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So You Want To Start A Business? Start Here

Written by Taylor Hawes

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

So You Want To Start A Business Start Here
Ambitious minds take ambitious action, and few actions are more ambitious than starting a business. If you find yourself in possession of a killer idea, or wish to grow a fledgling enterprise, it’s important to know what you’re in for. Here’s how to build your idea from the ground up, and turn your ideas and resources into something rewarding.
 

Start with Your Motivations

To begin with, ask yourself why you would want to start a business. The success of many businesses has a lot to do with our motivations for starting it in the first place. A business can become your annual salary, while also fulfilling your desire to do work that’s more meaningful. Having your own business means finally getting to be the boss, and constructing a schedule that is optimal to your lifestyle.

Perhaps you’ve finally realized that what you’re best at can provide immense value to others and would constitute a firm foundation for entrepreneurship. Many are simply exhausted from sitting behind a desk and would love to monetize the thing they’re passionate about. Whatever your motivations may be, identify them, and use them as fuel going forward.
 

Turn Your General Idea Into Something Specific

Next, it’s important to identify what your product will be. Let’s say you want to help the earth by selling items that are sustainable and environmentally friendly. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the possibilities, spend some time researching what’s already out there, and begin to hone in on a niche that means the most to you. The easiest way to become successful is by doing something better than what already exists, or by doing it differently.

Ask yourself these questions:

• Who is going to buy my product or service?

• How will you be getting paid?

• Is my service going to be sustainable over the next decade?

The best businesses aim to solve a problem, and will survive by making a difference. Don’t be afraid to start small and simple, there will always be room for growth.
 

Take Out A Loan, Or Start Saving Money

It’d be unfair to tell you the average cost of starting a business when it is entirely dependent on what product or service you intend to offer. However, whether you’ll need $100 or $30,000, you’re going to have to develop a business plan. A major component to that plan will be the cost of starting up, as well as money necessary to keep you going until your first sales start rolling in. To estimate your costs of starting up, make two lists: one for your assets and the other for startup expenses.

Assets- Also known as capital expenditures, these will be the one-time costs. Think of property, equipment, and certain inventory as things you’ll only buy at the beginning, or again down the road.

Expenses- These are the recurring costs that will be a part of the startup costs and continue throughout the life of the business. Things like rent, supplies, marketing materials, gas, and how much you will pay potential employees.

Once you have a firm business model, it may be a good time to consider taking out the loan. If loans aren’t your style, by all means proceed with the planning and set a goal for how much to save.
 

Make It Official

If you’ve made it this far, then you should be proud. Making your business official means you have
a direction, are likely ready to invest in its growth. To prepare for this, here a few legal and financial steps to consider.

1. Determine the Legal Structure

• What form of ownership is best for you? This will determine which income tax form you will file.

2. Register Your Business Name

• This will be registered with your State Government if you do business as anything but your legal name.

3. Set Up a Tax I.D.

• This will be used to identify your business as an entity.

4. Register For State And Local Taxes

• In addition to taxes required by the federal government you will have to pay some state and local taxes.

5. Acquire Licenses and Permits

• To run your business legally there are certain federal and state licenses you need to obtain.
 

Breathe

It may seem overwhelming, but the more you educate yourself the easier it will become. An important thing to remember is if you’ve chosen to go into business for the right reasons, eventually you’re going to make it happen. Foreknowledge, structure, and a calm mind will do a great deal when building a sound financial future through entrepreneurship.

The Ultimate Guide to Building and Using Personas

Written by Taylor Hawes

Monday, March 10th, 2014

The Ultimate Guide to Building and Using Personas

The local bakery down the street has a unique opportunity. By interacting with customers on a daily basis, the owners gain a deeper understanding of what their most valued patrons want. However, when you move from Main Street to the World Wide Web, the picture becomes blurrier as that one-on-one time becomes scarce. Fortunately, one tool is offering the opportunity to turn broad customer insight into a tailored approach that improves conversion, service, and satisfaction for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

 

Researching Your Audience

Buyer personas are a sophisticated approach to introducing the individual perspective back into broad-based demographic analysis. However, this approach requires that you start with a broad-based perspective in order to obtain an accurate understanding of buyer behavior.

