5 online marketing strategies for small businesses that work

5 online marketing strategies for small businesses that work

Online marketing strategies are no different from traditional marketing strategies when it comes to goals and purpose. Both types aim to increase brand awareness and find more customers for the particular company.

Online marketing or digital marketing as it is more widely known, has a number of components that cover every aspect of online promotion from content creation to delivery and sales. These components can be combined together and form 5 basic strategies that can be used by any type of online business to get more traffic and customers online.

1. Search engine marketing

Search engine marketing (SEM) is the first online marketing strategy you can use and it has two major components. First is SEO (Search engine optimization) and second is PSA (Paid Search Advertising). In simple words SEO will help you get more organic visits from search engines for free while PSA can get you visits from search traffic but you will have to pay for them.

What is your goal with SEM? Your goal with SEM is clear: get more visits from search engines either from organic search or through carefully designed and targeted PPC campaigns

How: To get more visits from search engines you need to make sure that your website is optimized for search. Things like your page titles, descriptions, web page speed, Google authorship, design and structure, incoming links, content freshness, ALT text for images and many more are important.

Tools: There are many SEO guidelines you can follow and although each rule is important on its own, if you apply a number of rules together, that would produce better results. You can use these 2 articles (5 on page SEO techniques and SEO tips for beginners) to guide you through the process and once you are done, you can perform an SEO Audit of your website to ensure that it is in good shape before continuing with the rest of the online marketing strategies.

Tip: When you make changes to your website to improve SEO, these changes will not be immediately taken into account by Google or other search engines. You have to be patient and monitor your pages for improvements in their ranking through google webmaster tools (search queries report).

2. Mobile Marketing

Normally after search engine marketing you can expect to find social media marketing or content marketing as the next online marketing strategy for small businesses but the increase in the number of mobile searches raises the importance of mobile marketing. As stated by Google, mobile marketing isn’t an option but it’s an imperative for every business. Some recent statistics about mobile usage re-enforce this statement:

What is your goal with mobile marketing? To provide your users with the best possible experience when browsing your website using their mobile devices.

How: How can you achieve the ‘best possible experience’? First you need to make sure that your website looks good and usable when viewed through a mobile browser i.e. you need to have a mobile friendly version of your website. Second, you can also offer your users native apps to download (from the itunes store, Google play, amazon store, windows store) and install on their devices.

Tools: If you are using wordpress you can easily create a mobile friendly version by either changing to a responsive theme or by using a plugin.

If you are not using wordpress you can use services like conduit to create mobile friendly versions of your website.

Make sure that you understand the difference between a mobile friendly version of your website and a native app. A native app is different than a mobile website and you need to hire a mobile developer to build an application for the specific platform. For example if you want to create an application for your website and have this application published on the Apple Store then you need to hire an apple developer to code the application and prepare it for submission to iTunes.

3. Content marketing

Content marketing is the heart of every digital marketing campaign. Once you have a good foundation (that’s search engine marketing) and a good delivery platform that can cover all your user needs (that’s mobile marketing) then the next step is to take all actions needed to create content that rocks!

Content is what will create loyal visitors, comments, social media shares and most important of all sales.

What is your goal with content marketing? To put it simply, your goal is to create high quality content that your readers want to read and try to convince readers to become customers or execute a call-to-action process (register to a newsletter, follow on social media, vote for a poll etc.).

How: Before even creating content, whether it is an article, a video, a table or image, try to think how that particular content will benefit your readers or customers. Don’t just create and publish content for the sake of keeping a publishing schedule or to satisfy your desire to have something to publish.

In the past this technique of publishing mass amounts of content to trick search engines used to work but not anymore. It is more important to have less published pages but with good content rather than lots of published pages with low quality content.

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4. Social Media marketing

Social media marketing is naturally the next marketing strategy for your business. You managed to have in your hands great content (from the previous strategy) so now it’s time to spread the word out and the best way to do that is through a well-designed social media marketing strategy.

What is your goal with social media marketing? Your social media campaigns should serve two purposes. First is to gain as many targeted followers so that your content and brand gets as much attention possible and second to get visits from social networks that will eventually convert into customers.

How: You need to establish a good presence in all major social networks (Facebook, google+, twitter, Pinterest) by sharing useful related content on a regular basis and by engaging with people interested in your website, products or brand. Have a look at these 3 articles to get started: 10 social media marketing tips for beginners, social media mistakes to avoid, how to get more followers on facebook.

I know that it’s not an easy process to follow and it is rather time consuming to run campaigns on many networks at the same time but this is how online marketing works for small businesses these days and you have to do it too.

The good news is that social media traffic does convert (despite the initial believes a few years back that visitors from social media don’t become customers) and if you don’t have the time or knowledge to manage your social media presence, there are professionals that can do it for you.

5. Local SEO strategy

Since we are talking about small businesses, I thought that it is more appropriate to have local SEO listed as a separate strategy because it is very important for them. Local SEO is a must for every company that has a physical address. Whether you are a doctor or florist, a mechanic or retailer, local seo can help you find more customers online.

What is your goal from local seo?      The goal from local seo is more than clear: to get high rankings for searches related to your area. When people search for long tail keywords with the addition of location in the query (for example: “Web hosting companies in Uganda”) you want your website to be listed in the top positions.

How: There is no straightforward answer for that, as with any other SEO related question. What you can do is follow Google SEO best practices to ensure that Google will not penalize you for trying to cheat on their algorithm and optimize your website for local SEO.

Think outside the box

While the 5 online marketing strategies explained above are great and can generate fantastic results, you need to also think outside of the box for even better results. For example besides search engines, mobiles and social media what are some other ways to increase traffic coming to your small business website? To be more precise here are some ideas that worked for some of my clients:

Chrome web store: Registering your website as a web app in the chrome store can generate an additional flow of quality traffic coming to your site.

Direct Advertising on other websites: Besides running PPC campaigns on Adwords and Facebook you can also try to ‘rent’ advertising space per month on other related websites. You can easily find related websites in your niche that offer advertising and contact the webmasters directly and ask for their rates. It will cost you less than PPC and with proper tracking you can evaluate the results and ROI.

