5 Craft Businesses to Consider

Are you a creative person? Do you enjoy working with your hands? Selling handmade crafts is a great way to earn a living. Here are five craft businesses that have good potential for success.

Starting a craft business isn’t as hard as it seems. Browse eBay and online shops like Etsy and you’ll see all sorts of crafters peddling their wares. You can do it too, but which craft businesses are the best ones to start in 2015?

The best way to evaluate craft business potential is to look at start up costs and potential profit. How much will it cost you to start your business and how much money can you expect to make in your business if you put in a reasonable amount of time? Of course, your third consideration (though not necessarily the least important) are your unique skills and talents. What do you like to do?

You could argue that the best craft business to start is the one that allows you to do what you enjoy doing most. But that’s not necessarily true. What if your hobby doesn’t have a market?

Ideally, you want to start a craft business where the following three values intersect:

  • Activities you enjoy and are skillful at
  • The start up costs are small
  • And there is a large market or demand for the craft

You’re on your own with that first one, but here are five craft businesses with low start up costs and for which there seems to be a large enough market.

It’s not always easy to start a craft business. Some businesses, like craft beers, require licensing and are heavily regulated. The start-up costs are outrageous. On the other hand, there are some craft businesses you can start on a shoestring and which offer a reasonable demand. If you enjoy making these kinds of products, then the market is ripe for your talents.

  1. Jewelry – The cost of starting a jewelry business includes setting up your business, buying materials for making your jewelry, and your initial marketing materials. You can get started with as little as $500. Depending on the quality of your jewelry, you could earn six figures. Of course, that depends on how aggressive you are at marketing and growing the business. Because crafting jewelry is a creative pursuit, there is a lot of freedom to make your brand unique and drive your demand.
  2. Craft Book Publishing – This is the age of self-publishing. It seems like everyone is doing it, but most people involved in independent book publishing are fiction and nonfiction writers. There is always room for a specialty craft book brand. Find your niche and there’s no ceiling to how much you can make as an author and publisher. But what are the start up costs? It depends on who you choose as your printer. With print-on-demand, you can get started for just a few hundred dollars or less.
  3. Fashion/Sewing – There are so many ways to build a craft fashion business. Your best bet is to specialize. Some fashion designers specialize in children’s clothes while others specialize in women’s fashions. Pick your niche and start marketing.

    But it’s not just about the clothes either. Some fashion designers create the patterns. If you can knit, crochet, sew, make quilts, or make like crafts of any kind, then there may be a future for you in this niche.

    You can start a fashion business with the cost of fabric and your business start up, plus what it takes for your initial marketing materials. You can start small with as little as $1,000 out of your pocket. The income potential will depend on  your niche, your skills, and your marketing skills, among other things, with the most successful making over $100,000 a year.

  4. Children’s Toys – If you like kids, there are a variety of child-focused businesses you can start. Children’s toys can be made of all types of material, but wood and plastic are popular. If you make the toys yourself, you’ll save a bundle on startup costs, which can range from $4,000 to $10,000. The income potential is upwards of $50,000-$60,000 per year.
  5. 3D Printing – Getting in on the ground floor of anything is the best thing you can do for starting a business. 3D printing is still in its infancy. The cost of a printer ranges from $250 to several thousands of dollars. Of course, you’ll also have to buy materials and patterns, some of which are free. You can easily get started with $1,000 if you have with a small printer. What can you print? Virtually anything. You can print jewelry, toys and games, knick knacks, and just about anything else you can imagine. If you’re good at marketing and choose a craft product that is in high demand, you could be the only person in your local market offering what you have to offer. The income potential would be six figures or more.

As with any business, the income potential is dependent on your ability to craft products that people want and are willing to pay for, plus your ability to market them. While you have the potential to earn a six figure income with most of these businesses, your low end would realistically be in the $10,000 to $20,000 range. That’s not bad if you’re working part time out of your garage. To go full time, make great craft products and aggressively market them to a niche audience that really wants them.

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Logistics for Small Business

Whether your SMB manufactures guitars, heavy equipment, or foodstuff, the logistics of moving your products safely and on time through your distribution network can be a costly nightmare. Here are tips for better managing the process.

small business logistics For many small businesses, transporting your product from one place to another can be a nightmare. Many small businesses have to learn the hard way, logistics is no laughing matter. It can be stressful, costly, and can pose a significant risk to your business and its reputation. Suppose there is a mistake being made somewhere along the supply chain, and a client receives the product much later than anticipated. Or perhaps there was a miscalculation in regards to the cost, leading to a significant cut in profit margins. Or perhaps something happened along the way in transportation that led to the product becoming damaged, are you covered by insurance? If your business deals in physical products, understanding and factoring in the logistics of it all is absolutely crucial, and can be easily overlooked or miscalculated.

So with all that being said, here are some helpful tips that could ease your logistics related troubles:

Consider a third-party

If you have the budget for it, you can hire out an industry specific third-party logistics provider. Depending on your specific market, you can find a company that specializes in the logistics end of that particular market. Outsourcing, more or less, the entirety of your logistical needs can free up your time and allow you to focus more on innovating and growing your business. This may not be the most cost effective option, but it could be the simplest and most convenient.

Consider teaming up with a partner

Start networking with other small businesses who may be in the same situation and may face some of the same budget restrictions. Most logistics companies set their prices based on volume, and teaming up with a partner could provide a more cost effective way to meet your needs. This particular option needs to be explored more thoroughly, you need to take into account not only the specific details of the logistics company, but also the specific needs of your partner.