For this reason, personas begin with audience research. This research can come in a number of forms, including:

  • Analytics

  • Surveys

  • Focus groups

  • Direct-mail responses

  • Interviews

  • Comments

 

Each of these formats provides its own insight. For example, analytics and high-volume surveys provide overarching trends for your audience that can be used to help narrow your focus. Focus groups and interviews, on the other hand, provide a more conversational opportunity to discover specific buyer behaviors and mentalities. Blog and social media comments are more informal, but contribute a fair degree of information that connects demographics with attitudes and values.

This initial step should focus on drawing the “boundaries” of your audience; essentially the broad characteristics of your regular customers. This way, you’ll understand who falls outside the boundaries of your audience and better comprehend the specific behaviors of your unique following.

 

Breaking it Down

With this broad cross-sectional data in hand, the next step is to break it down. As mentioned, the benefit of overarching data is that it frames the kind of personalities that fall within your target audience. Breaking this information down into individual personalities is what turns audience research into high-conversion personas.

Begin by looking at the characteristics that fall into the majority of responses. If most of your site hits occur around lunch and just after working hours, it’s likely that your audience is of employment age. If the majority of your audience falls into a below-average income bracket, then it is possible that your deals are what attract an audience.

Look at each trend in your data as a piece of a puzzle. If your comment-to-follower ratio is higher on Facebook than on Twitter, then this points to a demographic that is likely just out of college or older, since younger generations are trending toward Twitter. This one element becomes noteworthy due to its connection to audience behavior. For now, simply focus on collecting the pieces of your buyer profiles through data and interviews and leave the actual assembly for later.

 

Understanding Personas

At this juncture, it is important to understand precisely what a buyer persona is. Knowing this will render assembly of your data-driven “pieces” easier, and provide insight into how they can be used.

If your marketing team uses broad audience research to design advertising materials, certain results occur. For example, if your business finds that your customer base is overwhelmingly female, ads and content may be created to appeal to females. If you’re looking to expand into your reach, additional materials may be crafted to appeal to males. In either instance, business decisions are made on the basis of characteristics.

What this approach fails to understand is that behavior and characteristics are not so easily correlated. Buyer personas attempt to introduce the concept of buyer behavior to the equation, informing marketing efforts and product development with the user in mind. A buyer persona focuses on the daily life, habits, values, beliefs, and goals of customers instead of their raw demographic information, constructing a picture of their average day that can be utilized to great effect.

 

Building Personas

It is with this mentality that you should then approach assembling your data. Two mechanisms should influence your construction process: social trends and observation. Pinterest, for example is largely slanted toward females, indicating that activity on that account is likely linked to the female portion of your audience. This kind of analysis should then be balanced by observational data, i.e. focus group discussions that specifically indicate buyer behavior and predilections.

In this step, it is much easier to understand the concept through example. Here are some insights that may contribute to a buyer persona:

  • John Q checks Facebook in the morning and browses news sites at night

  • Tina H values safety for her family

  • David M watches product reviews on YouTube and CNET before making a purchase on our online shop

 

The names are, of course, fictitious, but the behaviors are not. Your data should outline behaviors such as these, providing insight into the day-to-day life of customers and identifying patterns in purchasing processes and consistent habits.

 

Putting them to Use

With this understanding of buyer behavior, it is now possible to put it to use. From advertising to product pages, everything about your operations can be influenced and improved using this powerful tool.

Marketing efforts stand to gain a great deal of insight from these profiles. Ads can be targeted toward relevant social media sites using keywords and schedules designed around customer habits. The content of ads and blog posts can be tailored to reflect the hobbies or interests of your customers. Finally, innovative engagement opportunities can be developed around specific knowledge of your customer base, helping lead to higher participation and conversion rates.

Next, product development can be influenced by this understanding of customer characteristics. If your eReader is mostly used at night after a long day at work, it should possess a backlight that makes text readable without straining the eyes. If you find that your software is used by an older generation, buttons and text can be made bigger to allow for easier interface and navigation.