Guest posting on high traffic websites: Guest posting for traffic (and not for links) is a good way to increase your online reputation but also gain traffic from other websites. If the website you are guest posting on has a good social media presence then the benefits are even more.

Conclusion

Small businesses can succeed online if they follow proven techniques and practices. When you build your website the first thing that you should look at is search engine optimization. Once you get this right then you need to enhance your delivery channels by going mobile. After that you need to revisit your content strategy and ensure that you have content that matters and makes sense. Next in line is social media marketing that will help you to push your content to the world.

 

Why and how to use customer reviews to grow your businees

Why and how to use customer reviews to grow your businees

When you shop online, how do you narrow down your choices? And how do you get reassurance that you will receive what you pay for? Do you read customer reviews before deciding where to buy your laptop from or which plumber to hire to fix your drippy kitchen tap?

Chances are you do, which means that your potential customers are also looking at your business’s reviews before spending their money on your products or services. They’re looking at the testimonials on your website, on Yelp, Facebook, Google and on any other sites or forums they stumble upon in their research online.

In this post we’ll take a closer look at the importance of customer reviews and their influence on your target audience’s opinions and purchases and how you can use them to build trust and drive more sales. Already got reviews? Then checkout this guide to combining web design and customer reviews to help overcome customer objections.

Why customer reviews matter

Studies show that nine in ten people read reviews and that these are becoming more important in the purchasing decision, so important that customers say they trust them as much as personal recommendations.

According to BrightLocal’s annual Local Consumer Review Survey:

88% of consumers read online reviews to determine the quality of a local business
39% read reviews on a regular basis
85% of consumers said that they read up to 10 reviews
72% said that positive reviews make them trust a local business more
88% said that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
Plus, according to Reevoo, a ratings and reviews solutions provider, by simply adding a reviews section to your site sales can rise as much as 18%.

These stats show how important it is for businesses to attract more reviews as well as to manage their online reputation. I have no doubt that these numbers will continue to increase in the coming years so make sure you read on to learn how to use customer reviews to your advantage.

Why do you need them?
Simple: more positive reviews = more customers.

  • Reviews can help you generate more sales. While users can learn the basics about your products or services by reading the description on your site or in an advertisement, good reviews can compel users to actually consider buying from you.
  • They can eliminate any doubts potential customers may have about a product, or can help them choose between products.

Aside from increasing conversions, reviews can also:

  • Provide credibility to your business and help build trust with potential customers online.
  • Increase loyalty among existing customers as it makes them feel like they are part of your brand and that their opinions and feedback matter.
  • Help with your products’ search engine optimization (SEO) efforts as reviews are indexed and used for search results. Think about it – people write reviews using natural language, which targets long-tail keywords and helps to give you an SEO boost. So they’re doing the hard work for you.

What about bad reviews?

Worried that not all of your customer reviews are positive? Don’t be. Nobody’s perfect. What matters is how you respond to a complaint or a negative review. Be friendly and polite when dealing with negative comments and show that you care about resolving the customer’s issue.

In fact, a mix of positive and negative reviews can help to improve customer trust. Stats from Reevoo suggest that the presence of bad reviews actually improves conversions by 67%.

Here’s what they discovered:

68% of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores
30% suspect censorship or fake reviews when they don’t see any negative opinions on the page
So, don’t freak out if you receive a few bad reviews as these will legitimise the rest of the good reviews and reassure users that the feedback is genuine and written by real customers.

Just make sure there aren’t too many bad reviews because that means your biggest problem is not the negative feedback, but your product or service.

Oh, and don’t think about writing fake reviews. It’s already difficult to build trust online and this trust is dependent on the reviews being authentic. If you get caught by your customers or Google, be prepared to pay up, and not just through the fine you might face, but also with your online reputation which will be destroyed.

Tips to attract more reviews from customers

Want to know what’s the best way to get more reviews for your business? Just ask your customers to leave a comment with their feedback.Here are some simple tips to help you gather more reviews:

  • Make it nice and easy for them to share their feedback directly on your website.
  • Create a separate reviews section on your site or one on every product page and offer customers the option to leave a quick rating out of five and a short summary of their experience purchasing with you.
  • Email customers post-purchase and ask them if they would like to leave feedback.
  • Either create a survey or link to your site or other sites where they can review your business.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, follow up with a second email.
  • Set up profiles on multiple review sites. This obviously includes social media platforms like Google+, Facebook, Twitter plus the sites devoted solely to rating and reviewing businesses such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Yahoo! Local, Angie’s List and more.
  • Educate people on your social networks about where they can review your company.
  • Provide links directly to review websites or to the reviews section on your site.
  • Train your staff to ask for reviews. Make your customer service and sales employees understand the importance of asking for feedback from the customers they work with.
  • Create incentives to motivate them to gather as many reviews as possible.
  • Offer incentives to your customers to encourage them to leave a review. This can be a discount on a future purchase. Just don’t pay people to write positive reviews.
  • Offer free samples or trial versions to get more people to try and test your product. This will increase the number of voices talking about your product.

Reviews are not great just at convincing potential customers to choose you over your competitors but also at helping you understand the needs of your customers and how you can improve your offering to meet their needs. This feedback also helps create a direct line of communication that allows you to monitor customer service and the perception of your brand.

It’s hard to find a reason not to want to gather reviews. So if you want to drive your business to success now’s the time to give reviews some attention. Once you’ve built up a bank of reviews, learn how to use them to build trust and boost sales in an effective manner with this guide.

Seven(7) Ways To Promote Your Business Online For Free

Seven(7) Ways To Promote Your Business Online For Free

The Internet is teeming with marketing platforms that don’t cost a dime—you just need to know where to look.

You may not have wads of cash to spend on marketing in the early stages of your startup, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t effective ways to get your brand out there.
Before the Internet, small businesses only had a few ways to market their products cheaply, through methods like printing out fliers or sponsoring little local events. Now there are all kinds of opportunities out there on the Web—you just need to know where to look.
Here are seven ways to promote your business online that won’t cost you a dime:

1. Use the three big local listing services
Registering your business with Google Places allows it to be found more easily on Google searches and it shows up on Google Maps. All you have to do is fill out the form and register, then get your business verified through their confirmation process, which can be done either with a phone call or snail mail. Yahoo! also has a big database of businesses called Yahoo! Local. It’s free, and is certainly worth the few minutes it takes to set up. Microsoft’s Bing has a similar service that’s easy to sign up for.

