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2013

by Erik Sherman


Microsoft, Best Buy, and other tech giants are coming for you, armed with their best sales pitches. Get ready to negotiate.

 

You may not know it, but you're a target sitting in the crosshairs of big technology vendors everywhere. That's because U.S. businesses with fewer than 500 employees are collectively big high tech business, having spent $23.5 billion on IT last year, according to IDC. The research firm estimates that the number will go up to $27.2 billion within three years.

 

Tech companies have maxed out the growth potential in the saturated enterprise market. And so, SMBs have become their next great hope. The practical upshot is that you can expect to start hearing more and more frequently from IT salespeople. You could leave them all cooling their heels in a hallway, but that is shortsighted. Companies may have something of value to offer you. Instead, use these tips effectively deal with eager tech vendors:

 

1. Get to the bottom line first

Technology vendors love soft benefits—the vague promises that your business will become "transformed" by using their products. But they are hard to measure those assertions for return on investment. Insist on hearing the hard benefits that directly translate into additional revenue or lower costs. If the hard benefits are realistically large enough to pay for your investment in a reasonably short amount of time, then your risk is low. Any soft benefits you might see become gravy.

 

2. Talk TCO

Savvy enterprise IT departments focus on total cost of ownership, or TCO. Any technology purchase might require additional maintenance, training, materials, user licensing, or consulting. Factor in every possible extra expense because they all come out of your pocket. Insist that any quoted price have everything necessary included. You now can undertake an apples-to-apples comparison between offerings from different vendors and know what you'd really pay.

 

3. Cut through the sales act

You don't get anywhere as an entrepreneur without having a keen sense of how to sell. Use what you know and look for every sales tactic that the vendor's representative uses. For instance, if you're simply not interested, you could give the classic, "I just don't want to" answer and make it difficult to overcome your objection. You can also trip up the rhythm of a salesperson on autopilot. I remember once dealing with a salesman in full grinning robot mode. I said, "I see you've got your salesman's hello ready." He broke out laughing, because it was an unexpected reaction, and we got down to business without wasting time.

 

4. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate

Small businesses often think that large companies won't give in. Not true, particularly when the vendor is desperate to grow and snagging smaller businesses is the best way to do it. The salesperson has a quota that only gets shorter if you say "yes." If you're inclined to make a purchase, be sure you're getting better pricing, free consulting or maintenance for some period of time, or something else that improves the deal. It may be that all you'll get is a discount that would have been available for the asking, but pushing is a good way to get the salesperson, who wants to close a deal, to mention what might be available.

 

5. Play the field

Finally, see what different companies have to offer. The more pitches you hear and research you do, the more you'll see how companies compete and their relative strengths and weaknesses. While discussing the weaknesses in a company's offer, mention to the salesperson that you met with a competitor. See what they can bring to the table to get your business.

 

The more you stay away from warm and fuzzy presentations and demand real value for your potential investment, the better your experiences dealing with high tech salespeople will be.

 

Article provided by Inc.com. ©Inc.


What if I told you there was a section of our economy that has shown double-digit growth each year, over the past few years? There is, and it’Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngs the e-conomy. Consider this statistic I read in a white paper by the global consultancy firm AT Kearney: "Global e-commerce has grown by 13% each of the last five years.”


Wow.


So it is no surprise that more and more entrepreneurs are jumping on the e-commerce bandwagon. And if this is something that you have considered, the good news is that there has never been a better or easier time to become an e-ntrepreneur.


E-commerce has come a long way and is actually pretty easy to get into nowadays. More than ever, the process of getting people to buy from you online is not all that different from when customers purchase something from you offline. They still enter your store, see products, pick what they like, put it in a shopping cart, proceed to the checkout and then pay with a credit card.

 

 

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

It should make sense, then, that to sell over the Internet you will need to get a handle on the following things:

 

1. Your e-store: Not surprisingly, there are many service providers/e-commerce hosts that offer online merchants everything they need to set up an e-store. Their software will let you upload and display your products and prices using formatted templates, and will allow people to buy from you via a shopping cart and checkout system.

 

There are many e-commerce solution providers out there, but a few to check out are:

 

Remember that a good e-commerce web-hosting solution should offer you a package that includes inventory control, 24/7 live customer support, shipping options and an easy-to-use back-end dashboard so you can keep an eye on everything.

 

2. Products: If you are selling your own products from your offline store, each one has to be photographed digitally to be displayed online. Your shopping cart software will allow you to create an online catalog of thumbnail photos of your products. If you don’t Jan 22 pull quote.pnghave products, you might want to learn about ‘drop shipping,’ which is a supply chain management technique where the retailer does not keep goods in stock, but instead transfers customer orders and shipment details to either the manufacturer or a wholesaler. The manufacturer or wholesaler then ships the goods directly to the customer.

 

3. A merchant account: Almost all Internet purchases are made with credit cards, so you must have the capacity to accept them, or, at a minimum, offer PayPal on the site. Accepting credit cards online requires having a merchant account (our friends at Bank of America Merchant Services are leaders in electronic payments processing, and have even teamed up with Yahoo! Small Business to supplement the e-commerce solution I mentioned earlier).

 

4. Shipping charges: Do not underestimate the cost of shipping products— it may be significant, and it’s something you should remember to build into your budget.

 

5. Security: Customers want to know that their transactions are secure, so you will need some sort of encrypted security solution. This, too, should come with your e-commerce shopping cart, and is also something that should be built into your merchant account.

 

And as you plan your foray into e-commerce, remember these tips:

 

Keep your site simple and clean: No one likes shopping online at a site that is jumbled, busy or disorganized. You want pages that are clean and professional, and— very important— that load quickly. Don't use too many images or images that are too large.

