How Much is Trust Worth for Your Small Business?

When a potential customer visits your small business website for the first time, there are several factors that can help them from along the sale conversion process… but one factor you won’t make the sale without is trust.

In an era of corporate scandal and betrayal, trust has quickly become a rare commodity. A recent international study showed that business leaders (CEOs) are considered less trustworthy than even government officials, and trailing them are the oft-maligned media outlets. The prevalence of new scams has consumers worried about pulling out their credit cards and purchasing online.

How do you convince your customer that you aren’t just there to make a quick buck?

Increase trust and reassure your customers with these 5 steps:

1. Let Them Know Who You Are
Create an “About Us” page that describes your story. A little bit of personality goes a long way – people like to buy from people! Add appropriate photos of yourself or your team, and your physical store if you have one. Here is a great example of a business that uses their “About Us” page to let consumers know they probably won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

2. Display Awards, Trade Association Badges and Security Certificates
If your business has garnered any recognition or if you are a member of any respected trade association, proudly show the emblems or logos on every page. Display third party security seals and use security certificates to lessen fears and increase conversions.

3. Testimonials
In the same way customers want to know who you are, they also want to know who is buying from you. Don’t be afraid of reaching out to happy customers who have sung your praises and asking for their permission to reproduce their comments (you can even offer a bonus). Some sites will even post pictures of their customers.

4. Risk-Free Trial
Build consumer confidence by offering a “no-risk” purchase. Research has shown that (risk) free offers increase sales – think of it as a security blanket. Invite new customers to “examine it, try it, use it for a full 30 days without risk”. If you are guaranteeing customer satisfaction scream it from the rooftops! This is a great asset in your unique selling proposition that you don’t want to hide.

5. Make Contact Easy
People don’t want to buy from someone who will disappear – you want potential customers firing questions your way, before and after the sale. Make sure your phone number and email address are prominently displayed on all marketing materials, as well as in your email signature. Have a “contact us” footer at the bottom of each page.

Remember, trustworthiness directly relates to your bottom line. This is why “mom and pop” stores often experience great success with their direct, straightforward approach. Start using these five easy tactics today to increase your trust and sales!

Three Secrets to Getting More Customers

2010-02-23-secretsThe one question that every small business website owner asks themselves at some point or another is: “How can I get more customers?” Surprisingly enough, it’s not as difficult as you would think!

Here are three secrets that the best marketing minds rely on:

1. Identify Your Strengths

It’s pretty much guaranteed that no matter what industry you’re in, you are going to have some competition and you are going to be compared against them. So what can you do to stay ahead of the game?

The key is to identify what it is about your business that should make a customer choose you over anyone else. Pick something that you are or want to be the best at, then make sure you keep it that way. That “thing” is your silver bullet – in marketing speak it’s called your Unique Selling Point or USP. For example, if you sell protective cases for cameras, your USP might be that your cases are indestructible.

2. Pinpoint Your Customers

One of the common mistakes that small business owners make is thinking that their products are perfect for everyone. No matter how great your products are, there will always be a subset of people that are your TRUE customers. These are the people that make up your perfect target market and are also the people that you should be developing your marketing messages around.

If you already have a customer base, take a closer look at them. Who are you selling to primarily? Who is making you the most money? Look at age, location, gender, lifestyle habits, education level, and more. From there you can start to create a clear picture of who you are selling to, and what is important to them.

In following with the protective camera case business, it’s likely that an ideal customer might have the following characteristics:

  • Between the ages of 25 – 35
  • College/University educated
  • High amount of disposable income
  • Athletic and adventurous (“adrenaline junkie”)

3. Target Your Message and Make It Matter

Once you know what makes you stand apart from the competition and who you are selling to, your marketing is much easier to figure out. When you craft your marketing messages around your USP and your ideal customers, you should end up with a campaign that really communicates the right message to the right people.

Let’s talk about those camera cases again.

John is a 29 year old male who loves mountain climbing, biking, and snowboarding. He’s broken three digital cameras in just over a year. He’s trying to find a way to stop wasting money on cameras, but he’s not convinced that there’s anything out there strong enough to withstand his lifestyle.

