10 Tactical Qualities of a Leader: Transform From Good Boss to Great Boss

Small business leadership quotesOver the years I have had the opportunity of working with, and for, a variety of bosses and a variety of personalities.  Some good, some bad, and some down-right meanies.  All of them were leaders, but many did not possess effective leadership skills.

But what are the attributes of a good leader? In the eyes of an employee, the boss is in charge.  He (ummm…she…) calls the shots.  In the eyes of the boss, as well as his (errr…her…) cohorts , they cannot show weakness or vulnerability for fear of losing the respect of their employees. But do these observations translate to effective leadership?  Hardly.

Now, as a boss myself, I have learned from my past work environments.  I have picked up a few skills.  Although I work at home, I do manage a staff of one.  I am still the boss, but I am also human.  Regardless of the work environment, location, and staff size, being a boss means you have to adapt.

Tactical Quality #1:  Observe

The ability to observe without acting takes patience.  It is our natural instinct to react when approached or provoked, especially when in a stressful or confrontational situation. Be patient and clearly observe the actions of others. Watch how people react to their given situation.  Notice how people interact with others.  Observe how others carry on their daily responsibilities.  By observing others, you allow yourself to fully access any situation.  This in turn allows you to make clear decisions.

Tactical Quality #2:  Exude a Positive Image

Not necessarily in the physical sense, but in the sense of projecting a positive business image others can follow.  Encourage ideas, motivate, and express sincerity.  Show appreciation and reward your people appropriately.

Tactical Quality #3:  Don’t Put Them at Your Mercy

When asking for something out of the ordinary work spectrum, such as time off to tend to family matters, an employee is vulnerable.  Listen to their request and offer generosity and compassion.  Don’t make them feel pathetic.  They may already be going through a tough time.  Show compassion and let them see your soft side.

Tactical Quality #4:  Build A #1 Business Team

Hire the best and you will get the best.  Take the time to screen your potential team members and weed out the ones that just don’t make the cut.  This is your team.  Make it the best it can be.

Tactical Quality #5:  Be an Active Part of the Team

Don’t just slap some instructions onto an email and expect your team of great employees to get the job done to your expectations.  Chances are great they will perform well, but being part of the team instills confidence.  I not suggesting you be a micro-manager; just be available to participate and offer suggestions, answers, and guidance.

Tactical Quality #6:  Be Straight and to the Point

Beating around the bush is not only tiresome for the recipient, but time consuming.  By being straight and to the point in your expectations you will net better results.  I remember having one boss who would talk in circles.  Not literally spinning in circles as she talked, but splitting her sentences into short, unfinished bursts of commands and then concluding with “ya know what I mean?”.  Eh….no.  It was difficult to fully understand what she wanted.  Make your point known from the beginning.  Let your business partners, co-workers, employees know your expectations.

Tactical Quality #7:  Talk Directly to the One Spoken to

Similar to being straight and to the point, it is important to talk directly to your intended recipient.  Don’t play games by telling someone else to tell them.  You do it.  Talk directly to whomever it is you want to hear your voice.  This will ensure you are heard and understood.

Tactical Quality #8:  Successfully Solve Problems

Don’t dwell on problems; they will always arise.  Utilize the skills of your team to identify deliberate, access, and resolve any problems.  Communication is key to solving any problems and issues.  And, speaking from experience, don’t point fingers.  Realize that the one who may have created the problem brought it to your attention and is willing to fix it.

Tactical Quality #9:  Don’t Be a Tyrant

There is no need to raise your voice, unless you’re teaching a classroom full of 9 year old boys.  In the business world, shouting is unprofessional.  You won’t gain anyone’s respect and you will come off as a tyrant.  Just don’t do it.

Tactical Quality #10:  Make Eye Contact

I picked up this skill from two sources, actually.  When I was laid off from my last job, my boss couldn’t look me in the eyes when telling me the news.  Maybe he was nervous.  Maybe he was scared.  Maybe he was sad.  Who knows?  I’ll never forget that moment, though.  Not because I just lost my job, but because we didn’t make eye contact and therefore any future communications was tainted (so I felt).  Two valuable lessons learned with making eye contact:  trust and deeper understanding.

 

Being able to set the example and express yourself in a professional, yet comfortable, manner is vital to being a well-functioning business person.  Some of these leadership qualities may not come naturally to you, but if you can master a few of them you’re sure to build better business relationships.