Try a small business logistics service from a major provider

If the size and budget of your business cannot warrant investing money in a specialized logistics provider, perhaps it could be beneficial to explore what some of the major shipping and transportation providers offer. UPS, FedEX, and DSL all offer services that cater to small businesses. Given their reputation for reliability, this could easily be a viable option for your business.

Consider an industry specific provider

Depending on your particular business, you may find it more advantageous to hire a specialized logistics provider. This is not to be confused with the previously mentioned third-party option, which may specialize in serving small businesses. An industry specific provider would know the specifics on how to handle and care for the product being delivered. Consider a business that produces and sells wine, it may be more beneficial for that particular company to hire a logistics company that knows how to transport and care for something of that nature. The same could be said for food products, or even clothing. The quality of the service and care for the product in transportation, is of equal value to the cost of hiring the logistics company. You may spend more money on an industry specific provider, but consider the risk of hiring a provider that does not specialize in your particular market. If a product is mishandled or damaged, that’s money down the drain.

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8 Ways to Improve Your Email Marketing Results

Email marketing is an inexpensive yet highly effective way to reach customers. Get the most from it by using these eight tips.

improve your email results Have you ever wished you had a magic wand that would send customers your way every time you waved it? Magic wands don’t exist, but there is a tool you can make work like magic. It’s email marketing. And, it’s one of the most inexpensive and effective marketing tools available to you. If you’re not using it, you should be. If you are using email marketing and aren’t getting the results you’d like, review your email strategy and use these 8 tips to improve your results.
 1 – Understand your target market and how to reach them

Successful email marketing starts with an understanding of who you want to reach, and what it will take to make them want to do business with you. For some businesses, that means your email marketing campaigns will consist at least in part of information that educates, informs or entertains your readers to build brand familiarity and trust. For others, it means sending existing customers notices about new products and special offers. Before you start any email campaign, take the time to work out your strategy and deliver the right type of message to your customers and prospects.

2 – Send to a receptive audience

A receptive audience is a permission-based list. People you add to your list without first getting permission will ignore your email, or mark it as spam. Build a responsive list by inviting prospects to sign up for your email list at every possible opportunity. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Put a signup form on every page of your website
  • Put a sign at the checkout in your store with a QR code to sign up for your newsletter and/or text to subscribe instructions.
  • Include a sign-up link on your Facebook and Google+ business pages, and in your profile on other social media sites
  • Include a link to your signup form in the description for your YouTube videos
  • Add your signup link to all printed materials
  • Consider creating and including a QR code to let smart phone users quickly add themselves to your email list.

3 – Let subscribers know what to expect when they sign up

Your target audience is more likely to give you their email address if they know what you will and won’t be doing with it. Will you be using the list to announce new products or to send out discounts and special offers to your subscribers? Or will they be getting regular emails that are educational or entertaining? Will you be sending out an email once a month? Or once a day? The person who thought you would be sending them industry updates will unsubscribe if you barrage them with ads.

4 – Write compelling subject lines

Your email marketing message is one of hundreds of email messages that hit your subscribers’ inboxes each week. To get your email opened and read, you need a compelling subject line – one that appeals to the recipient’s self interests, not yours. You may be pleased that you will start manufacturing fashionable leather handbags with storage space for a tablet computer, and it may be something retailers want, but few will open your email if the subject line reads “MiLady Manufacturing Announces New Product Line”

Encourage recipients to open your emails by using short, action oriented headlines that promise a benefit or solution to a problem.

5 – Include a call to action

Just like direct mail or printed ads, your emails need a call to action. If your readers are expecting promotional mailings, the call to action would focus on getting the customer to make a purchase today. If your email campaign is aimed at building brand recognition and trust, the call to action would be presented along with helpful information and could urge readers to visit your website for more problem solving tips, or call your office for a free consultation or free sample.

6 – Create emails that are readable on any device

A Pew Research Center report on mobile device ownership shows that as of October 2014, 64% of adults in the US were owners of smart phones. According to their research, 34% of cell internet users go online mostly using their phones, and not using some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer.

The device a person uses to connect to the Internet (and read their email) has a big impact on what they see and read. If they open your email on their smart phone and have to scroll from side to side to read each line, or see only an X at the top of the email because a photo didn’t load, you’ve lost them. The solution: put text at the top of your emails, and use a smart-phone friendly email template to prepare the email. Major email services offer mobile-friendly templates for their subscribers to use.

7 – Divide and conquer

Unless you have a small or very niche list, don’t blast out the same email to everyone on your master mailing list. The small business with 1 or two employees is going to have different accounting needs and interests than the small business that has 20 employees. The avid skier may have no interest in the snowboards you’re putting on special next week but may want boots for extreme skiing. You’ll get better open rates and responses from your email marketing efforts by sending appropriate material to each group. You can ask people to indicate their preferences when they sign up for your email list. Other options might be to segment your main list products purchased, or by the number of communications you’ve sent to the particular customer

8 – Encourage readers to share your emails

Many businesses find that their top sources of new business are referrals and word-of-mouth. Encourage your email readers to spread the word by making it easy to share your email. Social media buttons, and forward to a friend links let subscribers “tell” their friends about you with a click of the mouse or the touch of an on-screen button. And, don’t forget to include a link to subscribe to your newsletter in the newsletter itself. That will make it easy for people who receive the forwarded email to add themselves to your mailing list.