Knowing that John is your ideal customer, one way to connect with him might be through video. Take an action shot of the camera case being dropped on a trail ride, then being “accidentally” ridden over by the camera owner’s friends. Afterwards, show the unscathed camera – and maybe even some accidentally captured images of bike tires riding over it.

By figuring out what makes your business different and who you are selling to, you identify your own niche and create room for growth. As a side benefit, you may also be able to identify additional products that are sorely needed by your ideal customers – products that nobody else has recognized yet and that will give you the additional advantage of being first in the space.

5 Tips for Using Paid Search to Increase Traffic to Your Small Business Website

When you’re starting an online business, it can take a while before people start finding your website. With paid search advertising – also known as Pay Per Click or PPC – you can place an ad for your website directly on a search engine page, right alongside the regular search listings, where people are already searching for a topic related to your business.

Google AdWords PPC Advertising
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Here’s a brief overview of how paid search advertising typically works:

  1. You bid on keywords that your customers would typically search for
  2. Your ads are placed on the results page when people search for your keywords
  3. You only pay when someone clicks your ad and visits your website

Paid search can be very effective, but it’s also easy to get carried away and spend too much on ads that just aren’t getting sales for you.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1.    Don’t invest money that you’re not willing to lose
PPC is like making a high-risk investment – you have to put money in before you can get anything back, and you can’t always predict what your returns will be.

2.    Determine a budget
On most paid search campaigns you can limit the amount of money you want to spend over a certain period of time. For example, if you only want to spend $10/day, the search engine will stop showing your ads once you’ve reached your limit.

3.    Research your keywords
The magic to any good paid search campaign is in the keywords. You need to know what people are (and aren’t) searching for when they’re trying to find a business like yours. Also, start with a small number of very specific keywords and then grow it from there. For example, “Toyota brake calipers” would be much better than just “car parts”.

4.    Watch your numbers
After you’ve set everything in motion, make sure to keep monitoring your campaigns for effectiveness. See how your keywords perform – do people really search for what you think they do? And, if they visit your site after searching those keywords, do they buy? How much are you spending? If you spend more, will it mean more sales?

5.    What works on one search engine may not work on another
Different types of people use different search engines, so what worked well on one might not work quite as effectively on another.

There is definitely a lot to consider when it comes to paid search advertising, but the pay-off can be well worth it.

Looking for more information about PPC? Check out this series of articles from PPC Hero – a great resource for paid search advertisers: Rookie or Veteran – PPC Basics Every Advertiser Should Know and Use

Get Your Website for Free!

To show you how grateful we are for every customer you refer, we’re improving how our referral program works!

With the old program, you got your site for free whether you referred 3 or 300 people. With the new program, the more people you refer, the bigger the reward!

Here’s how it works:

  1. You get a link that you can distribute a number of ways (Twitter, email, website footer, etc.)
  2. For every person that signs up through your link, you get 5 credits for every month their site is active.
  3. Each credit is worth $1 and can be redeemed by phone to pay for your website subscription.

You’ll find the new “Get a Free Website” program under “Free Website” below your profile picture on your Dashboard.

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Ken Lyotier: Vancouver DTES Entrepreneur and Olympic Torch-Bearer

2010-02-11-ken_lyotier_07It’s not often that you get to meet someone like Ken Lyotier – a man who rose above his own personal challenges to create a well-respected, non-profit business by uniting a community more known for sad stories of homelessness and addiction rather than those of success.

Lyotier is the founder and former Executive Director of United We Can, a non-profit bottle depot that operates out of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. This week, we were lucky enough to have Lyotier come in and tell his inspirational story to us first hand during our weekly team learning session.

Like many entrepreneurs, Lyotier started off by identifying a problem that he was experiencing himself. While trying to earn a living by collecting recyclable cans and bottles, he found that the stores that were supposed to honor the refunds were often unwilling to accommodate the bottle returns.