Offer a variety of products: One of the cool things about selling online is that, usually, you do not need to stock all of those products (see my note about ‘drop shipping’ above). Once you get an online order, you can either get the product from the supplier or even have the supplier ship the item, with you acting as the middleman. So go ahead, stock those virtual shelves.

Offer great prices: The culture of the Web is one of discounts, so keep that in mind. Sure, you may have luxury goods for sale, but they are a tougher sell over the Internet— make sure you give your online customers regular incentives to buy from you. 

The best way to start is to check out some of the online retailers that you like, be it Amazon, Netflix, Staples or what have you. See how they organize their e-store and products and model your e-store off of the one you like best.

Are you considering expanding your business into online sales? Please share your goals and plans with the community below.

 

About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

ECommerce_Body.jpgby Jen Hickey.

 

The online marketplace is crowded with retailers of all sizes peddling their wares. So, as a small business, you must be able to distinguish your products to get shoppers to your website and turn them into paying customers. Using the right key words in your product descriptions can help bring in potential customers and enhance your site’s search ability. But it’s just as important to make sure your e-commerce platform has a clean, uniform design that allows consumers to locate the products they’re looking for quickly. The easier it is for customers to navigate your site, the more likely they will complete the sale and return for future purchases. 

           

“The idea is to try to think about all of the different products and services your business sells and categorize those key words into buckets, starting from the most broad, top-level categories, then breaking up those into smaller more specific subcategories, creating a key word ‘taxonomy’ for your business,” explains Larry Kim, founder and CTO of Boston-based WordStream, a search marketing software firm. “By mapping out your keywords, you can create an information architecture to organize the different navigational menus for your web site.”

 

Kim recommends aligning content on your website with ads so consumers can find what they’re looking for without having to navigate through multiple pages. “People don’t have a lot of patience online,” notes Kim. “Aligning the content of pay-per-click (PPC) ads with landing pages increases the chance for completing the sale.” Kim suggests creating several ads that land to specific products, which will encourage more traffic to your site. And Google rewards higher click rates by offering lower costs per click and more prominent rankings.

 

Stephen Antisdel, managing partner at Buchanan, Michigan-based Precept Partners, LLC, an Internet strategy, marketing, and web design firm, believes a quality e-commerce site should recreate the positive experience of a bricks and mortar (B&M) retail shop. “Just like a store needs to be clean and well organized, with labeled aisles and products grouped in a way that makes sense, a website should be well designed and appropriate to the market and consumer, with easily understood taxonomy,” explains Antisdel. This requires a balance between offering enough information to potential customers with their need to get that information quickly and clearly. “This is especially important if you have a broad product line,” notes Antisdel. “You have to think like your customer.”

 

ECommerce_PQ.jpgHowever, there are limits to how much a consumer will “drill down” to find a product. “You lose half of your original visitors with each click,” cautions Antisdel. “That’s why it’s important to make navigation intuitive.” Antisdel recommends placing products across multiple categories but to avoid long dropdown boxes or unwieldy flyout menus, as the former causes the customer to lose interest and the latter can be difficult to use. And don’t forget about the internal search function on your site. “Having a high-quality internal search tool can help solve taxonomy issues to some extent,” notes Antisdel. “It lets you see every word that has been searched, which is often a clue that these terms are not visible in your navigation or people are searching for a product you don’t have.”

 

Use images and customer reviews to boost online sales

Paul Goldman, CEO of JuicedHybrid, a Redwood City, California online retailer of hybrid and electric car accessories, decided to overhaul his company’s web site to combat flat to declining conversion rates despite very rapid growth after just four years in business. “Our site had become very textual,” explains Goldman. “Users tend to navigate very quickly through sites heavy on graphics, as less information needs to be read to get them where they want to go.”

 

While preserving the positive aspects of the old site, which was well organized, the new site is meant to immediately “build trust” with visitors while highlighting all brand offerings using recognizable logos higher up on the home page. “We brought our Better Business Bureau logo, satisfaction guarantee, free shipping information, and customer testimonials up front,” notes Goldman. “While a lot of our sales are related to the [Toyota] Prius, the conversion rates for products of other car makers were low. So, we moved all other car manufacturers above the web fold. That way, consumers can click through the relevant manufacturer logo to find the product for their car. As the initial contact with the customer has improved, so have conversion rates.”

 

Goldman cautions against buying or leasing content, however, because search engines frown on replicated data. “We write directly to our consumers, so they really understand what each product does,” he explains. “We also try to use imagery that’s representative of the product and provide instructional videos for certain products.” The site has adopted a star system for rating products along with written reviews. And more recently, Goldman has begun soliciting those reviews. About a week after buying something, customers are emailed asking to rate and review their purchase. “It helps us know more about the customer and their perception of us and the product,” he says. “This technology allows our customers to put all this content onto our site for us. And search engines like it, so conversion rates go up.”

 

Understand your customer’s purchase path

After more than a decade providing unique products from working artists to such retailers as Pottery Barn Kids and Land of Nod, co-founders Karen and Tom Capp launched a direct-to-consumer e-commerce platform just over a year ago, with their line of art and room décor for children (Oopsy Daisy), tweens/teens (wheatpaste), and adults (greenboxart). It was not only important for the Capps to create these websites with an artist’s sensibility, but also make them easy to navigate. “We wanted a pretty design so the art would pop,” explains Karen Capp. “This isn’t easy to do when you have to think about key words, which require more text.” The Capps had to strike that uneasy balance between design/imagery to catch the shopper’s eye and providing enough content so their products can be found.

