to watch. They follow the immediate value proposition up with some pretty awesome copywriting too.

So, if you’re wondering how to create a high-quality homepage that converts, it’s a great example of that too.

How do You Find Your Value Proposition?

Wow, that’s actually an incredibly involved process. Let’s take a look at some tips:

1. Know the Standard Offering in Your Market

Are you a donut eater? If I could, I would eat donuts all day long. How’s a cream-filled, frosted vanilla long-john sound?

Sounds great, right?

But you can eat one anywhere, so there’s no reason to visit one business versus any others.

Now, I’ve discussed this business before as one that’s differentiated, but I’m going to again because it really does an awesome job of it.

VooDoo Donuts makes donut-eating quite awesome. Look at all the tasty donuts on their home page – there’s even one that looks like a ghost or ghoul!

You get the same old thing in a brand new and interesting way. People have a reason to go to VooDoo Donuts because they can’t get the same thing anywhere else.

And guess what? Locals report the place has lines until 2 AM!

2. Identify Your Market’s Problem, Or Create One

Now in the donut market, there wasn’t anything “wrong” with donuts. People weren’t complaining about their quality or how to find the flavors they really liked.

In your market, you’ll hear the same old thing again and again. That’s the key to finding your value proposition!

Don’t worry if you can’t identify one right away. It can take months or years before one becomes clear.

3. Know Your Own Company’s Strengths

Once you identify one, make sure you can actually execute on it. Maybe your value proposition is delivering your products faster than anyone else.

It could be making products that last longer than all the others.

Whatever you do, you have to be able to deliver on it.

So What is Your Value Proposition?

It could take lots of refining before you finally hit it on the head. Talk with your employees and customers. Get feedback from people you trust.

Keep working towards it, and when you finally discover it, your business will take off!

 

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips, Online Marketing Strategies

Have You Heard about Google Pigeon?

Google actually did not name this update. Rather the phrase was coined by Search Engine Land.

What’s it do?

A few things:

• It makes local search work more like organic web search, rather than a separate kind of search
• Boosts ranking power for reputable local business directories like Yelp (which felt Google was purposefully lowering its rankings)
• Gives more ranking power to business directories known specifically in certain metropolitan areas

It was just released on the 24th of July.

So What Should You Do? 

If you’ve been paying attention to what Google’s been doing for years now, there’s not a ton to change with your approach to SEO. Google wants:

• Websites with the best quality content at the top of the search engine rankings
• You to use as natural language as is possible in all areas of your website (META title/description, blog content, product titles/descriptions)
• Consistent content updates
• Lots of social shares when you do create content
• You to give the best possible user experience with your website (fast page load times, images/videos where they make sense)

That’s really all there is to it. Today’s SEO is simple (but it’s not easy!).

Now I work with a number of SEO consultants personally, and I’m starting to see them optimize their websites locally – for dozens of cities across the nation.

Does that work? To be honest, I’m not sure. But some are doing it.

Should you do it? I don’t know.

In my personal approach to SEO, I stick to the above general principles pretty rigidly. After all, do just one manipulative thing in Google’s eyes, and that could be the end of your business with an algorithm update.

Better safe than sorry in my mind.

This whole local optimization thing I’m seeing some SEOs do is pretty interesting. In the past, they would create separate websites for different metropolitan areas.

I think optimizing a single website for many localities can work. But make sure those pages are accessible somewhere in your main navigation. You should have a “cities served” tab of some sort. This part I actually heard from a good friend of mine who talked to Google in person (another great way to get straight on SEO if you’re not already).

You Should Notice a Rankings Boost!

…if you’re doing SEO the white hat way Google wants. And if you stick to the general steps above, you should make it through any Google algorithm update just fine.

 

Posted in SEO for eCommerce

Top 6 PPC Mistakes (And How to Fix Them)

fortune3-ppc-mistakes-imageJust a small mistake in PPC can cost you thousands in advertising in the weeks and months ahead! So, the best strategy is to always do everything you can to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Google can’t be nice when it comes to their PPC tool – it’s their biggest revenue generator by far!

