To protect yourself and your customer base, be sure your online store is pci compliant.
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), a set of information security measures for organizations that handle cardholder information, aims to reduce credit card fraud by protecting cardholder data. Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance is mandatory for merchants of all sizes, but the requirements can seem complicated and perplexing. So that you’re not completely baffled, here are some easy-to-understand tips for becoming PCI compliant.
Cardholder Data Storage
A major way that PCI compliance reduces fraud is with the control objective put forth to protect cardholder data. In an effort to remain PCI compliant, you can simplify cardholder data security by not actually storing any of it. If you don’t regularly utilize practices such as recurring payments, consider utilizing a card reader, POS or payment processor that does not retain customers’ credit card data.
If you absolutely need to store cardholder data, see if you can do so on your payment processor’s system. Some processors allow you to input and store data on their systems as part of their service.
Don’t forget that, since you accept credit cards in your online store, your web host needs to be PCI compliant. Do not assume that your web host is PCI compliant if the details are not explicitly stated somewhere in their literature or their website; you’ll need to ask either the sales or support department. In regard to e-commerce applications and shopping carts, the PCI council provides a list of validated payment applications in their online document library for reference.
Keep in mind that the way servers are shared between website owners in a shared hosting plan makes it tougher to ensure PCI compliance — the cheaper shared hosting plan solution may not be the best. Consider choosing a hosted payment solution, which will forward your customers to a site that is verifiably PCI compliant when they make a purchase.
Dial-Up vs. IP-Based Terminals
Using IP-based credit card terminals is fast, but it greatly expands the environment in which cardholder data is stored, processed and transmitted. Larger networks of computers come with greater security implications, thus greater security measures must be implemented to remain compliant. To simplify, you could use dial-up terminals, which are slower. Doing so trades speed for a smaller data environment, making compliance easier.
Maybe you’ve already implemented IP-based credit card terminals. If so, consider setting up a separate network with its own Internet connection, dedicated solely to payment processing. A segregated network simplifies the security measures required to remain PCI compliant.
Mobile Card Reader Security
Accepting credit card payments via cell phone or tablet computer via WiFi or cellular data connections is a popular move, one that can pay dividends for many businesses. Many mobile card reader solutions exist, and each has various pros and cons. Current PCI DSS requirements don’t specifically address mobile card readers, but that doesn’t mean you can disregard compliance when you make your choice. Merchants are still required to ensure PCI compliance in these situations.
The PCI council has, on the other hand, published security guidelines for payments accepted on the mobile platform, also available in their online document library. They include provisions against physical and digital theft, malware, hacking and unauthorized use. It’s also important to only use apps from trusted sources, and to avoid any “jailbreaks” that could expose your device or tablet to malicious software. Whenever the device is under business control and the card reader is in use, you must be connected to your PCI-compliant network. This may seem obvious, but overlooking the connection on your device and mistakenly taking a payment while connected to the wrong network could happen.
Don’t let the technical science behind PCI compliance intimidate you. You should make the greatest efforts to remain PCI compliant, because being outside of compliance carries heavy penalties that can be levied on a per-month basis. With the right securities in place for cardholder data storage, web hosting, terminals and mobile card readers, staying within PCI compliance should be much easier.
Have any questions about PCI-compliance? We’d love to answer them in the comments below!
Guest Author Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, providers of secure payment processing. She brings more than 15 years of experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management, and marketing to the company and also serves on its Board of Directors.
College Classes for eCommerce
So you’ve got an awesome website that has everything you could have dreamed of – except for visitors. Going back to school can help you learn new and updated skills that could lead to a serious bump in traffic. Yes, there are college classes for eCommerce help. You don’t need an advanced degree, but if you pick them well, a few courses could change your online life.
You’re never too old or too young to learn more so you can work smarter.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing, sometimes called modern marketing or digital marketing, is a lot more than tweeting about an update to your website and hoping someone clicks. It’s a multi-faceted skill that entails breaking down social media platforms into niche categories through searches and filters to find new customers, keeping existing customers informed and connected, integrating your website and social media accounts, and much more.
The good news is, you can learn it in school. Even a single course in social media marketing is almost certain to improve your traffic. The customer service hotline is a dying entity, as is the newsletter. You’re more likely to both reach and hear from your potential customers on Facebook or Twitter than almost anywhere else.
This is what makes Social Media Marketing one of the top college classes for ecommerce!
Newsletters never go viral. Neither do pieces of direct mail or emails or Facebook posts. When it comes to getting across a message, making an impact and having your message shared organically, there is simply nothing like video.
If you don’t have a video presence on your website, you’re fighting for traffic with one hand behind your back. Video is extremely powerful, but making good video takes skill, technique, and equipment. An A/V class will not only give you the knowledge you need, but will acquaint you with other people interested in the craft who may have some equipment or be interested in working a project with you.
No video is better than bad video. Learn how to do it right and you’ll see why Audio/Video classes are college classes for ecommerce!
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a process by which website owners and designers use keywords, metadata, links, and structure to achieve higher rankings in search engines. Study after study shows that when people enter a string of words into Google, the overwhelming majority click the first link that appears. Significantly fewer click the second, and almost no one clicks anything after that.
Search engines work hard to put the sites they consider to be authoritative and credible near the top. Taking a class in the complicated but learnable process of SEO can get your site to the top, which makes SEO classes amongst the best college classes for ecommerce!