 

 

Bio:

Kathleen Lewis is the founder and owner of EWomanWeb.com, a trusted resource dedicated to providing online job leads and work at home inspiration.  She understands the trials and tribulations of working from home, and encourages others to act upon their desire to be their own boss. 

 

 

 

 

 

Small Business Toolbox – March Thirty

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

LiveLuvCreate – Free tool that lets you create image quotes, the same one's you find all over Facebook these days.  Great and easy way to add images to your blog and Facebook posts.

QRhacker – Design your own color QR codes.  You can choose your own colors and even add your logo in the QR code.

Peter Drucker small business

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

Site Speed and How it Factors Into Search Rankings

Google is constantly implementing new signals into its algorithm to better distinguish quality sites from their spammy counterparts. In the wake of the Google Panda and Penguin updates, increased focus has been placed on creating a better user experience to maximize search rankings.

The old mindset of bombarding a site with anchored links has been phased out in favor of a user-centric approach that calls for high quality content, functional and intuitive site architecture, and social media integration. These are just some of the factors that now determine where a site stands in the search rankings.

 

Among the quality signals that Google now emphasizes is site loading speed. Page speed can be negatively affected by a number of factors, from a traffic congested server to a poorly configured WordPress installation. These hiccups have a number of implications beyond affecting a sites rank, many of which will be explored below.

 

Page Speed as Part of the Evolving Definition of “SEO”

As webmasters continue to process the fallout of Google's most recent algorithm updates, one message has been clearly received – that SEO is a multifaceted process. What was once synonymous with aggressive link building has been redefined. It is no longer viable to base your entire SEO campaign on backlinks, as getting safe links in abundance is no longer a cheap or easy task. Furthermore, backlinks are now only one piece of the puzzle. If your site lacks indicators of visitor engagement, you may not be rewarded with those prized high rankings.

 

Optimizing your site's loading speed is an excellent way to give Google a broader, positive impression of your site. Although this task has been conventionally handled by conversion rate optimization experts and other web professionals, there is no better person than an SEO to tackle the problem. Making a site faster is not the challenge. It's doing so without negatively affecting a site's spiderability and other factors that correlate with ranking.

Google Panda updates

How Slow Loading Speeds Affect your Ranking

A slow site is problematic for a number of reasons as far as search engines are concerned. From a technical standpoint, a page that continues to timeout cannot be crawled by search engines. That means any new pages added to the site or updated won't be rapidly indexed, keeping potential visitors away. This is the proverbial nail-in-the coffin for news websites, which require quick indexing and ranking to garner those initial surges of traffic as a story breaks. Even shopping sites that are chock-full of product pages can suffer, as fewer pages indexed means less long-tail traffic. Existing pages can suffer heavy ranking demotions if the lag is severe enough.

 

In contrast, optimized sites will often have a greater number of pages indexed. This is because the Googlebot spends less of its visit time indexing any one given page. By reducing the footprint of each of your site's pages, you can increase the indexing volume and subsequently traffic. Even those pages that aren't heavily optimized for keywords can attract super-targeted long-tail traffic once they become indexed.

 

A slow loading site can also affect your traffic levels at an algorithmic level. Visitors will often click out of a slow loading site, which increases it's bounce rate. Google correlates a high bounce rate with a poor user experience, meaning the algorithm may demote your site's rankings.

 

Overall, it makes much more sense to optimize page speed on large authority sites than to invest in expensive link building campaigns.

Page Speed from A Marketing Perspective

It's a well documented fact that conversion rates plummet with increases in page loading time. Retailing giant Wal-Mart and others have conducted studies that confirm a dramatic dip in conversion rates on pages that take longer than two seconds to load.

 

The implications of these findings are even more troubling in the mobile device realm. Google attributed more than one-quarter of it's pay-per-click advertising revenue in Q4 2012 to mobile devices, which lack the robust hardware to quickly serve pages. As the average footprint of a web page continues to soar at a level far outpacing the technical capabilities of mobile devices, it can be assumed Google will place increasing emphasis on page load speed in its mobile SERPs.

 

Diagnosing Site Speed Problems

There are a number of free tools available to simulate or monitor (in real-time) your sites loading speed. WebPageTest.org falls into the former category and offers the flexibility of testing your site from a number of different locations while simulating different browser and connection configurations. The tool outputs load times for both new and repeating visitors and even features an intuitive scoring system for those not technically inclined. For those who can make due without detailed reports, Google PageSpeed Insights is a good option.