So here they are in no particular order:

1. Bidding on Broad, Generic Keywords

Only the very big companies (think Amazon big) can afford to do this. Broad keywords are ones with 2 phrases in them or less. They bring in people who have just become aware of your product and who want to learn more about it.

If you’re a small business, think of the long-tail phrases, ones with 3 words in them or more. They convert faster and better.

2. Getting the #1 PPC Position at the Top of the Page

How could this possibly be bad? Unfortunately it is. Most PPC experts will tell you that position 3-4 works best. The top position doesn’t work so well because people are just beginning their research at this point.

Once they know more about prices and the companies selling products, they’re ready to buy.

3. Making a Typo in Your Budget Per Day

You can set this limit precisely, but don’t set it too high by accident! There are countless stories of people who wanted to spend $500 per day, but typed in $5000.

It’s a simple fix – have a second set of eyes check your campaign settings before it goes live.

4. Forgetting to Stay Relevant on Your Landing Page

Whatever you say in your PPC ad itself, repeat it in the headline of your landing page. So, if you have FREE shipping, make that clear right away on your landing page.

If you make people dig down to the right, left, or bottom of the page, you’ll lose a lot of sales because most are not patient enough to stay on your site that long.

5. Using Your Phone Number in Your Ad

People don’t even know your company, products, or services yet! Why would they call? Test have been done which show placing your phone number in your PPC ad is really just a waste of space.

Don’t do it.

6. Not Running Holiday Specials 

Get some more holiday-specific ads running at key times throughout the year. You might have to be clever, but something like a “summer blowout” is enough to make your ad stand out from the competition’s.

Whew, well, when you calculate the total of all these mistakes, the net swing could be from a loss numbering in the thousands to a profit of thousands!

What could your business do with the new-found profits?

Posted in Pay-Per-Click

What Legal Entity is Best for You?

fortune3-e-commerce-legal-entity-imageShould you be a sole proprietor, S-Corp, C-Corp, LLC, or something else altogether? While you get to be your own boss and do things your own way when you run your own business, the drawback is that if you’re self-employed, you pay very high taxes.

In fact, my accountant says the self-employed pay higher taxes than employees 95-99% of the time!

At least you have a lot more control over determining  your income…

Anyway, this whole idea sparks the debate of what type of legal entity is best for your business. We could write a whole serious of blog posts on that, but let’s look at it from a purely financial perspective today.

Here are some pros & cons of each:

1) Sole proprietor

This is how the IRS treats you by default. The benefit of this is that it’s really, really easy to manage come tax time each year. The drawback is that if you are involved in a legal suit, your entire income and all your assets can be pursued in court.

2) LLC

A LLC is easy to manage – legally and financially. You pay the same taxes that you do as a sole proprietorship, unless you designate yourself to be treated taxwise as a S-Corp.

The really good news – if you are involved in a legal suit, only income and assets of the LLC can be pursued in court. Nothing personal you have can be attacked. Now if you’re a one-person LLC, that will still be all your income. But, your personal assets won’t be in jeopardy.

3) S-Corporation

If you’re never planning on going public, this may be the entity for you. You can have up to 100 shareholders. S-Corps take a little more work to operate (speaking in a legal sense), but they protect your personal assets, and they do not pay any taxes themselves at the federal level (all profits pass through to employees and shareholders, who are taxed). You can also characterize part of the income you and your employees receive as “dividends” which reduces your self-employment taxes (but be careful when you do this).

4) C-Corporation

This is almost always for companies going public. The corporation itself pays taxes, and so do all employees and shareholders. But, this is done in exchange for the right to having an unlimited number of shareholders – and explosive growth.

What Should You Do? 

Did you know you can be a legal LLC, but get tax treatment as a S-Corp? It’s really the best of both worlds: you have great freedom to run your business how you see fit, and favorable tax treatment.

The key with S-Corps is making sure you elect a reasonable portion of your salary to be “dividends.” And for guidance on that, you have to analyze common salaries in your business and get an educated opinion from your accountant.

Good luck as you run your business out there!

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips

How to Get the Most out of Your Employees

Do you have employees…or contractors? Either way, you have to treat them right to get the best productivity out of them.

But if you’ve never been a supervisor or manager before, how do you do that?

