3 Lessons From Recent Big Brand Fails

Through watching the stumbles of national brands, smaller businesses can learn what to do — and not do — to move up to the next level.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


It’s never been easier to build a brand. Right now with a little effort you can build a following on Instagram or Shopify, start selling stuff and create a nice small business for yourself. But, if you want to move things to the next level and become a real enterprise, you need to learn to market like the big guys.

Related: 3 Marketing Mistakes That Kill Tech Startups

Ironically, one of the best ways to do that is to watch what happens when they screw up. Branding failures aren’t just entertaining. By illustrating just how terrible the fallout can be if you get things wrong, they illustrate the importance of having the right principles and systems in place. Through watching the stumbles of national brands, smaller businesses can learn what to do — and not do — to move up to the next level.

Helpfully, some of America’s biggest companies have obliged with some pretty spectacular brand fails lately.

1. Amazon selling sugary cereals at Whole Foods

Like lots of other people, I was excited when Amazon bought Whole Foods. The whole premise of the deal was that the scale of Amazon would enable more people to access the quality, healthy food on offer at pricey Whole Foods. But, then recently I spoke to a few friends who reported seeing things like Honey Nut Cheerios on the shelves of their local Whole Foods.

Let me be clear: You’re not supposed to be able to buy Honey Nut Cheerios at Whole Foods. The brand experience is all about health and quality, not processed, sugar-laden junk. Opening up a premium brand to more consumers can be a great move, but that’s not what Jeff Bezos and Amazon appear to actually be doing with Whole Foods so far. Instead, they’re violating the basic promise of the Whole Foods brand, and risking diluting it beyond all recognition.

This isn’t just a temptation for behemoths like Amazon. Smaller brands face similar questions all the time as they start to grow and add new revenue streams. Is that new sponsorship or partnership actually in line with your values? Are you broadening the appeal of your brand or are you selling out? Adding new customers is great. Losing your own core identity isn’t.

Lesson: Never forget your core mission. Filter all new revenue streams and partnerships through the lens of your values.

Related: The 5 Biggest Marketing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

2. IHOP’s half-baked IHOB stunt

I’m all for clever, disruptive marketing. Stunts can get people talking about your brand. But, not if you do them in the half-baked way IHOP recently did when it briefly changed its name to IHOB (for International House of Burgers) to highlight its new menu options.

I understand what IHOP was going for — these days lots of carb-conscious customers aren’t excited about sitting down to a giant stack of starchy pancakes and IHOP wanted to get the word out that they offer alternatives. But, its execution of the idea was just really weak. If you’re going to go and disrupt the market in a radical way, you need to go all in.

Wendy’s is a good example of a brand that succeeds. Its logo might be a sweet looking little girl, but on Twitter that little girl deals out some serious shade. It’s outrageous, hilarious and consistent.

You get that level of execution the same way you do in any other area of business — you know what you’re aiming for and then hire the right people to execute it. If you’re going for humor, bring in a stand-up comedian, for instance. Don’t rely on the same old advertising agency.

Lesson: Wishy-washy won’t get you anywhere. Go all in on your concept and make sure you hire the right people to get you there.

Related: 11 Disturbingly Offensive Ads That Landed Big Brands in Trouble

3. Starbucks’ one-day diversity training

When a national scandal erupted over a racist Starbucks barista who called the cops on two black customers who were just sitting in a store waiting for a meeting, the company actually did a lot of things right. Chairman Howard Schultz immediately came out with a strong and unequivocal statement that the company doesn’t tolerate racism. He didn’t hedge his words and he didn’t delay. Second, the company demonstrated a real commitment to change by closing its stores and missing out on a day of revenue to train its employees to avoid bias. Again, bravo.

But, the problem is that brand building isn’t about one-off gestures. It’s about creating structures to make sure you brand is executed consistently over time. A crisis is an opportunity not just to make an authentic apology but also to change the way you do things long-term. Update your website underscoring your values. Develop a crisis response plan for the future. Create new training that happens not just once but on an ongoing basis. Set up policies that nudge your customer-facing employees to always behave in ways aligned with your brand.

To the best of my knowledge, Starbucks hasn’t done any of that. Which creates a huge risk of a similar incident happening again in the future, and if it does there will be no way to rebuild a brand that’s all about community and safe spaces for people to gather.

Lesson: Responding to a crisis isn’t just about on-off gestures. The more important work is setting up an architecture that ensures problems don’t happen again in the future.



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How to Start a Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) Business

start a non emergency medical transport NEMT business

Image via TechCrunch.

What’s a non-emergency medical transportation business? NEMT services help people get to pre-scheduled healthcare appointments, including doctor visits, rehab, clinical testing, follow-up exams, and more.

The demand for safe and reliable public transportation for people with medical issues and disabilities, particularly in rural communities, continues to grow at remarkable rates. If you’re thinking about starting a NEMT business, read on.

The state of the NEMT industry

“Transportation issues shouldn’t prevent anyone from getting to or from a doctor’s appointment,” explains Imran Cronk, staff writer for the popular life sciences and medicine journalism website STAT.

“But they do just that for an estimated 3.6 million Americans. Some of these individuals don’t have cars or access to public transportation. Others can’t afford taxis or Ubers,” says Cronk.

There is a growing market opportunity in the NEMT services industry. The overall population of elderly and disabled patients is increasing. Plus, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, more preventative and follow-up treatments are covered by health insurance plans. In most areas, there simply aren’t many wheelchair-accessible vehicles in public transportation fleets.

Josh Komenda, CEO of VEYO, suggests that there’s a large population of those who need non-emergency medical transportation, especially for medically frail or elderly people in rural areas. Many don’t have a driver’s license or access to a vehicle. They’re geographically isolated, or they can’t access traditional public transportation for physical, mental, or developmental reasons.

A look at some telling statistics show a litany of challenges—along with business opportunities for solutions:

Medical transportation company legal structures

The legal structure of your non-emergency medical transportation business has far-reaching implications—both in respect to partnering with payment providers and resulting tax responsibilities.

NEMT businesses may be sole proprietorships, partnerships, or LLCs. If you want more help choosing a legal structure, an attorney can explain the advantages and disadvantages of each type.

While it’s possible to change your legal structure, it’s not ideal. When you’re putting together your business plan for your NEMT company, think through the possibilities around the evolution of the organization, and your expectations for growth. Your attention to detail will encourage confidence in potential investors and help to secure financing for the best start possible. Beyond legal structure considerations, use a business plan template to help you make sure that you’ve thought through every aspect of your business.  

NEMT certification, licensing, and insurance requirements

The non-emergency medical transportation industry is still in its comparative infancy as a formal niche—both in respect to technological innovation and federal regulation.

While there are no formal guidelines for the NEMT industry as a whole, each state has its own set of operational rules and regulations that all companies are required to follow.

NEMT certification elements

NEMT operators aren’t currently held to the same education and training requirements as their counterparts in ambulance transportation. You’ll still want your staff to be trained in basic medical emergency medical care—CPR, defibrillator operation, vitals assessment, and other life-saving techniques.

As the industry develops, and the need for NEMT professionals continues to grow, certification courses will almost certainly become standard.

NEMT licensing elements

Vehicle licensing is another primary element of the non-emergency medical transportation industry.