 

Real-Time Monitoring

You can get real-world page load statistics by using something like Google Analytics. which is extremely versatile in terms of allowing you to compare page load speed with other metrics. Analytics and similar services track page speeds by executing a Javascript code snippet upon pageload. There are two important downfalls to using Analytics. One, it can only collect page speed information from certain browsers. Furthermore, it only probes one percent of your traffic by default, making the results non-representative unless you receive significant traffic. There is a workaround for this which consists of modifying the Javascript code. Some other real-time monitoring tools to consider include Torbit Insight, New Relic, and Log Normal.

 

In Summary

Page speed has become one of a number of factors that are now integral to successful search engine optimization. A well optimized site can generate more revenue by means of having more pages indexed, enjoying better rankings, and being more responsive to a user's needs. A split second difference in loading times can translate to a dramatic loss in revenue. If you embrace the latest SEO practices, you only stand to gain.

 

Author: Gerrid Smith is CEO of the law firm SEO companySmithSEO. For over 5 years Gerrid has helped attorneys generate more business from the web. In addition to his interests in Internet marketing, he also enjoys hiking, fishing and camping with his family.

Site Speed and How it Factors Into Search Rankings

Google is constantly implementing new signals into its algorithm to better distinguish quality sites from their spammy counterparts. In the wake of the Google Panda and Penguin updates, increased focus has been placed on creating a better user experience to maximize search rankings.

The old mindset of bombarding a site with anchored links has been phased out in favor of a user-centric approach that calls for high quality content, functional and intuitive site architecture, and social media integration. These are just some of the factors that now determine where a site stands in the search rankings.

 

Among the quality signals that Google now emphasizes is site loading speed. Page speed can be negatively affected by a number of factors, from a traffic congested server to a poorly configured WordPress installation. These hiccups have a number of implications beyond affecting a sites rank, many of which will be explored below.

 

Page Speed as Part of the Evolving Definition of “SEO”

As webmasters continue to process the fallout of Google's most recent algorithm updates, one message has been clearly received – that SEO is a multifaceted process. What was once synonymous with aggressive link building has been redefined. It is no longer viable to base your entire SEO campaign on backlinks, as getting safe links in abundance is no longer a cheap or easy task. Furthermore, backlinks are now only one piece of the puzzle. If your site lacks indicators of visitor engagement, you may not be rewarded with those prized high rankings.

 

Optimizing your site's loading speed is an excellent way to give Google a broader, positive impression of your site. Although this task has been conventionally handled by conversion rate optimization experts and other web professionals, there is no better person than an SEO to tackle the problem. Making a site faster is not the challenge. It's doing so without negatively affecting a site's spiderability and other factors that correlate with ranking.

Google Panda updates

How Slow Loading Speeds Affect your Ranking

A slow site is problematic for a number of reasons as far as search engines are concerned. From a technical standpoint, a page that continues to timeout cannot be crawled by search engines. That means any new pages added to the site or updated won't be rapidly indexed, keeping potential visitors away. This is the proverbial nail-in-the coffin for news websites, which require quick indexing and ranking to garner those initial surges of traffic as a story breaks. Even shopping sites that are chock-full of product pages can suffer, as fewer pages indexed means less long-tail traffic. Existing pages can suffer heavy ranking demotions if the lag is severe enough.

 

In contrast, optimized sites will often have a greater number of pages indexed. This is because the Googlebot spends less of its visit time indexing any one given page. By reducing the footprint of each of your site's pages, you can increase the indexing volume and subsequently traffic. Even those pages that aren't heavily optimized for keywords can attract super-targeted long-tail traffic once they become indexed.

 

A slow loading site can also affect your traffic levels at an algorithmic level. Visitors will often click out of a slow loading site, which increases it's bounce rate. Google correlates a high bounce rate with a poor user experience, meaning the algorithm may demote your site's rankings.

 

Overall, it makes much more sense to optimize page speed on large authority sites than to invest in expensive link building campaigns.

Page Speed from A Marketing Perspective

It's a well documented fact that conversion rates plummet with increases in page loading time. Retailing giant Wal-Mart and others have conducted studies that confirm a dramatic dip in conversion rates on pages that take longer than two seconds to load.