 

The sites were also recently updated with better themed access. “We found that with our market, home décor products, consumers want to see themes up front,” explains Karen. “So some categories were added (e.g. maps, robots) or modified (boy/girl, though many of our products are unisex) and multiple filters can be used (most popular, price, new) to find products, as we carry over 4,000 products.”

 

“The internet is a visual medium,” Antisdel points out. “That’s where having multiple [product] views so you can simulate the experience of picking up a product and turning it over is so important.” For their personalized art, the Capps offer an additional feature where the shopper can see how large the lettering will appear on the product, which may be longer/shorter than the image on the screen.

 

Shopping cart abandonment rates have risen from 70 percent in 2011 to as high as 89 percent on so called Cyber Monday of this year. As Antisdel explains, the same 50 percent loss rate-per-click that applies to finding products also applies to the shopping cart. The more pages it takes to check out, the more customers you’ll lose. Antisdel suggests a one-page checkout with the option to create an account once the purchase is complete.

 

The three sites of the Capps’ e-commerce platform are connected, so you can move through each and check out all your purchases in one shopping cart. There’s also a field for customers to add special instructions. “Our customer service staff is diligent about following up on such requests as soon as possible,” notes Karen Capp. “That personalized relationship with the customer is critical to retention.”

 

The Capps recently added live chat, which has proved very successful, particularly during the holidays, when customers can have special requests or can’t wait for an email response to their questions. “We have customer service on staff here in San Diego,” notes Karen. “So the customer can talk to someone close to the products.” It also helps to reduce cart abandonment rates, as it allows for the sale to be completed while the customer is still on the web site.

 

Attracting repeat visitors/customers

For those online window shoppers, remarketing encourages their return through email offers and strategically placed ads on various web sites they visit. Goldman sends a thank you email to past visitors of his site and offers them a coupon to encourage their return. “Remarketing is a powerful shopping cart optimization tool, as it can be used to specifically target those who left items in the cart to finish their purchase,” notes Kim. “Targeting such low lying fruit has the highest likelihood of conversion.”

QACheckouts_Body.jpgby Iris Dorbian.

 

As co-founder of Egg to Apples, a Philadelphia-based marketing agency, Julian Barkat has overseen the e-commerce operations and online marketing for clients that range from big brands like Radio Shack and Toys“R”Us to small businesses like Di Bruno Bros., a local specialty gourmet store. Yet his involvement doesn’t begin and end at a project’s inception. Rather, if a client’s e-commerce site is not performing up to snuff, Barkat parlays his 12-year background in this space to smooth out the glitches. Recently, business writer Iris Dorbian spoke to Barkat about how small business owners can streamline their e-commerce site, in particular, the online checkout process.


ID: When it comes to optimizing the online checkout process how many steps should it take to buy?

JB: It all depends on the situation. But in aggregate, I would say it should take no more than three steps to complete the order. The less you can do it in, the better. Some of that depends upon how the cart is set up and what settings they allow for it because sometimes you can even get it done with one or two steps. But three should be the absolute limit.


ID: How do you figure out how much of the buyer’s personal information you’ll make mandatory?

JB: It depends on the business. We have b2b clients that sell online and they require a little bit more information than a direct-to-consumer client. But for the direct-to-consumer client, you want the basic or essential information such as their billing address, shipping address, and credit card information. If you have gift opportunities or gifting products, then you might want to add in a gift message. I would keep it to shipping, billing, and credit card info. Keep it real simple.


ID: Can someone complete a purchase as a “guest” or do they have to “register” and create an account?

JB: Ideally, you should be able to offer both because in my experience you will find typically a good one-third to right around 45 percent of your customers might actually check out as a guest.


ID: How do you walk the tightrope of when to reveal shipping charges and taxes?

JB: While we’re on the Magento e-commerce platform—that’s what we typically use for all of our clients—we provide the tax and shipping quotes right at the front end of the shopping cart. We allow [customers] to put in their zip code and they’ll find out exactly what their shipping costs and taxes will be.


QACheckouts_PQ.jpgID: Based on your experience, what would be your tips to small business owners with e-commerce sites on how to improve their online checkout process? What should they do and what should they avoid?

JB: Retailers should look at how much information they require from a customer. Sometimes companies or clients might ask for too much information and that will turn off potential customers. Secondly, how do you lay out your checkout? Is it confusing? Is it simple to understand? The whole stepping process like step one, step two, step three—showing people where they’re at in their online shopping process—is definitely key as well. You need to let people know how far they are from the end. If you keep them blind to that, they’re more likely to drop off. And the third thing if you can do it, is to try to implement a one-page checkout. Put all the information out there in front of the customer so they’ll know exactly how much they’ll have to fill out on that one page and then allow them to do so. We’ve seen one-page checkouts increase conversions over some other implementations of a checkout by roughly 25 to 40 percent. So that one-page check out can definitely help. Also, make sure your different payment and shopping options are clearly defined as well. Sometimes I’ve seen e-commerce retailers just clutter up that stuff, which becomes hard to figure out. So keep that stuff simple as well.

I always go back to a physical retail scenario: The checkout process is kind of like standing on line at a store to check out your purchases. You don’t want to make that process too convoluted because people will leave their shopping carts right in the aisle and go somewhere else. Same thing you want to do here. You want to make things as easy as possible for them. Give them a straight view to the end. And if you do that, then you’ll most likely convert a lot of people.


ID: Do you have an anecdote that illustrates one of your tips?

