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By Debbie Gregory.

When it comes to having online visibility, nothing is more valuable than your company’s website. Having a strong, professional destination gives customers the impression that you mean business, and the motivation to want to engage more with your business.

Because most small businesses don’t have the resources to launch a full-scale marketing campaign, your website is where many consumers will decide whether or not they want to engage with you. They’re likely to dismiss you entirely should they believe your website doesn’t reflect the kind of experience your business should offer. Keeping that in mind, if you have a bad website, it’s better to have no website at all. Yes, having no website equals missed opportunities, but a bad website can actually be worse since it literally can make your business look bad.

The first area of major importance is your homepage. This is where you tell your visitors exactly what you do with a clear, easy-to-find value proposition.  The homepage navigation should be easy to use, and the page should include links to your social media and your contact information. Additionally, you should have high-quality images that are original. You don’t want visitors to see the same image on a thousand other websites. If you have a blog, this is the heart of your content strategy. Encourage people to view and subscribe to it by highlighting it on your homepage.

Next you want your about us page to explain your values, tell your story, and introduce the people behind your business. Good stories humanize your brand, providing context and meaning for your product, so skip the stiff intro and tell your story in your own words.

Conversions, revenue, business and profit- they all depend on calls to action. Whatever action it is meant to compel, your calls to action text need to say what you mean and mean what you say. Be clear and direct, and make sure the button performs as advertised. Use action words such as Order, Subscribe, Buy, Get, Learn, Discover, etc. Calls to action should appear throughout the website, not just on the homepage.

The last tip is to be mobile-friendly. Since more and more people are turning to their smart phones to browse the internet, a responsive site is a must.

A great website is one that lots of people visit and who hopefully convert – whether that’s a sale, a lead, or interacting with an element on the page.

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, VAMBOA,

 

By Debbie Gregory.

Have you ever put an item in an online shopping chart, then changed your mind about buying it, only to find a follow-up email in your inbox offering an incentive to complete the transaction? That is an example of great email marketing.

Email marketing is one of the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly ways to reach your clients/customers. At least 91% of consumers check their email on a daily basis, which can’t be said of any other communication channel.

Targeting inboxes with email automation allows your business to send personalized, timely, and engaging emails to customers. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you need permission to email your prospects and customers, so make sure that you have an opt-in form in place.

The best way to grow your email list is by attracting people with a compelling offer, often called a lead magnet. This can consist of digital materials like PDFs, MP3 audio files, infographic or videos that you can create yourself at minimal or no cost. It can be absolutely anything you want, so long as it provides value to your visitors for free.

Once you have a healthy email list, using an email platform such as Constant Contact, MailChimp, etc. to send your emails gives you access to templates that you can customize with your company’s logo, and corporate look and feel, strengthening your brand recognition. Your email subscribers want relevant, timely information and updates about your business, since they subscribed to your mailing list; you know that you’re targeting a receptive audience. Make sure they know about up-and-coming products, timed promotions, and seasonal updates.

Email list segmentation is the process of breaking your subscribers into smaller groups based on specific criteria so that you can send them more personalized and relevant emails. This results in higher conversion rates.

Be sure to monitor the performance of your emails to identify areas that need improvement. Then A/B test some of your changes in order to make improvements.

Don’t get upset about unsubscribes, they happen. But ask yourself why people subscribed to your list in the first place, and are you delivering on that promise? Is your content of value to the segment it is being sent to? Are you sending too many sales emails with too little value?

Keeping your loyal customers is much more cost-effective than acquiring new ones. Therefore, rewarding your email subscribers with exclusive offers is a powerful tactic for increasing the chances of them sticking with your business longer than they would have otherwise done.

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, VAMBOA,

 

In this series of articles, we will examine the financial options and programs available to business owners to fund their business.

By Debbie Gregory.

In part 1 of this series, we have looked at the option of using your own money or assets to fund your business. Now we will look at using someone else’s.

If you are willing to take on investors, venture capital might be a good option. This can come from a single person, often referred to as an angel investor, or a venture capital firm. Angel investors are usually affluent individuals who provide capital for a business start-up, and more often than not are looking for convertible debt or ownership equity, as well as an active role in the company.