2. Embrace social media
Social media isn’t just a tool to gain exposure—it has now become a necessary time investment for every business to make. You can tie in ads and offers on your Facebook page and have a direct channel with your customers on Twitter. Networking on LinkedIn—both at the personal and company level—can be another way to help your startup.

3. Start a blog
A blog not only helps your company get its name out through followers, but is a way to connect with your consumers more directly. But remember that one of the major keys of blogging is to keep your stream updated as frequently as you can. A dormant, abandoned blog is worth nothing.

4. Put up multimedia on YouTube and Flickr
YouTube provides a free way to distribute creative promotional videos, but in order to succeed you must put up content that people want to view and are relevant to your business—a simple ad will not work. A Flickr profile can also help by giving you one place to compile all the photos for your business, and allows you to link back to your website.

5. SEO your company website
Search engine optimization cannot be underestimated in the world of constant Googling. Pick up a book or head over to an online how-to-guide on SEO and make sure your site is primed for performance on search engines.

6. Press releases
Every time your business does something newsworthy, don’t hesitate to shoot off a press release—maybe folks will pick up on it. They’re a powerful media tool to use to help generate publicity, and having free distribution of them is a bonus. There are dozens of websites out there that you can use for your press releases.

7. Join a relevant online community and contribute
Every niche has communities online that you can get involved in. But just signing up for a forum and posting every once in a while about your business isn’t beneficial for anyone, and will likely just annoy people. Actively contribute and build a rapport with the community, while keeping your business out of it. Passively promote your business by putting a link in your signature or mentioning it only when the context is appropriate.

Five Goals to Strive for with Every Site You Design

Five Goals to Strive for with Every Site You Design

Goals are important to have in life. They are especially important for website design, because without any goals, you have nothing to shoot for in the end and nothing to measure your success by. Goals help designers focus on the important things and not lose sight of what you want in the end; goals are what help designers deliver outstanding sites every time.

The results at the end of the site design process are usually pretty much the same with every project; I end up with a site design and I hand it off to the client. In the beginning, I have an idea of what I want to do and what the client needs, and I know I want to strive for an awesome deliverable in the end. The steps in between follow roughly the same path, however each site design is vastly different in style and character needing some different steps to achieve the proposed outcome. Sometimes I feel the need to sketch and other times I jump right on my computer. Even though the process may be different each time, it’s important to have goals with every site, whether you write them down or keep them in the back of your mind while you design. I’ve compiled a list of 5 goals that are important to think about each time you start a site design.

1. Strive for a design that’s user-friendly and beautiful.
A great user-interface is often sacrificed for a wonderful design, but both are equally important and should go hand in hand. A well-designed site helps users travel through your site with ease. Items are where users expect them to be. If they’re in unusual places, they need to make sense and the site design needs to direct users where to go. The navigation is best near the top of the page not because that’s where it looks best, but because users don’t often know to scroll down to find it. If you expect users to scroll to find the navigation, give them a reason to scroll like some movement in the design that directs their eye downward and they’ll find it more easily.

2. Create a site that targets the appropriate audience.
I’ve seen many gorgeous sites that just don’t fit the target audience. A retro site with funky colors may look great for a design studio or a music producer, and your client may love the look, but it doesn’t fit a law office with a professional, corporate clientele. Your client can give you good insight on their particular audience, who they target and what customers they reach the most. Do your research and see what other similar companies are doing. You don’t have to do the same thing, but the feel your site gives to its users should be similar.

3. Design a user-interface that flows freely, allowing users to navigate easily and find what they need quickly and efficiently.
A good navigation is key for a top notch site. A sitemap done beforehand helps determine where pages should go and what items should be placed together. Many sites often have too large of a navigation because they didn’t plan where information would fit best. You need to minimize the amount of space and maximize the amount of pertinent information. Not everything belongs on a company’s website because not everyone is going to have the patience to read it. Streamline the navigation, determine what’s important and throw away the rest.

4. Give the client what they want plus what they need.
As many designers know, the client usually thinks they know best. They do know their company better than you (in most cases!) so do take their advice on their industry, listen to what they say about their audience and the products they are selling. However, they may not know how to organize the information in the most practical manner, and they may not realize the characteristics of web users. Educate your clients on items that are important for them to know and help them understand why they don’t need certain things that may seem cool, like a 5 minute flashy intro to their site.

5. Increase the site functionality with additional code.
A simple website can be made into a great website with the addition of some fancy features with the use of javascript or php. Users will enjoy the extra added feature and it gives designers a chance to try out a new tutorial. There are so many skills out there to learn and add to your repertoire, why not aim to stretch your design legs and try something new with each site? Try a new jquery tutorial or add a fun php script. There are tons of new things to learn every time you sit down to design a site. If you could learn just one new thing with every site, think of where you could be in one years time.

Goals are definitely an important part of being a designer and moving forward with your design and coding skills. You can’t hope to increase your skills and dazzle your clients if you don’t aim for something. Think of what you want to accomplish when you start a new site and aim not for perfection but for a great site design, each and every time.

Online vs On-Campus education

Online vs On-Campus education

If you are an adult contemplating returning to school to earn an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree, there are several factors that must be taken into consideration when it comes to deciding whether to pursue your degree online or actually attend classes on campus. There are many aspects of your current life that must be reflected upon when deciding when and how you should continue or begin your college education, and here is just a brief examination of some personality traits or qualities of life to consider when making the important decision of returning to higher education online or on campus.

Interaction with others

If you are the type of person who enjoys lively discussions and group interaction in a traditional classroom setting, taking courses at campus might be more to your liking than taking classes online. At campus, you will meet students of all ages, ethnicities, social economic backgrounds and cultural experiences. You will have firsthand interaction with others on campus to learn new things and take part in on-campus activities. If you are more introverted and don’t enjoy interacting with others in an academic setting, you will probably enjoy learning online and virtually communicating with your fellow students and instructors.