JB:  We have a small business retailer client here in Philadelphia whose online checkout process was convoluted. It had multiple, lengthy processes. We narrowed it down to one page and just asked for the absolute essential information to process an order. In November 2011, we launched a new website for them based upon the Magento e-commerce platform. When we did that, sales went up quite nicely. Comparing the new platform versus the old platform, we are seeing tremendous improvement. The year in total so far is roughly 600 percent year over year. That also equates to the conversion rates, jumping from 1.9 percent up to 3.2 percent.

There was a time not so long ago when small business owners did not have to worry about being tech-savvy. Back then, business was still just about business.  But not today. These days it is vital that anyone owning, running or Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.pngworking in a small business be as smart about IT as they are about business. Yet sometimes, that is easier said than done.


Here then are the five most common tech mistakes that small businesses make, and how to avoid them:


1. Looking Small: Of all the great things the Internet has brought to small business— and the ability to sell anytime and anywhere is just for starters— maybe best of all is that there is no need to ever look small again.

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

 

 

No matter the size of your business, the Web has leveled the playing field. You may be small offline, but online you can look every bit as big as your biggest competitor. And you can create a great-looking, professional, robust website for very little cost, which makes it all the better. If you do not already look big online, then it’s time to remedy that. A world, literally, of opportunity is waiting.


2. Lack of Proper Security Software and Policies: Of course you know that you are supposed to have computer security software in place to thwart potential online dangers and scams. Maybe you even have some basic software. But arming your business against threats requires a lot more than downloading some no-name, off-brand, free program.


Your data, customer lists, account numbers, passwords, contracts and other vital documents are the lifeblood of your business. Yet far too many small businesses don’t keep these documents as safe as they should. Consider: According to the FBI, in the past few years cyber criminals have begun to target small businesses and have illegally transferred more than $100 million out of small business bank accounts. How? The victims were hacked because they typically lacked security systems.


And not only do you need security software, but you also need policies for how laptops are to be handled, how to properly download software updates and how to secure all smartphones utilized by your employees. Implementing policies and procedures in addition to utilizing proper software will help you create your first line of defense.


3. Not Scheduling a Pull Quote.pngRegular Data Back-up: You know the drill by now: “Back up your data!” But do you? This simple step can prevent major problems, but not surprisingly, small business owners only do it once in the life of any business. After all, you only need to lose, say, your customer list one time before realizing that regularly backing up your data is not just a good slogan, but a good idea too. So, whether you back up manually or use an online, scheduled service, the important thing is that you do it regularly.


4. Falling for Social Media Scams: Say you are on Facebook and you see a post from a friend that says, “Check out this cool video!” You click it, but are asked to upgrade your software to be able to watch it. You do. You also may have just gotten hacked. Maybe your company’s Twitter account will suddenly start tweeting gibberish, or your Facebook update will request that your friends send you money because you are stuck in London.


Social media scams are growing exponentially because the bad guys go where the eyeballs are. So you must create guidelines, policies and procedures for your office that dictate how to properly and safely use social media so that this doesn’t happen to your business.


5. Not Monitoring your Online Brand and Reputation: Do you know what people are tweeting about your business? What do their blogs and Yelp posts say? Not knowing the answer can be a huge mistake. Sure, they may be saying great things about your business, but then again, they may not. People can even be saying things about you that are untrue. And since many people now check out a business online before actually patronizing it, these posts can have a major effect on the growth of your customer base.


The solution is to monitor your online brand, and intervene when necessary. Set up a Google alert (or a few!) for your business— this will let you know whenever there is an online mention of it. See what Twitter is saying about you. If something bad is tweeted, you can then step in and fix it.


In this digital age, running your business right means handling your technology issues smartly. By avoiding these sorts of mistakes, your small business will be much more successful and prepared for the changing technological environment.


What technological innovations are you making this year? Please share below.


About Steve Strauss

 

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

by Eric Markowitz


Silicon Valley was aflutter this week with Mary Meeker's bold new report on Internet trends. Here's what you missed.

 

When Mary Meeker speaks, the Valley listens.

 

This week, Meeker, a general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (the venture firm founded in 1972 that's invested in pretty much every major tech company of the last quarter century) unveiled her 88-page analysis of Web, mobile, technology, and societal trends.

 

Here, we've excerpted the most important elements of the report, especially trends that may affect small business and startups.

 

1) You should care about China. And India. And Indonesia.


Emerging markets have always played a key role in expansion, but the Internet has magnified this principle. Here, Meeker outlines the role of international Internet adoption. As you can see, it's huge. From 2008 to 2012, China added 282 million Internet users, bringing their total number of users close to double the population of the United States.

 

 


2) Your mobile strategy may be the most important part of your business.

 

In 2008, only about $0.7 billion was made on mobile. By the end of 2012, the mobile market will have ballooned to a staggering $19 billion, split 67 percent between apps and 33 percent ads. According to Meeker, when looking at the average time users spend on on media, people spend about ten percent of their "media time" on mobile--but just 1 percent of ad spend is spent on mobile. In other words, despite current user adoption, there's still plenty of room for growth. Another fact to note: In India, mobile Internet traffic surpassed desktop Internet traffic in May, 2012.

 

 


3) Don't forget about Android users.


Meeker is bullish on Android as a platform. According to her calculations, iPhone adoption has exploded in the last four years, but Android phone adoption "has ramped even faster – nearly 6x iPhone."


4) If you sell a product, you'd be crazy not to focus your e-commerce on mobile and tablet apps.


This chart pretty much speaks for itself: By 2012, about a quarter of all Internet shopping traffic on Black Friday were made on either mobile or a tablet.

 

 


5) Tech start-ups are leading the charge.