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Making Your Business Name Known

Can customers find you when they are looking for what your business sells? These 8 publicity and promotional ideas for small and home businesses can help keep your name at the top of the list when customers go looking for you.

Online business marketing No matter how wonderful your service or product is, you won’t make any money if people don’t know about it. There are a number of things you can do to get your name out there and many of them won’t cost you anything but time. Here are eight tips to get you started.
 Get listed.

List the physical location for your business in Google My Business and Bing Places for Business. Use Google Merchant Center to drive shoppers to your website. Get listed on sites like Yelp!, Citysearch, and Local.com so people can find your business and review it.

Be creative.

When re-branding itself a few years ago, Grasshopper Group used chocolate-covered grasshoppers to spread the word. They got lots of television news coverage as TV anchors ate them on the air. Create your own newsworthy event, something so different that people just have to talk about it. Where do you get that great idea?

Need more marketing tips to promote your business? Look here for dozens of marketing ideas.

Listen to your customers.

Morton’s Steakhouse got a mountain of publicity when Peter Shankman posted a tweet jokingly asking @Mortons to meet him with a steak at Newark Airport when he landed. Someone at Morton’s saw the post and they sent someone to greet Shankman with a Porterhouse steak when his plane landed. The resulting buzz spread their brand in a very positve way across the Internet. Listen to your customers and respond. They will spread the word.

Use press releases when you have news.

PR Newswire and Business Wire are the industry leaders, and as such, may be beyond the budget of your small business, but they offer excellent advice on how to write and use press releases. PR.com and PRLog.org will distribute your press release for free. When you get press coverage, ask permission to post it on your website.

No news to report? Use HARO.

HARO (Help A Reporter Out) was created by Peter Shankman to connect reporters and bloggers with small businesses “to tell their stories, promote their brands and sell their products and services.” How does it work? Suppose you own a restaurant. You sign up with HARO as a source, and they send you emails with queries from reporters. Choose the queries that you are qualified to answer: maybe for a business article about the economy’s effect on restaurant patronage, or a management piece on how to motivate employees, or how to choose wine for a food or bridal magazine. When you are quoted as a source, your business name becomes newsworthy, and you become a recognized expert in your field.

Get connected: tweet, start a blog, get a Facebook page.

This is the digital age. You don’t have to wait around for someone else to write about you. Whether you own a pizza parlor on Main Street or you make widgets, you can find something to blog about. Start by sharing advice and how-to tips. Basic service is free on WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr. Social media can give you exposure as well. A Facebook page gives your loyal customers an easy way to share you with their friends, and even street vendors are using Twitter to boost their business.

Use YouTube.

Businesses for whom ambiance is a big selling factor (like restaurants, bars, boutiques, and catering halls) should definitely take advantage of this free platform to show potential patrons what they’re missing. But no matter what your business is, you can find a way to leverage this powerful tool to your advantage. For example, a veterinarian shows how to brush a dog’s teeth; a hairdresser demonstrates the proper way to use a straightener or curling iron; a pet store owner explains how to clean the sand in your fish tank. Then put your videos on your Google Places Page.

Give something away.

Facebook Pages are perfect for this. You can offer promotions to get people to come into your store, or to get them to your online storefront. Location-based services like Foursquare let you reward frequent customers with something special and build buzz around your business.

Whether you’re blogging, tweeting, or helping a reporter out, the more places you can be found on the web, the better your chances of being found in the brick-and-mortar world.

© 2015 Attard Communications, Inc., DBA Business Know-How®.  May not be reproduced, reprinted or redistributed without written permission.

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Smart Marketing Starts with Permission

If you’re sending promotions to people who aren’t interested in your offers, you’re wasting your efforts and making yourself look like a spammer. Here’s how and why you should get permission from your subscribers.

In my last article I discussed what I consider to be the fundamentals of email marketing. Now I’d like to focus on one of the most crucial of those fundamentals: permission-based marketing.

It comes down to this: Do you want to be known as a successful business owner that truly listens to customers and respects their privacy – or would you rather be labeled as a prolific spammer? The answer is easy. A smart marketer knows that when you continue to flood other people’s inboxes with messages that they see as junk mail, you’re doing a huge disservice to your reputation. Still, millions of unrequested emails are sent every day, only to sit idle in inboxes, spam filters, and trash bins. It serves as a critical reminder of how important it is to get your customers’ permission before adding them to your email marketing list. Permission-based email helps you develop stronger ties to your customers (which results in repeat sales and positive word-of-mouth), as well as better open rates, fewer spam reports, and is generally more effective.

So how can you get permission and elevate your content to “must read” status? Here are some tips for earning and keeping the right to email customers.

Get the right subscribers

Odds are that you’re making it easy for customers to join your email list—tactics like simple sign-up forms on your website, inserting social sharing tools in your email and newsletters, and putting a physical sign-up sheet by the till. So to take things up a notch, and find more people who truly will want to receive your emails, consider some of these ideas:

 

permission based marketing
  • Highlight what’s in it for the customer. When asking a customer for permission to add them to your contact list, be sure to focus on the benefits they’ll receive, like insider deals, invitations to private events, access to VIPs, and/or relevant and exclusive content.
  • Tap into your customers’ network. Friends of friends who share the same interests are more likely to take you up on an offer when it comes through an existing customer who is also getting a deal on your products or services.
  • Present a special offer to new subscribers such as rewards points. This helps you more effectively engage the customers that are most likely to return. It also eliminates the issue of attracting short-term customers that quickly opt-out after they redeem the offer.

