Believe it or not, while many businesses say they “put customers first,” most don’t. In fact, they’re often mediocre in their customer service.
It’s not hard to stand out well enough to at least make your company a strong competitor. It is hard to be the best in your industry.
But, first thing’s first, so let’s talk about these ways you can stand out from the competition:
1. Map Out All Possible Customer Touch Points You Can Have
A “touch point” is anywhere you can interact with a customer. That could be your social media profiles, every page on your website, the checkout process, or even the whole post-checkout process.
2. Find an Area that Needs Improving in Your Niche
Read reviews about your competitors. Analyze what they currently do on their website. Subscribe to their e-newsletter. Interact with their social media profiles. Maybe even buy a small thing or two from them. Call their customer service and see how helpful they are.
Get intimately familiar with what your competitors do.
3. Use Your Creativity to Exceed Expectations
This is the hard part. But, it’s a nice thing because in business, you can do almost anything you want. Take a look at a couple ways to wow your customers:
â€˘ In your “thank you for your purchase e-mail,” give your new customers a 10% discount when they buy again. But, don’t ever give them any warning this discount was available in the first place.
â€˘ With your blog content, go out of your way to craft the most useful articles in your niche. Show customers how to get more from their products, without having to pay more.
â€˘ If you sell candy dishes, give your customers a free bag of candy for ordering (but again don’t tell them about it!).
4. Review Your Own Feedback
Most customers have reasonable expectations. They want a good value for their money. They want you to answer their questions clearly and promptly. They want a return if your product broke or didn’t work as expected.
But, get their feedback over the phone or on your website. Your website may be best because customers are fearless when writing online.
That gives you some clues for ways to meet and exceed their expectations both now and later on.
5. Reap the Rewards
Most e-commerce businesses have their revenues take off in year 3, once they’ve built strong relationships with loyal customers. This is according to the RJMetrics 2015 e-commerce benchmark report.
Follow those tips, and you’ll reap healthy profits for years to come.
If you’re starting a new e-commerce business, you probably don’t have a couple grand available for top-shelf photography equipment. And you won’t have the money to hire a professional photographer either!
Fortunately, your smartphone can do a great job for now, until you can afford amazingly clear photos later.
The iPhone has a good camera, while the Samsung Galaxy S6 has an even better one.
1. Basic Equipment You’ll Need to Start
You will have some purchases to make, but they’re affordable. You’ll need a backdrop, table, light, tripod, and optional external lenses. If you want to photograph your product from way up close, you’ll want the lenses for the best photo quality. If you don’t need those kinds of images, no need to purchase the lenses.
2. Your First Concern: Lighting
Natural light always gives the best effect in product photos. So wherever you choose to shoot your photos, make sure plenty of natural light comes in.
You can also use a white foam board to reflect light to other sides of your products for a consistent effect. Small details, yes, but important in your customer’s decision to buy.
3. Set Up Your Table, Backdrop, & Stabilize Your Smartphone
Yes, you do have to buy a tripod. It’s almost impossible to take high-quality photos simply using your arm. A roll of white paper without seams works well for a backdrop.
4. Is Your Product Ready to Go?Â
Make sure it doesn’t have any price tags, and that it’s in perfect condition. Photo editing programs can be used to remove minor imperfections like dust and dirt. When you work with the zoom on your smartphone, that should be adjusted so the product fits the entire image.
5. Fine-Tuning Photo Settings Before Shooting
This isn’t that hard, although it is one of the more technical parts of the image capturing process. The zoom should be set so the product fills most of the screen, but do leave enough room so you can crop the photo a little later on.
Hit the “WB” button (white balance), and then press the background so the white balance matches your light temperature. Next, press the exposure button and then your product so the exposure sets properly. Do the same for focus.
Now, examine your image to make sure it looks the way your customers want – natural.
After you finish adjusting these, press each one again so the settings are locked in place. This keeps the camera from messing up your settings and auto-adjusting them as you take photos!
6. Take Your Photo!Â
Now that you’ve got all that done, you can actually shoot the image. If you follow those steps, that saves you time and work on the back end.
Finally, watch the sales roll in…and enjoy the profits.
A new marketing tactic comes out on the web almost every month. Instagram, marketing automation, guest posting…it seems like there’s something new you “need” to do.
