5 New Year’s Resolutions for Small Business Success

2009-12-31-new-yearspic2009 is wrapping up, and what better occasion to take a fresh look at your online business! As we march into the New Year, it’s time to figure out what is and isn’t working. Here are five tips that should help you create a more profitable 2010:

1. Focus on Customer Service
No matter how fantastic your product, it’s not what your customer will be talking about if your service stinks. By building a great relationship with your customers, you keep them happy, loyal, and talking about you with their friends. Evaluate all of your points of contact, from emails, phone messages, web contact, and even how you interact face to face – then make sure you’re going above and beyond.

2. Ask Clients for Referrals
Now that you’ll be offering top notch customer service, encourage your customers to tell their friends about you. People are much more likely to trust a company recommended by friends and it’s as simple as adding a line to your email signature (ie. Happy with our products? Recommend us to a friend!).

Tip: With your CityMax.com small business website, you can add a “Recommend Website” page, which allows your visitors to send an email recommendation to their friends.

3. Learn to Delegate
Have too much on your plate? As a small business owner, it can be hard to let others do work for you, but learning to share your workload will help you accomplish a lot more. Consider what you do in a week and identify the things that don’t NEED to be done by you, then pass them on to others. If you don’t have staff, you may want to try outsourcing some of that extra work. For example, if you need content written for your website, consider using a service like Textbroker.

4. Ditch Broken Systems
Sometimes in business we set up processes that end up not being so successful… yet we keep on using them for years. Now is the time to make a move. Is your sales method not effective for closing deals? Is one of your products just not selling no matter what you do? Is your software constantly crashing? Out with the old and in with the new. Find something that works better – you’ll end up saving a lot of time and frustration.

5. Set Realistic Goals
If you’re not already setting goals, now is a great time to start. By setting goals, you not only have something to strive for, but you also have something to celebrate once it is accomplished. Make sure that any goal you set is realistic or you may end up just frustrating yourself.

These five resolutions should make a positive impact on your business, but don’t forget to take care of yourself! Work-life balance is just as important to your business’ health, so as a bonus resolution, make sure to also set personal time as a priority.

CityMax.com Community “We Care” Night

At this time of year, the nights are colder and most of us get a chance to spend time inside with family and friends, celebrating the joy of the season.

It only takes a quick look at Vancouver’s Downtown East Side to see that there are a lot of people that aren’t quite as lucky – it’s a strong reminder that we have a lot to be thankful for!

For the second year in a row, we partnered up with a local group to assemble and hand out bags of supplies to those in our community. Each bag held simple things, like snacks, a winter hat, socks, and gloves and although it’s not a lot, we hope that we helped make the night a little bit warmer.

Here are a few pics from the event, courtesy of Frank Lee.

The Small Business Makeover Begins!

Wendy Lau of BlueWonderCloth.com, our Small Business Makeover winner, made the trek down to our offices last week to meet the CityMax.com team and give her online presence a shot in the arm.

Nine years ago, Wendy started selling environmentally friendly cleaning products online as a part-time distributor. She quickly grew to the point where she actually bought out the original owner four years ago and now runs the entire business!

We were excited to meet Wendy, who’s been with CityMax.com since we were just three people huddled in a tiny office. She’s already had some serious success, but Wendy told us she now wants to “make more and do less.” Sounds like our kind of challenge!

Our experts sat down with her and talked custom re-design, local search marketing, and search engine optimization for her site. Wendy even got to check out our daily huddle and meet our two dogs. All in all, it was a great start to the makeover – stay tuned to see what Wendy’s finished makeover looks like!

10 Website Mistakes to Avoid

2009-12-16-mistakesYour website is the heart of your business presence online – especially if you sell a product or service! Here are a few common pitfalls to keep in mind before you begin / as your develop your site. From beginners to experts, anyone that has built a website has been guilty of at least one of these.