Once you have them, keep your subscribers engaged

It’s more important to be a great listener than a great writer when it comes to creating content for your email and newsletters. When you present information that customers actually want, they’re more likely to respond and share it. Three ways to do this include:

  • Share your valuable expertise. Nobody else has the same experience and perspective that you bring to your business. When you combine that with your passion for what you do and match it up with customer interests, you’ll find that your content is original and in demand. This, in turn, boosts subscribers and sales.
  • Segment for more targeted messages. Divide your list into different categories such as demographics, interests and recent purchases and then present relevant and targeted content to the different groups. For example, a sporting goods shops’ newsletter may go to all customers, yet the lead article for one recipient could be about kayaking while another customer sees a cycling story.
  • Analyze results. Look at your email results and customer responses on social media. This will tell you which content gets opened and shared and the topics customers are most interested in so you can do more of what works.

You don’t need the threat of steep fines and risk to your valuable reputation to up your email marketing game. Once you earn the right to contact customers and consistently provide relevant information and offers that can’t easily be found elsewhere, they’ll look forward to seeing your name in their inbox.

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Internet Marketing Mistakes That Are Costing You Sales

Are you satisfied with the amount of traffic you’re getting to your website? What about the number of sales or leads? If your website is not helping you bring in business on a regular basis, you could be making one or more of these seven surprisingly common website mistakes.

internet marketingHow effective is your website? Is it attracting lots of targeted visitors? Is your site bringing in new business and new contacts daily? Are customers, purchasing agents, business partners and new vendors finding you on the web? Or have you spent thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars for a website that seems to collect little more than electronic tumbleweeds and cyberdust?

Millions of web searches are conducted each day by government buyers, private industry purchasing agents, small businesses and consumers looking for everything from software to hoof trimmers for goats. Chances are there are people searching the web right now for the products or services you sell. If your site doesn’t capture their attention and order, a competitor will.

Typically, these prospects go to Google, Bing, or Yahoo and type in a keyword or key phrase describing the product or service they seek.The words might be a brand name and model or part number, a service they need along with their geographic location (ie, junk removal, Smithtown, NY), or something more generic such as “how to get rid of spiders.” The listings they see on the first one or two search engine result pages (nicknamed SERPs by Internet marketing professionals), are usually the sites they visit to gather information and make their purchase. If your site doesn’t show up on that first page or two of results, or if your site does show up but is difficult to use, customers that could be yours will drift into some other company’s sales funnel.

So, how do you make your site show up in the first page of two of search results when you can find 800,000 search results on Google for a term like “bullet proof vests”? Why do competitors’ sites, and sometimes sites that are just lists of affiliate links, wind up on the first or second page of the SERPs when your site is on page 53? Why is your site missing in action – or, if it is getting found, missing the action?

There are many factors that affect search marketing results including how old your domain name is and how long it’s been live on the web. And sometimes, those ranking factors seem to change more often than a teenage girl changes clothes.  But if your site has been up for several months and it isn’t bringing you leads, contacts or sales, then the problem may be that your site is guilty of one or more website marketing mistakes. Here are the most common – and the easiest to correct.

1 – Thinking your customers don’t use the web

Surprisingly there are still small businesses who think this way! I was at a dinner one evening with a small business owner who was complaining how difficult it is to get new customers and how much trouble he is having getting some of his old customers to pay their bills. I asked the owner if he had a web site and was using it to attract customers. “We have a web page up, but we don’t do anything with it,” he said. “Our customers don’t look for our services on the web.” I resisted the temptation to remind him that he had just said his customers don’t pay, either. Instead, I looked at his website the next day. It was just a single page with little other than the company logo, phone number, and a photo of their facility. Next, I searched for a couple of key phrases that described what the business sold. Not surprisingly, my dinner buddy’s site didn’t show up in the organic (unpaid) search results. But a lot of his competitors did. In addition, a number of his competitors were advertising in Google and Bing pay-per-click ads. They apparently had discovered what my friend was missing: customers on the web.

2 – Hiding your site from search engines

No one wants to hide their key pages from search engines. But that’s exactly what a lot of sites do because the people who build them either don’t understand how search engines work, or are more concerned with visual effects than getting found on the web.

Search engines are hungry for text. They can’t read pictures or flash or video very well.  The text on pages tells search engines what a site is about, so the search engine knows when to display it in response to search queries. If the search engine can’t find any text on your key pages, or finds very little text, your site isn’t going to get found by people looking for what you sell.

Here are just a few examples of text-poor, small business sites I’ve seen very recently:

  • A home page that includes the name of the business, a huge magazine-quality photo showing an example of their work, and very little else.
  • A home page that includes a video, a link to sign up for a newsletter and nothing else except the business name and slogan, which aren’t representative of the service being sold.
  • Flash or slideshows on a home page – and, of course, little else.  In addition to masking the nature of your site from search engines, flash and slideshows could annoy visitors who want information now and without having to wait for a presentation to finish, or guess which link will tell them if your hair salon is open on Sundays.
  • Pictures of text instead of text.  Yes, your brochure looks lovely, but a scanned copy of your slogan or selling points isn’t going to feed the search spiders any information about who should visit your site. If you had someone else create your website for you and don’t know whether or not they used text or an image of text in your brochure, try to select a portion of the text on the web page the way you’d select a portion of text in a Word document. If you can’t select the words, the text isn’t really text. It’s a graphic.