Sociology is the study of how humans behave in groups. A rudimentary understanding of what drives people can give you irreplaceable insight into what drives them to your website. Behind every keyboard is a human being reacting to both thought and base instinct on the road to your website. Take the time to learn about the brain behind the traffic numbers. If you run a website, you are inherently in the people business.
Drawing more traffic to your website takes skill that can be learned through education.
Education can move your website from good to great. Not only will it give you skills you can apply to the real world, but education in general expands your mind and improves your quality of life. Take a few college classes for ecommerce and see the difference they make in your thought processes and profits!
What do you think are the best college classes for ecommerce? We’d love to hear your opinions in the comment section below.
Guest blogger Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about adult education and the best business degree careers.
Alter Your Budget So You Can Hire an SEO Expert
The fourth quarter is when most businesses take real stock of their situations. CEOs and entrepreneurs look at what they accomplished in quarters one through three and what they need to do in quarter four to end the year “on top.” It’s also when they figure out what has been working and what changes need to be made. One of the most common things you will hear is “We really need to step up our web presence.” An SEO expert can help with that.
The best way to elevate web presence is to step up your SEO. The best way to do this, particularly if you’ve never really dived into the web optimization waters, is to hire an SEO expert to get you up to speed. Unfortunately, SEO experts are rarely cheap hires. Hiring one typically requires some budget tweaking.
Here are some of the things you can do with your annual budget to help you find the money to get an expert at your table.
Expertise doesn’t come cheap!
1. Find an Expert
Unlike other types of contractors, the rates for an SEO expert vary wildly depending upon how intensive you want their work to be. Spend this fourth quarter meeting with a potential SEO expert so you can get a feel for what it would be like to work with each of those people as well as how much they would charge you to improve your SEO and step up your web presence game.
When you find the person you want to hire, you can get a quote and set up a contract. This will give you the amount of money you will want to clear in your budget.
2. Retainers vs. Itemized Fees
Consider hiring someone on retainer. This might seem more expensive at the get go, but it evens out over time – particularly since getting your expert to work on your business site won’t require a series of emails, contracts, and other details to be seen to before the work can start.
It also frees up your budget a bit in that some experts will break up retainer fees by month or by quarter. This requires you to come up with less money in a single go, which makes finding that money in your budget a little bit easier.
3. Check Out Your Annual Spending
It’s something you do every year anyway – look at what you spent over the course of the year and whether or not there are any savings to be had or trimming that needs to be done. As you figure out where to cut and trim in the various departments of your business, consider, instead of simply trying to reduce spending overall, reallocating your “trimmings” to your SEO expert budget.
If only it were this easy!
Where can you trim your budget? Here are some common areas:
4. Office Supplies
How much money did you spend over the last year on basic office supplies? Did you actually use everything you purchased, or do you have a huge stockpile that would last ten years because you worried about running out of something?
Consider reducing the money you spend on supplies by at least 20%. If you aren’t already enrolled in membership programs at places like Staples and Office Depot, enroll now so you’ll have lots of coupons and discounts you can use to your advantage.
5. Printing and Copying
Consider going as close to paperless as you can. Because you’re trying to find money in your budget, you probably don’t want to spend the money required to switch from a paper-based to a paperless office place. Still, there are things you can do to reduce your printing and copying costs.
Ask people to share files instead of making copies. Keep documents on a cloud-based server so your employees can access them digitally in the field instead of having to print out forms, etc., to take with them to client meetings. Just these two things can probably save you at least 20 to 30% in printing/copying costs over the course of the next year.
6. Superfluous Employees
It’s wonderful to create jobs and keep people employed, especially in this economy. But do you really need to employ a professional landscaping staff to keep up the six plants you have in your office building? Surely you can water them yourself – or switch from live to silk and just dust them once in a while!
7. Consider Telecommuting
Allowing employees to telecommute is quickly growing in popularity. There are lots of benefits to allowing employees to telecommute even a couple of days each week. Your employees will be happier and, often, more productive. For you, it is a money saver because most employees will agree to a reduced salary in exchange for the ability to telecommute part or full time.
Note: It’s probably not a good idea, though, to cut a cleaning crew’s budget. Cleanliness is important to your professional reputation!
Reconfiguring a budget to find funds for something is never fun or easy. It is, however, often necessary. Work with your accountant and sales teams to figure out ways to both cut spending and improve profits so hiring that all-important SEO expert is possible.
Have you had good luck with an SEO expert? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Guest author Erin Steiner is a freelance writer from Portland who covers topics including (but not limited to) budgeting tools.
You walk into a store and are greeted by a customer service representative with a smile on their face, holding a tablet POS device.
“How can I help you?” they ask. And this time they really mean it.
Retail sales in particular are being positively impacted by use of tablet devices for onsite payment processing, also known as Tablet POS, which stands for Tablet Point of Sale.
There are good reasons for the transition to Tablet POS for retail and other merchants. Businesses can integrate Tablet POS with their existing accounting systems to process sales and returns, do inventory and price checks and even accept returns on merchandise. It’s all possible using “tablets” as mobile devices. That mobility is reshaping how many businesses interact with customers from the moment they walk in the door, often saving valuable time for customer and salesperson alike by eliminating the need for checkout lines.
The Benefits are Real
Imagine you want to check availability of your shoe size for a style on display at the store. Rather than sending the salesperson on a goose chase back into the bowels of the store, they can check availability of a shoe in that size and style on the spot with a Tablet POS device. If the customer tries it on and is happy, they can make the purchase then and there. That’s Tablet POS efficiency in action.