Double check your requirements with your local bureau of motor vehicles, and make sure you understand any standards set for Medicaid transportation if you offer it, like:

  1. Number of penalty points on a driving record
  2. A certification of the driver’s health
  3. A vehicle liability insurance policy
  4. A criminal background check
  5. Proof of negative random drug screenings

Auto and liability insurance elements

Because driving patients has inherent risks—traffic accidents or health-related events while en route to medical facilities—adequate insurance is another critical aspect of starting a NEMT business. While there are no national guidelines for insurance policy elements and dollar amounts, you’ll want to work with your provider to make sure you’re adequately covered.

In most cases, coverage is based on a two-part formula: coverage for the individual driver, and coverage for the company in general. Make sure you understand the risks and liabilities so that being underinsured doesn’t bankrupt your company.

ADA-compliant wheelchair-accessible vans and equipment

If you’re going to start a transport business, you’re going to need the right vehicle. You’re probably looking for a minivan, full-size van, or bus that meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

ADA compliance elements

Your vehicles will need to be ADA compliant if your business meets any of the following:

  1. Private employers with 15 or more employees;
  2. businesses operating for the benefit of the public; and,
  3. all state and local government agencies.

Some ADA requirements include:

  • Lift door height: 56”-door opening height
  • Handicap lift: 30” x 40” wide clear platform
  • Wheelchair attachments: Able to withstand 2,500 of pressure per leg
  • Seat belt mechanism: 4-pt. tie downs with lap and shoulder belt
  • Interior lighting: one-foot candle of illumination

Be sure to think through the associated medical supplies you’ll need for your passengers—wheelchairs, gurneys, oxygen tanks, dialysis machines, for example. These extras will influence the size and floor plan of the vehicle you’ll need, and will no doubt affect your overall startup costs.

ADA-compliant vans

There are a few affordable makes and models of wheelchair accessible vans that are ADA-compliant—either right from the manufacturing line or after an accessibility conversion.

Download your free business startup checklist today!

Service, staffing, payment, and marketing processes

On the front end, you need to be able to meet the needs of your customers—that means providing exceptional service with flexibility and consistency. That will require smart staffing decisions, and a commitment to ongoing training, especially as the industry grows.

On the back end, you’ll need to look at ways to control costs to increase your profitability.

From the start, think about:

  1. The services you offer and the most efficient ways to deliver them
  2. Hiring the right people to work with and for you
  3. Appropriate payment options for your demographic
  4. Your dynamic marketing strategy—or how you’ll find your clients

Selecting service offerings and billing

Whatever specific services you decide to offer, make sure to itemize them and communicate them clearly. You want your customers to know what they’re getting, and you want to make it as easy as possible to be transparent about billing.

Pricing your services

How you price your services will depend on a few different factors:

  1. Geographic location
  2. Economic conditions
  3. Age and health condition of customers
  4. The business’s ability to deliver services economically

Pricing techniques such as multi-service package rates, referral discount programs, and frequent customer rewards can drive additional business.

Hiring office staffing positions

Staffing an NEMT startup—outside of competent drivers—will require a mix of talented professionals with experience in customer service, accounting and finance, scheduling organization, and leadership.

As with most startups, your staff will probably need to perform multiple roles at first. You may not be able to hire your full, ideal staff right out of the gate. But even in the early days, it’s going to be important to have a solid training program for onboarding new hires.

Determining payment options

Medicaid will probably be a primary payer for services. Make sure your staff has a working knowledge of Medicaid’s detailed processes and billing guidelines. This will include ongoing training for yearly program changes.

Developing relationships with insurance providers will probably also be key. Each insurer most likely will follow their own set of operating guidelines—it’s an initial challenge that should become increasingly smoother from year to year.

Creating a marketing strategy

Once all elements of the NEMT startup are in place, it’s time to get the word out to potential customers, their family members, and their caregivers.

Money spent on a focused, multichannel marketing strategy is money well-spent. There should be a mix of traditional and digital advertising techniques within the strategic marketing plan—a method to ensure that the message reaches those online and off. Establishing a marketing ROI tracking strategy can help determine which channels deserve the larger investment of capital.

In addition to paid marketing practices, the NEMT startup can increase ROI by finding various unpaid—and sometimes earned—marketing opportunities.

These may include:

  1. Partnering with non-competing businesses that serve the same customer base
  2. Creating educational resources and hosting them on your website
  3. Requesting write-ups in local newspapers and magazines
  4. Establishing a referral program to drive word-of-mouth advertising

Start with a solid business plan. Make sure you’re properly licensed and insured, and that your vehicle is reliable and ADA compliant.

Now more than ever, it’s possible to develop a profitable NEMT business while helping individuals access the proper medical care they need to be healthy.

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Kelly Richardson
Kelly Richardson

Kelly C. Richardson, EdS is the director of content and social media for Atlanta-based AMS Vans—the Southeast’s largest wheelchair accessible vehicle manufacturer and mobility dealer, and leading advocate of mobility freedom for persons with disabilities. He has over 18 years of direct response copywriting and marketing experience—as both a freelance consultant and full-time agency partner—across a broad spectrum of industries, markets, and niches. As a freelance marketing consultant, Kelly has designed and executed strategic marketing campaigns for over 250 thriving B2C, B2B, non-profit, and government clients—including Fortune 500s, mid-sized corporations, and burgeoning startups.

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5 Sneaky Psychology Tricks Advertisers Use to Get Our Business

Pay attention to the tricks that ‘get’ you. Then replicate them in your own business.


8 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Today’s consumers have become more observant than ever in the face of clever, and sometimes deceptive, marketing tactics. That’s why advertisers have had to morph into masters of applied psychology, always on the hunt for new ways to capture our interest and get those all-important clicks from us as consumers.

Related: A Better Understanding of Consumer Psychology Will Earn You More Online Conversions

As new research emerges from psychology and the social sciences, advertisers are learning new ways to gain our interest and persuade us to click and buy. But I try to stay a step ahead! That’s how I can describe the following five sneaky tricks I’ve found advertisers using to get consumers’ attention.

These are steps that you, as an entrepreneuur, can use, too.

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon

Say that you need a new car and someone mentions a certain kind of car — one you’ve never heard of before — but you’re interested. Suddenly, the car is everywhere.

It’s parked in front of your house. Your boss has one. You see two of them next to you in traffic on your way home from work. What you’re experiencing is the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, also known as the Frequency Illusion.

Using this technique has become handy in terms of marketing. We see it every day, out of our car windows, plastered on giant billboards. The consistent and repetitive marketing typical with the phenomenon becomes seared into our brains and we find ourselves seeing this product everywhere we go.

Related: #7 Psychological Theories Every Marketer Should Consider

How can brands get the most consistent exposure to ensure this phenomenon takes full effect? Start by putting your product in front of everyone with a hyper-localized strategy. Surround your relative community with your brand over a long period of time; this will encourage word of mouth and make the brand the only one being talked about.

An impressive example is Absolut Vodka’s famous print advertising campaign, which ran for many years. It took off from the United States and quickly spread to other parts of the world. Rather than creating standard ads, the brand found a way to make its ads alive and relatable. The vodka brand chose to create experiences with its ads.

Takeaway: This effect ignites the idea that the customer cares about the brand’s local businesses, and customers begin to unconsciously see and hear your brand everywhere.

The power of anecdote

An anecdote is a short story that can be used to support a debate. Anecdotes can be useful in illustrating the effects of a discussion; however, they are not conclusive evidence, because they are limited in scope and not necessarily representative of the norm.