But then you run into the problem almost every small business owner encounters.
You spend too much time working on all these different tactics. And none of them produce any measurable results because you haven’t had the time to perfect them.
It’s an easy trap to fall into.
So instead of spending all your time and money attracting new customers, focus on the ones you’ve already got. It’ll be easier to earn more purchases from them anyway because you know they already like you.
Here are some ways to plug those “leaky holes” you have in your website’s customer purchasing bucket:
1. Give Your Customers a Discount for Joining Your Newsletter List
Doesn’t need to be a large one. All you need is 10%, and you can try out some other levels too. But, rather than having people come and go, you keep them on your list. And your list has your best customers. They’ll purchase lots from you down the road.
2. Ask Your Customers for Their E-mail Address on Your Checkout Page
This should be the first page that simply confirms what they’d like to purchase. You always lose some customers during the checkout process.
But if you have their e-mail address. you can send them a follow-up e-mail reminding them that they never completed their purchase. You can even offer them a 10% discount just for finishing it.
Any way you can make that initial sale so you can build relationship with your customers is huge.
3. On the Checkout Screen, Suggest Additional Items Your Customers May Like
If you’ve been in business a while, you may already have a good idea of what these items are. Your customers are already in a buying mood at this point, so it’s a great time to show them what else they might enjoy.
4. Use Retargeting AdsÂ
None of those tactics worked? No sweat.
Fortunately, in 2015, you haven’t lost the sale yet. Use retargeting ads that “follow” your customers as they browse the web.
You’ll draw in a few more sales because you know those people already had some interest in buying from you.
5. Consider Using Popup Ads to Get Newsletter Subscribers
Like it or not, popups are making a resurgence here in recent years. For a while there, most web marketers condemned them.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they’ll work on your website. But they’re worth a test at the least.
In sum, this is a great way to reduce the number of customers that “leak” out of your website bucket. It’s easier and more profitable to turn them into buyers, so focus on them first.
With the additional profits in hand, you can focus on hiring help to develop new profit streams.
Any business can quickly spiral out of control once you realize all the things you need to do to make it successful.
And that’s particularly true with e-commerce because it’s digital. The online world is loaded with limitless technologies you can use to improve your business.
But what you really want is to make it easy to push your business forward.
So here are some simple tools and techniques to make that happen:
1. Use an App to Streamline Your Shipping Process
There’s plenty of apps out there. At Capterra, you can search for apps by function. Just enter “shipping” and hit enter.
You’ll get a number of choices. Each are user-reviewed, so you’ll have some idea of their quality.
2. Hire Qualified Employees
Unfortunately, employees can be hit-or-miss. Get a great one, and you don’t have to watch them at all. That’s streamlining to the extreme.
Hire the wrong one, and things quickly become a nightmare. Hire slow. Fire fast when you make a mistake.
And make sure you pay well. Competent employees don’t accept below-average pay rates.
3. Use Buffer to Streamline Your Social Media Time
Social media loves to consume all your time. Instead, minimize the time you spend on it by using Buffer to post your posts.
By the way, just start with the most important social network where you find your target audience. You can work your way over to others as you grow your audience.
4. Categorize Receipts with Shoeboxed
This program digitizes, categorizes, and archives your receipts, business cards, and any other document you want. It’s a service, so they do the entire process for you!
5. Automate E-mails to Users that Abandon Shopping Carts
This can land you a ton of new business. You could even offer a 10% discount, or whatever you find appropriate to your customers if they come back and buy.
6. Use Marketing Automation
There’s a ton of platforms out there. But do be aware, they aren’t there to automate your marketing from start to finish. Rather, they automate the “grunt work” processes.
You do have to feed these systems a fair amount of content to make them work.
7. Order Fulfillment Automation
For obvious reasons, this can make your e-commerce business much more effective. You can focus more on growing your business, rather than the daily grind and manual labor.
If you automate those processes, you’ll find your business more productive, enjoyable, and profitable.
Get ready for more fun!
You can get almost as elaborate as you want when selling online. Heatmaps, list segmentation, conversion optimization – you can get in over your head and into some complex stuff fast.
Those things have their time and place – once you have your traffic built up.
But until then, you don’t need to be as sophisticated.