 

The implications of these findings are even more troubling in the mobile device realm. Google attributed more than one-quarter of it's pay-per-click advertising revenue in Q4 2012 to mobile devices, which lack the robust hardware to quickly serve pages. As the average footprint of a web page continues to soar at a level far outpacing the technical capabilities of mobile devices, it can be assumed Google will place increasing emphasis on page load speed in its mobile SERPs.

 

Diagnosing Site Speed Problems

There are a number of free tools available to simulate or monitor (in real-time) your sites loading speed. WebPageTest.org falls into the former category and offers the flexibility of testing your site from a number of different locations while simulating different browser and connection configurations. The tool outputs load times for both new and repeating visitors and even features an intuitive scoring system for those not technically inclined. For those who can make due without detailed reports, Google PageSpeed Insights is a good option.

 

Real-Time Monitoring

You can get real-world page load statistics by using something like Google Analytics. which is extremely versatile in terms of allowing you to compare page load speed with other metrics. Analytics and similar services track page speeds by executing a Javascript code snippet upon pageload. There are two important downfalls to using Analytics. One, it can only collect page speed information from certain browsers. Furthermore, it only probes one percent of your traffic by default, making the results non-representative unless you receive significant traffic. There is a workaround for this which consists of modifying the Javascript code. Some other real-time monitoring tools to consider include Torbit Insight, New Relic, and Log Normal.

 

In Summary

Page speed has become one of a number of factors that are now integral to successful search engine optimization. A well optimized site can generate more revenue by means of having more pages indexed, enjoying better rankings, and being more responsive to a user's needs. A split second difference in loading times can translate to a dramatic loss in revenue. If you embrace the latest SEO practices, you only stand to gain.

 

Author: Gerrid Smith is CEO of the law firm SEO companySmithSEO. For over 5 years Gerrid has helped attorneys generate more business from the web. In addition to his interests in Internet marketing, he also enjoys hiking, fishing and camping with his family.

10 Ways To Improve Conversions Rates For Your Business

Spongebob on converting leadsDoes your conversion funnel have more holes in it than Spongebob Squarepants?

You may have finally figured out how to drive leads to your business, but now you can't seem to seal the deal.  Finding and driving qualified leads to your business is only one part of the puzzle, figuring out how to turn them into paying customers is the other.

Whether we're talking about website conversions, phone calls, or walk in traffic, the principals of converting leads into customers is essentially the same.  Below are 10 ways your business can improve its conversion rates….and bottom line.

Make Conversions Part Of Your Marketing Budget

Does your business spend all of its budget trying to get the phone to ring?  Your initial touch-point marketing materials need to be top notch to grab attention, but your conversion materials (middle of the funnel) also need to be equally awesome.  Many businesses have zero marketing collateral to help convert potential customers, only for initially attracting them.  Think of all of the steps in your conversion funnel and what supporting materials and communications you'll need to move prospects to the next stage.

Respond to Inquiries Immediately

People have little patience these days. Pretend your customer has ADHD and if you don't respond to them almost immediately, they will forget they ever contacted you.  It's likely that lead has also contacted your competitors, first movers usually have an advantage.  You may initially get away with an auto-responder email if it's a website inquiry, or voicemail if it's the phone, but people want to talk to a person.  Remember, people like to buy from people, not faceless corporations.

Qualify Your Prospects

If you're finding many of your leads are turning into dead ends because they had no business contacting you in the first place, look at your qualifying process.  Make sure your marketing materials are clear enough to ward off people who would never convert in the first place.  Don't give off a “discount” image when you're offering high-end services.  Having a good FAQ page on your website and educational collateral like whitepapers, will not only weed out unqualified people, it'll save you lots of time to focus on your high value leads.

Use Offer Specific Landing Pages

Do you drive marketing efforts to the homepage of your website?  That's what most small businesses do and it can be conversion disaster.  It's the equivalent of a customer walking into your store, asking you where the shoe section is, and you (instead of taking them to the shoe section) take them to the middle of the store, leaving them to finding the shoes section on their own.  Sounds stupid?  It is, but that's what most people do with their website.  Create dedicated landing pages tailored to the needs of the audience you're speaking to.

Let me give you an example.  My oldest daughter has Celiac Disease (can't eat wheat/gluten).  While on vacation recently I searched online for a Gluten Free pizza shop near our hotel.  The first advert result in Google was a regional chain announcing they have the best Gluten Free pizza.  Jackpot I thought, until I clicked on the ad and went to their website.  The ad dumped me onto the homepage of their website, nothing Gluten Free in sight.  It took me over 5 minutes of searching to find their Gluten Free section, which wasn't even a dedicated page, but a section of their allergy page. I was so annoyed (as a marketer and consumer) that I opted for Mexican instead.  It would have been a different outcome if the pizza joint had sent me to their dedicated Gluten Free page, if they had one.