Even small merchants are using secure payment processing because customer data is immediately processed and typically encrypted through software that is compliant with PCI (Payment Card Industry) security standards. That is one of the first measures any merchant should use in assessing Tablet POS.
Tablet POS is an effective way to increase customer satisfaction with a better sales experience for merchants of all sizes, from those with just one location, all the way up to national chains.
Guest author Karen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a credit card processing firm, and also serves on its Board of Directors. She has more than 15 years experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management and marketing.
According to recent data, nearly one-third of Internet users now own a tablet. By next year, it’s expected to be nearly half. The people who own them tend to purchase more items and tend to be more loyal customers. If you sell online, making sure your eCommerce site is tablet compatible is an absolute must.
Follow this guide to getting your format right for the gadget that is taking over online purchasing.
People who make purchases using tablets tend to buy more things more often.
Responsive Web Design
Responsive web design is a way to design websites that allows them to function properly whether they’re opened on a computer or a mobile device such as a tablet. Although some minor features may be sacrificed, it removes the need to have multiple sites and ensures that no matter which device your site is accessed from, it will appear in the correct dimensions, formatted perfectly for the exact device on which it’s being viewed.
When you hire someone to design your eCommerce site, insist on RWD, and if you have a site that isn’t using RWD, consider an upgrade.
All About the Images
Images that regular website use aren’t always right for tablets. New technology such as Apple’s retina display makes tablet screens far more brilliant than their less mobile cousins. Your photos must be of the highest quality, but also load fast. This means they should generally be built using CSS. Limit the number of HTTP calls the site must make to load a page to speed up load times.
The viewing surface of smartphones and tablets have less real estate than a computer screen. There is no getting around this fact. When it comes to designing for tablets, you must remove some content to account for the smaller screen. This doesn’t mean you have to omit it – it means you have to get creative with tools such as drop-down screens.
Use a single-column layout. All of your eCommerce site’s pertinent information should be stacked on top of each other in a vertical formation. If the user has to scroll from side to side and then zoom in to actually see the content he or she wants, your site, by definition, is not optimized correctly.
The world has gone mobile – nearly a third of Internet users have a tablet.
The world has gone mobile. The amount of web traffic – including making online purchases – gobbled up by the burgeoning smartphone and tablet industries grows more each month and the mobile trend is forecast to continue in the near and distant future.
Optimizing your eCommerce site is doable and absolutely necessary. If a tablet user wants to buy but is annoyed by your layout, you’re missing the point of selling online.
Guest author Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about eCommerce, digital technology, and mobile payments.
For e-tailers, finding the right technology to increase business productivity and sales can make all the difference between fast, successful growth and fast, overwhelming growth. Cloud-based tools empower internet retailers to manage remote workers, organize customer information and promote collaboration between team members from anywhere in the world – even if they don’t have large staffs to deploy or maintain technology solutions. That was the case for wholesale e-retailer Tisano, which sells brewed cacao teas. The company’s business was growing at such a rapid rate that team members struggled to stay organized and keep up with the volume of incoming orders. The customer relationship management (CRM) tool that made the most sense for the business was a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering. For companies of similar size and with a variety of needs, SaaS options avoid the expense and technical burdens of on-premise technology and give employees more time to concentrate on tasks that grow sales and expand the business.
What the cloud has to offer
Employees can access cloud-based applications and software to collaborate in real-time and streamline business processes. Because cloud solutions aren’t housed on premise, businesses don’t need to worry about maintaining equipment or bringing in outside IT specialists to handle technical issues. Cloud services are simple to implement, and most make it easy for employees to transfer data. Also, because most SaaS solutions offer freemium plans, there’s no upfront investment needed, allowing businesses to try out multiple tools to find the one that best fits their needs.
There are many cloud-based tools out there that can help online retailers improve productivity and sales or solve other business challenges. The key is sifting through these solutions to find one or a combination of a few different solutions to maximize employee efforts and allow businesses to run as efficiently as possible. Tisano, for example, researched and tested multiple cloud solutions before ultimately deciding on the SaaS-based CRM tool its employees now use. SaaS tools are only as effective as the employees using them, so it’s important that each employee is committed to updating the system in real time. Finding the right solution that best fits employees and businesses will maximize productivity and, by extension, sales. To prevent wasting resources and frustrating employees, use a tool that requires minimal training and reduces data input requirements.
Getting maximum results
Businesses should evaluate and determine which tools will be most effective to help increase sales. One of the most obvious tools tends to be a CRM solution. When business is growing, it can be a challenge to keep track of prospect information and other important contact details. The sales team needs to ensure that important details don’t fall through the cracks, which is especially important when multiple people are jumping in on different projects. Tisano’s team used its SaaS-based CRM and stored client data to close numerous high-level deals with customers such as Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Virgin America and Whole Foods Market, all without investing in on-premise technology or IT staff.
Integrating applications into your existing SaaS tool can further optimize productivity. Companies should think about how to leverage multiple solutions together to better achieve sales goals. For example, if a business uses social media, email marketing or note-recording tools in tandem, it is easier to maximize employee productivity and increase sales.
Online retailers that implement SaaS tools can sell more products and minimize time spent on administrative tasks. Since moving most of its operations to the cloud, Tisano has saved thousands of dollars and streamlined business operations. And because employees have access to all customer information – including history details, social media profiles and more – in one central location, they can focus more attention and efforts on ensuring customers remain satisfied and loyal. Other e-tailers can see similar gains when they embrace the wealth of solutions available as cloud-based services.