And in fact, you can do some pretty easy things – just like these:
1. Be Yourself in Your Marketing
It’s tempting to think your business communications need to be stiff, formal, or very “loud” like you see in some TV advertisements. But that’s the old way of doing things.
Today, everything’s more casual and conversational. And that trend is accelerating. Be yourself in your marketing. That way, Â you’ll enjoy it more, do better work, and you’ll build better relationships with customers.
2. Using the Marketing Tactics You Believe In
The web accelerates the nearly infinite number of marketing tactics available. If you keep doing research, you’ll see good reasons why you need to use this tactic or that one.
Find 2-3 that work for you, and forget the rest. Otherwise you’ll drive yourself completely insane trying new things that don’t work.
3. Listen to Your Market
And we don’t mean engaging in conversations with them, although you can use that to supplement your market research. As you talk with your market, you’ll often find what they say is not necessarily what they want.
So you have to create tests to see what your market actually does.
Isn’t “actions speak louder than words” one of the oldest cliches?
That may be, but it’s soooooo true.
4. Do the Basics Really Well
There’s no need to make business complex from the start. Many businesses say “we put our customers first,” but most don’t. Don’t create elaborate policies – just make your customers happy.
Keep your website as simple as possible. Make it load fast. Have visually stunning product photos. Build an e-mail list. That’s enough to build a thriving business that produces a consistent income.
5. Don’t Sell Products…Sell the Lifestyle They Offer!
At the end of the day, many companies sell basically the exact same thing. It’s hard to sell a truly original product that no one else does.
So rather than focusing on selling wine, for example, you sell the romance you can have with your spouse over a glass of wine, fun and relaxation with friends and family members, or the exclusivity of drinking an expensive wine.
If you do that in your sales approach, you leapfrog ahead of 99% of other businesses, who simply sell products.
That’s really all there is to it – nothing fancy or complicated.
Do you really need 78 free online tools? Do you even have time to check them all out?
You don’t even have time to look at 2-3 of them, let alone 78, or whatever the biggest number is lately.
Instead of that, use these core tools that all e-commerce site owners, including you, should have:
1. Peek – Free Testing from Real Users
You want your e-commerce store to give your users a great experience right? With Peek, you get a 5-minute video of how a real person uses your site.
Free market research – that used to cost big companies millions of dollars!
2. LastPassÂ - Securely Manage Your Passwords
How many hundreds of passwords do you need to run your business every day? Hopefully, the password isn’t “jsmith123.”
LastPass will create ridiculously long and difficult passwords, and store them all for you. Plus, you simply click a button to insert them into the web page you want to login to.
It’s free, stores 100s of passwords, and syncs in the cloud across all device types.
3. Learn Online Marketing with Mozinars
Learning from the best saves you years of difficulty and frustration, and maybe thousands of dollars. It shortens your path from “struggling” to “thriving.”
Moz’s free webinars may be the most valuable tool in your marketing arsenal.
4. Buffer – Social Media Management
I prefer Buffer to Hootsuite because you have fewer technical issues and get better service with Buffer. The price difference between the two is negligible.
You get some analytics with the free option. And you can manage 3-4 social networks too. Buffer’s interface is more streamlined and less complex than Hootsuite, so it’s easier to use.
And simplicity rules in business.
5. Zoho – Manage Your Business Contacts
This CRM’s free – forever, and for up to 10 users. It’s an easy way to keep track of all your business contacts, and what contact you’ve had with them.
6. Screaming Frog SEO Analysis Software
You don’t get too many tools that go into this level of depth for free. But Screaming Frog is one.
You can uncover literally any technical SEO problem you could imagine. Of course, there is a learning curve. But learning the basics comes fast!
And by the way, why do all the SEO tool and companies get all the cool business names?
7. Wave Accounting – Free Accounting
What would your business be without accounting software? Wave is free. It’s not got some of the features the bigger guys might have, like timesheet tracking.
But, it’s great if you’re just starting out and need to control expenses.
Whew! That’s Enough…
Those 7 tools will get you off to a good start. Now you don’t have to pour through 60-80 to find the ones you want.
Here’s to your success!
Continuing our working from home series…has this ever happened to you:
You’re sitting at home on the laptop, addressing the top issues of the day.