Flexibility

Online classes offer great flexibility in regards to creating your coursework schedule while being in the comfort of your own home. If you have a family and/or career, you can schedule your coursework conveniently around your schedule so you are able to fulfill your familial and work responsibilities while furthering your education. Attending classes in person will require you to take a block of time out of your schedule to sit be present on campus and sit in on regularly-scheduled classes, and this may not be feasible if you are working full time. On campus education offers convenient classes that can be taken in the evening or weekends with the realization that people have other commitments and may not be available to take classes during the day, but taking online classes does require the commitment of being on campus a certain number of hours each week class is in session.

Learning preference

Are you the type of person who learns better at your own pace, or do you prefer having someone else give you direction? Taking classes online will require you to be self motivated and create a schedule for yourself and stick to it. No one will be there to remind you to finish an assignment or to study for an upcoming exam. You will be accountable for completing your own work on your own schedule, but there are still due dates when taking coursework online. And when taking courses online, you are able to get assistance and ask questions of your instructors when necessary. Taking classes in person is more structured, with the professor handing you a syllabus on the first day outlining the coursework for an entire semester. Some students claim that there is nothing like the in-classroom learning experience while others will tell you they felt that same “in-classroom” experience while working online. Working on your studies at home requires a great deal of self discipline and the ability to work independently. If you know you have had more success with more guidance and working with others, then a classroom setting may be best for you.

Individualized attention

Depending on the courses you take, the amount of students in each class will vary. Some classes have about 30 students, while others will have more and some fewer. In smaller classes, you will have the instant gratification of meeting with your teacher after class and having your questions answered immediately. Taking classes online will also allow you to communicate with your professor via email and ask the questions that you may have. Online professors may be able to provide you with more attention since there are fewer students, and email is accessible all hours of the day. You can even take part in discussions with your classmates online.

Age

Online classes may be the best option if you are more mature and feel apprehensive about being surrounded in by students right out of high school. However, if you are open to new experiences, you may discover that there is much to learn from people of different age groups.

Cost

Aside from paying for tuition, you should consider the additional costs that exist when taking classes on campus. Books, meals, transportation, and if you have children, you may need to add daycare expenses. If you are struggling financially, you might consider taking classes online where you can save on some of these expenses.

Ability to Use Technology

Online classes will require a certain degree of technology savvy. If you have trouble turning on the computer yourself or differentiating between a keyboard and printer, online classes might not be the best option for you. All assignments, exams, and coursework will be transmitted to you via the Internet. Correspondence with your professors will be through the exchange of emails. If you don’t feel comfortable with the Internet, taking traditional classes may be a better option for you.

Thousands of adult students have earned their degrees online and have never stepped foot on campus. Everything you need to successfully complete a degree is accessible through your computer. You can receive and submit assignments, participate in discussions with classmates and ask your instructor questions whenever necessary. Your online program goes wherever you go, and as long as you have Internet access, and the desire to further your education, your online educational experience will be just as rewarding as those who attend classes on campus.

Ways to make money from home

Ways to make money from home

With job postings still scarce, job security dissipating, and wages seemingly stagnant at best, many people are trying to establish some security by creating multiple streams of income. It’s a smart strategy, but if you have trouble leaving your home or primary position to get to a second job, you’ll find yourself frustrated and stressed out.

Perhaps you’re raising kids and you’re committed to not using daycare. Maybe you’re a little older and can’t commit to a full-time job. Or you might be injured or disabled, making it difficult for you to leave your home each day. Whatever your reason is, if you’re stuck at home most of the day, you’ve probably thought about the income you could be making by taking a work-from-home job or running your own business.

Good news: There are plenty of legitimate ways to earn extra money sitting right where you are right now. Some of them involve starting your own small business, while others mean working for someone else using your home as an office.

These endeavors aren’t without traps and challenges, though, so before we take a look at some legitimate ways to make money from your home, let’s review a few things that you should avoid. Unfortunately, if you want to earn an honest living from home, you’re also a common target of scammers, especially in these economically tough times. But if you keep these simple rules in mind, you won’t become a victim of one of the many work from home scams.

Money Scams to Avoid

1. Requests for Money

Sure, you might expect some legitimate costs to be associated with starting a new business, like business licenses, permits, materials, or even some advertising or marketing fees.

You should never have to pay someone for the privilege of selling their product for them, but that’s just what scammers tell their marks. They trick people into paying for worthless information about how to run a business or for substandard materials to use in creating a product.

Some scams might involve asking you to pay for a “training” book or CD that explains how to make money in a certain business. Others charge for supposedly “exclusive” products that you’re supposed to sell at a premium. Avoid both of these scenarios. Remember, you should never have to pay to get a job. And if someone asks you to, you can be sure that it’s a scam.

2. Get Rich Schemes

Get-rich-quick schemes get only one person rich: the schemer. Not you. Don’t be that con artist’s next victim. If you are willing to put in the time and effort, you will have the opportunity to build a viable business or become a trusted home worker in a great business.

But if you’re looking for easy money, you’ll likely just get stuck with a lot of bills and worthless information. When websites run promotions that promise that you’ll make thousands a week with no experience and very little time, you can bet your money that they’ll be in your wallet before you can ask the first question.

Legitimate Ways to Make Money from Home

Now that we’ve talked about the things you should avoid, let’s look at a few real ways you can work from your home and make the extra cash that you and your family need.

Freelance Writing: Sell Your Words

I may as well start with something I know well. Today’s freelance writers can choose from a variety of markets. You can write for magazines, either online or in print. You can blog by setting up your own site, or by writing for someone else’s. The market for new articles on the Internet is vast, and there’s plenty of work to go around.