Guest author Anthony Smith is the CEO of Insightly, a San Francisco-based SaaS CRM application. He built the first version of Insightly in six months from his home in Perth, Australia, after identifying a market need for a CRM solution focused on small business. He has previous experience designing and building CRM software for enterprise use. Prior to Insightly, Anthony worked as a consultant for IBM and as a software engineer for global mining consultancy Snowden.
According to Statistic Brain, the average attention span of a goldfish is nine seconds. The average attention span of a human is eight seconds. This is why your business needs Instagram.
Why Instagram Works
Instagram is tailored to fit the image-conscious audiences of today. People are bombarded with information coming at them from every direction. Instagram appeals because its interface is intuitive and it enables users to quickly distribute their photo message across all social media outlets with one simple click.
Why the Power of Instagram Is Awesome
As Atlantic Wire reports, Instagram has 90 million monthly users. Each of those users represents your potential customers.
In addition, when your online business links up with Instagram, you are acquiring the exponential power of their subscribers. Every Instagram user you reach has already proven themselves to be a social media user. By virtue of this fact, your business is practically guaranteed to be tweeted, liked, or shared.
Businesses sometimes see instant results after implementing an Instagram strategy.
Ways Your Business Can Use Instagram to Impart Your Company Image
One way your business can benefit from utilizing Instagram is by arming key employees with an Instagram account in the business department name. For instance, your marketing department manager could post an enticing new product image monthly, creating an appetite for an item before it’s even hit your online store shelves. Your HR department head could post candid moments from the annual picnic or awards ceremony (with the employees’ permission, of course). This type of post is a powerful way to communicate your business culture. If your company spends money on charitable contributions (it does, right?), your CFO could post a moving snapshot of the charity in action.
A second way to harness the power of Instagram is to host an Instagram event. Challenge your subscribers to a photo contest. Choose a theme in line with your corporate identity. For example, a clothing company might offer a prize to the best Instagram image of homemade children’s costumes for school plays and Halloween. A food company could have a best recipe contest based solely on the image of the final dish. Let your subscribers vote and choose the winner.
A bad reputation spells crisis for your online business.
What to Do to Mitigate Reputation Damage
The awesome power of Instagram does have a few drawbacks. Because your business images are flung instantly to the far reaches of the Internet, your reputation can be negatively impacted in one blinding explosion of controversy. What happens if your stellar senior head of HR accidentally pushes out a picture of a married employee getting cozy with a young intern? The fallout can be rough, even though technically it’s nothing to do with your business.
It helps to know how to remove personal information from the online world. It is possible, and it’s often necessary. The reason you don’t hear about it is because it works.
Instagram is a fun and powerful toy. But if you’re going to play in Internet space, you have to dust yourself off every now and again.
Guest author Kate Supino is a professional freelancer who advises online business on how to remove personal information in cases of negative publicity.
Images courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Good customer service can be as simple as offering a live chat option to your online store front.
One of the biggest drawbacks an online or e-commerce business has is that customers are unable to examine a product in person. That’s why the quality of your eCommerce customer service can either make or break your business. Regardless of the background of your customers, you need to provide them good support and treat them with respect so they become your repeat customers. With efficient customer service, you can quickly build a solid online reputation for your brand, retain more customers and boost profits.
Usually, online shoppers complain that they are unable to reach a real person via phone while contacting a company. Even when they send an email, they have to wait for several days for a reply. But good customer service goes a lot further than addressing these complaints.
Expectations of Customers
No matter what niche or industry your e-commerce business belongs to, you’ll have customers belonging to many different backgrounds, with different demographics and behavioral attributes.
For an e-commerce store owner, customer service is not something that needs to be provided only after a purchase. There are many customers who’ll need efficient support even when it comes to making a purchase decision or buying a product from an online or e-commerce store.
Depending on their behavioral traits, many customers will decide to go to another online store if they are unable to reach you via telephone or receive an email that lacks the required support or is unhelpful. Therefore, you should always prepare yourself to provide a quality customer service at just any stage a customer for your business may need it.
Right from the point a customer or an online shopper arrives at your online store, the process of customer service has begun. Whether it’s about educating the shopper about the features of a product, creating an ordering system that’s highly customer friendly, the payment system or the shipping and delivery of the product, it’s all part of customer service.
Don’t Just Sell a Product, Sell an Experience
As the owner of an e-commerce business, you shouldn’t just sell a product to buyers or customers. If you plan to achieve customer retention success, you should actually start to sell an experience.
That’s what customer service is all about.
In fact, a great customer experience is the first pillar of your business growth. Without taking good care of your customers, addressing their concerns and solving their problems in real time, you can never expect to take your business to the next level or beat out the competition.
Rather than making futile efforts to compete on price, you should start to compete on the quality of customer service.
You need to answer a simple question – Why should an online shopper buy from your online store rather than your competition’s? You’ll be able to answer this question only when you focus your attention on providing a customer service experience that’s unforgettable.
Customer Service Tips
An efficient customer service leads to creating loyal customers for your business. It’s time to think beyond selling a product or service. It’s time to work up a genuine desire to help your customers, solve their issues in real-time and keep them happy for the long term.
A few tips you can use –
- Have a good knowledge of your product or service
- Train your employees, staff, customer service reps
- Express your gratitude for every transaction
- Be courteous and respectful to customers
- Listen to their issues, concerns attentively
- Be responsive
- Ask customers for their feedback
- Offer services such as live chat, an email contact or flexible phone hours
Good customer service is the backbone of an online business. It’s your most powerful tool to beat out the competition.