With the help of a local minister, he and a friend decided to organize an event where people could bring in non-recyclable items for cash – he was overwhelmed with the response and energy it generated from the community.

“The buzz you get from people being excited about what you’re doing is better than any high you’ll ever get from drugs or alcohol,” says Lyotier.

After searching for answers to local recycling issues and working with the government and VanCity, United We Can was founded in 1995 and has grown into an impressive source of inspiration, empowerment, and employment to people living in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. Over the past few years, the organization has grown beyond the bottle depot to include other services that work well within the community, including a bicycle repair shop and computer recycling.

Along with being a well-respected member of his community, Lyotier’s positive impact on the community has also recently earned him an invitation to light the cauldron at the 2010 Vancouver Games celebration site after being handed the Olympic torch by Canadian singer Michael Buble.

Ken Lyotier is an inspiration to any entrepreneur and he also provides some food for thought. What business opportunities surround you in your own life? What’s holding you back? Use personal challenges to take a step forward and write your own success story.

How Do You Choose the Right Product for Your Small Business? We Try to Figure it Out…

e3-logoLast week, we introduced you to the new online business being launched by CityMax.com staff – also known as the E3 venture (Employee Entrepreneur Experience). We determined the company bylaws and discussed what kind of business had the best chance to grow.

This week, we looked at a variety of products to sell, from event tickets to tennis rackets, and finally voted them down to the top three. After a bit of discussion, we may have reached a decision. Check out our criteria below – what would you have voted for?

1. High-end Pens

  • We determined that these were easy to sell in bulk quantities, with a 2-3% markup for each pen
  • High online search volume for custom pens, as well as the top manufacturers
  • Very easy to ship
  • However, due to our lack of any existing relationship with a supplier this product earned few votes in the final evaluation

2. Car Wax

  • An extremely expensive product that generates repeat customers
  • High online search volume indicating great demand
  • Easy to ship
  • Market is largest in the USA
  • High margins
  • Better sold in high volume
  • Easily branded
  • Manufacturing – possibly homemade, which would mean not scalable and a low production rate
  • It is a product our staff feel they can get behind
  • Potentially a strong product, if supplier issues are clarified

3. Baseball Bats

  • One of our members has developed a potential relationship with a supplier
  • High online search volume
  • Great market opportunity for Little League teams, semi-pros, beer league teams, trophies
  • Free drop-shipping
  • Easy to out-source production
  • Small order sizes possible – no inventory back up
  • Fully customizable: baseball bats can be branded easily
  • High agreement among board members (CityMax.com staff)

After some debate, the E3 group reached a consensus – custom baseball bats appear to be our best option. Up next week: we research market opportunities and our competition to see if our business model is viable.

Stay tuned…

How Apple and Microsoft both blew their new product launch speeches… full of hot air (and how you can learn from their mistakes)

As you may have heard, Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple) and Steve Ballmer (Microsoft CEO) both recently launched massive new products – respectively, the iPad and Windows 7.

Both men are known for their brilliance and leadership at the helm of two of the most successful corporations in the world.

Both men gave keynote introductory speeches.

Both men have received criticism for their epic monologues.

Here is a hilarious edited version of Jobs’ speech – which should give you a sense of the slightly inflated opinion he may have of his product. It’s great to show passion, but not everyone can get away with this!

You can also check out the transcript of Ballmer’s more convoluted speech, complete with an excellent play-by-play critique.

My first observation was that (Ballmer) refers to his audience as users, PCs, developers, and beta-testers. He could have called them all robots; none of those terms are very human. Next I noticed how much of the speech is allocated to conveying that that very same community built–or rather, fixed–the OS. He made it sound like they’re all building a camel instead of a visionary or revolutionary product…

Takeaways
Whether you are giving a televised speech, a elevator pitch, or writing for your website, here are 5 quick tips to remember when talking about your own business:

  1. Keep it short and simple. Get to the point and don’t use unnecessary phrases or jargon!
  2. Use descriptive and specific words. Take it easy on the superlatives such as “great, awesome.”
  3. Be organized and relevant. Know the statistics that are relevant to your market and reference them – sparingly.
  4. Support your claims with information! Why are you the best? How are you the cheapest or the ‘greenest’?