If you want to work from home as a freelance writer, consider this checklist before you get started:

  • Samples. You’ll need some samples before you can really begin marketing yourself. Figure out which market you want to approach first, and then find or create some related samples. For instance, if you want to try your hand at blogging, study some successful blogs, and then write a few posts of your own to use as samples. Do this for any and every market you’d want to write for.
  • Tools. You don’t need much to work as a home-based freelance writer, but there are some tools that you must have. The most important will be your computer. Get the fastest Internet access that you can afford. It doesn’t matter what kind of computer you get. Just make sure you’re comfortable enough to spend a lot of time with it. Most clients will request that you submit your work as a Microsoft Word document, so make sure that whatever programs you use are compatible. In addition, because you’ll be spending so much time at the computer, make sure that you have a good work area with proper lighting. Some clients will want to be able to reach you by phone or Skype, so have both set up and accessible. You’ll need an invoicing program, such as Freshbooks, and a good bookkeeping system to keep track of sales, orders, and accounts receivables.
  • Job Boards. When you’re first starting out, you’ll have to go looking for work, and the best place to do that is on one of the online job boards. Places like Guru, Elance, Freelancer, and oDesk are today’s writers’ best friends. They allow individuals and businesses to post projects, and freelancers to bid on them. Take a look around the sites, sign up for the free access in the beginning, and then begin to place bids on the projects that interest you. It will take some trial and error to find your groove, but once you do, the jobs will start to roll in.
  • Persistence and Commitment. You’ll need to have a good amount of persistence while pursuing freelance writing gigs. This business is subjective, and while one person may love your writing, another may not. Do your best to always produce good, solid copy and hold on to your commitment to do the best you can for your clients. Just by committing to do those two things, you’ll be miles ahead of your competition.

 Classes: Sell Your Knowledge

Another great way to earn money from your home office is to sell your skills or knowledge by teaching classes. For instance, if you’re an exercise guru, you might start an exercise class in a large spacious area in your home. People are willing to pay to learn about many fields of knowledge, from cooking to candle making. Playing a musical instrument, dancing, dog training, yoga, and even foreign languages are all great topics for expert classes.

The key is to make the class sound unique and irresistible. Don’t just teach a cooking class; come up with specialty cooking classes. The possibilities are endless, and if you consistently offer educational and fun classes, you’ll have people signing up over and over again.

But being successful at hosting your own classes requires some serious planning and attention to detail. Here is an outline of the things you’ll have to consider:

  • Your Idea. It’s not enough to say that you’re going to offer an exercise classes. The people considering your classes will want to know exactly what they are going to get for their money, and it will be up to you to explain it concisely and effectively. Understand that you’re basically giving a sales pitch to potential attendees. You’ll have to really narrow down your topic.
  • Your Schedule. Decide in advance how often you want to teach your class, and what times will work for you. If you’re teaching a foreign language, you will want to offer structured classes that meet at the same time every week. But if you intend to offer cooking classes, where one lesson won’t run into another, you can be a little more flexible.
    • Remember that you’re making a commitment that will last weeks or months, and you won’t want to end up canceling classes. Pick a schedule that you can keep.
    • Furthermore, carefully consider your likely attendees, and what schedule would be attractive to them. For example, if you’re planning on teaching a tutoring class, you obviously couldn’t schedule it during school hours. Likewise, a class aimed at mothers of young children will either have to include babysitting services or be scheduled at night, when they’re more likely to have help with the kids. Find the delicate balance of times that fit your prospective students’ schedules as well as your own.
  • Your Price. When establishing a price for your classes, start by calling around and finding out what other choices your clients have. If you plan to offer cooking classes, call some commercial establishments and other in-home teachers. Compare your own talent and experience to what they’re offering, and set a price accordingly. You should always come in a little lower than classes offered by commercial establishments as that will be one of your selling points: expert information for less money.
  • Your Deals. In addition to establishing a per-class price, also offer packages to entice people to sign up for more than one class. For example, if you intend to host classes on making soap, offer the classes individually, as well as in a group. Someone could take a class learning how to use fresh flowers in homemade soap, or they could buy a bundle that teaches them how to use those, fresh herbs, and plastic toys for kid’s soap. However you decide to price your classes, remember that the buyer will want to feel like they’re getting a lot for their money. If you can provide that in a fun atmosphere, they’ll likely be back time and time again – and they’ll bring friends.
  • Your Ads. The key to success will be in your ability to get the word out about your classes. Word of mouth will play an important role in your marketing efforts because taking classes is something that friends like to do together. Don’t just rely on friends and family, though. Post fliers in supermarkets, churches, and school bulletin boards. You’ll definitely want to have an online presence so people who are searching your area for such classes will be able to find you. You can establish one by creating a website, and then using digital media to spread your message. And don’t forget your neighborhood as a source of business. Take some time to visit your neighbors, even if you just visit one block a day, and tell them about your new business.

Crafts and Art: Sell Your Creativity

If you have a knack for creating beautiful things, then you were born at the right time to make some serious income from home. The growing trend for vintage and homemade products shows no signs of stopping. Plus, the Internet is chock full of well-known outlets for such wares.

Etsy, for example, is one of the fastest growing sites that gives artists a chance to sell items at a fair price. The site boasts over 40 categories, from gifts to clothes to edibles, with thousands of listings. And the price is right; you can get your own site connected to Etsy for just 20 cents per listing.

Selling on Etsy and similar sites, however, has become an art form itself, and finding success in these marketplaces takes a lot of work and planning. Your art is already a full-time job, but you’ll need to devote plenty of time to being a smart businessperson too. Here are some guidelines to getting started:

  • Research. You need to know what others are selling before you decide what wares you will offer. Lots of people sell handmade items, but those who work hard to make their items unique in some way are the ones who truly stand out. After you’ve decided on a product, check out the other sellers on Etsy and find what they’re offering, and then figure out how you can do it differently.
  • Commit. People who run successful shops on Etsy say that they do way more than create. They pass out business cards everywhere they go, they blog about their site, and spend all of their free time trying to think of new ways to promote it. In other words, to truly be a success, you have to treat it like a full-time job.
  • Photographs. Because your customers won’t be able to touch or hold your items, you need to give them as much of a visual feel for the products as you can. You’ll do it with photographs – but not just any photos. They have to be pleasing to the eye and make the item look fantastic. You’ll have to learn the art of photography, and if you can’t get the hang of it, you’ll have to hire someone to do it for you. Yes, it’s that important.
  • Selection. One of the keys to success on Etsy is selection, according to industry insiders. In fact, the goal of most serious shop owners is to have at least 200 items for sale. If you’re creating all of those items yourself, that’s a pretty big time commitment. But the more options you give to your customers, the higher the chances that you’ll make a sale.