What do you look for in good customer service? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Guest author Obaidul Haque is a professional SEO, freelance writer, guest blogger and online marketer. Owner of HelloBloggerz.com, he works with a wide range of clients from all across the globe and helps them expand the online reach of their businesses. Music is like oxygen to him.
As a small business, you want to be found among the billions of pages on Google and other search engines. It’s critically important that you take the proper steps to enhance your page rank and website’s search engine optimize (SEO) rather than taking shortcuts or applying unethical methods. The primary reason to take the proper approach is that search engines are very strict and will penalize a site that doesn’t.
Here, we’ll share some of the top methods you don’t want to apply in your quest for SEO greatness. Protect your page rank by avoiding the following sins.
The search engine police will indeed punish you for bad SEO practices.
Okay, Sin #1. Don’t buy links back to your site from others. Why? Because Google wants to see links to your site from quality sources of content that are also related to your content. Linking to your site from irrelevant sites looking to make a dime on link-building will provide short-lived SEO, but long-term pain and poor page rank.
Search engines also have algorithms that indicate when a site is building links too quickly. You will ultimately be punished for this activity with decreased ranking, so take your time and build quality links to your website.
Duplicate content pages.
Don’t create the same page over and over again on your website. Search engines can’t be fooled by this, and you will be penalized. Create high-quality content that utilizes your keywords elegantly. Continue to improve upon your content with high-quality blog posts and get your audience to share those. That’s where the high-quality link-building starts to come into play.
Don’t stuff keywords into your pages.
Old as time is the strategy of putting your keywords at the bottom of a page in the same color as your page’s background, or using the keywords way too many times in the page’s context so it reads unnaturally. Here’s an example of keyword stuffing utilizing the keyword gluten-free:
“Gluten-free foods are delicious. Try our gluten-free products so you can remain gluten-free all of your life and feel better because you are gluten-free. Gluten-free products are the best products because gluten-free products taste great and are gluten-free.”
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and it’s not going to earn you any favors with search engines.
Google and other search engines are watching and waiting for these sins to be committed. Steer clear to protect your page rank!
This is the process of delivering content to a user based on their IP address – if the site detects that the visitor is a search engine spider, different content will be delivered than that which would be delivered to the average visitor. Typically people will use cloaking with pages that have duplicate or sketchy content so as to go undetected by search engines.
In short, keep your SEO methods ethical and be patient. SEO wasn’t built in a day, and you will very likely hurt your existing page rank if you try to take shortcuts. Stay away from strategies like buying links to your site, keyword stuffing, duplicating content, and cloaking. You will wind up wasting your time because search engines gave caught on to these tricks to say the least!
Guest author Cara Aley is a freelance writer who covers a variety of topics ranging from daily reputation management to health and wellness.
Every company now seems to be on the email marketing bandwagon and with good business justification. Email is one of the most efficient marketing communications tools available today with current and potential customers, partially because it is very cost effective. With such popularity, inboxes are now saturated with messages, the vast majority of which are poorly written and border on spam.
Make your emails stand out in customer inboxes.
How can you cut through the email noise to reach your target audience?
Here is a quick Email Marketing 101 crash course in how to write the perfect email for your customers.
- Create Value for the Customer
Human beings are a self-centered species, and none more so than customers! Readers of your emails really only care about themselves and what matters to them. It’s about them, not us. So the sooner you become customer-centric and see email marketing as a way to create value for the customer, the quicker your revenue will increase and your profits skyrocket.
When writing emails, put yourself in the reader’s place and ask how much your message matters. If the answer is even slightly negative, think about how to improve the value to the reader. You might provide education in a topic area, offer special email-only discounts, or create a sense of community with dialogue. The value will be different depending upon your industry and products or services, but the underlying concept is the same.
Rather than the occasional email with a message sent out of context, develop a yearlong email marketing campaign that builds excitement about your messages appearing in the recipient’s inbox. Nothing generates customer interest like success stories and the hope they will also be featured online. So creating a contest for the most unusual use of your product or the highest number of services provided or anything else you can dream up will give the campaign longevity.
Or you can center a campaign around user group experiences with tips for using your product most effectively. Each issue of the email blast will help your customers better implement your product and show potential customers why they need to purchase from you. You can create a team of users who benefit from the emails but who also help you!
- Use a Professional Editor
Professional writers and editors can turn your dry marketing writing into engaging copy that pulls customers into your sphere of influence. Don’t underestimate the power of going with the pros. Just because your computer came with Microsoft Word does not mean you can write. Do what you do best in your business and hire out the rest.
Be particularly vigilant of sending SPAM!
- Do Not Ignore Anti-SPAM Laws
At one time or another, we all have thought spammers must continue doing what they do because somebody must be buying from them. Well, yes, but it’s a numbers game, and even if less then 1% of email recipients purchase, spammers make money. Not so for a legitimate business.
There are specific requirements laid out in the CAN-SPAM legislation that requires email marketing to follow guidelines or be fined. Check out how you must comply and stay legal. In addition, there is nothing any potential customer hates more than spam, so avoid it at all costs.
By first and foremost staying customer-centric with email that engages customers and potential buyers, your email marketing campaign will be a winner!
Guest blogger Sarah Boisvert writes on business topics such as marketing, sales, social media, and mobile platforms. She has profiled business leaders such as Steve Wynn and Steve Jobs and covers new technologies such as 3D printing.