Quite a number of marketing departments use anecdotes aggressively to their advantage. Testimonials, videos of happy customers and glowing case studies are examples of marketing materials that tap the brain’s love for stories and reliance on anecdotes as “evidence.”

Nike has always excelled at brand storytelling. One of its best campaigns is Equality. This made a strong statement about the brand as a force for positive social change, offering athletes something more than just a pair of sneakers and branded workout gear.

The Equality campaign was, and is, an example of using brand anecdotes to connect with audience members, inviting them to become a part of a collective movement by wearing Nike products, or at the very least, by engaging on social media, sharing one of the brand’s always inspiring videos.

Takeaway: Anecdotes give meaning to a product that is otherwise impersonal.  Even if brands present evidence that their product is superior to competitors’, buyers might still choose the competitor’s simply because someone they know recommended it.

Anthropomorphism

“Anthropomorphism” happens when someone assigns real or imagined human characteristics, intentions, motivations or emotions to nonhuman animals or objects. Over time, people have inculcated fictional creatures and animals with human traits and motivations.

Marketers have capitalized on this tendency by creating a variety of anthropomorphic animal mascots for commercial products and services.  The “Michelin Man” and “Mr. Peanut,” by Planters, are some examples of anthropomorphic animal mascots.

When a brand has a persona, it becomes “human”; it triggers the perception of intentional action as well as the desired action itself. In other words, customers might connect with the brand, as they feel it represents them in a way. However, be forewarned: Any problems with the products or services or with the brand itself will be treated as a human problem with equivalent consequences.

Takeaway: Brand anthropomorphism can be a double-edged sword; while making brands more human, anthropomorphism creates connections and engagement with the customers. So, it can leave more room for judgment, as the brand will be viewed as human. The best approach is for brands to emphasize the best of the human part.

Decoy pricing

The decoy effect is a result of cognitive biases. A cognitive bias is the tendency of the human mind to make inaccurate judgments or believe distortions or other fallacies. Every cognitive bias has a cause.

In marketing, the decoy effect occurs when consumers tend to have a specific change in preference between two options when presented with a third option that is inferior to one of those two original options.

Decoy pricing is a tactic that boosts sales of high-profit items by creating another version of the product solely to make the pricier version seem economical by comparison. Decoy pricing encourages people to compare the pricing options. As a result, sales of the more attractive, higher-priced item increase.

Have you ever noticed how often products come in three options? This may be the business trying to offer different options to customers. But smart marketing also takes advantage of the decoy effect to lead customers to the most expensive purchase rather than to the one they might have ordinarily made.

Think about your last visit to the cinema and the temptation to buy popcorn. If there was a small and a large size of popcorn, and the small one was $3.50 and the large one $7.50, most people probably bought the small size.

However, if the theater added in a medium size at, say $6.50, most people would buy the large because it’s only $1 more than the medium. The $6.50 option is the decoy.

Takeaway: The decoy effect is subtle, yet powerful. The process is simple: Pick the plan you want to sell. Provide two more choices. Jack up the decoy, and watch the sales pour in.

Loss aversion

Loss aversion is based on the idea that shoppers feel good when they gain something, but also bad when they lose something. Our feelings toward loss and gain are not equal; we feel a stronger negative feeling toward losing something then the positive feeling we have when we gain something

Loss aversion, simply put, calls for averting the loss of something we own. Ever wonder why companies offer free trials? A 1990 study conducted by Nobel-winning psychologist and behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues found that people are more likely to act when they have something to lose, as opposed to when they gain the same thing.

That’s why companies offer free trials, so customers will want to keep their connection to the product even after the trial period is over.

Loss aversion can be a powerful conversion-driver for your brand. The key is to avoid inciting fear: instead, offer users constructive information. Guide them through their decision process and provide a compelling reason for them to take action.

Advertisers use every human sense we have, including our subconscious senses, to convince us to buy things, and they’re very successful at what they do.

Related: The Unconscious Power of Brands

But of course we’re consumers as well as entrepreneurs, so even with this knowledge of the tricks advertisers use, we’ll likely still find it hard to resist being influenced by our own subconscious.

The point, though, is to be aware: The next time you stroll through a grocery store or shop online, pay attention to the tricks that “get” you. Then try to replicate some of them in your own business.

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Head, Heart, and Hands: 3 Essentials for Startup Success

startup success

This article is part of our Business Startup Guide—a curated list of our articles that will get you up and running in no time!

Starting up a business requires a lot of different steps.

First-time entrepreneurs and small business founders often feel anxious when they think about all the factors that play into getting their idea off the ground.

Plus, it can seem like success or failure hinges on finding deep-pockets funders, expert mentors, ample press coverage, and other “champions.”

But the truth is, you already possess some of the most important assets you’ll need to achieve success. These are nothing less than your personal faculties—the awesome power of your own head, your own heart, and your own hands.

In other words, much of your potential for success will be determined by:

  1. The quality of your idea
  2. The strength and sincerity of your belief in it
  3. Your effort to make it a reality

Succeed with your head: The impact of innovative ideas

Big or small, every successful business starts with an innovative idea.

Nike was born when Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman recognized the hidden potential of a waffle iron to improve soles for running shoes. Howard Schultz brought the espresso bar concept from Italy to the United States and grew Starbucks into a global phenomenon. And when Jeff Bezos started Amazon in 1994, many people had never even heard of something called the internet.

True, your business aspirations may be on a more modest scale than these world-famous brands. Nevertheless, your first step is to come up with an innovative idea.

But where to begin? Tim Berry, the founder of Palo Alto Software and Bplans, says there is no better starting point than looking in the mirror. Each of us is a unique individual. Within ourselves, we each carry the seeds of entrepreneurial success—concepts that interest us, questions that intrigue us, skills that set us apart, and an internal sense that some things could be done differently and better.

It’s good to have role models in business, but you should not try to mimic someone else’s success. Successful businesses are always built from the special aptitudes and unique insights of the people who founded them. Your truly innovative idea will be as one-of-a-kind as you are.

The Lean Business Plan Template

Succeed with your heart: The power of positive belief

To bring your idea to fruition, you must genuinely believe in it.

Good luck persuading others to invest if you can’t convey your own enthusiasm and confidence in your idea. An idea for a business might seem “great,” but if it fails to ignite your sense of passion, it probably isn’t the right one for you. Go back to the drawing board and come up with an idea you can truly commit to.

A secure and persevering spirit will be an essential factor in your success. Trust that you will adapt to changes; learn to conquer fear and approach uncertainty with confidence. Become fiercely committed to seeing your goals through.

For example, if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur who feels “mathematically challenged” (and many of us do), then you may feel intimidated by financial forecasting and fall into a pattern of prioritizing other tasks. You may tell yourself you’re “too busy” tending to outside obligations or allow yourself to get bogged down in other details of ongoing business planning.

Sometimes we engage in such behaviors just to procrastinate. At other times we are actually creating preemptive excuses for the failure we fear is inevitable. If left unchecked, negative belief can grow into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Freeing yourself of negativity will require a conscious effort. Take note of the goals you tend to put off and the productive tasks you habitually avoid. Ask yourself why. As you learn to identify the negative beliefs that are impeding your progress, you will feel empowered to begin changing them.

Use tools that can help you manage the challenging aspects of your business. For example, if finances are challenging and you notice that you avoid reviewing them, use a business planning and ongoing financial management tool with a dashboard so you can see where you are without getting bogged down in spreadsheets.