Finally, sales can become more focused and targeted based on customer values. If a bargain is important, priority may be placed on offering deep discounts to help get your foot in the door. If family is important to your customers, then mentioning how your product can help them find more time with their loved ones is a great way to increase conversion rates.

 

From top to bottom, buyer personas provide an intimate portrait of your patrons that can influence all aspects of operations. Begin by understanding your audience at large and drill down to the specific behaviors that make them tick. Inform your efforts with this insight and your product, pitch, and website can all become a little more effective and a little more profitable.

Where To Go When You Can’t Think of New Content Ideas

Written by Taylor Hawes

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Where To Go When You Can't Think of New Content Ideas

Content creation is not an easy task. The Internet is rife with copycats and un-original ideas. The difference is, you’re running a business, and your ideas fuel a resource that turns readership into profit. When you can’t afford to let writer’s block slow you down, here are some powerful resources for getting the wheels turning again.

 

Mine Your Data

If you have a body of content, then you also have a body of ideas. Past blogging successes should inform future topics, and analytics provide insight that can help guide content creation and dig you out of your creative rut.

Look at your analytics platform and see which posts have received the most views. This alone isn’t necessarily and indicator of success, but if traffic on the page has remained consistent for some time, then you’ve likely stumbled upon a winner. Consistent traffic signifies that the piece has become a reference for others, resonating with your audience and maintaining traction as a result.

Monitor trends in high-performing content and leverage them to generate new ideas. If you’re an industrial supplier, a series of posts on safety with consistently high traffic should indicate that the subject is of great importance to your customer base. Additional posts on safety, or subjects like compliance, which feed into the topic, will likely find success, giving you new material with which to work.

 

Tap Your Co-Workers

When your job is to create ideas, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. Step outside your creative box and into the field where the work gets done to find new insights.

Colleagues work within your business, creating solutions that help customers on a daily basis. For this reason, their understanding of customer concerns and the intricacies of your operations can be of great value when creating new content. Ask for suggestions, hold round-table discussions, or ask for guest posts to give your blog a new voice and a new lease on life.

 

Scout Social Media

Just like numerical analytics, social media can be a gold mine of ideas. Users on social media are inundated with content every day, only stopping to interact with posts that actually resonate with them personally. High-performing posts can indicate that a topic is of importance, suggesting new ideas and alleviating your creative burden.

Comments on social media posts may also offer suggestions. In the aforementioned example of a safety series, comments to the effect of “how do we do this in our business?” may hint that follow up posts for developing your own safety practices would do well. Read between the lines of reader interactions and you’re likely to find a great deal of inspiration in the process.

 

Monitor the News

As an entity of authority, your insight is trusted. At no time is that insight more appreciated, however, than when it becomes relevant in the news. Wildlife researchers, for example, were treated with additional media attention during the Gulf oil spill, due to the fact that their unique perspective offered direction in a confusing situation.

Keep an eye on the news and look for opportunities to give comment. Doing so not only positions your blog and brand well, it also automates the process of inspiration for you. The aforementioned industrial supplier may see an industrial accident, for example, and provide tips for clean up and proper handling of volatile chemicals, achieving relevance and value simultaneously.

 

Check Out the Competition

It’s sometimes difficult to admit that your competition does something well, but their strengths can become your boon. Visit your competitors’ blogs and see what topics are occupying their pages. Copying ideas whole-cloth is not recommended, but trends in subjects can help give you ideas for new territory, providing the chance to turn their insight into your traffic.

 

Ask Your Audience

When you’re looking to hit a home run with each post, few methods work better than simply asking your audience. Gauging trends and assessing the potential of posts pales in comparison to direct requests for topics. When the ideas no longer flow, go to your most trusted asset and simply solicit topic requests. Doing so will provide a wealth of new insight and provide an engagement opportunity that gives readers a personal stake in your blog, turning one-time visitors into devotees.

 

Your content marketing is only as good as your ideas, and when your ideas seem to evaporate, it’s important to know where to turn. Your owned assets, social interactions, national relevance, and competitors all offer inspiration that can get your creative efforts back on track, so don’t despair the next time that killer topic simply won’t appear. Utilize your not-so-obvious assets and your business blog won’t miss a beat.