Photo #1 Credit: “Piled Envelopes Shows Computer Mail Outbox Communication” by Stuart Miles via freedigitalphotos.net
Photo #2 Credit: “Caution – Do Not Send Spam” by Vlado via freedigitalphotos.net
Hiring the right people is crucial for all businesses.
It was 2006 when recession hit my first ecommerce company, we had 47 domestic employees on the payroll. I remember that day clearly, October 10th, 2006, we went from $350,000 per month to $50,000 per month. The revenue drop felt as if I was hit by a truck at 200MPH. Weeks passed, and the revenue never returned, it felt like I didn’t die after the crash and I was left helpless on the side of the road in a cold dark winter with no one around. I was convinced it was a Google update or something! (Years later I found out that it was the recession hitting us early) Unfortunately, I did not have anyone to ask for advice or a mentor to consult. I just couldn’t believe how a drop like that can happen out of the blue. As time went on, hard decisions had to be made. We laid off 70% of the staff, cut advertising and started thinking outside of the box on what we can do to afford new staff while hiring the right people for the job.
It might sound gruesome, but I didn’t regret firing half of the people. In fact, I was happy to let them go. Half the people were complete idiots, the only reason they remained employed because we did not know how to hire the right people. The other half started out to be pretty good, but after working with idiots for so long, some of them quit, while others became lazy idiots themselves. Hiring the RIGHT People is crucial for any business. I am sure you heard of a quote “Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience”, well when you put idiots next to smart people, the idiot effect becomes contagious and in time you are left with a bunch of idiots working for you.
At this time, outsourcing was around but not as popular. If you think power outages, slow internet and poor accents are bad today, you should have been around in 2006. But none the less, I could not deny the fact that:
a) There were millions of people looking for jobs oversea
b) There are more master degree graduates with higher education in India than the whole population of the United States
c) The currency exchange made it possible to hire someone extremely good at a third of U.S. minimum wage
d) There was no taxes, audits, insurance to worry about (don’t even get me started!)
e) I was sure there was at least one person who would be a good fit
I tried hard to make it work, I hired and fired dozens of people overseas over the years. I even paid for their computers, internet and generators to try to make it work, just to see it fail. There was one thing that I didn’t do! I didn’t give up because hiring the right people will make or break a business. Also, I knew that globalization will eventually disrupt the world, and I wanted to be ahead of the game. Failure is a detour not a dead end street said Zig Ziglar, and I couldn’t agree with him more. It is funny to me how failure is not failure if you gain an asset from it.
It was October 2012, I just finished reading the book called Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I was inspired because I could relate because my company, Shopping Cart Elite, was building a great product, as well. But I was also upset because I knew that Steve Jobs was not telling the whole story, and I knew that a great product was not the only thing that made his company the most valuable in the world. I went on a mission to find the answer, and boy did I find it.
“I FOUND THE BOOK THAT OUTLINES EVERY SINGLE LITTLE STEP THAT YOU WOULD NEED TO TAKE TO REPLICATE APPLE’S RESULTS”.
This means that if you read the book, understand the book, and embrace the book, then there is no other information in the world that you will require in order to become a great company.
Implementing “THE BOOK” literally turned our company around 180 degrees. The author of the “THE BOOK” also suggested other books to read, and I’ve read them all! One of the books was so captivating that after embracing it, I found the gold mine that I was looking for since 2006.
It was not a gold mine per say, but it was a ROADMAP to and around the gold mine. This book gave me insight into HIRING THE RIGHT PEOPLE INTO THE RIGHT SEATS. The book introduced me to a psycho-analysis test. I applied this test to myself, and I was SHOCKED! The psychoanalysis test was invented in mid 1900s, and I was amazed that it described me better than I can describe myself 7 years later. I felt as the man who invented this test was watching me my whole life, except he was already dead before I was even born. This test can be applied for any purpose, personal or business, and it will predict not only who you are, but what you are good at.
After applying this test to every team member, I finally understood why certain people including myself did a terrific job at certain tasks, and sucked at others. Once again, hiring the right people plays a crucial role in success… check your hiring process to make sure you’re getting the best from it.
Once we implemented this book, our company started working like a well-oiled machine. It was quite incredible that just a week prior we looked like a bunch of chickens running without our heads, and a week later we are all working together as a team and hiring a new staff member every week. It was a true overnight transformation.
OUTSOURCING DONE RIGHT
What would you do if you went on an interview tomorrow, and the interviewer asks you, “How much money do you want to make by working at this job?” And you reply to him well “I will be happy with $85,000 per year”, and then he tells you, “How about I will start you off at $300,000 per year, and if you do well I will pay you $1,500,000 in 12 months.” Sounds crazy?
Well if you offer a Philippine worker $15 per hour they will be considered the 10% of the richest in their country. In fact, a high salary in the Philippines is $30 per hour, the minimum wage is $0.75 (75 cents), and the government salary is $2.00 per hour. Do you even understand what will happen ten years from now when internet and hardware will become a commodity worldwide? You will experience a global disruption in the workforce at 200MPH yourself. It’s already happening right now, and you can’t stop it.
Do you even realize that you can change someone’s life by paying them a salary that would be equivalent to a million dollars in US? I still can’t grasp it. Now I am not saying you should start anyone off at $15/hr, but you can hiring the right people and then training them will result in loyal employees with a goal to earn that salary one day. Fifteen dollars per hour compensation would not be an issue for your company if it was successful. Thus, it is a reality to hire a super star team for your business that you would never afford domestically.