Meeker has a lengthy section "reimagining" what the world will look like--going from desktops to tablets, cash to cashless, maps to navigation systems, etc. Of course, like any good venture capitalist, Meeker found a way here to plug a few of Kleiner's portfolio companies, including Gumroad (e-payments), Quirky (product design), Evernote (note taking), DocuSign (electronic signatures), and Square (mobile payments).


Article provided by Inc.com. ©Inc.

Inc.

4 ways to embrace big data

Posted by Inc. Jan 11, 2013

by Phil Simon


Here's a handful of useful tools to collect the kind of data you need to make better business decisions.

 

I've spent most of the last four months finishing the manuscript for my fifth book, Too Big to Ignore: The Business Case for Big Data. In this post, I'll share some data collection methods that may help your business make better decisions.

 

What if there's existing data on the Web that you'd like to easily gather and view? You could cut and paste, but there has to be a better way, right?

 

Check out Mozenda, a data extraction service. Its software can "scrape" data from a wide variety of sources on the Web.

 

That's fine if there's existing data you'd like to grab, but what if you need to generate your own data? Two sites here are very useful. The first, Mechanical Turk, is a crowdsourcing Internet marketplace that matches buyers and sellers. Want to submit the title of your book for a vote? Mechanical Turk is a little-known part of Amazon that incentivizes people to provide data. "Requesters" set up Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) and offer small rewards for voting. In a nutshell, Amazon uses human intelligence to perform tasks that computers are currently unable to do.

 

Not sure if the design of your homepage is working? Run an experiment--Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google all do this. (There's a high degree of science behind everything on these company's pages, up to and including the color of fonts.) Optimizely allows users to perform their own A/B testing. Over the course of a few weeks, generate metrics on which version of your homepage generates more traffic, lowers bounce rates, and the like. Author Eric Ries of The Lean Startup actually used this to convince his publisher that some of its covers and titles just didn't work. (Of course, Google AdWords is still also capable of performing de facto A/B testing on a wide variety of things.)

 

And let's not forget surveys. There are many online tools like SurveyMonkey, PollDaddy, and others. I'm a big fan of Wufoo. This über-easy site lets you create powerful forms, online surveys, and event registrations. Without getting all statsy, though, understand that online surveys typically need to be taken with a 20-lb. bag of salt. Use them as a guide, not gospel.

 

Simon Says


Some say that data is the new oil. You'll get no argument from me. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and other companies are extremely valuable and successful in no small part from their exceptional data management, collection, and analysis methods. All else being equal, in 2013 and beyond, companies that understand and take advantage of Big Data will do better than those that don't.

 

What say you?


Article provided by Inc.com. ©Inc.

Inc.

Daily deals: Not dead yet

Posted by Inc. Jan 10, 2013

by Eric Markowitz


New data suggests that while the explosive growth may be over, the industry is hardly on its deathbed.

 

The daily deal business has managed to generate bold proclamations, soaring valuations, maddening scrutiny, and--most recently--positively dire predictions. Not bad for an industry that's only about five years old.


Groupon, hardly the first site to offer daily deals but by far the most successful (at least revenue-wise), went public in November 2011 with a nearly $13 billion valuation. Its success spawned hundreds of similar daily deal start-ups and imitators, each more niche than the last. By May 2011, Yipit, itself a New York-based daily deals start-up that collects data on the industry, was tracking more than 500 of these companies, most of which were less than three years old.

 

For a while, analysts and bloggers were bullish that daily deals could re-invent e-commerce. But almost as quickly as they pronounced the industry's promise, many declared its death. The doom-and-gloomers didn't need to look far to find signs of a daily deal apocalypse, either. In January, Daily Deal Media, an industry research firm, found that nearly 800 daily deal sites closed down in the last six months of 2011 (though many had been acquired).

 

And more recently, the Wall Street Journal alerted the public to what it considered an alarming development: Groupon investors were dumping their shares because, as the newspaper put it, the daily deal company and other "young Internet firms" hadn't "lived up to hopes." The WSJ noted that at least four investors, including Marc Andreessen, had sold their stakes in the company--a sign that early backers must believe the company is fading.

 

But is the daily deal industry really in such bad shape?

 

The Data

 

Despite signs suggesting the contrary, a look at the numbers reveals the industry is still going strong.

 

Consider a July 2012 research report of the daily deal industry published by Rice University. The under-publicized paper analyzed the performance of deals run by 650 small- and medium-sized businesses between May 2011 and May 2012.

 

"Taken together," the authors conclude, "our results find little or no evidence of deterioration in the performance of daily deal promotions over the past year (April-May 2011 to May 2012) for small- and medium-sized businesses or with experience as the business operator runs multiple daily deals. Rather, there is improvement in some metrics."

 

In fact, the report found that the success rate of daily deals "increases with prior level of experience." In other words, businesses are getting smarter about deals. The study also found that though less than half of businesses found success in their first daily deal offer, more than three-quarters of businesses reported profitable promotions by the time they had run seven or more deals.

 

In other words, there's a learning curve among business owners using daily deals, and the types of businesses offering deals.

 

An Industry Matures


Though the daily deal industry is still in its relative infancy, it's growing up. Businesses are learning which promotions work--and which don't--and adapting their strategies to reflect these trends. While some types of retailers have shifted away from daily deal promotions, others--many of them in unlikely categories, like medical or dental services--have stepped in to fill the void of retailers that have left. And this new volume has buoyed the ecosystem.

 

James Moran, CEO and co-founder of Yipit, says that his company's data reflects a similar trend. "There are certainly businesses that have run a deal that wasn't ideal for either the business or the consumer," he says. "But as the industry matures and gets smarter, the right businesses are running deals again. There's been a shift to new categories like medical, home, and travel."

