4 Things You Should Never Do When Creating Your Own Website

Among today’s cadre of new media enthusiasts, many small business owners possess the technical savvy to create a basic website.  Digital entrepreneurs in particular, often start out as bloggers, and can comfortably maneuver around in Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress.website chalk board

Though basic web design is a good tool to have in your kit, it’s important to note that ability and skill don’t hold the same weight. An entrepreneur’s familiarity with WordPress, for example, and their ability to create a website on that particular CMS doesn’t mean s/he has the knowledge and skills necessary to make an effective website. The point here is that having a website doesn’t automatically mean you’ve created an effective space through which online shoppers can buy what you sell.

As of December 2012, there are an estimated 634 million live websites, which means one website can easily get lost in the crowd, particularly if you’re making some of the most commonly made web design mistakes. Want to stand out and increase your changes of having an effective website? Here are some insights from Creative Brander, Kris Richards, based on his 12 years of experience in branding and design.

Never pick style over function

It is a mistake to focus on the desired look of the site, without prioritizing the simplicity of the end-user’s ability to access information on the various pages.  If you do, you run the risk of having a beautiful site that seldom converts onlookers into customers.  To avoid this no-no:

  • write out a summary of what you need the site to do.
  • then research websites that fit your idea of easy-to-maneuver.
  • after you’ve done some research, turn your summary into an outline of what each page on the site does, and how the overall site experience. should flow; use that as your game plan for layout and functionality.
  • after that’s in place, you can start integrating aesthetic preferences, including font styles, image types, and colors.

Never use low-resolution images

It is unprofessional, not to mention displeasing on the eye, to see a small, low-resolution image blown up to fit into a larger space.  The image will be blurry, and the intended point of the image will almost certainly be overshadowed by the low quality.  Sites such as iStockPhoto.com and Fotolia.com offer high-resolution images. Flickr’s creative commons section can also be a good resource for quality image choices.

Never Be a font hopper 

Your entire website should contain no more than three font varieties.  Choose fonts that are easy to read, and be consistent with the font styles you choose.  Otherwise, you run the risk of looking more like a hobby site with inconsistent messaging, and less like a professional business person.

You can certainly include personality, but focus on your target market, and let that determine what and how you communicate from your site, including the fonts you choose. As for font colors, consider using color palates to determine which colors you use, instead of focusing on how that one word (or sentence) looks in a particular color.

Also remember to use bold font sparingly.  If many words and/or sentences are in bold font, your reader won’t know what you want them to pay attention to, and may lose interest altogether. Avoid those three faux pas and you’re en route to a good starter website, until your budget allows for the all-important professional, customized website.

About the author:  Akilah S. Richards co-founded The Life Design Agency to help entrepreneurs discover, design and express their unique products and services.  Akilah works primarily with women on the emotional and spiritual life components, while her husband, co-founder and Creative Brander, Kris Richards, offers branding packages to helps businesses express their brand’s message, with clarity, confidence, and continuity.

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The Give-Gain Process of Sound Entrepreneurial Planning

We often think of business ownership as a great opportunity to get what we want out of our careers.  Most entrepreneurs want to get income and fulfillment from their endeavors, and those are respectable goals to which we can reasonably aspire. With smart planning, effective collaborations, and consistent attention to your products and your market, entrepreneurs can realize their goals of income and personal fulfillment.  Personal fulfillment aside, is it enough to simple earn an income?

giveThe ambitious entrepreneur is looking for more than just income; she or he aspires to realize steadily increasing income, which calls for more research, analysis and flexibility than the average entrepreneur may do.  When properly utilized, research, analysis, and flexibility can take a business owner from income and fulfillment to consistently increasing income and of course, increased personal fulfillment.

What follows are two Give-Gain components that lend themselves to effectively increasing income and personal fulfillment:

 GIVE: Research

Put deep thought and thorough research into the person you serve.

The benefits of detailed demographic and psychographic analysis of your ideal client is a vital part of your sellingprocess. (Read: How Do You Get Clients? The First Step: Identify Your Ideal Client.) Keep in mind that research should not be relegated to abstract studies and industry books.  A smart entrepreneur also looks for ways to connect directly to potential clients so that they can quality them, and further refine the characteristics of their ideal customer.  Try this:

  • If you have an email list, send out a short survey asking key questions.
  • Attend industry-related events where you can speak directly to your potential clients, and stay on the pulse of their needs and expectations.

What you GAIN: Clarity

The best reward of thorough research and analysis is clarity.  You skip the all-too-common steps of just throwing out what you believe to be a good/necessary product, and seeing if and how it sticks.  Instead, you get clear on who does not need your product, which is important, because you now get to refine your offer to match the needs of the people who have expressed the desire and need for what you sell.

You also gain a pass out of the generalization zone.  You will know who your ideal customer is, where they shop, how much money they earn, where they tend to live, and other information that will help you create and effectively market products that solve their problems.

GIVE: Pricing Focus

Do you know how to properly price your products and services? Do you have a baseline number for each of your widgets that will ensure you’re not spending more per unit than you stand to make?  If you don’t know that number, then your process is incomplete.  Your per-item cost should not be based solely on how much money you think you should make, or even how much your primary competitor charges.  Instead, your pricing decision should include several factors, such as:

  • how much do you need to make to cover your costs?
  •  how much do you want to net per sale?
  •  how much you need to pay anyone involved in the process of creating what you sell?
  • what will the market withstand?

Once you arrive at that ideal per unit number, don’t let it intimidate you.  If it looks too high (solopreneurs tend to suffer from this sticker shock component), don’t lower your prices; raise your value instead.  Ask yourself:

  • Can you team up with another entrepreneur to offer bonuses that would get you more comfortable with asking for that amount of money per item?
  • Do you perhaps need to refine the offer to match the budgets of certain type of customer?
  • Do you need to re-visit your ideal customer profile to match your revenue needs?