I used the knowledge from “THE BOOKS” to try hiring the right people overseas again, and this time it was a SUCCESS! At first I was surprised at the results because for every 50 candidates we would interview, we only hired one. The psychoanalysis test consists of 16 behavior types that break up into four categories. The four categories are leaders, workers, managers, and visionaries. If you are a talented individual, you will find yourself having the ability to switch between a leader and a worker, or a manager and a worker. We found a pattern that whenever we would hire a “Manager” he would not last more than a month. Now as soon as we see a sign that an interviewee has a manager behavior they automatically fail the interview. It was also fascinating to find out that 70% of the world population has a manager behavior, which is why we find mediocre productivity at companies world wide who employee managers to do a leader or even a worker job.
CONCLUSION: ARE YOU A MANAGER?
You can be the smartest person in the world, with the ability to build the world’s tallest Sky Scraper. However, regardless of your abilities, you will never be able to build it alone in your lifetime. Your productivity is as big as your Team, and if you are alone then you are doomed to fail.
Our team here at Shopping Cart Elite can fully automate your business, but it won’t do any good if you don’t have the right people in the right seats. I hear stories from my clients all the time about how they are overwhelmed with all the work. When I would ask them, “Why don’t you hire someone to help you?” They would reply “Most of the time the people we hire, are fired within weeks.” They train them, teach them, mentor them and in conclusion they fire them because they just don’t get it. What they don’t understand is if they were hiring the right people, they won’t need to manage them or show them anything more than once.
“Getting the Right People in the Right Seats”
Hiring the right people does not mean hiring the most experienced or the most qualified. Spending hours with your team will not get you results because people who are not in the right seats will not:
See the bigger picture.
Understand the role that they play within the organization.
Be enthusiastic about fulfilling their duties.
If you decide to hire a John Doe for a marketing position, it is crucial that you consider how well John is going to blend in with your core values, and company vision. It is also vital that you consider whether or not John may be better off in a different position in the company. He may be applying for a marketing position while his specialty is managing company accounts. So it is your job as an executive to make sure that John ends up in the right seat.
When a person is in the right seat, he or she will be able to employ their skills, maintain their enthusiasm, and fulfill their roles in a more pro-active manner.
Your take away from this post should be that it doesn’t matter if you hire someone in US or Oversea, there are idiots everywhere, and there are smart people everywhere, you just need to know the process of hiring the right people for the right seats.
There is nothing a customer loves more, or a potential customer wants to see, than an indication that your business is professional, tech savvy, thorough, and connected. Newsletters and emails are great, but when it comes to customer outreach, quality business presentations signal that you — and your company — are serious and engaged.
Follow these tips to create Quality Business Presentations that pops and send it in a way that builds customer engagement and loyalty.
Quality Business Presentations make your company look professional and savvy.
PowerPoint Pros and Cons
PowerPoint is a Microsoft application, which is also available on Macs, that can make a basic presentation brilliant, or jumble and over-complicate a perfectly good, simple demonstration. Packed with powerful animation tools, PowerPoint offers a unique ability to bring presentations to life with graphic imagery. However, using it well is a skill that takes time to learn, and an amateurish, bush-league presentation is worse than no presentation at all.
If you know the basics of PowerPoint, you can build your own quality business presentations. Take a week or so before your deadline and download the latest software, familiarizing yourself with any updates and changes. You don’t need to buy new templates — there are free ones available that will guarantee your presentation is unique and sleek.
Make use of video tutorials that will walk you through the finer points of building quality business presentations. This will separate the wannabes from the pros.
Be honest with yourself and know your limits. If you’re not computer savvy, if you’re not a visual, artistic person, that’s OK. Part of what makes a great business owner great is knowing his or her boundaries and hiring the right people. For a very nominal fee, you can hire professional freelancers to discuss your needs, make and present a draft, and then revise as necessary.
If you’re not a design wiz, find someone who is and ask for help.
When it comes time to share your quality business presentations, there is no better way to decide than to pick up the phone. By asking your customers how they would like to receive presentations, you accomplish two goals. First, you solve the immediate task of getting the presentation to the place they’re most likely to actually look at it.
Perhaps more importantly, however, you’re showing your customers that you get it. They, like you, receive stacks of junk mail, spam, and solicitations in their email inbox, on their Facebook wall, and on their Twitter feed every day. By actually asking what they want, you put yourself in a separate category of business people who take their customers’ needs seriously.
A great presentation can wow your existing customers, lure new ones, and make a statement about your business, which will enhance your reputation. Put technology to work by building a great one and then building your buyer base by sending it out through the right channels.
Guest blogger Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about social media, business reputation management, and customer outreach.
Ask your current readership to pin your blog posts–they will want to help!
Pinterest is a place where collections of beautiful imagery and amazing content abound. It is also a great way to engage a new and relevant readership in your blog. But best of all, online business owners can use Pinterest to drive traffic to your blog is a great way to generate traffic and keep in touch with your target audience.
Here, we’ll share some tips on how to inspire new traffic to your blog by engaging them on Pinterest.
Make sure your Pinterest profile articulates why people should read your blog. When people click through to learn more about you, make sure it’s clear why you are writing the blog and why readers should follow. Are you an expert in a certain field? Why should they want to know more? We can use Pinterest to drive traffic by making your boards clear and precise.