 

Moran says that the early days of daily deals focused heavily on beauty and restaurants offerings, so those verticals quickly saturated. Now, he says, the scope and categories of deals have shifted to newer offerings. Moran and his team assembled data for the purposes of this article, which reflect that change. While "Restaurants" declined from 16% to 11% from the end of last year to 2012, the "Home & Auto" category jumped from 9% to 13% in the same time period.

 

Data from Rice identified a similar trend: About two-thirds of both tourism-related services and doctors and dentists have significantly higher success rates on average than, say, cleaning services or restaurants and bars.

 

"There is little or no evidence to indicate that daily deals are working less effectively for businesses than they did last year," the study concludes.

Another way to assess the current state of the industry is to look to the email marketing companies that send the deal emails to consumers. Last month, email marketing service MailChimp analyzed its own email data to verify the claims that the daily deal industry was dying. To get a long-term view, the company pulled data from January of 2010 to November of 2011 to analyze the market. The resulting research debunked a popular daily deal myth: that customers are unsubscribing en masse.

 

"Everyone says daily deals are struggling, so we expected to see hideous list stats here," the authors note. "Instead, the lists are clean, and subscribers are sticking with them. The attrition rate is surprisingly low."

 

They concluded: "We've definitely come across some daily deals with bad stats. They had poor list-collection practices, questionable content, and they're gone now. But we don't see evidence of a crumbling industry."

 

What's the Matter With Groupon?

 

So, the question remains: Why did at least four of Groupon's investors decide to cash out?

 

The obvious explanation is that private investors are experts in making market decisions about private companies, but once investors experience a liquidity event, like going public, they have an obligation to their limited partners to generate a cash return, even if that return is not necessarily five or 10 times the original investment.

 

Dan Primack, writing for Fortune.com, sums up this important point clearly. He says, "I'm not exactly sure why Andreessen Horowitz selling the shares is a negative, given that it booked a $14 million profit off of its $40 million investment. Not a venture home-run, but not terrible for an 18-20 month hold. And I'm pretty sure that generating positive returns is a venture capitalist's primary job responsibility (not tech cheer-leading, although it's an easily forgiven error)."

 

In short, put away the death knells--for now.

 

Article provided by Inc.com. © Inc.


Incubator_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

Something is blossoming for entrepreneurs out in the deserts of Arizona.

 

In a 60,000-square-foot building formerly occupied by Intel, the city of Chandler spent around $6 million to transform the microchip giant’s fully equipped but abandoned facility, into an incubator for tech, biotech, and other nascent businesses. As of this winter, the Phoenix suburb has drawn 22 companies to its unique real estate—which features state-of-the-art wet and dry labs, a “clean room,” industrial deep freezers. The University of Arizona is also on site, actively looking to join forces with entrepreneurs.

 

Startups apply with business plans that go before scientific and financial panels, with a turnaround time of 48 hours or less on approval. One entrepreneur relocated from Rhode Island to take advantage of the affordable rent and rare habitat; another has gone from two employees to 35 since the site opened in 2010. Local institutions from hospitals to academics to prototype makers are teaming up with incubator inhabitants to help them scale up. Two resident firms are set to spin out on their own later in 2013—right on schedule, says Christine Mackay, Chandler’s director of economic development.

 

“I can’t even begin to put a value on what it’s doing for Chandler’s economy,” Mackay says. “Everybody’s working to help these companies succeed. The city’s only one small component of it.”

 

Incubator_PQ.jpgLeigh Dow moved her technical-marketing business, Dow Media Group, into the Innovations Incubator in 2012. She says it’s a great fit, and it allows her to collaborate with other startups in the building. “For me, it’s more about being around other likeminded people—we exchange ideas about not just marketing,” Dow says. “I’ve learned so much about operations, product development, product management, product introductions. It’s just so nice to be surrounded by other people who are in the entrepreneurial space when you’re trying to do that, too.”

 

Accelerators, science parks, seeders, incubators: these settings come in many names, but with the common ideal—to build a center where entrepreneurs and their fledging businesses can get a boost.

 

This business-incubation movement got a long look during the dot-com heyday, then found renewed emphasis since the 2008–09 recession, as governments, academia, and industries push to create more skilled workers and more well-paying jobs to place them into. There are thousands of these incubators around the world, with more than 1,200 just in the U.S., according to the National Business Incubation Association. (And here’s a good website to follow for events, competitions, and launches around the world.)

 

Here is a look at a few of America’s promising innovation incubators and what they’re doing for entrepreneurs.

 

EvoNexus (San Diego)

This incubator, a nonprofit with backing from the city government and hometown wireless giant Qualcomm among others, is unabashedly aiming to boost the region’s high-tech presence to compete with Northern California’s luminaries. With two locations and 20 companies under its roof, firms they’ve nurtured have pulled in some $95 million in venture capital. There’s no rent, no contracts for the amount of time a company will stay, and mentors are provided.

Interesting feature: Its rare “no strings attached” policy. Startups don’t pay a dime to participate coming or going, not even in the form of an equity stake to EvoNexus. 

 

StartUp Kitchen (Washington, D.C.)

It’s a big step from a delicious recipe and an entrepreneurial itch to successfully operating an actual restaurant. StartUp Kitchen tries to close that gap by taking winners of their business-plan competition and pairing them up with expert restaurateurs who’ve been through the perilous early days and know the pitfalls. (The venture is sponsored by two DC-area nonprofits.) The reward: a recurring pop-up restaurant in the mentor’s existing dining spot, under the guidance of on-hand chef-owners who give advice on how to smooth out service, kitchen, and logistical aspects of the business.