Deliver More Than They Expect

Give potential customers a taste of what it's going to be like to do business with you.  You're in a courting period, they are looking for a reason to say “yes”, give them a reason.  Now's your chance to over-deliver, to show them doing business with you is going to be great.  If the norm is 3 days, do it in 2.  If they expect an email, give them a phone call.  Look for ways to “one-up” the competition.  Give them so much valuable information that they'll feel bad if they don't do business with you.

Conversion funnel small business

Test, Test, Test

You should be testing all aspects of your conversion funnel, from the initial contact, to when they swipe their credit card.  Where are the prospects falling out of the funnel?  Where are the weak points?  Are there too many steps in the process?  Analyzing and testing will continually move you towards plugging those holes and leaving more customers at the end of your funnel.  Fix the leaky pipe before you mop up the floor.

Tailor Your Offerings To The Prospect

At the start of your marketing efforts, even with proper segmenting, you're reaching out to people en mass.  But once prospects enter your funnel and you learn more about their needs, ditch the cookie cutter dialogue and start tailoring your message directly at their needs.  The more questions you ask, the more you'll learn about them.  Take that information and create an offering that seems like it was created just for them.  The actual product or service may not change, but the way you communicate the benefits will.  Sounds like too much work?  You're right, tell them to call your competitor, I'm sure they'll be happy to take this hot lead off your hands.

Streamline The Customer Experience

Call centers suck.  You call and you're immediately placed on hold for no less than 10 minutes.  I'm talking to you telecom industry.  When you do finally get a live person, you spend 5 minutes explaining your plight, until they transfer you to another department, where you have to explain your plight all over again.  No continuity of information.  A poor customer service experience.

In the case of calls centers, it's sometimes done on purpose to try and get rid of you, like a game of “hot potato”.  For your business, you may inadvertently be doing the same thing.  Use some sort of CRM where customer information/communications are stored centrally.  A prospect may speak to several employees during the conversion process, but they should never have to repeat themselves to anyone at your business.

Learn To Score Your Leads

If you treat all of your leads the same, your going to shortchange your business.  Not all leads are created equal.  Focus on your best prospects first.  You should know who your best prospects are by looking at your conversion history and seeing what your high value leads look like.  Maybe your high value prospect get 7 conversion efforts, while a lower value prospect only gets 3, then they're unloaded into your auto-responder sequence.  If you spend equal time on your low value prospects, you're taking time away from better converting, higher valued business.

Determine The Prospect's BANT

After some rapport has been established between you and the prospect, you will need to start asking deeper qualifying questions.  Determining BANT (budget, authority, need and timing) will help you to prepare a solid closing pitch, or it will let you know that you may be wasting your time with the prospect.  Based on their answers, you can tailor your communications to be consistent with their level of interest.

Plug The Conversion Leaks

So here are 10 ways you can help plug the leaks in your conversion funnel.  Tailoring your communications and testing your conversion methods will go a long way into turning that funnel shape into more of a cylinder.  What are your suggestions for creating a better conversion process?  Leave them in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter!

 

The Top 6 Things Employees Waste Time On

Employee time wastersFor many of you, simply reading the top 6 things employees waste time on immediately evoked a negative reaction geared toward Facebook and Twitter. Before you persecute and ban social media, these areas of concern are the least of your worries. Employees waste a significant amount of time in areas that are directly related to the work culture. A survey conducted by Amplitude Research reveals that employees feel the following are the biggest time wasters:

Office Politics (17%)

Regardless of the size of your organization, employees feel a constant need to participate in office politics to secure their future. While everyone dreams of an office setting where office politics do not exist, this may never occur; however, the pressure of such antics can easily be minimized. CEOs, managers and owners should work to create a culture that rewards hard work and performance rather than nepotism and back scratching.

Communication (15%)

Most employees also feel ineffective and inefficient communication is a large time waster. Email is an essential tool in today’s business world; however, it can also lead to inefficiencies within an office. Managers should lead by example. Get up and walk over to a cubicle or office rather than to spend two days going back and forth in emails. It will also improve work relations and avoid misinterpretations.