If your home page and site consist of mostly graphic images, change it.  Put text about the product or service on the page, along with a thumbnail sized graphic, and instruct visitors to click the graphic to see the demo, portfolio, or whatever big graphics you want displayed.  That way the presentation will still be available for those who really want to see it, but it won’t stop you from getting search engine traffic from people searching for your type of business.

3 – Not using the right keywords and key phrases in the pages on your site.

Keywords and key phrases are the words people type into the search engine when they are looking for a product or service. To get found in search engines, your website needs to contain text that includes the query terms your customers are most likely to use looking for what you sell.

For instance, if your company, Johnson Technologies, sell voice recognition software called VoiceConverterNow and you target the healthcare industry, your prospects may be searching Google, Bing and Yahoo for terms like “medical voice recognition software” or “voice recognition software for hospitals.” Unless you’re a very well-known leader in your industry, they probably won’t be searching for the name of your company or for the specific name of the product.  Neither will they be searching for terms such as “leading provider of voice- to-data conversion systems in the medical community,” or other puffery you might be tempted to put in brochures or VC presentations. Similarly, if you are an individual who provides copy-editing services to self-publishers, your site isn’t likely to get found if it talks about your expertise as a remote assistant who tunes clients’ work to so their words are music to their readers ears.  (But you might get some people visiting the site who were looking for piano tuners.)

To maximize your chances of getting found in search engines, be sure your web pages include common key words and phrases associated with the product or concept being described on the page. Appropriate keywords should appear in the page title, metatags, headlines and body of your text.

4 – Using social media pages as a substitute for your own website

Social media is all the rage these days. Just about every marketing person you speak with will tell you that you must have a social media presence, and you should.  But you shouldn’t be using social media as a substitute for your own website. The reasons are many, but the primary one is that you don’t own the social media don’t own your social media contacts . While you should be interacting with and engaging with prospects and clients on social media, your focus should be on driving them to your own website, and presenting them with some type of offer that will encourage them to give you contact information so you can reach out to them when you want.

5 – Making it difficult to understand what your business sells and what features the product or service offers.

Web searchers are impatient. They expect to be able to tell what you sell and where to click for details the moment they land on your website. They want that information in plain English with lots of short paragraphs and bulleted lists. And they want facts and product features, not vague lists of the benefits of buying from your business. You probably won’t get a lot of inquiries for your environmental testing laboratory if your home page states your philosophy of doing business and your services page makes claims for the reliability of your results – but never talks about the type of testing services you offer.

6 – Making it difficult to place an order or check out from a web store.

You’d think that online merchants would make shopping as easy as possible. Unfortunately, many don’t. “Buy Now” and Checkout buttons are often difficult to find. Customers are often asked to register and divulge personal information before then can place a single item in their shopping cart. And the order and confirmation process is sometimes long and confusing. Topping off all those problems, some merchants don’t provide phone numbers customers can use if they prefer to call in an order instead of typing it in online.

As a result, shopping cart abandonment rates are high and conversion rates are low. According to figures published by Baymard Institute, the shopping cart abandon rate in recent years runs between 55% and over 70%!

To identify and fix problems in your shopping cart, try this exercise: if you accept incoming phone orders, take them yourself for a few hours. Type all called-in orders into your online shopping cart. Make a note of everything in the ordering and checkout process that annoys you or slows you down. When you’re done, send your list of annoyances to your programmer and have her fix the problems and bottlenecks.

7 – Not getting permission to contact web visitors again.

Conversion rates vary by website and product, but on the average, only about 2 percent of visitors to a web site make a purchase. In other words, roughly 98% of the visitors to your site don’t buy during their first visit. A handful may bookmark your site so they can find it again in the future, but most of the people who leave will simply forget about your site.

Fortunately there’s something you can do about that sad statistic: Give the visitor a reason to leave you their email address and other contact information before they leave your website.

What kind of reason? There are many. Among them: offer a free newsletter; ask customers to sign up to be notified about special offers; offer a free, downloadable white paper about a subject related to your prospects needs; or even offer a free mini-course. When you deliver the newsletter or other material you offered, you get additional opportunities to market products to interested prospects – prospects who otherwise may never have returned to your site.

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Are You a THIRTEENER? Why Only 13 Percent of Companies Successfully Execute Their Strategies (and Why Connectedness Is the Key)

Some 87 percent of businesses fail to execute their strategy each year. Here, author Dan Prosser explains why—and offers eight startling insights into human interaction, the hidden forces that drive leaders, and the astonishing power of the conversations we enable and nurture.

THIRTEENERS: Why Only 13 Percent of Companies Successfully Execute Their Strategy—and How Yours Can Be One of Them It happens again and again. You come up with a viable strategy that you believe will “fix” your ailing company. You hold lots of employee meetings to talk about it. Maybe you leave fired up with enthusiasm, or maybe you harbor a nagging sense of doubt—worried that perhaps you just have the wrong people. It doesn’t seem to matter. As the weeks grow into months, you realize that—once again—what needs to get done just isn’t getting done. And damned if you can figure out why.

You’re not alone. At least 87 percent of companies fail to execute their strategy each year. And the problem that lies at the heart of all their challenges may surprise you: disconnectedness.

I truly believe that of all the factors that impact the success of businesses, connectedness is the one element missing in most of today’s organizations. If today’s leaders actually focused on building the connectedness they and their employees crave, they would see a many-fold increase in performance and bottom-line results.