1. Lame Domain Name
Pick a domain name that is easy to remember and related to your business. People are likely to forget or misspell long names, so shorter domain names are usually better. Beware using dashes: Jeffs-Hardware-and-Electronics.com will not help your customers get to your site. www.DomainTools.com is fantastic for finding an available domain name and also provides great suggestions.

2. Poor Design
Flashing text? Autoplaying music or videos? A custom header that takes up half the screen? There’s no better way to drive away your traffic. Good design is largely based on consistency: same color, same typeface, visible logo. Menus should appear in the same place on every page, links should all be the same color/typeface, and a logo of some sort should be clearly visible at all times.

3. Call to Action
What is the objective of your site? You may have a lot of nice pictures and a shopping cart, but you want to create a sense of urgency in your customers, and encourage them towards the goal. Whether it is it purchases, subscriptions, or downloads – expedite the process by adding online coupons, downloadable items or links to your check-out page.

4. Making it Hard for Customers to Buy
The fewer steps to purchase from the initial visit to your site, the more sales you will make. Even people who want to buy from you will take their business elsewhere if there are too many pages to click through and forms to fill out along the way.

5. Too Fancy or Too Slow
Simplicity is often the best way to go. You may think flash intros are amazing, but often they take a long time to load and can frustrate impatient visitors. Keep your audience and functionality in mind at all times.

6. Stagnant Site
Fresh content helps your search engine rankings and lets people know that your site is active. Format and design can quickly be changed with the abundance of new tools: update regularly and take advantage of new opportunities to keep your site current and your visitors engaged (i.e. “Follow us on Twitter” button or RSS feed of relevant content).

7. Broken Links
Nothing loses visitors like a broken link. Check to make sure that every page on your site works – it’s easy to misspell or mislabel a link! Your brand will take a hit if users constantly see “404 file not found” error messages or find broken links. If you have a large site, adding a form on your site so that visitors can submit broken links is a solution.

8. Ignoring Statistics
Many successful and established businesses fall prey to this folly. You should be tracking not just sales, overhead, and subscriptions, but your traffic, where it comes from, and what works (and DOESN’T WORK) on your site. HitsLink or Google Analytics are good ways to get started for all your web statistics needs. Monitor your statistics to help build your marketing and design around your customer, or figure out what isn’t converting to determine what you need to improve.

9. Neglecting the Search Engines
Search engines find your page using automated “spiders”. Design your pages with keywords, headers, meta tags and relevant content in mind to alert the spiders and boost your search engine rankings. You will want to have a site map, which will show Google that your site is easy to navigate. Whenever you add a page or make changes to an existing page, submit the link to Google for indexing: http://www.google.com/addurl/.

10. Contact Info with a PHONE NUMBER
You give potential customers peace of mind and add credibility by displaying your phone number on your site. Again, consistency is key: develop a footer for every page with your contact information. Many online businesses see a good chunk of sales come in over the phone.

By avoiding these mistakes, you help make sure that your visitors have a pleasant experience on your site and you increase your chances of success and profit.

Top 3 Reasons to Track Online Store Activity over the Holidays

Wouldn’t it be great if you could know what your customers love, hate, and come back to your site for?

2009-12-10-cartstatsThat’s the beauty of owning an online store. With website analytics set up for your site, you can easily track what visitors are doing, where they’re coming from, and what they’re buying. And, since the holiday rush provides you with a larger volume of customers, you can see patterns in the data more easily. Plus, you’ll also be better prepared for next year!

Here are a few things to keep an eye on:

1. Best Selling Items Although selling out of an item is great, it means that you’re also missing out on potential sales once the item is gone. By identifying which items are the most popular, you can plan effectively for the following year, making sure that you don’t get caught without enough product to meet demand.

2. Start of Season & Busiest Shopping Days Note the dates where your selling season really starts to ramp up and more visitors are flocking to your site. This will help you know when you’ll need to stock more product, hire additional workers, start your advertising, and much more.

3. Page Popularity Are you using advertising to drive traffic to specific pages? If so, statistics may give you an idea of which advertising campaigns are the most or least effective and help you know what to do (or not to do) next year.