Beware flowery or colloquial language. There is nothing more embarrassing than misused words when attempting to sound intelligent.

To your success and eloquence!

The CityMax.com team is starting a new small business. Will we succeed?

e3-logoIf you’re familiar with CityMax.com, you already know we’ve got entrepreneur fever. Our website builder is the heart of thousands of successful businesses (just take a look at our amazing Homepreneur finalists), and we’ve been around for over 10 years. But so what, you might ask?

Well, two weeks ago we decided to put our money where our collective mouth is. We decided to start an online venture.

Why?  To show that anyone can do it, and hopefully learn a few things along the way.

Every CityMax.com team member will help run our new small business. Each week, the entire company (all 34 of us) will meet as a board and vote to determine our next course of action – from our operational name, to the look of our website, to marketing. And you’ll get to follow along right here!

Week 1: We drafted and approved our company bylaws. Boring but essential, and very democratic.

Last week: We began talking about what kind of business we should start. To figure out the “right product”, the team started floating ideas against a boatload of questions that any new business owner should ask:

  • Is it easily shipped? (The best products are those that can be packaged or shipped affordably and safely)
  • Is it scalable? How are you going to manage increased shipping/sales if you go from 1 sale daily to 400?
  • Does it encourage repeat customers?
  • Do you have a secure product supply? A long-term relationship with key suppliers?
  • Can product delivery/production be outsourced?
  • Is it easy to access/local?
  • Does it have high margins per item (actual dollars, not percentage)? What is the likelihood of making money on every sale, factoring order size, shipping costs, etc.
  • Is the product line brandable?
  • Are people searching for what you are selling?
  • Do you believe in what you are selling?

Now that we’ve got a few guiding factors to help us decide our business model, it’s time to brainstorm and see what we come up with. Next week – we choose our product and begin competitive market research. Stay tuned!

Presenting Your Homepreneur of the Year: Marco Barberini, the 24-Year Old Gas Jockey turned Pet Tag Mogul

The judges made their final tallies and have declared Marco Barberini of OvernightPetTags.com our Homepreneur of the Year!2010-02-01-marcoandheatherbarberini21

Marco’s vision, story, and growing success stood out from an impressive group of finalists. The 24-year old former gas station employee from a tiny Michigan town began his CityMax.com site in 2006 with no HTML experience. In 2007, he ended up quitting his job to focus on his business and has now tagged over 32,000 pets!

In an interview, Marco said: “A few years ago, my wife Heather and I realized we were tired of working paycheck to paycheck and started focusing on Overnight Pet Tags. We built out our site with CityMax.com and eventually started ranking in the search engines. Our online sales have increased by 100% each year and our dream is to tag every pet in the United States.”

OvernightPetTags.com is currently generating $6,000 – $8,000 in monthly online revenue and, according to Marco, requires only 7 to 10 hours of his time each week.

As Homepreneur of the Year, Marco is the winner of a $10,000 prize package, including a round-trip flight to Vancouver, Canada, three days in a beautiful luxury hotel, the Red Carpet treatment, a day of 1-on-1 expert consultation at CityMax.com HQ, and a complete redesign of his website. He’ll also receive a life-time subscription to CityMax.com for himself and five small businesses of his choosing.

Our two runner-up winners are:
2010-02-01-meredithpattersonnewMeredith Patterson (MeredithPatterson.com), an enterprising musical theatre and TV actress who has appeared on All My Children.

2010-02-01-unusual-threads-michael-maryMichael and Mary Ferrari (UnusualThreads.com), a retired couple who are generating millions of dollars annually with their online celebrity fashions business.

Our runner-ups will each receive a custom redesign and website makeover ($1,000 value), plus a lifetime subscription to CityMax.com for themselves and three small businesses of their choosing.

Congratulations again to all of our inspiring winners!

If you know someone you’d like to nominate for Homepreneur of the Year (online home-based business, please email homepreneur@citymax.com.