In my new book THIRTEENERS, I explain how to push your company into the 13 percent of those that successfully create and nurture those vital connections and are regularly featured on Best Places to Work lists. At these organizations, leaders are connected to employees, employees to each other, and everyone to the organization’s vision and marketplace. The book explains how they get it right and how you can do it also.

As command-and-control management styles have become a thing of the past, the importance of connectedness has skyrocketed. Today, every company’s competitive advantage derives from how well they can innovate. Employees have to feel safe to share their ideas. Colleagues need to be able to work together to develop and modify those ideas. And no one can get there without connectedness.

Here are some of the book’s insights:

Business is actually a network of interrelated conversations. In the book, I write about my introduction to the work of University of Houston researcher Dr. Brené Brown. Her principal message is this: If you want an organization that produces breakthrough results, you must confidently lead the conversations that will bring connectedness to your company and give real meaning to the work your employees are doing.

Everything you do in your business is the result of a conversation. Each business idea you come up with starts with a conversation. So does each action you take. Conversations have within them the ultimate power to make things be the way you say they’re going to be.

It’s critically important to create awareness around the conversations going on inside your company. I’ve seen amazing transformations happen when people uncover damaging conversations and replace them with others that build connections.

Employees are infected by hidden conversations that, together, add up to the “Execution Virus.” The greatest challenges in business today are these unseen obstacles—the limiting and negative viral conversations that infect your vision, your mission, and the strategy you’re trying to execute right now. They undermine and sabotage individual and team performance.

In THIRTEENERS, I present 10 conversations that regularly disrupt performance, feeding the “Execution Virus.” For example, when your employees regularly say, “It’s not our strategy,” what they are really communicating is that they feel they have no say in the direction of the company. As a result, they aren’t engaged. Or if “We’ve always done it this way” is a common mantra, it usually indicates that people are trapped in old paradigms, unable to take action to move the business forward.

These conversations aren’t complicated. You don’t have to have training in organizational development to recognize them. However, they are the reason your employees are disconnected from you, from your vision, from your mission, from the strategy for your company, and from the needs of your customers.

We settle for hoping when we should be declaring. There is no integrity in hope. Hoping is the antithesis of using the power of language to make bold declarations that enable bold action. Hope limits what employees are able to achieve. Instead, you must be willing to step up and say how you’re going to win. This actually invents a conversation that says, “This is how it is right now.” Then you’ll work your butt off to close the gap between what you said and where you are the moment you say it.

There is a big difference between a conversation for action and talking about action. You can have countless meetings talking about action but because you haven’t created a “conversation for action,” nothing is getting done. Outcomes become possible only when you are willing to declare it to be possible—with absolutely no evidence that it is—and then to take the actions that are missing and that are consistent with your commitment. Your words gain power only at the moment you are willing to say how it is going to be and then take the actions to have it be that way.

Connectedness can’t happen when leaders “play it safe.” Not all leaders have the courage it takes to walk into a meeting and engage others in an authentic inquiry to uncover real solutions. Instead, they choose to play it safe. When they hear an employee 20 or 30 years their junior offer a valuable insight that wasn’t even on their radar, they go into self-preservation mode. They say, “That’s not how we do it around here,” or, “That’s not good enough.” But comments like this disconnect the organization from you and employees from each other.

To be a THIRTEENER requires real leadership. Real leaders are willing to “lead out loud.” This means displaying vulnerability and asking for and accepting input from your employees so that everyone can contribute to and “own” the company’s strategy for the future. For many leaders it’s scary to let employees see that you don’t have all the answers, but if you want them to commit to making your organization unstoppable, it’s critical.

If you think you have all the answers, you’re only pretending to lead. The predominant myth in business (and elsewhere) is that to be a leader people will follow, you must already “know” the answers or come with ready-made solutions to the most vexing problems your organization faces. If you believe this, you’re not leading, but pretending. And when you pretend to lead, you’re covering up something that’s missing—something that could ultimately cause you to fail.

Leadership is about stepping out of your comfort zone—getting out of the box. Until you recognize that your true value as a leader is in your ability to lead an inquiry into the solutions for your organization (and not try to provide all the answers), you are doomed to repeat your own bad decisions and those of others who came before you. To accomplish that, you have to be willing to listen.

Patriarchy destroys connectedness. You may think your company is not patriarchal, but chances are it is to some degree. And while the word might conjure up a dour-faced man with a long white beard sitting on a mountaintop, men and women alike are guilty of perpetuating a patriarchal style of management. Unfortunately, it creates a class divide: them and us/me, and as a result, erodes connectedness.

The idea that each employee has something of value to contribute is missing from a patriarchal system. Employees are never allowed to be their fully human selves; instead, a leader’s ego is inflated by marginalizing others.

On the other hand, when there is relatedness, it’s very easy for an employee to talk to his or her direct supervisor, because that supervisor listens. And there is real solidarity among executives, managers, and employees. If someone needs something, there is no problem with starting a conversation that gets the issue handled. As a result, connectedness helps strengthen the internal and external relationships that are one of a company’s most important assets.

Trying too hard to avoid failure actually leads to failure. 87 percent of all companies with a strategic plan will fail to execute it. One factor that contributes to their inability to execute is a reservation to set big—or “unreasonable”— goals. Many business owners opt to play it safe by setting reasonable goals in an effort to avoid failure.