Pin your best blog content so that it is ‘repinned.’ If someone repins a post of yours to their own Pinterest page, it is likely that at least some of their fans will be interested in what you have posted and will want to read more. When your post is repinned, readers can easily pop right over to your blog from Pinterest. We can use Pinterest to drive traffic by posting content that others are interested it!
Ask your current blog followers to ‘pin’ your posts. Generally, fans of your blog will want to see you succeed. A simple request to help spread the word about your blog by pinning the occasional post is not too much to ask, and you will likely find a willing audience. We can use Pinterest to drive traffic by simply asking for repins of content that your target audience has appreciated.
Remember that they are your supporters and follow you because they like you. But also be sure that your fans understand how to pin your post. Leave instructions on the blog for how to do so. Pinterest has a great tutorial to help them–alternately, you can leave a “Pin it” button next to each blog post so that they don’t have to do any extra work themselves.
Follow others with similar interests. When they see you are following them, there is a chance those will similar boards will want to learn more about you if they find you have related interests, and will potentially click through to your blog if what they see is compelling. We can use Pinterest to drive traffic by following people in our interest area!
Make sure to use an eye-catching and relevant image with your blog. Imagery is the secret of Pinterest. Copy is in such small font on Pinterest boards that the image associated with your blog post really needs to be eye-catching so that potential readers will want to see the copy associated with that beautiful image that caught their eye. Then hopefully they will click through to read your blog post. We can use Pinterest to drive traffic by using the most appealing imagery!
Alt text for your imagery is important. There is a great ‘Search’ tool on Pinterest, so make sure you use descriptive, keyword-rich alt text for your imagery so that your blog posts are more readily searchable. We can use Pinterest to drive traffic by remembering to fill in the Alt Text for your photos.
Provide extra links to your blog where possible and make sure that the domain name is memorable.
Provide extra links to your blog. Aside from the fact that the Pinterest image will link to your blog, provide a link to your blog both in your profile and in the engaging description underneath your image that talks about the blog. This makes it all the more likely that you will get traffic to your blog. Make sure that the domain name of your blog is memorable, too, in case the link winds up not being a hyperlink. We can use Pinterest to drive traffic by adding extra links to your blog, aside from the photo link.
When utilized in the appropriate manner, Pinterest is a fantastic tool to attract new traffic to your blog. Be sure to use eye-catching imagery in association with each post you pin so that people, when they do find the image, are curious enough to read the copy associated with it, and thus click through to your blog. Additionally, request the assistance of your current blog audience–chances are, they will want to help support you by sharing your work.
Guest author Cara Aley is a freelance writer who covers a wide variety of topics from used office furniture to digital marketing strategies and online reputation management.
Which solution is best for you?
By John Trimble, Head of Search
June 17, 2013
With more and more businesses investing in trading online the importance of having an effective warehouse and stock control software is becoming even more key to the difference between profit and loss.
If you’re in the process of procuring eCommerce software, how your back office integrates should be an important consideration when reviewing solutions. Primarily there are two possible back office solutions from an eCommerce perspective:
- An eCommerce Solution which integrates into your existing stock control and warehouse management systems.
- An eCommerce solution which incorporates built in warehouse and stock control modules.
Option 1 presents a solution which will require both your eCommerce software and back office providers working closely together to make sure integration is as painless as possible. This option can be very cost effective if the integration doesn’t require too much customisation from both sides.
Option 2 relates to the latest generation of eCommerce solutions which includes functionality for full stock control and warehouse management and often contains additional support for supply chain and customer relationship management.
If you’re going down the route of implementing a package which includes an integrated back office or a new standalone solution there are several key bits of functionality you should look for if you are running an eCommerce business that doesn’t use drop shipping:
Stock Control Software as a Service
Although few vendors within the industry provide Stock Control Software as a Service (SCSaaS) there are various benefits over the traditional proprietary stock control software model:
- No Large One Off Costs: Traditional stock control software normally involves a hefty upfront fee, SCSaaS differs from this as you get full access to the software for a monthly or yearly fee.
- Trouble-Free Upgrades: Because the SCSaaS solution provider manages the updates and upgrades, there is little exposure to issues involved in downloading and installing software updates.
- Reduced IT Costs: As the software is hosted off-site in the cloud by the SCSaaS provider there is no associated IT infrastructure or staffing costs.
- Globally Accessible: One of the prime benefits of Stock Control Software as a Service is the ability to access it anywhere in the world provided you have internet access.
Ad-Hoc Goods In Put Away
In a less rigid warehousing environment, modern stock control solutions can be used to specifically tell the system where each item is going to go, as the item is being put away. For example, as stock is received the system will put the stock into a Quarantine location. The user will then be able to scan an item and decide whereabouts they would like to put it.
Most sophisticated stock control software also allows the more effective dealing of large reserves of stock in bulk/overspill areas of your warehouse, which can often create difficulties in terms of monitoring the transitions of stock from your overspill to picking areas. These types of stock replenishment systems can intelligently prompt you to move your stock as and when it is needed.
Automatic Allocation of Stock to Orders:
Saving time by automating the allocation of your stock to order processes. Enabling orders to be picked quicker which in turn further enhances the customer experience.
With real-time inventory and forecasting logic most leading Stock Control Software solutions allow you to simultaneously reduce back orders and stockholdings, further driving efficiency in your warehouse and business.
Guest author John Trimble is the Head of Search for ecommerce software and back office solution providers Exact Abacus Ltd. They provide integrated ecommerce, stock control and warehouse management system to both the SME and low end Enterprise Market