If you need to learn more about digital marketing, take an online class—just take small steps toward the things that seem overwhelming. You don’t have to solve everything all in one day. Small accomplishments can mean a lot when you’re trying to get out of a procrastination rut.

Succeed with your hands: The effectiveness of effort

The best ideas and most heartfelt belief are of little value without the resolve to take action and work hard.

You will sometimes hear people explain a business leader’s success by giving credit to “good luck.” People who talk like this have little knowledge or practical experience starting a  business.

If you believe in succeeding through perseverance, you have the right frame of mind to do what it takes to make your business grow. Those who believe in success through luck might be better served to buy lottery tickets. In business, there is no such thing as luck; you achieve success because you are willing to work hard for it.

People who are accustomed to working hard are less inclined to feel overwhelmed by challenges. They are eager to acquire new skills because they can quickly put them to good use. And contrary to the image of the “head in the clouds” visionary, you will probably find that your most inspired thinking actually occurs when you are engaged in productive work. Research even indicates that hard-working people tend to live longer than take-it-easy types.

Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” Much has changed since Edison’s day, but sweat equity is still the most effective kind of startup capital.

Practical ways to get started

If you’ve been thinking about starting a business but you haven’t yet taken the leap, there are a few ways you can position yourself for success.

1. If you have a business idea, write a quick business plan—a Lean Plan

If you’ve heard of the business model canvas idea, Lean Planning is similar but ultimately more useful. You can download the Bplans Lean Plan Template to help you get started.

2. Validate your idea and make sure that it’s one worth pursuing

Passion is important, but so are the details.

Use your Lean Plan to help you think through your ideal target market, the specifics on your product or service, and whether you’ll need to seek a loan or private investment. This idea validation checklist can help you think through every aspect.

3. Make sure you take care of the details

When you’re ready to start a business, you’ll need to think about registering your business’s legal structure, doing market research, finding office space if you need it, developing a website for an online business—and more!

Use this startup checklist—it will guide you through every aspect you’ll need to consider. And if you have trouble staying on track, read and then follow along with this guide to starting a business in 30 days.

As you get your startup or small business up and running, don’t be afraid to reach out to your network for support. It can also be helpful to find a mentor. SCORE provides free business mentorship from experts who have been where you are and want to see you succeed. Good luck!

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Should You Push Your Kush?

Push notification are yet another tool to capture the attention of your customers, but they may not be worth it.


3 min read

Opinions expressed by Green Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


You want to share information with your customers. They want to hear about it in a way that is natural and convenient for them. So which marketing method is less invasive and more effective: SMS or push notifications?

The truth may surprise you, as consumers are increasingly feeling “pushed” by a constant barrage of notifications, and seeking out more personal experiences with their favorite brands.

Related: The Most Effective Cannabis Advertising Tool You’re Probably Not Using

A Bit Too Pushy

Before you are even able to push notifications to your customer, there is usually a prerequisite of having a mobile app. All companies should think carefully about how an app would be a useful and necessary part of their customers’ daily lives. Otherwise, it won’t be.

While they can be useful in carrying out a specific business objective, apps are costly to build and may take months before completion — disabling you from using notifications until it’s fully built out.

Additionally, consumers may not be motivated to download yet another app on their mobile devices. With so many apps already a part of people’s daily lives, your app may appear as just another drain on your customers’ valuable mobile data and battery life.Who is to say that a critical number of customers will download your app — and keep it on their phones for longer than a few days?

Bottom line: With a push notification marketing plan, there are simply too many unknowns and not enough control. Text messages are instant, direct, cheap for you, and free for your customer. All around, it’s less legwork and more ROI for your campaigns.

Related: 12 Cutting-Edge Marijuana Marketing Tactics That Work

The Reward of the Personal Touch

While they are becoming more acceptable as part of the mobile culture, push notifications can still elicit a negative response from consumers.

A 2017 survey revealed that around 89 percent of consumers would disable an app after receiving any more than two weekly push notifications. That’s a tolerance threshold of just two notifications per week does not bode well for a marketing plan that focuses primarily on pushing information to the user. We are so used to swiping these notifications away when we have more important tasks at hand; it’s no wonder they are proving ineffective at holding customers’ attention when it comes to marketing.

Even when compared to mobile ads, which are typically highly targeted to each unique user, SMS campaigns reign supreme. Text messages drove nearly double the responses and actions that mobile advertisements did in 2017.

The real reward of SMS marketing? The vast majority of text messages, estimated to be around 90 percent, are read within three minutes of receipt. For such an inexpensive form of marketing, the impression rate is outstanding.

As long as the information in your texts is valuable, and your customers have opted into receiving them, you really can’t go wrong by communicating with them in this way.

Texting is a friendly way to advertise and offers opportunities to share time-sensitive information with the ability to add images and links if necessary. Above all, SMS marketing keeps it brief and on topic. Utilize this direct channel to keep customers loyal, rather than “pushing” them away.

 

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This Year’s Best Email Newsletters

the best email newsletters

Most of us don’t have a ton of time to sift through everything to find the best ideas on the internet, on top of all our other obligations. And I don’t know about you, but my inbox is more crowded every day.

So, I’m always on the lookout for the best email newsletters—the ones I can rely on to be the right combination of informative and truly insightful, especially for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

So here are the best reads I’ve found this year:

Swipe File

Jimmy Daly, the author of Swipe File, is the marketing director at Animalz. Animalz is a content marketing company for software-as-a-service, tech, and crypto companies. He previously worked with GetVero and Quickbooks in the marketing department.

An experienced marketer, Daly identifies the four best articles he read that week and gives a brief description of each. This one stood out to me.

“In every issue of Swipe File, there is at least one thing that changes the way that I work or the way I think about work,” says Val Geisler, a professional email marketer. “The internet is full of crappy newsletters that deliver zero value. Swipe File is not one of those.”

Anyone with a company involved in content marketing should keep up with Swipe File. Daly gives you several pertinent articles about marketing, saving you time and verifying what tactics will help your business the most. Go here to sign up.

Emergent

“There’s a lot of great content out there, but there’s also a lot of mediocre content,” says Noah Parsons, COO of Palo Alto Software and creator of Emergent. “We’re taking the tact of going a little further and pulling in things that are off the beaten track and hopefully a little bit more surprising and interesting than getting the same genre of content every single month.”

Parsons also wants the Emergent newsletter to share Palo Alto Software’s personality. He wants to make the company more transparent by sharing things employees find intriguing that don’t pertain directly to business planning.

“Our site talks about our products and what we offer, but doesn’t give a lot of insight into the behind-the-scenes of what we find interesting as a company,” he says. “We have a wider interest-set than the more narrow focus of what our products offer.” Sign up here.

Moz Top 10

93 percent of business-to-business (B2B) businesses do content marketing, but only 5 percent feel like their efforts are effective. Moz publishes a semi-monthly newsletter called The Moz Top 10.

When I began my content marketing internship, I immediately subscribed to The Moz Top 10. Twice a month, I get 10 articles sent straight to my inbox, many of which have changed how I write and construct content—useful information for any small business or startup that’s figuring out how to be found in Google search. Sign up here.

Dan Pink

Dan Pink has written many books about business and behavior, several of which are NY Times bestsellers. He continues to write books while publishing a newsletter every other Tuesday—it boasts more than 150,000 subscribers.

Like Emergent, his newsletter has three sections—a changing assortment of tips, suggestions, and recommendations relating to business in different ways. Topics involve articles, podcasts, TV shows, gadgets, and more.