Most people are invested in not failing, and they’ve taught all their employees to value that course of action over taking any kind of risks that have the potential to pay off. Everyone’s doing it, and it’s costing them on a grand scale. When you set reasonable goals to avoid failure, people will make only a little extra effort—but if goals are unreasonable, people will make real changes in the way they work. Sure, it’s a risk, but in business, risk is the only way to true success.

In teaching others to let go of their fears about what might happen if they take risks, I’ve seen miracles happen. A professional services firm had an unprecedented 60 percent leap in performance in five months, for example. A creative services group went from a loss of tens of thousands of dollars in one year to a place on the Inc. 500/5,000 list and a more than 40,000 percent increase in net profit during the following years.

Embracing chaos is better than clinging to equilibrium. The fundamental reason why so few teams don’t make it to the finish line and execute their strategy is that leaders can’t tolerate the discomfort that comes with the chaos when things aren’t happening as planned. They can’t stay the course and wait for the source of the breakdown to reveal itself. They feel the need to act, to do something to overcome the sense of being out of control. Instead of just accepting that disequilibrium is natural, most leaders want to look for a way to create the pretense of balance.

To create an organization of innovation and creativity, you need to allow and even introduce the tension that comes with or causes chaos. Systems that are out of equilibrium are forced to explore their space of possibilities, and this leads to new patterns of relationships and structures. An organization that embraces chaos is healthier than one that hangs on to equilibrium, and it can achieve a new level of performance.

If you’re a CEO or senior business leader with the potential for impacting the lives of others, you need to become deeply interested in the role you play in driving connectedness into your organization. You need to learn about how connectedness, and the lack of it, shapes your employees’ workplace experience and ultimately leads to the successful execution of your vision.

Connectedness even plays a key role in the primary design of your strategy—even before you have a chance to take action on it. The extent to which you can create and nurture it directly correlates to the likelihood of your company becoming a THIRTEENER.

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How Business Owners Create Their Own Good Luck

Lucky business owners don’t sit around waiting for good things to happen to them. They put themselves in a position to be lucky. Here are five ways successful businesses get lucky.

business luck

To get the results you want, you need to write your own rules of good luck.

 We once heard a mathematics professor state, “The parameters of luck are unknown to us.” In other words, luck can’t be explained by any specific factor; it’s a matter of chance. We thought the statement made a lot of sense, but we were intrigued by the notion that what we call “luck” could be explained by a set of variables or elements that had not yet been studied. So we carried out our own research.

We spoke with people who thought their lives had been blessed by good fortune to try and figure out what factors they had in common. After four years of research, we could clearly identify a list of five principles for good luck.

What our research revealed can be summarized in a single simple sentence: In business, we make our own good luck.

What do these creators of good luck have in common? How can business owners make their own good luck? The principles are summarized below:

1. Responsibility
Business owners who feel that they have had good luck also feel responsible for their own actions. When things go wrong or the outcome of any given situation is other than intended, they never point the finger of blame at external factors or other individuals. Instead, they look to themselves and ask, “What have I done for this to occur?” Then they act accordingly to solve the problem.

2. Learning from Mistakes
Creators of good luck don’t see a mistake as a failure. Instead, a mistake is an opportunity for learning. Thomas Edison is the classic example. More than 1,000 attempts to invent the first long-lasting electric light bulb led to bulbs that only stayed lit for a few minutes.

One of Edison’s colleagues asked him, “Mr. Edison, don’t you feel you are a failure?” Lacking any sense of vanity, he answered, “Not at all. Now, I definitely know more than a thousand ways how NOT to make a light bulb.”

Sure enough, just a few days later, he turned his inspiration into a practical concept. By the way, the very first light bulb was invented by Sir Joseph Wilson Swan, who demonstrated the theoretical concept but gave up trying to develop a practical application after only three attempts. By contrast, Edison made his own good luck and designed a working light bulb.

3. Perseverance
Creators of good luck don’t give up or postpone. When a problem or situation arises, they act immediately to either solve it without delay, delegate, or forget about it.

These business people don’t carry a list of “things to do” in their brain. Instead, they resolve problems and situations as quickly as possible. This enables their energy to be fully focused on their work and avoid conscious or unconscious distractions, which only generate inefficiency.

4. Confidence
The most powerful principle is often the most overlooked. Confidence is divided into two parts: confidence in yourself and confidence in others.

Confidence in yourself is essential, and those who create their own good luck have high degrees of assertiveness and self-esteem. They keep to their purpose, persevere, and work to create the conditions that ultimately help them achieve success. Also, they are great visualizers. They use their imaginations — specifically, their visualizing techniques — to form mental images of their goals.

Closely linked to assertiveness and self-esteem is trust in others and respect for them, seeing other people as major sources of opportunity. This doesn’t mean that one must be naive and trust just anyone. Instead, it speaks to the trait of seeing others as sources of opportunity for achievement.

Without confidence there is no way to “give yourself” to the situation. If there is no intimacy — if it is ruled out by paranoia or rampant suspicion, for example — there can be no opening up to others. Hence, there can be no room for dialogue or for the genuine and sincere exchange of opinions. Without this, any initiative proceeds more slowly until, eventually, it simply withers and dies.

5. Cooperation
Synergy is key. Trust in others leads to a solid network of work colleagues and friends, which, in turn, provides more resources to carry out projects than if they were managed alone. Think cooperation rather than competitiveness. At the most basic level, any project or undertaking takes place in the context of the broader group, and everyone should have the chance to emerge a winner.

