8 Smart and Practical Ways To Increase Your Small Business Profits Ross | January 18th, 2016
Every small business owner has a lot to do but little time to accomplish everything. In the long run, successful small businesses find ways to improve their profitability (the amount of money remaining after all business expenses are paid). But short of raising prices and alienating customers, it’s not always easy for a small business owner to take the time to focus on profitability. Unfortunately, failure to do so can doom the business.
Here are eight practical tips that you can implement today to increase the profitability of your small business:
1. Evaluate What’s Working And What Isn’t.
Wasted time could be a small business owner’s worst enemy. Your time – and your employees’ time – is limited but you have a great deal to accomplish every day. It’s fine to have occasional unproductive days, but most successful small businesses figure out what works and what doesn’t – and focus on the things that work for them.
For example, it’s entirely possible that a huge amount of your effort is spent on daily activities that aren’t contributing to building your brand, your sales/profits or accomplishing the other meaningful goals you’ve set for your business. It might be fun to spend two hours daily on Facebook or Twitter hunting for customers, but the more important question you should be asking is whether your prospective customers are looking for you on those social networks.
Here’s another typical example: some small business owners are so protective of their accounting that they will resist the need to bring in a part-time accountant to help them to maintain their financial records. While this appears to be prudent – after all, you’re saving the cost of paying a part-time accountant – such decisions turn out to be very short-sighted for many businesses. If you’re running a solo business, you could be focused on sales during the hours you devote to accounting. Or you can be working to improve your product or service. You should personally do the things you do great and outsource (to your team or vendors) everything else.
How You Can Start Today: Start by listing on a sheet of paper – or in an electronic document – all of the tasks you do on a regular basis (hourly, daily, weekly, monthly). Do your best to break these tasks into logical areas, such as sales, accounting, marketing, inventory, etc. Second, assign times to each task. How long does it take you to pay your bills every week/month? If you have to maintain inventory, how long does it take you to review your inventory and order replacement inventory? Do this for each task to begin to understand the time you are spending on each activity. Third, assess whether each activity is important. You’d be surprised how many things we all do during a normal day that add little value to our business. Once you understand the importance of each activity, rank the activities (or logical areas) to better understand where YOU should be focusing. If you’re like me, you’ll find plenty of activities that are only modestly important – but those activities sometimes take the most amount of time to accomplish. Determine whether those activities are sufficiently important to continue – or whether you need to find someone else (part-time or full-time) to help you with those activities. We all have areas in which we excel. And we all have areas in which we don’t. Focus on the areas where you bring the most value to your business and find the right people to fill the gaps in areas you don’t. If you focus on the things that work, you’ll be more efficient and productive, and you’ll see meaningful impact to your bottom line.
You can also look to see what’s working and what isn’t in specific marketing channels. For example, take a look at Buffer’s 5 Unique Ways to Measure and Evaluate a Social Media Campaign. If your website looks like it was designed in 1999, consider a redesign. More about this in 10 Important Web Design Best Practices and Tips for Small Business Websites. And although it might seem smart to have a huge site selling as many products as possible, the opposite is often true. Here’s a good read from Moz on Pruning Your eCommerce Site: How & Why.
2. Experiment With Hyper-Local Advertising.
Most small business owners don’t know that it’s possible to target prospective customers on Facebook based on the language they speak and where they live/work. This means that a bakery can advertise to people who live within a certain mile radius of the bakery. A language tutor can advertise to families who speak Russian or Chinese – within a 10 mile radius – to target families that may want to hire a tutor for their kids.
Seven Tips On Being A Great Customer Keri | January 14th, 2016
The most successful companies often also provide exceptional customer service. But as anyone who’s worked in customer service can tell you – not all customers are the same. Sure, we do our absolute best to treat each customer with respect and empathy and to solve their problems. But we will go out of our way to help great customers – people who make us smile (even when we’re trying to help them solve a frustrating problem).
Great customers not only help us to do our jobs better, but also help themselves. Being a great customer doesn’t mean you spend a lot of money, are a regular, or are famous. It has nothing to do with those things. Want to know the secrets? Here are 7 tips from the insiders on how to be a great customer:
1.Practice the Golden Rule.