Here are some tips:

1. Think of everything past bosses did that made you angry…and do the opposite!

If you didn’t like how your past bosses treated you, why would anyone else like that kind of treatment? Did they give you unfair deadlines, take the credit for your hard work, or give you the worst hours?

Even though your employees or contractors may not see negative things to you in person, they will take that negativity out on you in other ways. For example, you may notice an unexpected decline in service quality or performance.

So, share the credit, give your employees control over their hours, and work with them on deadlines when circumstances unexpectedly change. Your business notices it in its bottom line at the end of the month.

2. Get their feedback. 

People who are involved in decisions that affect them buy into them more strongly. Remember when you were a kid and you got told what to do, with no other option?

Didn’t that make you want to do the assigned task less? But then, on occasion, you got to participate in deciding what you should do next on vacation. And it was awesome when your parents followed through!

Besides more buy-in, you also can’t possibly be aware of how everything’s going on your own. You also don’t know how other people are affected by your decisions.

Feedback – especially honest feedback – dramatically transforms your business when you implement the appropriate changes.

3. Be fun to be around. 

Work is important, and you should take what you do seriously. But that doesn’t mean you have to use a serious, intense, and competitive attitude when you’re actually doing it.

In fact, many studies have shown that fun workplaces are more productive. Google, for example, lets employees scale a rock wall, bowl, and play volleyball at its headquarters. And last year, they just made $57.86 billion in revenue – a company record.

You may not be able to let your employees do that, but it demonstrates the point.

Staying Motivated Wins the Race

When it comes right down to it, your business is going to win the competition because you make your employees happy. In turn, they make your customers happy.

Few companies know how to make this happen in reality, so if you can find a way to do this,  you have a huge competitive advantage at your disposal.

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips

What to do When Business is Slow…

It’s scary when business slows down…especially when you’re in the early days. Are things going to get better in the near future? How long will you have to hold on? How do you plan your personal finances to make it through the lean times?

There’s no perfect answer to what to do when things are slow, but there are some things you can do:

1. Market Your Business (or Find New Ways to do So)

You should be marketing your company when things are going well, and when they’re not going like you hoped. But, now that things are slow, you have some more time to test out new marketing strategies and refine existing ones.

2. Send a Free Gift to Customers

Speaking of marketing – nothing works better than a surprise. Randomly select some of your customers and send them something for free. They’ll be ecstatic – and word will spread far and wide about your company.

My mom recently got a Keurig ($125 value) for free. She did not sign up for anything to get it. Now she’s not a coffee drinker, but she gave it to my wife, who is.

Guess what her opinion of the company is? And guess what I’ll tell other people about Keurig if they ever need a coffee maker?

3. Spend Time with Family & Friends

When business is busy…make your money. But when it slows down, that’s a good time to refresh and recharge for the next busy spurt. Since  your so busy in the digital world, take some time out from it and get your brain on the right track again by interacting with others in the real world.

4. Analyze Your Processes

The busy time will come again in the future, so now’s a great time to analyze how you’ve been doing things and see if they can’t be done better or faster. Unless you’re a gigantic corporation, most likely there’s some room for improvement.

5. Go on Vacation

One of the most difficult things to do when you own a SMB is to take a break of any kind. It’s tempting to think you need to work hard when business is  there, and then work hard again when it is not there to get it coming back again.

But, the reality is that it always comes back if you do good work or provide great quality products consistently over the long run. Now’s the time to refresh and recharge so you’re ready to do top-notch work again during the next rush.

There’s Always Plenty to Do!

What you have to do is prioritize what’s most important to you. A combination of marketing, prepping for the next flood of business, and re-energizing usually works best.

But the specifics are up to you. What’re you doing right now during your slow time, or how do you plan to handle slow times in the future?

Let me know in the comments below:

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips

6 Traits of Successful E-Commerce Ventures

Is your e-commerce site doomed to failure or primed for success right from the start? It’s hard to say without having taken any action.

No e-commerce site perfectly matches your customer’s needs immediately. But, if you work towards these principles over the long run, your site will succeed:

1. Engaging Product Descriptions

Okay, so writing the descriptions about your products isn’t necessarily the most glamorous part of your website or maintaining it. But you can bet it is effective.