As we have seen, whether or not one can create good luck basically depends on an attitude towards oneself, towards others, and towards life. It is also tied to the perception that the individual is much more of a cause than an effect. And above all, to the realization that one must make oneself the creator of the conditions that foster success and the achievement of specific, visualized goals.

We think of luck — the sort that wins lotteries — as random. It can be favorable or not, but it is always occasional, brief, and impermanent. We have found that of the people who have won big sweepstakes prizes, many lose everything they gained, typically within four years to seven years of hitting the jackpot. Furthermore, their personal relationships with family, friends, and colleagues often suffer.

On the other hand, since those who create their own good luck owe success only to themselves and their own initiatives, not just to a random roll of the dice, they are acutely aware of the origins of their good fortune. Moreover, having seen it work before, they know how to repeat it.

The problem is that we often seem to forget old principles based on common sense, which basically say that we must work, be aware of our actions, and take responsibility for correcting them when the need arises. The person who grasps that wisdom is lucky indeed.

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The Truth About Small Business Grants

Contrary to what you may have read on the internet or seen on TV, free grant money isn’t sitting out there waiting to be claimed by small businesses in need. Get the real story about business grants here.

Business grants

Wouldn’t it be nice if a person or entity would give you money to grow your business? The truth is, that isn’t likely to happen unless the funders are your friends or family. There are plenty of grants available for a small subset of business that are in certain industries. Here’s the truth about grants that you should know.

1. Small business grants are hard to find

If you’re a small business owner or you will be soon, you’ve probably heard of the United States Small Business Administration or SBA. The SBA is the government agency in charge of helping you find success as a small business owner. However, according to the SBA it, “does not provide grants for starting and expanding a business.”

The federal government has grant programs along with some state and private organizations but most fund non-profits.

2. Grants are specific

If you’re hoping to find something similar to a loan but you’re hoping not to pay it back, that’s not how grants work. Grants are often designed to foster growth or serve the public good. If an organization can give somebody money to fund research that may someday cure a disease or clean up the environment, that’s money well spent in the grantor’s eyes.

There’s very little good that comes from giving small businesses money for general growth.

3. Strict reporting requirements

If you receive grant money, expect very specific rules on how you can spend the money. And expect the paperwork to take a significant amount of time. Grantors know better than to give a business money and forget about it. Not only do they have a fiscal responsibility to their donors, raising more money requires convincing their donors that the money won’t be wasted.

4. The money may not be free

Before you go after grants, you’ll want to have some money saved of your own. Grants are often awarded based on matching funds. For every dollar the grantor gives you, you have to put up the same amount either through cash or financing. They want you to have “skin in the game” as well.

5. Grant writing is an art

Grant writing is tough. It takes a lot of time and there’s an art to completing the request. Many people looking for grants hire a grant writer for help. If you’re not the greatest writer and/or have no experience writing grants, get some help—at least for the first couple.

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Should Your Business Offer Coupons?

Coupons are often used to attract new customers and entice old customers to come back. At first glance, offering coupons might seem like a great idea. Before you begin discounting, consider these pros and cons.

Should you offer coupons?

So now you have your product or service out and available to the public. You’ve set your prices, calculated your budget, and know all too well your business’s overall bottom line. But despite your best efforts and your tireless planning, you cannot seem to attract enough customers. Maybe it’s time to consider offering a promotion or coupon.

Your first reaction may be to see this as quite obvious. Your business offers a discount and potential clients will see this as a low-risk opportunity to try something new. But there are some concerns that ought to be addressed when considering as to whether or not your business should offer a discount or coupon in the first place. Here is a list of the pros and cons involved in this decision.

Let’s look at some key pros first…

Meeting Expectations. According to a recent survey conducted by RetailMeNot in conjunction with The Omnibus Company, 96% of shoppers reporting having used coupons within the last three months. This report shows that the majority of shoppers are expecting a discount or coupon. Offering coupons and promotions has now become a normative aspect of running a business.

Competition. With the exception of a relative monopoly, chances are your business is facing some stiff competition. In this market, businesses must fight for a customer’s attention. Most consumers are shopping around for the best deal, and having your business offer a discount may just bring you the competitive edge against your competition that you’ve been missing.

Customer Incentive. It is logical to assume that a customer is more likely to try or experiment with your product or service when a discount is offered. It can offer a potential customer a low-risk opportunity to test out a new product or service for the first time.

Ease of Distribution. In our modern era, producing and distributing coupons is now easier and faster than ever. A coupon can easily be shared via social media, email, or through one of the many coupon websites. This can also serve as a form of free advertising for your business.

And now a few cons:

Cutting Profit. One common concern is that introducing a discount or coupon will just subsidize a purchase the consumer would have made either way. Depending on your particular industry, this is a real concern that needs to be addressed when considering this decision for your company. However, the pitfall behind this assumption is the failure to recognize the new customers that such an offer could attract. Coupons and promotions can often attract new customers, and instill a sense of loyalty in your existing customer base.

Margins. When setting prices for products or services, one factor that must be considered is the cost. When introducing a coupon or discount, cost is an important factor to consider. A coupon will effectively lower the price, but cannot lower the cost. It may be beneficial to offer a discount to attract customers, but it is important to always consider your bottom line.

Sustainability. Some customers may only redeem the coupon, receive the product or service, and may never return again. Perpetuating a series of coupons and discounts in this manor may only lower your monthly revenue, and it may not result in return customers.

Crowding. One common concern is that your coupon strategy may work too well, and may crowd out those existing customers who pay full price. This is especially relevant for businesses whose products or services are in relatively limited supply.

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