Consulting: Sell Your Knowledge

Consultants offer their services or advice for a fee. For instance, you may help a new non-profit organization develop a plan for fundraising, and then oversee the process. Or you may help a new company garner media attention by writing press releases and then distributing them to the proper channels.

Individuals use consultants, too. Some people use consultants for tax, wedding, marriage or financial advice. Basically, if you have proven skills in an area, you can market yourself as a consultant and provide your services from home. Breaking in isn’t always easy, though, so consider these topics:

  • Experience. Whatever area you want to work in as a consultant, you must be able to show clients that you’re qualified to advise them. If there are organizations related to your field, make sure that you’re a member of them. Similarly, if you can take a course and become certified or registered in your field, do it and then add that to your credentials.
  • Work Space. When acting as a consultant, the probability is high that clients will be visiting your home office. Therefore, you need to have a neat, professional home office that is welcoming to guests. Try to locate your work space in a quiet, even secluded, area of the house. A converted garage space with its own entrance works well, giving you a private space for work and adding to your credibility.
  • Marketing. When operating as a consultant, you won’t necessarily be marketing your company; you’ll be marketing yourself. You’ll have to “package” yourself in a way that makes people trust you. For instance, if you’re marketing yourself as a financial consultant, ask yourself why someone would trust you with their life savings, and then figure out a way to convey that to potential clients. It might be in the form of a brochure, a portfolio, a sales letter, or all three.

To get the word out about your services, you’ll have to talk to a lot of people. Attend functions where your typical client would hang out. That may mean the local agricultural department’s classes if you’re a gardening consultant, or Chamber of Commerce meetings if you’re a business consultant.

COMPUTER REPAIRER/TROUBLESHOOTER

Despite the proliferation of technology in our lives, many people still find computers complicated to maintain and terrifying if they go wrong. If you have a reassuring manner and are not fazed by the inner workings of a PC, offer your services locally and let word of mouth do the rest.

BECOME A DJ

It goes without saying that you need a deep love of music and an extensive collection of tunes before you can even consider DJing, but as much of the work is at evenings and weekends, it could make a perfect side business. Be ready to cater for a range of crowds and musical preferences, not just your passion. Learn the ropes by concentrating first on weddings and birthday parties or by doing roadie work for an established DJ, which will gain you useful contacts.

PERSONAL TUTORING

If you are a part-time teacher or are perhaps taking a career break to look after young children, this can be a great way to make a little money while keeping your syllabus knowledge up to date.

SELLING AD SPACE ON A PERSONAL BLOG

This is not a big money-earner to start with but could be if you work at it. Set up your own blog and fill it with great writing, photos, videos and anything else you’re passionate about,” she advises. “Get ads automatically through Google Adsense and make a few pence every time someone clicks on an ad.”

WEBSITE DESIGNING

An increasingly competitive field as the software needed becomes more and more mainstream. However if you have a good eye for design generally and formal training, it can be a profitable side business.

WEDDING/SOCIAL PHOTOGRAPHER

You’ll need a website or blog to showcase your work, but if you’re confident that your photography is good enough, there’s no reason why you can’t do wedding/function work professionally. Do your homework though – you’ll need to take charge of arranging people into groups and know all the classic poses expected of the occasion.

WEDDING PLANNER

If you’re one of those people who can’t help but flip through bridal magazines and daydream about nuptial arrangements, this might be perfect for you. A great way to get started is to develop a website on the topic, get to know people online and offer your services to the community.

Final Word

For some people, work just has to be in an office, factory, store, or any other environment that’s separate from home. Even a second job would have to be in a separate place. For others, a home office is a welcome place for a secondary or even a primary job. If you’re one of those people, you have some unique opportunities, but you also have some very particular challenges of working from home.

Make sure you set a smart schedule that lets you diligently focus on your work, without throwing the rest of your life out of balance. And make sure you always keep your guard up for scams and cheats. When you’re on your own, you might have a little more freedom with your schedule, but you lose the sense of protection that a company can provide.

These ideas are just a few of the great ones for earning money from your own home. While employment opportunities are getting scarcer, isn’t it good to know that your ability to take things into your own hands is getting greater?

Do you make money working from home? What other ideas have you been able to come up with?

Why Your Website Marketing Relies On The Right Web Host

Why Your Website Marketing Relies On The Right Web Host

There are many reasons to create a website for your business, but one of the main ones is for marketing purposes. A website can quickly increase brand awareness, help new customers find you, showcase what the business can do for them, why they should choose you, and often even help to draw the attention of the press or potential investors.

When it’s time for you to create your first, or next, website, there are many decisions to make, from the design and functionality, to the content provided and the search engine optimization work involved. However, one area that marketing managers shouldn’t forget to concentrate on is the actual hosting of the site.

Luckily though, if you ask some smart questions up front, do your research, and find out the pertinent information from each company, and you can avoid getting stuck with horrific hosting that has high fees and poor service. Before you sign on the dotted line for any website hosting plan, make sure you ask the following questions.

The right Web hosting plan is important when it comes to getting good traffic and lots of conversions. You don’t want to end up with a provider that slows down your site, constantly drops out, and that doesn’t provide scalability as the website gains popularity. It can be tricky deciding who to go with though. There are so many business Web hosting options to choose from, and it can be hard to know how to properly compare apples with apples.
What Is the Uptime And Security Guarantee?

One of the most important things when it comes to choosing a website host is finding out what their uptime guarantee is. The last thing you ever want is customers experiencing an error message or a blank screen when they come to visit your site, so make sure you only ever choose a provider with an uptime guarantee of at least 99 percent.