John Procopio, Palo Alto Software’s director of marketing, says: “I don’t always have the time to read all the newsletters in my inbox, but I still want to keep up with business news and trends. Dan Pink’s newsletter gives me the most bang for my buck because the video leaves you thinking—articles can’t always do that.” Sign up here.

The Hustle

The Hustle is a daily newsletter that has a pulse on growing startups and corporate dramas.

“The Hustle really cuts through because they somehow just know how to get to the root of what I’m looking for and they give it to you straight,” says Alyssa Powell, Palo Alto Software’s digital media marketing specialist. “I don’t know how they do it, but the way that they write is just phenomenal. Their branding shows through on all different platforms and communities.”

But it’s not the Wall Street Journal. They’re trying a new model for news-sharing, and it seems to be working, based on their incredible subscriber numbers. Sign up here.

CB Insights

The CB Insights newsletter gives me key reports and takeaways in a graphically pleasing way,” says Edward Silva, a marketing intern turned Stanford MBA student. “Other newsletters don’t necessarily do that. They just provide me knowledge, but CB Insights turns that knowledge and data into interesting and often funny insights.” Sign up here.

But wait, there’s more!

You’ve all probably heard of these three newsletters—there’s a reason why they are three of the most popular for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Tim Ferriss, author of five NY Times bestsellers about self-help and personal development, is the author of 5-Bullet Friday. Each week is a surprise, but the topics are always helpful for improving your work-life balance.

Entrepreneur Daily is the ultimate newsletter to keep up with trends and breaking news in the world of business. It’s released every day and talks about a few of the biggest events that took place in the last 24 hours.

Lastly, Kevin Rose has created the extremely popular business newsletter: The Journal. His writing is very conversational, a break from the automated newsletters that usually fill your inbox. He, like Ferriss, includes a few random topics that can benefit your productivity and work-life balance.

What’s the newsletter you can’t live without? Tell us about it on Twitter @Bplans.

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Nate Mann
Nate Mann

Nate Mann recently finished his second year at the University of Oregon. He is pursuing a major in journalism, along with minors in business administration and computer science. He is currently a content marketing intern for Palo Alto Software. Outside of school and work, Nate is an avid basketball fan and writes about the Portland Trail Blazers for Rip City Project. He is also a data reporting intern for the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication.



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Thinking of Taking Your Marketing In-House? Think Again.

How you outsource your services can have a major impact on your marketing department and your entire company, so educate yourself about the pros and cons.


5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


As a decision-maker at a small-to-medium sized business (SMB), perhaps you’ve started to consider taking your company’s marketing in-house. You’re not alone.

Related: 10 Benefits Of Outsourcing Your Digital Marketing

An array of large brands are moving their own marketing programs in-house, with major names like United Airlines and Procter & Gamble leading the pack. In fact, 64 percent of advertisers now follow the in-house agency model according to Forrester research;, that’s up from 42 percent just a decade ago.

The trend toward discontinuing agency partnerships is happening for many reasons. Our economy is doing well, and recent slashes to corporate taxes have freed up resources that businesses can use to move their outsourced activities internally. Some decision-makers, moreover, are feeling pressured to offer a crystal-clear expression of their brand across social channels and other outlets. They see in-house marketing as the best way to take back control over consumer perceptions of their brands.

But for an SMB like yours, there’s no need to divorce yourself from your agency networks overnight, if at all.

What you should do, however, is consider an agency’s specialties when you consider that agency as a future partner. How you outsource your services can have a major impact on your marketing department, and on your entire company, for that matter, so before making a move, educate yourself fully on all of your options and their related risks.

Related: How Your Company Can Use Both Outsourced and In-House Marketing

When you hire an agency, go with a specialist.

Outsourcing your company’s marketing program doesn’t mean you’re left with no options. Rather, many decision-makers opting whether to go with an agency may even feel overwhelmed by the choices: Work with a full-service agency? Or a specialty agency?

There are two sides to every coin, of course. Full-service agencies support a more streamlined customer experience. However, big-name agencies may glide by on legacy alone and produce generic, less compelling marketing campaigns. What’s more, full-service agencies often don’t go as deeply into specific service categories, such as PPC or SEO. So, what you gain in efficiencies you may sacrifice in performance.

Conversely, you earn greater value and new capabilities when you leave high-priority, or high-knowledge tasks to the experts. Specialization means agencies say “no” to certain opportunities, but more importantly these agencies can better execute on the campaigns they say “yes” to. That’s a major reason why specialization outperforms full-service more often than not.

Here are some other key benefits of working with a specialist agency:

A boost for your campaign performance

First and foremost, specialist agencies get programs up and running faster than their full-service competitors. The learning curve to drive value from your investment is less steep and positions your team to leverage a rich set of features from day one. For example, a provider like RallyMind can offer unique technologies to help SMBs quickly develop landing pages and master lead-generation.

Both of these tasks are key to early campaign performance, but they can feel like big asks for SMBs to tackle alone and without expertise.

An emphasis on data tracking

Another benefit common to specialist agencies is performance-tracking, as niche agencies must prove their value. Not only is this data-driven approach the antidote to generic campaigns popularized by bigger, full-service agencies, but specialized agencies also work with additional specialists to help SMBs “out-measure” the competition.

For example, savvy specialist agencies may bring on martech partners — like the call-tracking software company CallRail — to better understand and boost the cross-channel performance of their marketing spend.

Call-tracking closes the marketing attribution loop and empowers SMBs to track and measure the relationships among billions of offline and online customer engagements. This added intelligence directly contributes to ROI conversations, helps avoid accidental underreporting and aggregates the data required to help your company make informed business decisions.

A future-proofed organization

Job-hopping is the norm for younger professionals today: 57 percent of millennials, according to a Robert Half survey, no longer feel a stigma around career switches. Employee turnover is practically expected at SMBs, but it can cause major problems when you bring too many responsibilities in-house.

So, what do you do when the head of your marketing department (and sole marketing employee) puts in his or her two-week notice? It’s a daunting reality to find a replacement, gather your departing employee’s insights and ensure the continuity of your marketing program in that person’s absence.

Outsourcing to a specialist agency mitigates these issues. An agency guarantees performance regardless of turnover, and it costs less than hiring on your own full-time (pseudo) expert. What’s more, providers like Trainual are designed specifically to alleviate the pressures of setting employees up for success.

Training distribution platforms do much of the heavy lifting around new education and training rollouts. Keeping training external also means that you don’t lose valuable resources and expertise when employees leave, or your company scales. These advantages “future-proof” your organization against the natural ebb and flow of running an SMB.

Moving forward, agencies will even be able to help SMBs automate common, routine tasks and provide stability as workforces change. For example, ThinkChat’s AI-powered solution automates lead-capture and allows SMBs to operate 24/7 at a low cost.

Related: The 5 Ws of Outsourcing Your Company’s Content Creation

Every SMB must decide for itself what its best marketing future looks like.

As you consider different options for your company, remember that going in-house is not the only avenue to earn more control over your marketing program or drive greater ROI from your budget. Nor is it always the best option. To ensure your SMB’s marketing is as strong and innovative as it can be, remain open to the benefits a specialist agency can deliver.

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How to Get Funding for a Business

how to fund a business

Most healthy businesses need business financing at some point. Startups have to deal with starting costs and ongoing businesses have to finance growth and working capital.

Deciding to take on some kind of debt is quite common. In this article, we’ll take a quick look at the big picture, and then talk through options for funding.