Non-Work Related Office Talk (14%)

Technology is making it easier for office chatter to extend beyond a few minutes. Many companies encourage instant messaging for intra-office communication; however, individuals with procrastination problems or not enough work often drag others into their time wasting vortex with idle chatter. Address acceptable and unacceptable behavior on a regular basis as a reminder to everyone as to the reasons you have implemented such conveniences.

Computer-Related Drama (11%)

This particular time waster is often unavoidable; however, this percentage can be greatly reduced. It may benefit organizations to have basic technology understanding seminars presented by the IT department and to provide video and instructional tutorials for people to follow for basic concerns that can easily be addressed by any person regardless of their technological skill level. You want to ensure your IT staff is able to focus on larger and more pertinent concerns such as network security and hardware repair. You might also evaluate your staffing levels. You may need to hire more IT staff to ensure your organization is running as efficiently as possible.

Meetings (11%)

The dreaded meeting. Everyone dreads attending certain meetings because at least one person likes to hear the sound of the own voice and at least one other person has no voice at home, so they use meetings as a way to be heard. Are you are all picturing these individuals right now? It is critical to utilize parking lots to add any topic addressed not directly related to the intent of the meeting. It is also a good idea to assign one person to keep the meeting on target if the meeting host does not wish to do so.

Internet Exploration (9%)

In an interesting twist of events, web surfing is a bigger time waster than social media. Everyone, including company heads, is guilty of this. Whether people are looking for something to wear for a date, shoes for their kids or ideas for their next big holiday, employees are spending time searching the Internet on non-work related subjects. Some companies have gone to the extreme of blocking various sites from employees such as auction sites; however, this may have a negative effect on work productivity. Each company needs to determine whether or not allowing their employees to spend some time on personal matters at work actually increases productivity or whether it hurts productivity.

These top 6 things employees waste time on are all areas that can be improved. The most important element of increasing productivity is to create an environment and a culture that fosters productive behavior. These initiatives start at the top. To maximize your productivity you should reduce the pressure to engage in office politics, lead by example, create communication efficiencies with clear expectations, evaluate your IT department needs, assign a meeting wrangler and evaluate your Internet exploration policy.

This article was contributed by Joe Shervell for www.phoenix-training.co.uk, experts in business training’.

Small Business Toolbox – March Twenty Third

Each week I like to post useful tools and resources that you may be able to use for your business.  The resources I post here are either free or available at a low cost.I don’t go into much detail here, so feel free to check them out yourself and let me know what you think.  If you know of any great tools and services that will help small business owners, please share them in the comments below.

Mixlr – A free service that lets you become a DJ and broadcast your audio live to listeners.  Can also be used to broadcast your own audio broadcasts.  Since it's a music platform, the audio is terrific.  Great for solo broadcasting or a group, if they are broadcasting from the same room.

Notableapp – A free (paid versions available) where you can grab screenshots of your webpages, mark them up, and share them to gather feedback.  Instead of assuming your website design works, why not send it out for others to review and give feedback on?

John Wooden quote

Have questions about the best tools to use for your business?  Contact me with your questions and you can rest assured you will receive a response!  Contact me here

 

 

Think Crowdfunding Is Right For Your Business? – read this first.

Crowdfunding tips for small businessThere are literally hundreds of crowdfunding sites out there right now, so choosing one is key to a successful crowdfunding campaign and can be the difference between fortune and fizzle.

For the uninitiated, crowdfunding is the latest (and possibly the greatest) way to get funding for your business idea, start-up, cause or appeal.

It works like this:

  • You create a campaign that’s typically 30 to 60 days long and create a campaign page on one of the available crowdfunding platforms. Offer “rewards” that motivates people to “support” you with cash.
  • You decide on a goal (the amount of cash you want to generate).
  • People review your campaign and rewards, pledge anything from $1 to $1000 or more, and at the end of the campaign, you get the funds.

Sound too easy? You’re right.

On some crowdfunding platforms, you keep any pledged cash when the campaign ends. At others, you don’t get anything unless you reach your goal.

Some crowdfunding platforms specialize: some are for local causes, some for creative projects, some are for campaigns in a specific country, some are only for technological ideas.

Only a few of the top crowdfunding platforms drive any appreciable traffic, so when you launch your campaign, you better be ready to promote the heck out of it, and drive your own traffic to your campaign page. Campaigns that rely on organic traffic hitting the crowdfunding platform almost always miss the mark, and generating the volume of promotion needed can be a full time job.