Similarly, you also want a host that is reliable in the area of security. With cybercrime a huge issue for businesses around the world, it’s important to make sure that your website is secure from all angles. Not only your company data, but also that of your customers (such as credit card numbers, passwords, email addresses, and the like) needs to be protected from hackers, as does the actual site so that it doesn’t easily crash and end up offline.

Look for a Web host that has things such as Sitelock (which detects and fixes malware and other system vulnerabilities) and domain privacy, which helps to prevent phishing attacks as well as identity theft.

Will Site Content Automatically Be Backed Up?

It always pays to have your site automatically backed up by your web hosting service, but this isn’t something that every company provides, so make sure you check with a provider before you sign up. You might accidently delete a bunch of information on your website at some stage, or face a hacking issue, so you need to know that all of your important data is backed up somewhere.

While this is something you can do yourself, it is much easier if the process is automatically handled, on a daily basis by your Web host instead. Find out what your potential host’s disaster recovery plan is so that you know you’re covered.

Is The Plan Scalable?

Another element to consider when shopping for a hosting service is whether the company can scale with you as your business grows. You should only ever choose a hosting provider that has different levels of service on offer so that you can upgrade over time if you need to.

As well, it pays to find a host that lets you change plans without charging exit fees or contract cancellation costs. Many good Web hosting companies have a variety of tiers that you can choose from on a month-to-month basis, and which let you change up or down according to your needs. This helps if you have a sudden spike in traffic and need more bandwidth, as you don’t want to have to pay an arm and a leg for additional usage costs on your current plan.

What Support Do They Provide?

Another question you should always ask a hosting provider is if they provide free support, 24 hours a day, and if so, would you get to speak to a local expert? There’s nothing worse than having an issue with your site when you’re just sent out an email newsletter, had an ad run, or some other big sales or marketing tactic that is driving people to your site, only to have it crash. You need to be able to talk to someone in a hurry to get any problems sorted out, no matter the time of day or night.

8 Tips To Create Multi-Platform eLearning Courses

8 Tips To Create Multi-Platform eLearning Courses

“Supply and demand” may be a marketing term, but it also pertains to eLearning delivery methods. An increasing number of learners are now demanding multi-platform eLearning courses. In this article, I’ll offer 8 tips for creating smartphone, tablet, and wearable tech-friendly eLearning.

How To Create Multi-Platform eLearning Courses

As technology has evolved, the educational sector has evolved with it. Mobile phones, tablets, smartwatches, and laptops are now providing learners with instant access to online learning materials. But how do you design an eLearning course that not only supports these delivery platforms, but also packs the same punch as your desktop eLearning experiences?

Make your mobile learning course a tactile eLearning experience.
One of the most notable benefits of using a tablet or smartphone to access eLearning is interactivity. While most eLearning courses rely on a point-and-click format, mobile learning courses can offer an immersive and fully tactile eLearning experience. There is a caveat to this, however. The “touch” elements within the eLearning course must be the right size, as learners need to be able to tap on them when using a variety of different mobile devices. For example, buttons that are too close together or too small may be “untouchable” for learners on smaller screens. You may also want to consider integrating swiping motions into your eLearning course design to take full advantage of device capabilities.

Research your audience to set minimum requirements.
While researching the educational background and experience levels of your audience is essential, creating multi-platform eLearning courses also calls for device usage statistics. What mobile devices are your learners using to access the eLearning course? The answer to this question will help you determine your minimum eLearning design requirements. If most of your learners are using more advanced phones or tablets, you won’t have to worry about designing for older models. It’s best to select a range that your deliverable will fall into. For example, you may choose to develop mobile learning courses that are targeted to iPhone 6 and Android 5.0 learners and above. Then you won’t have to stretch your resources thin trying to develop multi-platform eLearning courses for every device.

Opt for readability over creativity when choosing fonts.
If you have your eye on a fancy font that you think will boost the visual appeal of your eLearning course, make sure that it’s completely legible before adding it into your eLearning design layout. Keep in mind that your learners are going to be accessing the eLearning course on smaller screen sizes, which means that they need readability over creativity when it comes to fonts. Use larger fonts, if possible, and opt for more “traditional” fonts, and follow the resolution/text rule: lower resolution requires larger text.

Use a responsive eLearning authoring tool.
Many eLearning authoring tools now offer a responsive design feature, which gives you the ability to create just one master eLearning course that can be viewed on all platforms. When your mobile learners access the eLearning course, its elements, such as menu, text boxes, etc., all adjust to offer the best possible eLearning experience. Regardless of whether your learner is on an iPhone or a tablet, they’ll be able to interact and engage with the eLearning content and activities.

Focus on ease of navigation.
There are few things more frustrating than accessing a mobile learning course, only to discover that you cannot use the navigation icons to click through to the next page or activity. Make navigation icons large and clearly visible, and avoid using hyperlinks to supplemental online resources. Tablet or mobile phone learners may find it difficult to click on tiny text links to access useful articles, eLearning videos, and external eLearning content.

Give learners control over audio elements.
Many of your learners are going to be accessing your eLearning course on-the-go. The beauty of using a smartphone, tablet, or even a smaller laptop to access eLearning is that you can participate anytime, anywhere. However, if you include an abundance of audio elements that provide key takeaways, your mobile learners aren’t going to acquire the information they need. Include subtitles and use text to highlight key concepts of the eLearning lesson. If you do have audio, integrate controls your learners can use to lower or mute the volume.

Use one design across the board.
Regardless of what devices your eLearning course supports, make sure that the instructional design is the same for every version, including color scheme, branding, and design elements. Doing so keeps the eLearning course design consistent, professional, and your learners know what to expect when they access the eLearning course on various platforms. This is yet another reason why responsive design authoring tools are ideal. You can create one master eLearning course, and the responsive design feature adapts that eLearning course to fit the resolution and screen size of the device. It’s cohesive and streamlined design at its finest and easiest.