If you’re using manufacturer product descriptions, you’re shooting your website’s success in the foot. You should talk about the benefits your products offer.

To discover each product’s benefits, keep asking the question, “So what?”

2. Clear Call-to-Action Buttons

Like product descriptions, call-to-action buttons aren’t necessarily glamorous. But their color, and what they say, makes a huge impact on your conversions.

There is no one magical color that skyrockets your conversions. Rather, the key is a color that stands out from your website’s primary colors. For example, an orange button stands out well on a blue website (rather than a light blue button).

3. Visible Policies

Make this its own web page. Your policies should be clear and easy for anyone to understand. If your customers have to interrogate you like they are talking to an insurance representative, you’re being unclear.

It’s worth it to hire a professional writer to take care of writing these if writing isn’t your strength.

4. Finely Defined Niche

In entrepreneurship, you often hear people preach endlessly about taking action first, and thinking things through later. Now, when running your own e-commerce business, this generally holds true.

However, one situation where you don’t want to do that is in defining your niche. If you don’t think it through at first and choose a low-margin niche, your business is in trouble right from the start.

If you choose a low-competition niche, it’s so much easier to turn a profit and run a healthy business.

5. Constant Innovation

Now, you probably won’t be able to keep up with the likes of Amazon and Zappos. But, if you serve a tightly-defined niche, you probably realize your customers have new problems that crop up all the time.

Designing creative solutions to their problems is up to you – and it’s a great way to keep more customers.

6. An Awesome Team 

Now if that “team” is just you for now, that’s fine. In addition to a great niche and product, customers want great service. Make sure everything gets to them fast. And if something doesn’t go their way, fix it for them.

On certain occasions, go way over the top and do crazy customer service things like refunding your customer twice their money. You may not directly get business right away, but you’ll get a strong reputation and more business in the long run.

Wrapping It Up…

Success isn’t actually that mysterious. Most businesses think they are unique and put their customers first when in fact they do neither.

Do both, keep these traits in mind as you grow your e-commerce store, and you’ll do awesome!

 

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips, How To

Do You Have What it Takes to be an E-Commerce Entrepreneur?

fortune3-successful-entrepreneur-imageThinking of leaving the daily grind? Don’t want to leave your “secure” position? You could be laid off for any time and for any reason, including office politics. As long as your company states a legally valid reason for firing you on paper, they’re fine.

Being self-employed is much different than working for someone else, but it’s not as terrifying as you think it might be. However, before you take the dive, do be prepared for some of these challenges:

1. It’s All On You

Did you have an order you needed shipped yesterday – and you hired someone else to help you do it? Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to make sure it gets out the door.

And you might have screaming kids, barking dogs, and other employees who blow off their duties at the last minute, just when you feel like all the time  you have is already accounted for.

2. Wild Income Swings

Business, especially in the early days, is both unpredictable and uncontrollable. Now, the nice thing about it is that when you lose some customers, you don’t lose all of them and all of your income (like you would if you had a job).

But, income can be 3 times the norm one month, and then 1/10th of the norm the next. And often times, you’ll have no idea why.

Do you know how to manage your business and personal finances so you make it through the hard times and into the better ones?

3. Can You Keep Doing it When Things Aren’t Going Well?

Every successful entrepreneur, even Warren Buffet (an investing entrepreneur), goes through stretches of time where things don’t go as expected. It’s simply the nature of business.

What most successful self-employed individuals do is try new ways of earning customer’s business. If you take action, you’re not doing anything wrong. The only wrong approach is inaction.

However, business still gets draining because even when you take action – sometimes things don’t change for months. Are you able to persevere when this happens?

4. Building Systems

Efficient and effective systems are the key to success in business, and especially so in e-commerce. Do you have the brain to make those happen?

And if you don’t – that’s okay! In that case, you need the trust and judgment to hire the right person or persons to design those for you. And then you have to allow them to do their thing without becoming a micromanager.

Entrepreneurship Isn’t Easy…

And if it was, everyone would do it. Most individuals who succeed in it simply know that they will succeed at some point in time not under their control. What they do accept is that there will be challenges along the way – sometimes extreme challenges.