Interesting feature:  Follow StartUp Kitchen on Facebook to get a reservation and see it firsthand (and get a great dinner).

 

SURF Incubator (Seattle)

More than 45 tech startups are working out of this downtown incubator overlooking Puget Sound. Founded in 2009 by serial entrepreneur Seaton Gras, SURF charges $400 per month for full-fledged members, which provides them access to conference-room time, mentoring, 24/7 dedicated seating, Internet service—and to other potential collaborators in this innovation hotbed right in Microsoft’s back yard.

Interesting feature: This is Seattle: For $50 a month, get a designated seat in SURF’s in-house self-serve Cafe SURF, with unlimited coffee and WiFi.

 

Women Innovate Mobile (New York)

It’s still disproportionately male in most of the tech sector, but this accelerator aimed at mobile-tech startups founded by females is trying to change that. Successful applicants to WIM’s three-month program get free office space, product development assistance, design support, and $18,000 in funding—in return for a six-percent equity stake in the venture.

Interesting feature: Their deep roster of mentors.

 

MuckerLab (Los Angeles)

Hooray for Hollywood? Los Angeles recently moved to No. 3 in the world (behind Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv) when it comes to conditions for startups, according to a StartupCompass survey. MuckerLab is part of that booming scene, taking on entrepreneurs even at their earliest stages. They offer participants in their three- to six-month accelerator as much as $21,000 in funding, office space, marketing and legal support, access to top-tier investors—in exchange for a six- to eight-percent equity stake.

Interesting feature: Laugh along with their recent grad Laffster, which aims to be the Pandora Internet radio of comedy apps.

 

Fringe Union (Somerville, Mass.)

It’s not just tech startups that are flocking to this incubator close to the Harvard, Tufts, and MIT campuses. This coworking space for creative businesses has also found success with some thought-provoking participants, like an artisanal florist, an inventor who’s turning Mason jars into travel mugs, and a firm recycling fleece into new items.

Interesting feature: When the weather is nice outside, the industrial-scale garage doors on this old warehouse are opened, letting incubators work al fresco.

by Aaron Aders


Whether you have a mobile app or a mobile website, these channels can help your target audience find your mobile presence.

 

Estimates from eMarketer indicate that the population of mobile social network users will reach 79 million by 2015, which would result in mobile adoption rates that crush other technological adoption rates of the past. As with any new tech platform, organizations need to understand how to participate in and be found via mobile channels. Whether you have a mobile application or a mobile webpage, here are the top three channels that can help your target audience find your mobile presence:

 

Mobile Organic Search

 

A recent study by Google found that a smartphone was the most common starting point for online activities. It's crucial to show up at the top of organic search on mobile devices, because 65 percent of the study participants started with a mobile device when searching for information, as well as shopping, online.

 

The best way to optimize your website for a mobile device is to create what is known as a responsive website. A responsive website will auto-detect the visitor's device prior to serving up the website content. Upon detection, CSS will then tailor the website content to the specific device. Responsive websites will reduce clutter and avoid duplicate content issues that may arise from duplicating website content on a mobile subdomain such as m.yourdomain.com.

 

Marketers can also monitor performance using the mobile search data segment in Google Webmaster Tools. Use this tool to monitor the results of your mobile search optimization.

 

Mobile Content Marketing

 

The goal of content marketing is to create target-market-oriented content that informs, entertains, provides value, and inspires sharing. It's important to consider context when creating content for different devices. The same Google study mentioned earlier found that smartphone use is primarily motivated by communication and entertainment activities. By contrast, PCs are the most common starting point for more complex activities like planning a trip or managing finances.

 

It's important to serve the needs of your target market within this large mobile user group with content crafted with a mobile context in mind. For example, launching complex content such as a research paper or interactive survey wouldn't be valuable in a mobile context. Focus on content ideas that support communication, fact references, or entertainment. Be sure to always post mobile-friendly content using HTML and CSS rather than Flash or JavaScript.

 

The Google Keyword Tool also allows for mobile device segmentation, which can provide keyword research insights for targeting mobile users. Combine the most popular mobile search trends with top-performing activities in mobile such as social networking, informational search, and shopping online. This kind of focus will start you down the path to content built for success on mobile devices.

 

Mobile App Stores

 

According to Nielsen, mobile users are spending 10% more time on mobile applications than the mobile Web. There are tremendous opportunities in mobile application development for organizations that want to extend marketing reach through this highly interactive channel. However, deep reach in this channel requires great app content and a solid strategy to make sure your app is found on platforms such as the Apple App Store.

 

A new start-up promises to add some Ooomf to your mobile app marketing strategy by using a platform that mixes mobile app developers with users to enhance and promote their mobile applications. Founder Mikael Cho recognizes that building a great app is a challenge, but getting people to care about it is even more difficult. Ooomf will employ a promotional strategy that offers a curated list of mobile apps. The company also hopes to develop relationships with mobile journalists and mobile influencers to help them discover apps on the Ooomf website.

 

You can also monitor the top trending mobile applications by category on Chomp or 148Apps. Emulating the best trending apps on the mobile app store is the best strategy for success, according to the book App Empire.

 

Right now, companies have the opportunity to be first to market in the world of mobile applications and websites. Use these three platforms to jump-start success for your organization in the mobile space.

 

Article provided by Inc.com. © Inc.


InnovationP1_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.

 

Have you been considering getting in on the “maker movement”?

 

Across the U.S. and around the world, hundreds of groups have been forming, both in independent spaces and commercial sites, to connect dedicated inventors, designers, fabricators, and anyone looking to make their brainstorms a physical reality. Think of hundreds of budding Thomas Edison laboratories popping up, drawing tinkerers once relegated to garages, kitchen tables, and basement computers into common spaces to share their trials and errors and learn new technologies.