Track user data to improve your multi-platform eLearning course strategy.
Analytics is an important tool in any eLearning strategy, but doubly so for multi-platform eLearning courses. You need to be able to keep track of what devices your learners are using and how they are interacting with the eLearning content. This gives you the opportunity to fine tune your eLearning strategy based upon the device preferences and learning needs of your audience. For example, if your analytics reveal that many of your learners are using an older operating system, you can adapt your eLearning course to that system. You can also pinpoint weak spots in your eLearning strategy, such as interactive elements that are not easy to navigate on smaller screens. In addition to user data, get feedback from your learners via surveys and polls to determine what is working and what needs to be modified.
Multi-platform eLearning courses give every member of your audience convenient access to your eLearning course, no matter what their technology-of-choice may be. Use these 8 tips to transform your eLearning course into an interactive and user-friendly mobile learning experience.

The importance of quality score in SEM

The importance of quality score in SEM

Quality Score is a variable used by Google, Yahoo! (called Quality Index), and Bing that can influence both the rank and cost per click (CPC) of ads.

To determine the order in which ads are listed, each ad has the following formula run against it: bid * Quality Score. Ads are then listed in descending order based on the result of that equation. The exact weight of Quality Score versus bid has not been revealed by any of the major search engines, and each company has stated that they reserve the right to continually adjust their ranking methodologies.

In late 2008, Google revealed that Quality Score was used to determine which ads it would show above organic results, and that a high quality score could actually cause ads to jump over ads with lower quality scores that would otherwise not merit that prominent placement.

Purpose behind Quality Score

The major search engines have each independently implemented efforts to maintain and improve the quality of ads listed on their sites. The primary reason for this is to improve the experience of users who click on paid advertising links. It is reasonable to assume that users who have a great experience when clicking on ads will click on them more frequently, thus increasing advertising revenues for the search engine.

In addition, Google chose to introduce variable minimum bids at the same time as it introduced Quality-Based Bidding. On the surface, this new feature allowed advertisers to bid as little as $0.01 to have their ad shown. However, in some cases advertisers found their minimum bids for some ads were raised to as high as $5.00 or $10.00. By implementing variable minimum bids Google created a mechanism whereby the company could set different minimums for different advertisers for the same keyword, and potentially increase the average minimum bid without the advertising community as a whole being made aware. Furthermore, by raising minimums bids, Google could test each advertiser’s ability to pay these increases, thus increasing competitiveness within the auctions and extracting maximum revenue from each advertiser.

Factors in determining Quality Score

There are a number of factors that determine the Quality Score of a given ad. While each search engine has released directional information on the factors most important to them, presumably in an effort to guide their advertisers towards making better ads, none has revealed their formulas in detail. Below is a summary of what has been released.

Click-through rate
All three search engines have revealed that a major factor – the most important factor to Google in their respective Quality Score formulas is the historical click-through rate (CTR) of the keyword and matched ad. In fact, prior to its introduction of Quality Score in July 2005, Google determined ad rank by running the following formula against each ad and sorting them in descending order: bid * CTR.

In addition to the CTR of the keyword and matched ad itself, Google takes into account the overall historic CTR of the entire AdWords account as well as the historic CTR of the display URLs in the ad group.

Ad copy relevance

All three search engines have revealed that the relevance of the ad copy to the keyword is a factor in determining Quality Score. Therefore, it can be assumed that ads with ad copy that contains the keyword will have a higher Quality Score than ads with ad copy that does not contain the keyword.

Landing page quality

All three search engines have revealed that landing page quality is a factor in determining Quality Score. Landing page quality generally refers to whether or not the page contains relevant and original content and the navigability of the site. In the case of MSN, they have revealed that ads with landing pages that don’t contain the keyword may be declined altogether.

Landing page load time

In June 2008 Google revealed that landing page load time impacts Quality Score.

Geographical considerations

Google has revealed that the accounts performance in the geographical region where the ad will be shown impacts Quality Score.

Other factors

All three search engines have revealed that other factors are taken into consideration when calculating Quality Score. In particular, changes in terms of use in Google Analytics have fed speculation in the search engine marketing (SEM) community that Google is using on-site conversion data in its Quality Score formula.

How to generate and close social leads on Twitter

How to generate and close social leads on Twitter

If social media is not delivering the return on investment (ROI) you expect, the problem isn’t the social networks. Just as a blog won’t make money if it isn’t monetized, you can’t expect social media to generate income for you unless you are using it to drive leads and sales.

Following many people or tweeting great content can get you followers, but what you need is to turn those followers into leads. This can be done manually, but only if you are wise about whom you followed in the first place.

Why You Should Choose Your Followers Carefully

Don’t fall into the trap of just wanting tens of thousands of followers. While this is useful for influencers, even they focus on followers interested in their particular topic or niche. If you operate a local business, you want to follow people in your geo-targeted area.

For your business, you want to follow almost exclusively only the people who are interested in the products or services you offer. This is done by searching for people by their location, titles, what hashtags they use, what Twitter chats they participate in, and what they share.

But that is only the first step. To turn a follower into a customer or client requires building a relationship by interacting with them. Most small businesses fail to do this because they don’t want to invest that much time in social media not knowing for certain there will be a pay-off.

Failure to build a relationship with their followers is where most fail at using social media.

Reaching out to and connecting with your followers is simple. Keeping track of your interactions with each follower is the challenge. If you have only a few followers and a great memory you might do fine for a while.

But as the number of followers grows, remembering them all becomes difficult. You can use something like Commun.it to keep track of interactions and manage multiple Twitter accounts. It suggests new followers, but it wasn’t really built for lead generation.

There are many excellent marketing systems for tracking leads, but they do not typically integrate with social networks. Fortunately, there are now solutions that capture your social media activities for standalone use, or to feed them into your marketing system.

How to Get Social Media Followers Into Your Sales Funnel

The key is to identify who your target audience is, seek them out, and interact with them. This can be done manually, but using a social media solution built specifically to do this is a lot easier – and it can track your results.

Socedo is a new automated lead generation platform specifically designed to identify potential leads based on their Twitter activities. It automatically favorites one of their tweets, waits an hour and then follows them.

When they follow back, it sends them a personalized tweet to either start a conversation or suggest they visit your landing page. Socedo adds them as potential leads for sales and tracks whether your sales team decides to approve (follow-up), decline (not worth following up with) or select later (lower priority potential leads).

Based on your actual results, Socedo can modify your targeting to better qualify your leads.