When you secure venture capital funds, you are not taking out a loan. You are offering a piece of the pie in exchange for funds to be used to drive your business venture down the road to success.

If you want to attract investors, do your homework in advance. Watch a few episodes of Shark Tank to understand how investors evaluate a potential investment. Although this is just a quick introduction, you’ll see how they value a company based on the amount of money requested and percentage of business offered, while inquiring about past performance, future projections, profit margins, the backgrounds of the principals, etc. You will see the importance of coming in with an appropriate valuation. Often times a deal is made based on the quality, passion, commitment, and integrity of the entrepreneurs.

Investors will want to review your business plan to make sure it meets their investing criteria. Most investment funds concentrate on an industry, geographic area, or stage of business development.

After determining the amount of the investment, you will need to settle on the terms and conditions. Venture funds are normally released in predetermined rounds. As the company meets milestones, further rounds of financing are made available, possibly with adjustments in price as the company executes its plan.

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, VAMBOA,

 

By Debbie Gregory.

As a small business owner, you want to take advantage of every opportunity that will help you start or maintain your business. One tip is to periodically check in with your audience, so that you don’t leave potential business or revenue on the table.

One of the ways to monitor your audience is with: Market Research.  This is a handy tool that blends consumer behavior and economic trends to give you a insight into your prospect’s and/or client’s thought processes.

Benefits of market research include:

  • Developing compelling marketing materials
  • Getting ideas for expanding your products and services
  • Identifying trends before they become widespread, giving you a jump on the competition
  • Reducing risks

Once you have identified the demographic information (age, wealth, interests, etc.) of your target customers, you will want to ask questions such as: where are my prospects located, how will they find my business, how much competition do I have, what do I have to offer that puts me above the competition, and how much of a need or demand is there for what I am offering?

One of the best and most cost effective ways to gather this information is via your social media following, such as with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and even LinkedIn. You can ask for feedback, with survey participation or questionnaires to be filled out. You can vastly increase the number of responses by offering something in return, such as a discount, free shipping, etc.

Just as important as market research is competitive analysis, this is where you identify your competition by product line or service and market segment. You will want to look at your competitor’s market share, strengths and weaknesses. Is this an advantageous time to go head-to-head with a company that has been doing what you’re doing? Are you doing it differently?

Remember, even if you’re selling widgets, there is more than one place selling widgets, you just have to do it better, have more value, or a more compelling offer or a superior widget or all of the above! What shape does your planning take in order to win a greater market share?

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, VAMBOA,

 

 

By Debbie Gregory.

By Debbie Gregory.

One of the most important elements to a successful small business is strong financial health. Here are some metrics that every entrepreneur should make sure they consistently focus on:

The Break-Even Point – This is the the dollar amount you need to get to in a given period, generally monthly or quarterly. This amount needs to allow for the company to cover its own costs and sustain itself. Also, take into consideration even if it is not making a profit during a slow time, you will still have outgoing costs. This is sometimes called the margin of safety.

Operating Cash Flow – This lets you know how much cash your business brings in from its normal operations. It is common for businesses just starting out that they may operate at a loss in the beginning. Once established, this number should be positive.

Net Income Ratio/Profit Margin – Your profit, the money left over after operating expenses are subtracted from revenue.  This is a very important metric. You need to make sure your business still makes money overall after you pay your expenses. A business just starting out, or one experiencing a bit of a slowdown may have a bottom line in the red at some points, but you should always set your sights on growing your profit margins. If you are losing money, it’s time to look at ways you can trim expenses or reconfigure your operations.  

Working Capital – This number is determined by taking your current assets (cash, accounts receivables, short-term investments) and subtracting your current liabilities (liabilities due within the next 12 months).

Gross Margins – The gross margin is calculated as a company’s total sales revenue, minus its cost of goods sold, divided by the total sales revenue, expressed as a percentage. The higher the percentage, the more the company retains on each dollar of sales to service its other costs and then enjoy as profits. Tracking margins is important for growing companies, since increased volumes should improve efficiency and lower the cost per unit (increase the margin). 

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, VAMBOA,

 

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