Then your spouse comes in and says hello in the morning.
The kids get dressed and ready and you send them off to school.
So far, so good.
Then your cats come bounding in, demanding attention.
The dog starts to chase them around. (Ok, now your anger’s starting to build.)
Then the dog starts barking at who knows what.
Now you have to take him outside to go to the bathroom.
Then your kids get home from school.
And then your spouse comes home from work.
Wow, that’s a lot of chaos to deal with!
And then, let’s say your children decide to start misbehaving and fighting with each other while your spouse runs to the grocery store.
Some days, you’re ready to tear your hair out because you can’t handle all that…plus what you have to manage at work.
Here are some tips for making your work from home more productive:
1. Have a Specific Space Just for Working
This helps your mind make that conscious leap from being at home to being at work. It’s kind of like how doctors say use your bed only for sleeping.
Plus, to get your home office tax deduction, you need to have a dedicated place for working.
2. Close the Door
It clearly sends the signal you are at work right now. And maybe you should even be more direct than that…
3. Establish Clear Boundaries with Your FamilyÂ
Let them know a couple times a day you can talk. Ask them to knock, and let them know when you’re not all tied up. It’s easy for family members to think you’re available whenever they need you.
But, that’s not always the case. And you’ll find yourself being nicer and having less anger when you’ve created these boundaries.
4. Shut Off the Distractions
So in addition to your family wanting to talk to you, you’ll get a load of texts and e-mails. Now unless your job is customer service, those things can be quite a distraction from what you’re trying to focus on.
Shut those out as much as possible too.
5. Structure Your Environment to Help You Be Your BestÂ
Listen to motivating music. Decorate your office the way you want. Wear clothes that make you comfortable. Hey, one of the big benefits of working from home is you have control over these things.
6. Respond to Your Mind’s Condition
Feeling groggy? Take a break and go for a walk, run, or play a sport. Feeling energetic? Do the most important work for your business.
If you know “it’s just not happening today,” get the essentials done, quit early, regain your focus, and work hard later that week.
That’s a gross oversimplification of staying productive while working from home. But, these tips get you on the right track.
You know how working from home goes:
Wake up whenever you want.
Crawl out of bed.
Stay in your pajamas.
Don’t bother combing your hair.
You’re not feeling up to it, so you can quit a little earlier today.
Wow, who’d have thought this would be so easy!
Except, That’s Not The Way Working from Home Goes…
Or if it does, you won’t be in business for long!
Take a look at some of these points, which much more closely reflect the reality of working from home:
1. Can You Motivate Yourself to Do Your Work…With Only Failure or Success Motivating You?Â
Some people need to have a boss looking over their shoulder constantly. Does that sound like you?
Or does that sound more like a nightmare?
At your work, the only boss is really the final outcome of your business. Is that enough to motivate you to get your work done, regardless of whether things are going well or not?
2. Can You Set Boundaries?
Other people and things are going to demand your attention. Your spouse might think you’re able to take a break whenever they want you to.
Friends and family think they can pop over for a visit at their leisure.
A neighbor might stop by to ask you to help them with something.
Most of the time, those things aren’t a big deal.
But, sometimes you’re going to have to say “no” so you can take care of your customers.
Are you willing to do that?
3. Can You Turn it Off?
Maybe you’re on the extreme “workaholic” end of the spectrum. You just love to obsess about work…even when you’re not working.
At home, you’ll have 24/7 access to work.
And if you work too much, you can ruin your health and relationships with family members.
So, can you shut down your computer and stop answering your cell phone when you need to?
4. Can You Work Alone for Months and Maybe Years?
You have a goal of opening a chain of brick-and-mortar stores. But, your business won’t go like you expect it to.
It never works that way.
Can you hang in there for months at a time, not having the ability to make your goals happen?
And can you do that while alone, without any other coworkers around you?
Sure, you can call them up from time-to-time. But, it’s much different from working with them in person.
It doesn’t sound like much…until you actually try to do it.
So…Is Working from Home for You?Â
With all that in mind, do you think you can succeed at working from home?
Maybe giving it a try is the only way to find out.
Superstar entrepreneur Elon Musk is said to have worked up to 100-hour weeks. If you do the math, that’s about 14 hours and 12 minutes per day.