Financing options depend on what kind of business you have. Its age, position, performance, market opportunities, team, and so forth are very important. So you should tailor your funding search and your approach. Don’t waste your time looking for the wrong kind of financing.

Understand the general realities of getting funded

Let’s start with a quick reality check. Like so many things in business, a lot about business financing depends on your specific details. Realities go case by case, depending on the growth stage, resources, and other factors.  

Are you a startup or ongoing business?

The outlook for funding depends a great deal on the specifics of the business.

For example, many ongoing businesses have access to standard business loans from a traditional bank that would not be available to startups. Also, high-tech high-growth startups have access to investment funding that would not be available to stable, established businesses that show only slow growth.

Small business financing myths

Before we get into the most viable options for start-ups and established businesses, let’s dispel some popular funding myths, just so we can get them out of the way. Don’t get discouraged at this point. Better to deal with realities that you can work with rather than myths you can’t.

Myth #1: Venture capital is a growing opportunity for funding businesses

Actually, venture capital financing is very rare. I’ll explain this more later, but assume that only a very few high-growth companies with high-power management teams are venture opportunities.

Myth #2: Bank loans are the most likely option for funding a new business

Actually, banks don’t finance business startups. I’ll have more on that later, too. Banks aren’t supposed to invest depositors’ money in new businesses.

Myth #3: Business plans sell investors

Actually, they don’t.

A well-written and convincing business plan (and pitch) presents your business to investors in detail; but they are investing in your business, not just a plan.

Normally you have to have a team in place, have made progress toward idea validation, or—better still—traction (paying customers). So you do a lot of work before you get investors.

Nobody invests in ideas or plans. The rare exception is a special case, in which investors know an entrepreneur well and are ready to invest in them at an early stage. In that case, they are investing in the entrepreneur, not the plan.  

The role of the business plan

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a business plan. You should.

Your business plan is an essential piece of the funding puzzle, explaining exactly how much money you need, and where it’s going to go, and how long it will take you to earn it back.

Investors will look first to a summary, and then a pitch; but if you get through that screening, they’ll want to see a business plan for the process of due diligence. And even before that, during the early stages, they’ll expect you to have a business plan in the background, for your own use.

Most commercial banks require a business plan as part of a loan application. A plan is also required for applying for a business loan guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Everyone you talk to is going to expect you to have a business plan available. They may not start their discussions with you by looking at the plan, but don’t get caught without one when they ask to see it.

Where to look for money

The process of looking for money must match the needs of the company. Where you look for money, and how you look for money, depends on your company and the kind of money you need. There is an enormous difference, for example, between a high-growth internet-related company looking for second-round venture funding and a local retail store looking to finance a second location.

In the following sections of this article, I’ll talk more specifically about six different types of investment and lending available, to help you get your business funded.

1. Venture capital

The business of venture capital is frequently misunderstood. Many startup companies complain about venture capital companies for failing to invest in new ventures or risky ventures.

People talk about venture capitalists as sharks, because of their supposedly predatory business practices, or sheep, because they supposedly think like a flock, all wanting the same kinds of deals.

This is not the case. The venture capital business is just that—a business. The people we call venture capitalists are business people who are charged with investing other people’s money. They have a professional responsibility to reduce risk as much as possible. They should not take more risk than is absolutely necessary to produce the risk/return ratios that the sources of their capital ask of them.

Venture capital shouldn’t be thought of as a source of funding for any but a very few exceptional startup businesses. Venture capital can’t afford to invest in startups unless there is a rare combination of product opportunity, market opportunity, and proven management.

Venture capital professionals look for businesses that they believe could produce a huge increase in business value within just a few years. They know that most of these high-risk ventures fail, so the winners have to win big enough to pay for all the losers.

They focus on newer products and markets that can reasonably project increasing sales by huge multiples over a short period of time. They try to work only with proven management teams who have dealt with successful startups in the past.

If you are a potential venture capital investment, you probably know it already. You have management team members who have been through that already. You can convince yourself and a room full of intelligent people that your company can grow ten times over in three years.

If you have to ask whether your new company is a possible venture capital opportunity, it probably isn’t. People in new growth industries, multimedia communications, biotechnology, or the far reaches of high-technology products, generally know about venture capital and venture capital opportunities.

If you are looking for names and addresses of venture capitalists, start with the internet.

The names and addresses of venture capitalists are also available in a couple of annual directories:

2. Angel investment

We started with venture capital first in this article because the phrase is more common, and some people think of all outside investment in high-growth startups as venture capital.

However, the reality is that what we call angel investment is much more common than venture capital, and usually is much more available to startups, and at earlier growth stages too.

Although angel investment is a lot like venture capital (and is often confused with it), there are important distinctions. First, angel investors are groups or individuals who invest their own money. Second, angel investors tend to invest in companies at earlier stages of growth, while venture capital typically waits until after a few years of growth, after startups have more history.

Many people use the term “venture capital” to apply to any investors who invest in high-growth startups. In fact, angel investment in startups is much more common than venture capital, especially at the earlier growth stages. Businesses that land venture capital typically do so as they grow and mature after having started with angel investment first.

Like venture capitalists, angel investors normally focus on high-growth companies at early stages of development. Don’t think of them for funding for established, stable, low-growth businesses.

Your next question, of course, is how to find the “angels” that might want to invest in your business. Some government agencies, business development centers, business incubators, and similar organizations will be tied into the investment communities in your area. Turn first to your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which is most likely associated with your local community college.

You can also post your business plan on websites that bring angel investors together. The two most reputable sites in this area are:

You should also be aware that angel investment was affected by the 2012 JOBS Act that loosened some restrictions and allowed what we now call crowdfunding.

Traditionally, angel investment was limited by U.S. securities and exchange regulations to individuals meeting some minimum wealth requirements, called “accredited investors” in the legal wording. Crowdfunding is the accepted term for individual investment in startups by people who don’t meet the legal wealth requirements.

Under certain conditions, startups and even non-high-growth small business can solicit investment from a wider range of investors. Details are still fuzzy on a lot of this, so, when in doubt, check with a good attorney first.  

Important: Be careful dealing with anyone or business firm offering to find you startup investment if you hire them to act as front or negotiator for you, or do your business plan, or your pitch presentations and such. These are shark-infested waters.

I am aware of some legitimate providers of business plan consulting, but legitimate providers are harder to find than the sharks. Real angel investors want to deal with the startup team founders, not brokers, or finders, or consultants. Finders’ fees had a place in startup investment a few decades ago, but have become obsolete.

Download the free Investor Pitch Deck Template Kit today!

3. Commercial lenders

Banks are even less likely than venture capitalists to invest in, or loan money to, startup businesses. They are, however, the most likely source of financing for established small businesses.

Startup entrepreneurs and small business owners are too quick to criticize banks and financial institutions for failing to finance new businesses. Banks are not supposed to invest in businesses, and are strictly limited in this respect by federal banking laws.

The government prevents banks from investment in businesses because society, in general, doesn’t want banks taking savings from depositors and investing in risky business ventures; obviously when (and if) those business ventures fail, bank depositors’ money is at risk. Would you want your bank to invest in new businesses (other than your own, of course)?

Furthermore, banks should not loan money to startup companies either, for many of the same reasons. Federal regulators want banks to keep money safe, in very conservative loans backed by solid collateral. Startup businesses are not safe enough for bank regulators and they don’t have enough collateral.