Picking your rewards is a tricky process too. If your campaign is designed to generate enough cast to bring a new product idea to fruition, you may be able to “pre-sell” the future product and generate a ton of cash, provided the idea is really attractive. One fairly recent campaign like this generated almost $8,600,000. (Yes, that’s not a typo. Eight and an half million dollars).

Craft a great pitch

Most successful campaigns feature a funny or entertaining video, but not all. Sometimes a great slide presentation is enough to get your point across. It really depends on the audience you’re trying to attract and the platform you’ve chosen.

For the right product or service, crowdfunding can be a fantastic way to generate capital, get a product off the ground, build a customer base, test a new product idea, or generate some visibility.

Legitimate crowdfunding platforms only charge a fee based on the cash you actually receive, so on first blush, it seems that you’ll have no real up-front cost. But that’s not really true. Successful marketing can be done on a shoestring now, but you’ll need to purchase some services to get to your goal.

Like everything else worth doing, it’s worth doing it well, so do your homework. Review similar campaigns to yours well before you decide whether or not to put the time, energy and cash into a campaign. Understand your audience, learn from people who’ve done it before, and measure what happens.

 

David Andrews is a  partner at Cult of Three, Inc. Cult of Three specializes in creating and implementing performance based crowd funding programs and only share in the results. 

 

 

Employee Manual: Why Your Business Must Have One

Willy Wonka employee manual memeDo you have a written employee manual for your business?

If you don't, it may be costing your business money, and possibly opening up you and your business to potential liability.

What is an employee manual?

It's a valuable communication resource for both the employer and the employee.  It provides information and guidance on your company's values, mission, history, policies, procedures and benefits in a written format.  It's an easily accessible guide for your new employee, and it can help protect your company from discrimination and unfair treatment claims.

There are numerous reasons to have a written employee manual for your business.  It's hard for an employee to feign ignorance when they were given their expectations in writing, and they have personally signed and acknowledged the document.  Managers are also more effective because they actually have a written document to reference when making decisions, leaving a sense of fairness among employees.

Below are 5 important reasons you need a written employee manual for your business.

Answers Employee Questions

You have a million questions when you start a new job.  Everything from “How is vacation time accrued” to “Where's the key to the bathroom”.  If you don't want to answer hundreds of questions every time you hire someone, put a FAQ section in your employee manual.  This will drastically cut down on your question answering,  make sure you don't miss anything important, and to ensure everyone is treated fairly because they are all getting the same information.

Documents Employer's Expectations

This is probably the most important reason you should have a written employee manual.  Properly aligned expectations between employer and employee can be the makings of a great relationship.  Everyone wants to do a good job when they start a new a new position, your responsibility is to clearly define what success means for them.  A well written Employee Manual will describe performance expectations, as well as review policies such as vacation, sick leave, codes of conduct, work hours and employee reviews.

Reduce The Possibility of a Harassment Lawsuit

A well written sexual harassment policy can offer your business significant protections from legal action.  A well written policy can provide your business with a crucial “affirmative defense” in case of an employee lawsuit alleging sexual harassment.  In giving your employees a written guide on how to respond and report sexual harassment, you compel them to share responsibility for the work environment and can limit your liability in instances where the policy is ignored.

Explains Your Employment At-Will Policy

As an employer, it's important to clearly state that employment is At-Will, allowing you as the employer the ability to terminate the employment at any time, for any reason.  Expressly stating At-Will employment in writing will protect you in the case of a  verbal allegations of contract or fix termed agreements between you and your employee.  The courts have repeatedly upheld the Employment-At-Will doctrine, though it's very important to have it in writing.

Avoid Legal Disputes

Well written policies create a uniform experience for your employees and can help prevent disputes.  If you consistently follow and enforce your own policies, it can help you avoid legal action as your policies have been laid out clearly, in written form for every employee.  Accusations of favoritism, discrimination, retaliation and harassment are all possibilities when you have employees, and a well drafted (and enforced) Employee Manual can help ward off these allegations.  Basically, it will help you avoid court altogether.

Ready to create your own Employee Manual?

As you can see, a well written Employee Manual can help you start the employer/employee relationship on the right foot by clearly outlining expectations and answering important questions.  It can also lead to faster employee productivity and help you and your business stay out of the courtroom.