We all know that tried and true golden rule of treating others as you wish to be treated. When dealing with customer service, remember that they have the ability to help solve your problems. They want to help you, so be sure to remember you’re dealing with a real person who deserves the same respect you seek.
2. Allow yourself to be surprised.
Don’t go into a situation having already decided how things are going to go. If you heard that someone had a negative experience, still allow yourself to be open to the idea you could have a different experience. You never know why someone had a bad experience, so don’t let their experience dictate yours. We celebrate in our ability to delight our customers every day. And customers appreciate this. In fact, we’re pretty proud that our team has a 100% customer satisfaction rating for the past three weeks (and a 98+% rating for the month prior).
Three Awesome Tools for Small Businesses and Startups Arielle | January 13th, 2016
It’s not easy to start and run a successful business. After all, business owners must manage many different things and wear different hats in operating their business. From developing products and services to hiring to payroll, owners have a lot on their plates!
Fortunately, there are some terrific mobile and web tools that entrepreneurs and business owners can use to run their businesses more efficiently. At crowdSPRING, we rely on a number of mobile and online tools to help us be more efficient and to reduce costs.
Managing Social Media Posts – BUFFER
One of the most time consuming tasks for an entrepreneur or small business owner is managing social media accounts. With numerous platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and more, it’s a hassle to continuously update content and monitor customers and competitors. It’s easy to fall into a trap of dedicating someone’s time to only social media accounts. While this may work for large companies, small businesses and startups typically don’t have the resources to do this.
One of my favorite social media tools – and one I’ve used for more than a year – is Buffer. I have used Buffer to manage everything from my personal social media accounts to business accounts, and it has saved me a lot of time. Buffer allows users to schedule social media posts ahead of time across several popular platforms. With pricing tiers starting at $0/month (that’s not a misprint – they offer a free plan), Buffer offers different tools to help businesses manage their online presence. Buffer is also extremely accessible – there is a browser extension, website, and iOS/Android apps. Importantly, Buffer can help you find images to use in your posts, and can also suggest useful content that you can share. By using Buffer (or a similar tool), small business owners and entrepreneurs only have to devote a fraction of their time to gathering content and scheduling their posts. This frees up additional time for other employees to focus on other tasks.
Fresh from the SPRING: Sergem Audree | January 12th, 2016
The Logo Store Nightmare: Ready Made Logos Harm Your Business Ross | January 11th, 2016
You might be tempted to buy a “ready-made”, generic logo you found at an online logo store. After all, it costs only $99 and you can personalize it with your business name.
Don’t do it.
A custom logo design for your business is an important part of creating a brand identity. The best logo designs are original, memorable, and a good representation of what the company does.
“Ready-made” logos that you find in logo stores do nothing to help your business stand out from among your competitors. To the contrary, generic ready-made logos sold by logo stores are purchased by multiple other businesses (this is also the reason your should avoid buying logo designs with generic design elements).
Why should you care?
Generic “ready-made” logos bought by multiple buyers expose you to legal and business risks and are ultimately, worthless.
Trademark law prevents businesses from operating under names – or using logos – that are likely to be mistaken for the name or logo of an existing competitor. For example, here’s how the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office defines a trademark:
any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods. In short, a trademark is a brand name.
A service mark is similar to a trademark – but it’s used to distinguish the services of one provider from services provided by others (and to indicate the source of the services).
Some people assume that if a logo is protected by copyright law, it is also protected under trademark law. This is untrue. A logo might be protected by copyright law, but is not protected by trademark law unless it is actually used in commerce. This is because trademark rights arise only through use of the logo in interstate or international commerce (such as when you offer items for sale and incorporate the logo in your marketing materials or on your products). For a primer on copyright law, I recommend you read Small Business Legal Issues: Copyright Basics.
Night Owls vs. Early Risers: What’s Best for Your Business? Arielle | January 6th, 2016
Some people wake up with the sunrise, while others are just then going to bed. Personally, I would much rather finish my day at 4 am than start it at that hour. I find that my creativity and productivity both peak while the rest of the world is asleep. There are few distractions, and I have extended time to finish my work.
However, many people insist that getting an early start to their day is the key to success. For some, early morning hours provide a time with few distractions. This allows those people to better focus on their work.
But is this true for everyone?