Why then do I say that banks are the most likely source of small business financing? Because small business owners borrow from banks. A business that has been around for a few years generates enough stability and assets to serve as collateral. Banks commonly make loans to small businesses backed by the company’s inventory or accounts receivable. Normally there are formulas that determine how much can be loaned, depending on how much is in inventory and in accounts receivable.

A great deal of small business financing is accomplished through bank loans based on the business owner’s personal collateral, such as home ownership. Some would say that home equity is the greatest source of small business financing.

4. The Small Business Administration (SBA)

The SBA makes loans to small businesses and even to startup businesses. SBA loans are almost always applied for and administered by local banks. You normally deal with a local bank throughout the process of getting an SBA loan.

For startup loans, the SBA will normally require that at least one-third of the required capital be supplied by the new business owner. Furthermore, the rest of the amount must be guaranteed by reasonable business or personal assets.

The SBA works with “certified lenders,” which are banks. It takes a certified lender as little as one week to get approval from the SBA. If your own bank isn’t a certified lender, you should ask your banker to recommend a local bank that is.

Need help finding a business loan? Find available small business loan options with the Bplans Loan Finder.

5. Other lenders

Aside from standard bank loans, an established small business can also turn to accounts receivable specialists to borrow against its accounts receivables.

The most common accounts receivable financing is used to support cash flow when working capital is hung up in accounts receivable.

For example, if your business sells to distributors that take 60 days to pay, and the outstanding invoices waiting for payment (but not late) come to $100,000, your company can probably borrow more than $50,000.

Interest rates and fees may be relatively high, but this is still often a good source of small business financing. In most cases, the lender doesn’t take the risk of payment—if your customer doesn’t pay you, you have to pay the money back anyhow. These lenders will often review your debtors, and choose to finance some or all of the invoices outstanding.

Another related business practice is called factoring. So-called factors actually purchase obligations, so if a customer owes you $100,000 you can sell the related paperwork to the factor for some percentage of the total amount. In this case, the factor takes the risk of payment, so discounts are obviously quite steep. Ask your banker for additional information about factoring.

6. Friends and family funding

If I could make only one point with budding entrepreneurs, it would be that you should know what money you need, and understand that it is at risk. Know how much you are betting, and don’t bet money you can’t afford to lose.

I’ll always remember a talk I had with a man who had spent 15 years trying to make his sailboat manufacturing business work, achieving not much more than aging and more debt. “If I can tell you only one thing,” he said, “it is that you should never take money from friends and family. If you do, then you can never get out. Businesses sometimes fail, and you need to be able to close it down and walk away. I wasn’t able to do that.”

The story points out why the U.S. government securities laws discourage getting business investments from people who aren’t wealthy, sophisticated investors. They don’t fully understand how much risk there is. If your parents, siblings, good friends, cousins, and in-laws will invest in your business, they have paid you an enormous compliment. Please, in that case, make sure that you understand how easily this money can be lost, and that you make them understand as well.

Although you don’t want to rule out starting your company with investments from friends and family, don’t ignore some of the disadvantages. Go into this relationship with your eyes wide open.

Maybe, your idea and your situation is a better fit for crowdfunding—that is, creating a profile and pitching your business idea or product on a site like Kickstarter. In fact, this method of raising money has become so popular that here are dozens of crowdfunding sites to choose from, all offering different terms and benefits.

Words of warning

Sadly, financing and investment involves money; and money breeds some predatory business practices, scams and such. So here are some reminders to help you avoid the pitfalls.

  • Don’t take private placement, angels, friends, and family as good sources of investment capital just because they are described here or taken seriously in some other source of information. Some investors are a good source of capital, and some aren’t. These less established sources of investment should be handled with extreme caution.
  • Never, spend somebody else’s money without first doing the legal work properly. Have the papers done by professionals, and make sure they’re signed.
  • Never, spend money that has been promised but not delivered. Often companies get investment commitments and contract for expenses, and then the investment falls through.
  • Be aware that turning to friends and family for investment is not always a good idea. The worst possible time to not have the support of friends and family is when your business is in trouble. You risk losing friends, family, and your business at the same time.

Summary

Most businesses are financed by home equity or savings as they start—bootstrapping. Only a few high-growth startups can attract outside investment. Venture capital deals are extremely rare. Borrowing will always depend on collateral and guarantees, not on business plans or ideas. And business borrowing is normal for ongoing businesses with an established history, but not a normal option for startups.

What might be the next steps to take depends a lot on your specific business. Generally, high-tech startups might explore angel investment or friends and family first, while steady ongoing businesses should start by asking their small business banker. But always remember, your business is unique.

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5 Things to Compare When Choosing an eCommerce Platform

how to choose an ecommerce website

Owning and operating a successful ecommerce business is a dream for many.

You can sell products and services online without fancy face-to-face sales pitches, you don’t have to rent out an expensive physical storefront, and best of all, you can make sales while you sleep!

Who wouldn’t want to start a business like that?

The reality of ecommerce is that it’s relatively easy to get a store up and running. However, operating a successful store is a whole different ball game. This is a realization that many, many people have learned the hard way.

Ecommerce is the future of retail. In fact, it’s estimated that online sales will hit $4.8 by 2021!

Building successful ecommerce businesses starts with the right platform. In this article, I’ll discuss five of the top components to consider when you are shopping around.

1. SEO benefits

Plain and simple, if you want to enter any aspect of the online business world, you are going to need a surface level understanding of search engine optimization—at the very least.

What is SEO? To put it simply, it’s everything that goes into making sure your site is visible to search engines like Google.

Over 90 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine. The way your online store is optimized for search has a direct impact on how people discover your website and find what they are looking for.

Now, SEO for an ecommerce website requires a great deal of due diligence by the site owner, regardless of the platform. This involves persistent keyword research, attention to link building, the creation of fresh, keyword-optimized content, SEO-friendly product pages, title tags, image tags, and so on.

When you’re choosing your ecommerce platform, take a step back and assess your SEO needs, your own skills in web development, and how you see your store in the future. If you are entering the world of ecommerce with entry-level knowledge, there are a handful of SEO features you need to understand.

Navigation links: The text that appears for your products and categories within the navigation menu of the website.

These links bring shoppers to the product listings. While many platforms generate these automatically, having independent control over these links is ideal for SEO purposes.

Page titles: The titles that are shown on the tabs in the browser. These tabs give you the opportunity to include trending search terms identified in your keyword research.

Page URLs: The words present in an actual link in the browser. The URL should give people a good idea of what the page is all about.

The proper use of keywords here gives you a great SEO advantage—both in the eyes of the search engines and the users.

Meta descriptions: This is the short paragraph that appears under your link in the Google search engine results.

This acts as a preview of the page. As you could imagine, it is a hotspot for keywords.

Image ALT tags: This tag refers to the text on an image that acts as a description for the search engine crawlers.

The keyword optimization here determines how the picture shows up on a Google Image search.

H1 headings: This is the main heading that appears on a product listing or category.

If these headings are optimized around trending keywords, it will be much easier for people to discover your site.

Canonical URLs: In an ecommerce site, it’s common that some products can be found in multiple locations throughout the catalog. When this is the case, you do not want to get penalized by Google for having duplicate content.

So, you can tag your pages with the ‘REL CANONICAL’ tag that tells Google which page should be viewed as the primary, which is known as the canonical URL.

Blogging: Blogging is one of the best ways to give your ecommerce site fresh, keyword-optimized content. Plus your blog posts give you content assets that can be used for link building.