 

Many entrepreneurs have been drawn to these hubs of creativity, known as hackspaces, hacklabs, or makerspaces. Some spots offer not only access to tools, computer-controlled construction machines, and software, but also legal and tech gurus on an hourly basis—resources that might otherwise cost thousands of dollars. Startups in particular are finding their early footing in these tech-savvy shops, honing prototypes and gaining knowledge shared by members steeped in robotics, electronics, mechanics, crafts, engineering, 3D printing, and the ins and outs of patents. It’s also smart networking. Among the promising companies born in these parts: MakerBot, the 3D-printer maker founded by three members of Brooklyn’s NYCResistor hackspace.

 

Where can you get your feet wet? Here is a look at a few places, large and small, where America’s makers are coming together. (Find more at hackerspaces.org)

 

Maker Faire It’s the best entree to this DIY world. This traveling global roadshow attracts local Makers and enables them to mix and show off their wares. And now with General Electric, General Motors, Disney, Google, Radio Shack, and Red Bull sponsoring events, business titans are also paying attention to what any metro area’s tinkerers are ginning up. It’s run by Make magazine and the gatherings are family-friendly. 

 

InnovationP1_PQ.jpgTechShop With six spaces across the nation, TechShop is the best known of the hackspace retail world. It’s the best stocked and staffed to match that professional status. Struggling to craft that prototype you’ve been drawing? Sign up for a session with one of their “Dream Consultants,” who can be hired to use their on-site machinery to produce your Project X. Or try one of the dozens of classes on everything from injection molding and welding to CNC Machining 101 and embroidering electronics into textiles. Memberships are available on a monthly or annual basis, averaging $125 a month or $1,200 a year, depending on the location.

 

NYC Resistor, HacDC, Noisebridge (San Francisco)

These are the granddaddies of the U.S. hackspace movement. Following in the footsteps of longstanding German and Austrian tech-enthusiast collectives, these three sites popped up on U.S. shores starting in 2007. Each has long rosters of members and classes. Plus, given their locations, all are well-connected with the local business communities.

Membership: NYC Resistor starts at $75 per month; HacDC is $50 a month; Noisebridge’s rates begin at $40 per month

Of interest: Here’s Noisebridge co-founder Mitch Altman, inventor of TV-B-Gone, in his TEDTalk about hackspaces.

 

Maker Works (Ann Arbor, Mich.)

A new site opened this past summer offering tools for metals, circuitry, woodworking, and craft equipment for industrial sewing and embroidering as well as laser cutters.

Membership: Individuals can go by the day ($35), month ($90), or year ($900). For businesses, two people are $180 per month or $1,600 a year.

Of interest: Check out the Crafting the Small Business series, which is nine sessions dedicated to connecting hand-made crafters with experienced small business owners who have gone before them. 

 

ADX Portland (Portland, Ore.)

A 10,000-square-foot space supported by some 500 members, ADX isn’t just about the industrial arts. Aside from its extensive lineup of tools, it touts itself as “building a community of thinkers and makers.” It’s an innovation incubator, housing co-working spaces for $350 a month, an in-house design and branding team, business and marketing consulting sessions, and a comprehensive list of classes (Welding for Women, anyone?).

Membership: Full access for one day is $40. A basic monthly membership is also $40, with annual packages ranging from $150 to $300.

Of interest: ADX may be the only makerspace with an on-site taproom (in a lounge far from the machinery, it’s worth pointing out). Innovators can gather in the Ninkasi Better Living Room for a taste of the, of course, local artisanal craft beer. 

 

HammerSpace (Kansas City, Mo.)

It’s not just hammers. This former telephone switching station turned community workshop launched in mid-2011 and focuses on practical machinery needed by artists, builders, and entrepreneurs, with a comprehensive tool list. There are numerous classes and an enthusiastic leadership that focuses on instructive creativity—such as sculpting jack o’lanterns with laser, soldering LED-equipped holiday ornaments—and welcomes instructors from local businesses. 

Membership: A day pass is $25; $40 a month for an individual; $400 for a year.

Of interest: There’s a kids’ area, the Little Makers Lounge, with plenty of building tools and an ’80s-style Ms. Pac-Man video game table.

 

i3 Detroit (Ferndale, Mich.)

The name derives from “imagine, innovate, and inspire” at this nonprofit collective just outside the Motor City. I3 is well stocked when it comes to tools, filled with instruments from the region’s abundant industrial legacy. There are also modern staples, like its MakerBot 3D printers. Members have drawn notice from Popular Mechanics for their inventions in the magazine’s DIY competition and have won awards for their—you guessed it—creations on wheels.

Membership: Starting at $39 a month.

Of interest: An electrical-engineer member’s Mind Flame invention was lauded by the local Henry Ford Museum.

 

Pumping Station: One (Chicago)

Your friendly neighborhood tech geek hangout. This North Side spot moved to a larger location in 2010 to accommodate its extensive machinery, including 3D printing gear, woodworking, metalcraft, and brewing tools. Wrote one blogger for Technology Industry News - Chicago, “I see lots of startups that are straight-laced professionals with hard-core business models, yet try hard to appear laidback, hip and offering an environment of innovation. But Hackerspace, probably due to their not-for-profit status and core objective of being a place to explore ideas…really is a laidback, hip environment where innovation and playfulness is in the air.”

Membership: $70 per month, $700 per year.

Of interest: Sunday afternoon “Beer Church,” a BYO group conversation about the latest in technology and science, followed by experiments to create their own brews.

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