Of course, you never hear what goes on behind the scenes.
One Quora user, who claims to have worked on some of the scenes in the Lord of the Rings for 100-120 hours per week said he developed:
â€˘ Facial ticks
â€˘ A sickly skin complexion
â€˘ A growing pot belly
â€˘Â A hunched back
â€˘Â Bad vision
â€˘Â Irritable mood
And he also didn’t have time to spend the good money he was earning. Of course, he had no time for family, friends, or anything else outside of work.
Most of us probably can’t even imagine sustaining 100-120 hours per week for months at a time, or even a single week. Perhaps a few super-humans can do these things, but most can’t.
And there’s some research pointing to the fact that your ability to create and innovate diminishes as you consistently work long hours.
So How Do You Stay Balanced?
A few tips:
1. Hire People Smarter than You
Are you the final authority on running every last aspect of your business? Do you pull all the grunt work yourself?
Odds are you can hire out a lot of what you do. And there’s many people that can do it better than you. Instead of spending 10 hours per week doing it yourself, mentor someone else for 1 hour per week.
You’ll have more time to focus on business tasks you like. And your business will be stronger because you have intelligent help that doesn’t solely revolve around your mind.
2. Get Feedback from Family and Friends
As well-intentioned and smart as you are, you can’t see all parts of yourself. You give your employees feedback. So, get feedback from your family and friends.
They can help you see where you might not be the person you once were. Or, they might notice everything looks to be in perfect order.
You’ll feel Â your best when you have your life in balance.
3. Have 1 Hobby You Like…Besides Work
You may get a real high from working. But, the excitement it provides wears off.
Having at least one hobby outside of work helps you stay calm, relaxed, and focused.
4. Recharge Your Batteries with FamilyÂ
You typically only hear about the extreme workaholics – those that put in 80+ hours per week. But there’s another breed of entrepreneur emerging:
The one that takes his time to go through the day and meets all his family’s needs. This is the kind of entrepreneur that spends 40-45 hours per week on work…and stops.
It is 100% possible (although not easy) to run a successful business while working sane hours. Hopefully these tips help you make that a reality.
Should you be on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google+?
How much time should you dedicate to each?
Should you be on all of those sites?
These questions have tough answers that take years for you to figure out on your own.
So we’re here to help you know exactly what to do to get your social media strategy off the ground.
1. Start with Twitter
Facebook costs money to get started on. And it can cost lots of money if you want all your followers to see your posts.
On top of that, Facebook’s publicly traded now. So that means they have to find more ways to make money. And since they make a lot of money on advertising, you can bet costs won’t go down anytime soon.
It’s hard and long to get traction on Google+, and it may not be a social network anymore sometime in the future.
Pinterest is mostly women, and you don’t get followers as fast as you can on Twitter.
Young people are moving from Facebook to Instagram, and according to MarketingProfs, the other main demographics are marketing and IT professionals. So it has a rather limited audience.
By process of elimination, Twitter makes for the best place to start your marketing.
2. What Makes Twitter Such a Great Place to Start?Â
For starters, it’s easy to earn followers. Here’s what you do at a basic level:
â€˘ Start posting content not from you. About 80% of it shouldn’t be from you, but should be helpful to your followers. You can post as much or as little as you want if you follow that rule. Aim for 1-2 posts per day to start.
â€˘ Favorite and retweet your target market’s stuff, and things your followers will like. You’ll earn the majority of your followers this way.
â€˘ A few times per month, put out an advertisement that sends people to a landing page on your website.
That’s really all you need to do to start earning a good number of followers.
3. You Can Use Promoted Tweets to Target Specific Niches
Of course this will cost you money, between 50Â˘ and $4.00 per engagement (usually about 55Â˘ per click). But you will earn the most relevant followers to what you have to sell because of the available targeting options.
You can target people with specific interests, or even other user’s followers. So if you know you have a competitor with a relevant following, that’s an easy way to pick up customers targeted to what you sell.
At the End of the Day, Twitter’s Fast & Affordable
Starting out, you probably won’t have thousands of dollars to work on a social media strategy, or to hire someone else to do it. That’s what makes Twitter such a great asset in the beginning.
After you have a strong and engaged (more key than anything else) following, then you can start to build out your other social media profiles.