If you are new to the idea of tracking your website traffic using analytics, take a look at the HitsLink stats that come free with your CityMax.com website. You’ll find them in the left-hand column on the Dashboard page!

New CityMax.com Website Builder Affiliate Program!

Looking for a “white hat” product for your affiliate portfolio? Good news! We’re stepping into the game and have now launched our own website builder affiliate program!

Our official website builder affiliate program debut will be at the Affiliate Summit West 2010 conference in Las Vegas. With multiple payment platforms, aggressive payouts, and a great product, there’s a perfect option for almost every affiliate marketer. From January 17-19, you’ll find our team at the CityMax.com booth at the Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino in Vegas, treating our affiliates like gold and offering up great giveaways and a chance to win a grand prize package worth $100,000!

While we are officially debuting at Affiliate Summit West, we are currently accepting a limited number of affiliates. To learn more about our affiliate program and our Affiliate Summit West 2010 promotion, visit our CityMax.com at Affiliate Summit West website, or feel free to contact our very own Affiliate Ambassador, Kyle Murphy (1.866.310.9327 ext.146).

3 Reasons Why Every Small Business Owner Needs Social Media

2009-12-02-twitterYou know about Facebook already. Maybe you have a dusty Twitter account. So why do you need to use these tools for help your business?

As a small business website owner, here are three great reasons why you should stay plugged in.

1.  Instantly connect with your audience

Imagine if you could immediately locate new customers around the world. Through social media, it’s easy to see who the key players in your industry are (find someone high profile, then take a peek at their Twitter followers or Facebook Fans) and it’s likely that people engaged with these brands are either your customer, or otherwise relevant to your business.

Just as important, you can find the people who are already excited about your product (e.g. customers, distributors), celebrate them, and let them know what other great stuff is in the pipeline. The people who champion your brand can quickly become your greatest asset. Social media is all about the strongest form of marketing there is: word-of-mouth.

2. Play to your strengths: bigger is not necessarily better

Social media levels the playing field for small businesses. While big companies lumber, you are agile. Two of the biggest complaints customers have are: 1) automated phone systems, and 2) delayed email responses. The nature of today’s technology allows you to respond instantly to potential customers who want answers now.

Offering better customer interactions online with an actual person (you) builds your brand’s personality. Creating relationships is the backbone of social media and is something that most large, monolithic companies have difficulty doing, but individuals are terrific at. (Caveat – some large companies CAN get it right. Southwestern Airlines’ customer service on Twitter is an excellent example: http://rationalsecurity.typepad.com/blog/2008/04/off-topic-south.html)

3. If you don’t reach the masses online, someone else will

Just because you aren’t using social media yet, it doesn’t mean your customers aren’t. They may already be singing your brand’s praises (or complaining loudly) on Twitter, Yelp, or any of the countless review sites online. If you aren’t a part of the conversation, you are leaving the door open for a competitor to swoop in. Being present and vocal will help you monitor and manage your brand online.

Small and large businesses alike are spreading their message and expanding their customer base online, and you don’t want miss out.  It is cheap to implement: the most popular applications are free, and the only cost is your time.

How should you begin?

Jump in! Without being familiar with the platform, you may not yet know what you are trying to achieve. That is fine: as you learn Twitter, Facebook, or the latest social media tool, the reality of your objectives will become clear.

Think big. Your average customer may result in a $100 purchase, but being mentioned by a top blog could transform your brand into an overnight success. That is the immediacy of the internet – and the nature of social media. Good luck!

2009 Homepreneur of the Year Finalists

2009-12-01-homepreneur_imagePresenting the finalists for 2009 Homepreneur of the Year! We were overwhelmed by the amount of amazing entries, and thank you all for your submissions. You have some truly incredible small business website success stories and made it hard to pick just eight finalists!

From the Pet Tag Prince to Grandma Cuddles, these finalists come in all shapes, sizes, and ages! Now it’s up to you. Check out their stories on the voting page and help us choose who should be the Homepreneur (home-based business owner) of the Year!