Research shows that traits and habits from both types of people can be either beneficial or harmful to a business. Neither early risers nor night owls are superior; each lifestyle has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, a study done on the psychological and mental effects of certain circadian rhythms revealed that night owls have higher intelligence levels. When psychologists Richard D. Roberts and Patrick C. Kyllonen tested participants’ math and reading comprehension, memory, processing speed, and vocational knowledge, the results surprised them. Contrary to popular belief, those who were night owls outperformed the early risers in each of the tests. The psychologists concluded that although the difference in performance of the two types of people was small, it was enough to contradict their initial predictions. A “late to bed and late to rise” lifestyle does not seem to lead to socioeconomic, cognitive, or health disadvantage..” (Gale & Martyn, 1998)
Theoretically, this means that night owls would be more intelligent business owners. But since being a good business owner is not restricted to high levels of intelligence, there are other factors to be considered. A grumpy boss does not create a positive work environment, yet happiness is a factor highly regarded in business culture. A study in 2012 revealed that early risers reported higher levels of happiness during a study comparing happiness and health of various circadian rhythms.
…if morning-type older adults more effectively regulate emotions in the morning, they may be in a more positive state for the rest of the day (i.e., by “starting the day off right”). (Biss & Hasher, 2012)
In addition to “starting the day off right”, the study found that levels of subjective health in early risers were higher than their night owl counterparts, indicating that the overall well-being of early risers is better. Therefore a business owner who is an early riser would have a generally more positive attitude about the company than a night owl.
10 Important Web Design Best Practices and Tips for Small Business Websites Ross | January 4th, 2016
If you don’t have a dedicated website for your startup or small business, you’re in danger to fall further behind your competition.
You might think that you’re building a fan base on Facebook (if you’re buying fans on Facebook by advertising, you’re very likely wasting your money), sharing small bits of content on Twitter and posting images to Pinterest. But without a central digital home, you’re scattering your efforts and missing an incredible opportunity to engage and connect with your customers and potential customers through a dedicated site. After all, your customers ultimately will want to learn more about your company’s products and services, and a dedicated website will help them do so.
Today, we’ll cover web design best practices and tips. We’ll point you to great resources and examples and highlight recent changes in web design. And if you already have a website but are considering a website redesign, it’s a good idea to start with your homepage.
Here are our top 10 tips to help you create an awesome website design in 2016:
Your website reflects your brand. It is the first impression a visitor will form when they visit your site for the first time. If you use an off-the-shelf template and your website looks like thousands of other sites on the Internet, you’ll miss an opportunity to create a unique impression. Why would a potential customer remember your site when she has seen dozens of other sites that look just like your site.
In the past few months, we’ve been hearing form numerous business owners who initially created their website using one of the existing template sites. As their businesses have grown, those business owners realize that they need to stand out from their competition. The template sites no longer meet their needs.
This is not surprising. The homepage is typically the most important page in a business website – your potential customers will likely see that page first when they visit your site. Moreover, because most small business and startup sites have fewer than a dozen pages total, the homepage is an important anchor for your overall site. It must answer several important questions – including who you are and what you do. Template sites simply can’t do this properly. Some of the templates look visually pretty, but functionally, they lack many elements that make a website useful and informative for potential customers.
Consider the impression you want to make and the message that you want to communicate to your customers and potential customers.
As you consider your site design, be sure you have a professional logo design. A logo created from clip-art or a template won’t be unique and will create a poor impression. Even worse, it may expose you to substantial legal risk. Some business owners invest in a new website design but forget to create an original logo (or to update their old clip-art based logo). This is a missed opportunity.
When you consider the content to include on your homepage, keep one very important fact in mind: users typically read only 28% of the words during an average visit. Don’t overload your homepage with a lot of text and images. Consider the most important content and images you want your users to see and get rid of everything else. Many people mistakenly try to include too much content on a homepage – and this creates confusion and a poor user experience. Add less, not more.
Consider too that your visitors might be visiting from laptops and mobile phones, so try to avoid designing pages for a large monitor size or pages that use more complex features such as flash animation (you should NOT be using flash in 2016) or complex navigation.