On a basic level, the ecommerce platform you choose should include a blogging feature.

Social buttons: The search engines love sharable content.

Adding social buttons on your product pages, blog posts, or anything else on your site makes it easy for people to share it with their social networks, which in turn, boosts your SEO value.

XML sitemap: This is a file located on your website that helps the search engines index your website’s content. Maintaining your XML sitemap is crucial to your search rankings. If you have a larger catalog, you definitely want an ecommerce platform that manages this for you automatically.

These terms cover the basic elements of an ecommerce website. There are lots of platforms out there designed to make search engine optimization easier.

If you are just starting out with minimal background knowledge, mainstream platforms like Shopify, Magento, and WooCommerce are a few options.

2. Payment options

The most critical part of the online sales process is payment. When you start an ecommerce business, you need to be able to accommodate a range of payment options.

Think of it this way: How often have you walked into a restaurant or diner only to be turned away because you don’t have cash on you? If you only take a select few types of credit cards or other payment options on your ecommerce site, you will end up turning potential customers away.

In recent years, the scope of payment options has grown quite a bit in the ecommerce landscape. The name of the game here is simplicity. Very few people (if any) particularly enjoy pulling out their cards, entering in their 16-digit number, expiration date, and CVV code whenever they make a purchase online. In addition to being a hassle, it gives them plenty of time to reconsider their decision to buy.

There are a number of ways you can alleviate friction. For starters, shoppers should have the ability to create an account on your website. Not only is this good practice for gaining email addresses and information, but it should also ideally enable the shopper to save their credit card information for future use. At this point, this should be one of the foundational capabilities of any ecommerce platform.

However, the most important thing here is security. Be sure the platform you choose uses SSL encryption. When a shopper sees the green lock on the URL in the browser, they know the site is safe.

In addition to credit/debit cards, your ecommerce site should accept quick and painless options like PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc.

Lastly, if you paid attention to the news in the past year or so, you’ve probably heard something about cryptocurrency. As there are all kinds of benefits attached to paying with crypto (and not to mention a huge interest in it), looking into a platform that accepts this option is a smart move.

3. End-user experience

Ultimately, the end-user experience (UX) is the most important piece of the puzzle in creating a killer ecommerce site. If the checkout process is complicated, the navigation is shoddy, the product information is tough to find, and so on, people will have no problem finding the X button.

That said, a good UX needs to be your top concern when shopping around for ecommerce platforms.

This involves the following major aspects:

Utility: This concerns the very nature of your website, product listings, layout, and overall flow. Most importantly, this entails making sure every facet of your website makes it easy for shoppers to find what they need.

The ecommerce platform you select should enable you to provide users with easy access to menus, categories, customer support, and more. It should also include features like a search bar with keyword relevant suggestions.

Always remember, even the prettiest website in the world can be rendered useless if it doesn’t have the utilities needed to provide a good UX.

Usability: The usability of a website refers to how well visitors can grasp and navigate through it.

Keep in mind, today’s online shoppers are not exactly known for their patience. This is because they can simply turn to thousands of others if yours is too complicated to figure out.

A website’s usability is dependent on simplicity. There shouldn’t be any unnecessary clicks, slow loading times, or extra steps in the sales process, as these can quickly complicate things.

Accessibility: Perhaps the biggest advantage of ecommerce is operations are not limited by geographic location, time zones, or anything else of that nature. An ecommerce business can sell products all over the world.

That being said, you need a platform that understands this and can properly cater and alter the website to different demographics. This includes automatically adjusting the online storefront around location, language, currency, shipping information, and so on.

Versatility here is crucial for reaching more shoppers—and more shoppers equals more sales.

Desirability: Desirability in the UX is all about the appeal and making people want to return.

The feel of your online store should be such that it gives shoppers a welcoming vibe, as well as leave a good taste in their mouth when they leave.

Fortunately, many of the big ecommerce platforms out there have large selections of themes and customizable templates created by seasoned experts. These are designed to play to many of the common psychological triggers that keep customers coming back.

The end-user experience is the most important part of an ecommerce store and must remain at the forefront of your platform selection process.

4. IT support

Solid IT support tends to be one of the unsung heroes when it comes to the features of an ecommerce platform. Many of these platforms will try to sell you on everything being overly user-friendly to a point where you don’t think IT support is a big factor.

If your site goes down, you need answers right away.

When you are making your choice, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to support. If you go with one of the bigger platforms, there will be a large support community to help find quick answers, which is why many people go with ecommerce giants like Shopify or WooCommerce.

Next, you need to take into account the size and complexity of your store. If it’s more extensive, you are going to need a platform with dedicated support to help you whenever something goes wrong.

Another thing to consider is working with an agency for IT support. If you don’t have a firm knowledge of backend website management, having an agency specialized in ecommerce IT support is a very wise choice. Many agencies are well-versed in the major ecommerce platforms and will proactively keep a close eye on your website to eliminate issues before they turn into problems.

Prolonged technical difficulties will eat into your revenue and turn people away in droves. At the end of the day, IT support determines the life or death of an ecommerce store.

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5. Integrations and add-ons

The integration capabilities of an ecommerce platform are what allow you to customize the site around what you need and what will benefit the overall experience.

You need to take into account how far-reaching and in-depth your online store currently is, as well as what your short and long-term goals are.

For instance, if you are just starting out, an email marketing program might not seem like an essential. However, once you start gaining traction, email will be a prime communication avenue to promote things like personalized deals, product recommendations, or anything else to boost site engagement.

Regardless of the ecommerce site, the platform you choose should have these crucial integrations:

Analytics: This should include the proper reporting capability to help you gauge your traffic numbers, ranking keywords, traffic sources, and how people are interacting with your website.

Additionally, you need monetary analytics that show your revenue reports, sales volume, and all other POS data.

Payment options: To reiterate, you need a platform that has the integrations to accept a diverse number of payment options.

Marketing: This includes capabilities for things like email campaigns, social, remarketing, personalization, automation, and so on.

Loyalty: If you plan on competing in your niche, you need to have some sort of loyalty program in place. This gives people a good reason to return to your website.

It could include options for a point-based system, recurring purchase rewards, or anything else that helps gain repeat customers.

Sales funnel: The sales funnel refers to the steps people take on their way to a purchase.

In the ecommerce world, this involves integrations for things like cross-sells, upsells, conversion optimization, and more. One of the hot button items on this list of integrations is chatbots.

Review management: Everyone and their grandparents knows how important customer reviews are in purchasing decisions.

That said, having a good customer review management integration is one of the most powerful weapons in your ecommerce store. From an SEO perspective, the review management system you integrate should be a verified Google Review Partner.

Keep in mind, there are certainly more valuable integrations and add-ons that go beyond this list. However, these six need to be at the top of your list when comparing platforms.

Over to you

The world of ecommerce is a diverse, complex, and constantly-changing entity. The platform you choose to represent your online business is the most important factor that determines your long-term success.

There are lots of options out there that offer a lot of great things. However, even though your needs may gravitate to a certain selection, be sure you keep these five major components in mind. Do not make your decision lightly.

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Manish Dudharejia
Manish Dudharejia

Manish Dudharejia is the president and founder of E2M Solutions Inc, a San Diego-based digital agency that specializes in website design and development, and ecommerce SEO. With over 10 years of experience in the technology and digital marketing industry, Manish is passionate about helping online businesses to take their branding to the next level.



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