Note: Do you think employee manuals have to be boring and full of jargon?  While it's not your traditional employee manual, this employee manual from Valve is certainly easy to read and starts the employer/employee relationship on the right foot.

 

 

6 Important Steps to Setting up an Online Shopping Cart

ecommerce store setup guideIf you run a small business that is entering the e-commerce space, then you've researched shopping carts and may be trying to figure out how to set one up.

If you're handling everything yourself and don't have the help of an IT department, then you're most likely going to utilizing a Software as a Service (SaaS) shopping cart solution.  That means that the cart is hosted by the cart company and you can access the control panel through the internet to edit settings.  Even though many of these web based shopping carts have simplified interfaces with user friendly controls, there is a lot to understand in order to get it configured the way that you want it.  Below is a list of some of the most important steps that must be taken during the setup process:

Products

The first step for every e-commerce shopping cart setup is to get your products configured.  For some, this process is much easier than others.  The most common names for products are items, product IDs and SKUs. One of the most important factors when setting up your products is that you use a clear and defined SKU sequence.  If you ever grow to the point where you need to utilize a fulfillment center, you will want to have simple SKUs that are easily identifiable.  It's usually best to always error on the side of simplicity.  Instead of attempting to jam descriptions into the SKU (i.e.:  “Short-Sleeve-RED-LARGE”) try to utilize simple numeric codes (i.e.  “11001”).  This makes the item easier to locate on a shelf if the order is being manually picked.  It also leaves you room to add additional items within the same scheme.

Another issue, especially for apparel merchants, is using item “options”.  Be careful not to set up items such as “1001” for a certain t-shirt design – and then add the size or color option after.  Each specific design, size and color needs to have its own unique SKU or else things can become very difficult to manage as you grow.

Payment methods for ecommerce

Payment Method

Most popular shopping carts give you multiple options for accepting payments.  If you will be accepting credit cards via a standard merchant account, then you will need to connect it to your shopping cart via a payment gateway.  Payment gateways are often furnished by the merchant services provider that set up your merchant account.  If your gateway is on the list of integrated payment methods for your cart, then the implementation should be quick and easy.  Other common payment methods are PayPal and Google Checkout/Wallet.  Normally, all that's required to configure these methods are your logins and perhaps and API access key.  Always place test orders to make sure that the process is working correctly before going live.

 

Order IDs

All carts have a standard order number sequence that they follow and for the most part no change is needed.  But some have extremely long order IDs or timestamp based order ID schemes that can cause trouble if you ever find yourself in the situation that you need to pass the orders to a 3PL software or inventory management software.  If possible, reset the order ID scheme to a numeric ID with 4 or 5 digits.  This can eliminate any future trouble.

 

Cart Skinning

One of the main issues with using a web based SaaS shopping cart is custom skinning the pages of the cart.  If you have an existing front end website, your customers will get passed to another server hosted by the cart company to enter their information and submit their order.  Although this allows you to avoid any data safety concerns, it's not ideal if the customer thinks that they're still not on the same website.  It's important that you skin the cart with the aesthetics that match your site so that the purchase process is seamless and the customer is not dissuaded from finishing the transaction.  The level to which you can customize the look and feel varies greatly from cart to cart.  In some cases basic html knowledge may be required.  While some carts have robust controls that allow you to upload a logo and dictate background colors etc. others may require html programming.

 

Shipping Methods

There are a couple of ways that you can configure your shipping options; you can either utilize integrated carrier options or you can set your own rates through custom methods based on tables.  Most carts have pre-existing integrations with the main shipping carriers.  This allows you to setup an account with USPS, UPS and/or FedEx and enter those account details into the cart.  This way, when a customer adds an item to their cart, the shipping costs are automatically calculated by communicating with the carrier’s server.  In some cases the cart will have a shipping module and can actually generate the box label.  Alternatively, if you want more control over your configuration and rates you can set up your own table pricing based on weight, subtotal or number of items entered, and then dictate the actual carrier in separate shipping and warehouse management software.

 

Additional 3rd Party Integrations

Since you are putting everything into your e-commerce business, you may as well get everything that you can back out of it.  So check with your cart and see which 3rd party applications and services they are integrated with.  Email list management services, analytics services, additional marketplaces (Amazon etc) are all components of a successful e-commerce venture.

What shopping cart solutions do you recommend?  Feel free to leave them in the comments below!

Mark Flick is an e-commerce entrepreneur and consultant who writes about topics including web marketing, order management and fulfillment