Tip: You can implement modern design trends to make your site look current. For example, flat design has become popular. If you’ve used iOS 7 and later versions of iOS on an iPhone or iPad, or Windows 8, you’ve seen flat design first-hand. Flat design eliminates gradients and shadowing, making images and fonts smaller and easier to read. Other 2016 design trends include simple animations (including cinemagraphs – live animated images/video), bigger images, illustrations, more scrolling, and bigger fonts. For even more about 2016 design trends, I recommend you read Top web design trends for 2016.
For a more sophisticated look, consider illustrations. Although images have dominated web design, more sites are incorporating creative illustration in their homepages. Illustrations can often engage the user in more personal ways. For example, take a look at how Basecamp uses illustrations to show their support team members. Basecamp could have easily included photos of each person, but illustrations are more fun, unique, and reflect some personality.
Advanced Tip 1: Once you design your homepage, you can run very simple tests to figure out which buttons, colors, and pieces of content earn the most clicks. After all, marketing is as much a science as it is an art. For more about A/B testing, I recommend you read 7 Dead-Simple A/B Tests You Should Run on Your Homepage.
Advanced Tip 2: Particularly on your homepage – but also on any pages where you’re trying to persuade the user to take some action – think about what action you want the user to take and create a prominent “call to action” button. For tips on creative effective calls to action, I suggest you review 10 Techniques For An Effective ‘Call To Action’. You should incorporate minimal textures and subtle gradients, where appropriate, to highlight different areas of the site.
The call to action (CTA) on your homepage is an important element to draw visitors deeper into your site. You should consider a few important factors when you design your CTA, including: (a) location (above the fold – visible on the monitor when the page first loads is typically ideal), (b) make sure the CTA stands out from the other content on your site (notice how the crowdSPRING “START A PROJECT” CTA is pink?), (c) create a link to another page so that your call to action will draw the visitor deeper into your site, (d) create a less-emphasized alternative variation (notice the “How it works” link below crowdSPRING’s primary CTA, (e) and test design, content, and placement.
It’s important not to overload your hompage (or any page, for that matter), with CTAs. Pick one or two and focus on those. If you have too many, you’ll create a tremendous amount of noise for users and that will lead to much confusion.
For some good examples of landing page designs, I recommend you read 15 of the Best Landing Page Design Examples You Need To See and 15 of the Best Website Homepage Design Examples.
2. Showcase your products and services.
You’re selling a product or service. Make sure that you clearly showcase that product or service on your homepage. I’ve seen many small business web designs that failed to effectively show their products or services and many others that tried to showcase far too many products or services on one page.
You have only a few seconds to make a first impression and you should make sure that the impression you make is professional.
Fresh from the SPRING: PixelWhipped Audree | December 23rd, 2015
When perusing our galleries here on crowdSPRING, we see some amazing work submitted in the projects. Today, we noticed this gem submitted in this logo project.
Let us start the slow clap for PixelWhipped. Check out more great work on PixelWhipped’s profile page.
Nicely done, PixelWhipped, nicely done!
The Insider’s Guide To Great Customer Service Keri | December 9th, 2015
As consumers, we regularly measure our experiences by the quality of a company’s products, services, and customer service. Ironically, many companies forget that customer service often reflects how the world views their business. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been stuck on the phone with a company for what seems like an eternity, trying to resolve a trivial problem.
If you run a business, there are many things you can do to help your team deliver great customer service to your customers. But perhaps the most important step you can take is to empower your team to be decisive. Don’t load them with predefined scripts and strict rules. Allow them to be real.
We’re fortunate at crowdSPRING. Our team is empowered to find out what is and isn’t working for our customers, to make customers happy, and to suggest ways we can improve what we do. It may seem like such a simple concept (and it is), but it’s not always widely practiced.
We’re very proud that in any given month, our customer satisfaction rating (customers who say they love their interaction with our customer service team) ranges between 96 and 98 percent. Anyone who’s been involved with customer service knows that’s a terrific result.
Here are five ways you too can deliver great customer service to your customers:
1. Be real.
No, really. I’m serious. We live in a world of boilerplate responses and automated phone calls. No matter how upset someone might be, they will always appreciate emailing, or speaking with a real person who acknowledges that they too, are real! Real life, human interaction goes a long way in Building great customer relationships. Personalize your emails, use your customer’s name, and be specific about what the situation is. The difference between sympathy and empathy to the customer’s problem.