Why The Images On Your Homepage Matter

Written by Taylor Hawes

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Web design concept

Your business makes a number of decisions every day. From management to product design, everything about your enterprise is organized with the intention of building a brand and selling a product. In the fray, however, certain aspects can become lost, including the images on your homepage. To the surprise of many business-owners, these seemingly simple assets can shape your brand perception, influence customer decisions, and improve conversion in profound ways.

 

They Heavily Influence Your First Impression

The old adage that “you only get one chance to make a first impression” is hard to shake in a rapidly moving society. For perspective’s sake, consider any time you’ve made a purchase online. You likely visited the homepage of the product in question and made a rather snappy judgment regarding characteristics that may even be impossible to perceive from the comfort of your desk chair: dependability, trustworthiness, quality, worth, value, etc. In that brief few seconds of analysis, you’ve already made a decision, completely independent of the carefully crafted text and list of product features.

Photographs help ensure that your product or products make a positive first impression quickly. Tired, hurried minds are far more likely to consider a visual before text, since text requires additional effort to process. Furthermore, the setting, subject, color, and quality of photos all convey the kinds of characteristics mentioned earlier. By presenting attractive images of your product or individuals using your product, you’re more likely to capture visitor attention and make an impression that spurs further research; no small feat on the constantly shifting web.

 

They Affect User Experience

As mentioned, Internet users are tired creatures, bombarded constantly by attention grabbing ploys and solicitations. In this scenario, visuals command immediate attention due to their ability to convey a great deal of information more efficiently and effectively than text.

In this way, visuals are more user-friendly, acknowledging the plight of the modern individual and offering a compromise that’s beneficial to both parties. Through presentation of a visual, users are treated to something pleasing, easy to digest, and easy to understand. By presenting a visual, businesses offer a more friendly web experience, additionally controlling the perception created by the presentation. This combination of effective communication and usability leads to a more positive brand perception that will influence future sales and open further engagement opportunities.

 

They Speak to Design

Apple’s market-changing products have shared one characteristic in common: design. The intelligent combination of visual appeal, functionality, and intuitiveness has propelled many of their devices to the forefront of the market, effectively demonstrating that the modern consumer has design in mind. Whether through conscious acknowledgement or subconscious enjoyment, this expectation is carried through all brand interactions.

With this conscious attention to trends, maintaining an up-to-date web design is paramount to brand image, and large-format photographs are a part of that package. If the images on your page are pixelated or of poor quality, users will take note and assume that your brand lacks the attentiveness needed to also produce a quality product. High-quality photos, on the other hand, inspire confidence, providing a positive experience and satisfying discerning tastes.

 

They Set Expectations

Unless your marketing campaign has significant clout, it’s generally safe to assume that a new visitor to your site knows next to nothing about your product. With this uncertainty comes a great deal of fear, generally dissuading purchases if an understanding of product functionality, performance, price, and value isn’t conveyed quickly.

Images help bridge this gap between uncertainty and comfort by quickly establishing viewer expectations. A photograph of a business setting suggests that your product helps productivity and communication in a professional context. An illustration of a house builds the understanding that your product is meant for consumers and used in their home. While it may be challenging to pick the perfect image to convey the nuances of your product, doing so immediately alleviates the mental burden of uncertainty that customers experience, guiding them further along the path to conversion.

 

They Affect Conversion

While each of these factors can be listed as important in their own rite, the net result is conversion. A strong first impression keeps viewers around while an easy-to-use website provides a more pleasant browsing experience. Strong web design inspires confidence in your company while accurate product expectations help convey brand message and improve conversion rates. Ultimately, the images you use on your homepage are more than just decoration; they are tools to bring potential customers into the fold, generating revenue and enhancing brand perception in complex and far-reaching ways.

 

From your products to your pitch, everything about your business is engineered for success. Your website should benefit from the same treatment with attractive and communicative images that turn one-time visitors into repeat customers. Don’t underestimate the value of a good visual and use the inherent benefits of these aesthetic assets to turn your homepage into a conversion tool.

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