So what do you think – are you ready to be an entrepreneur?

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips

What is Tokenization and Why Should You Care?

fortune3-tokenization-imageIf you like very technical stuff, you’re going to love this article. Tokenization, if you don’t already know, has to do with credit card payment processing. It’s one of the many requires of the Payment Card Industry’s (PCI) compliance requirements.

Very simply, this is how it works:

 

1. Customers enter their personal data into forms on your website

2. Sensitive values (credit card numbers for example) are encrypted by JavaScript code

3. The encrypted values are then sent to payment processor

4. The decrypted data is then tokenized and then stored in your data vault

5. The payment information then gets sent back to your payment processor

6. The processor returns a payment approval code

7. Your customer receives their payment approval

In very simple terms, tokenization replaces credit card information with a token, which is really a random value that keeps the card’s information. It’s an additional layer of security that protects your customer’s private information. Even though it’s impossible to ever fully protect yourself and your customers from internet criminals, tokenization is yet another process that makes it more difficult for them to access your customer’s sensitive data.

And even when they do access your data, all that is stored at your data center is the token and a number that looks like this:

**** **** **** 1111

The stars there literally do not represent anything. Your customer’s credit card information is not at your location at all. So if cyber thieves hack through your network, they won’t have the data they need to steal to make their time worthwhile.

How Does Tokenization Differ from Encryption?

Tokenization is a separate service in addition to all the others you have. Rather than having the payment information stored with the merchant, the company providing the tokenization service stores it. It’s yet another layer internet criminals have to break through.

Aside from Security, Why Else Might You Want to Use Tokenization?

These are some of the additional benefits it offers that might convince you tokenization makes sense for your business:

• You are protected from additional security costs because of the additional layers of security present
• It easily integrates into how you currently accept payments – no changes are needed on your part
• PCI compliance audits are reduced in scope and cost you less
• Complex key management and data storage requirements are completely eliminated
• You can use it for many types of sensitive data like bank account and credit card info

So if you want to be extra cautious in today’s day and age, when anything is possible, tokenization is another great way to protect your customer’s private data and your business.

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips

7 Top E-Commerce Tools

fortune3-e-commerce-tools-imageSo if you’re familiar with the web, there’s about a million different tools you can use for a variety of purposes. E-commerce is no exception.

The problem is…which ones are actually worth your time?

Because, if you take the time to test out a certain type of tool, you’re going to spend a significant amount of time trying to figure out which one does it best and justifies its cost.

Instead of doing that, check out this brief list of essential e-commerce tools that are definitely worth your time and money:

1. Worldwide Brands

Need drop-shipping info? You won’t anymore after you use Worldwide Brands. You pay a single lifetime membership fee that gives you access to one of the world’s largest databases of dropshipping companies.

It also works awesome for researching niche business ideas.

2. ZenDesk

Managing customer service issues is a difficult task, but not now that ZenDesk has come along. You can track all of the communications you have with your customers. And you can even assign automated responses to specific queries.

3. Aweber

Remember, e-mail marketing campaigns have one of the highest ROIs available. They have awesome customer service, good features and usability, and a reasonable price as well.

4. ReplaceMySelf

Time to grow your business? This outsourcing service hooks you up with Filipinos who can’t wait to help. Many consider it THE best place to outsource, if that’s something you’re comfortable with.

It works best for hiring people who you plan on having around for a long time.

5. Odesk

This is another great place to outsource, but it works better for short-term projects and highly specialized skillsets. You can hire almost anyone from across the globe to perform just about any task you need.

6. Authorize.net 

If you need payment processing, Authorize.net is one of the top payment gateways around. It works with every major shopping cart available, and there’s very rarely any problems.

7. Fee Fighters

So if you need to reduce those obnoxious credit card fees, this is the service that does it for you. They analyze your statements, identify your needs, and then bid out what services you need to many different providers.

For just a one-time fee, you get to save thousands over the long run.

As you can see, these tools all have their proper times and places. But now, at least  you know who’s the cream of the crop so you don’t waste hours of your own time trying to figure out.

Posted in Ecommerce Essentials & Tips