Those questions are vital, and if you skip that step, you can get caught up in testing the waters, and spend money and time creating and marketing products that will not sell.

What you GAIN: Confidence in your pricing model

Confidence in your pricing model will take you a long way in substantiating your pricing, witch makes you less intimidated about selling.  Memorize your pricing scale, and get comfortable conveying the value of what you offer, and making note of your expenses at the same time.  Remember, if you are spending most of your time planning, making and marketing your products, with low sales as the result, then your business is not viable, and the model needs to be refined.  You are not in business just because you offer a product or service; you are in business when that product or service sells and you net money from those sales.  That will not happen right away, but it should always be the goal.

One last piece of advice: Leave space for the process to unfold organically

We entrepreneurs tend to be rigid planners when it comes to our product launches and our marketing efforts. Your business has its own ecology, and as such, needs room to react to the variables at hand, including time of year, industry shifts, your overall company growth, economic changes, etc.  If we are too rigid about structuring our processes, we can miss opportunities to adjust our efforts to better align with our overall goals.

Remember, entrepreneurship is, in large part, a leadership role, and a good leader knows how to pay attention not just to what s/he wants and needs, but also what her/his intended recipient/client expects as well.  Know your market, make pricing a strategic effort, and not a general point-and-shoot process, and you’ll align with the give-gain process of sound entrepreneurial planning.

About the author:  Akilah S. Richards co-founded The Life Design Agency to help entrepreneurs discover, design and express their unique products and services.  Akilah works primarily with women on the emotional and spiritual life components, while her husband, co-founder and Creative Brander, Kris Richards, offers branding packages to helps businesses express their brand’s message, with clarity, confidence, and continuity.

Are you a solopreneur looking to grow your business? Try SimplifyThis, two in one appointment scheduling and invoicing software. So you can schedule appointmentns directly from your website and bill automatically.


The Best Free Tools for Competitive Research

If you’re starting a new business and are beginning to think about your marketing it online, one of the most important things you can do is take the time to carefully review your competition. In this $20 Skillshare Class, Digital Strategy on a Shoestring, digital strategist Amber Horsburgh, from Brooklyn-based digital agency Big Spaceship shows you how to use the best free tools available for gaining insights into your competition.

Competitor analysis: why bother?

hurdleBefore creating your marketing strategy, or worse, before jumping in with no strategy in mind, it is important that look carefully at your competition using the tools below. Doing so will help you identify:

  • Industry norms
  • Potential areas to innovate
    When you do this research, you will look at your competitor’s site performance as well as the audience’s perception of your competitors’ brands.

Take a cue from the pros by participating in this class. Then dive into your own research to gain an edge over your competition and inspiration for your own marketing.  Here’s a summary, of the tools you’ll learn about.

Six tools for competition research

You may not be able to afford a big marketing agency, but that doesn’t mean you can’t borrow a few tips and DIY. Take it from a pro, watch this 13 minute video to learn how to use these easy tools:

Compete: View website traffic, referring websites and top keywords for your competition.

Quantcast: Find demographic info on your competitor’s audience and identify potential audience’s for your business.

Open site explorer: See what pages on your competitor’s sites perform the best in search engines.

Google blog search: What is being said about your competitor on blogs.

Open Facebook page analytics: Snapshot of the type of person who follows your competitor online, to get ideas about building an audience for your own business.

Social mention: See what others are saying about your brand through this search engine for user-generated content from blogs and social media.

These are a few of the tools you can use to start to understand your competition.

Marketing a Small Business? Do Your Category Research

If you’re starting a new business and are beginning to think about your marketing, why not take a cue from the big marketing agencies and do some research into your business category. In this $20 Skillshare Class, Digital Strategy on a Shoestring, digital strategist Amber Horsburgh, from Brooklyn-based digital agency Big Spaceship shows you how to use the best free tools available for gaining insights into consumer behavior around your type of business.

What is category research and why do it

loupe-1090138-mAll good marketing starts with thorough research. Keyword research, audience research and competitive research will all be useful in putting together your small business marketing plan, as will some basic research into your business category. Using the tools below, there is some useful info you will be able to gather in your research:

  • Trends: Find any interesting trends going on in your category so that you can build upon them.
  • Ideas: Discover cool things that other brands in your space are doing, for inspiration and idea-sparking.
  • Opportunities: With the strategic part of your brain engaged in all you find, you’re likely to discover some unique marketing opportunities for your brand.

Free tools for category research

You may not be able to afford a big marketing agency, but that doesn’t mean you can’t borrow a few tips and DIY. Take it from a pro, watch this 15 minute video to learn how to use these easy tools:

Google trends: Spot times and locations when and where there is a lot of internet activity around your brand, product or category.

Google insights: Search by marketing objective (i.e. build loyalty, raise awareness) and find how people come to become aware, loyal, what have you, online (i.e. via search engines, email, social networking).

Pew internet tools: For information on how different populations of people use the internet.

Mix Rank: To see your competitor’s online ads and traffic sources.

Additional reading

As a small business owner in charge of your own marketing, you could do worse than to stay on top of marketing industry news for campaign ideas and inspiration. Some suggestions from Amber’s video: TechCrunch, PSFK, Digital Buzz Blog and Peter Kim Wiki Page.

Happy business building!

Post by Rebekah Meola

Learn the Basics of Marketing Automation

With the limitless potential of the Internet, an online marketing strategy has become crucial to keep businesses thriving. A key component of such strategies is marketing automation, a technology that integrates separate marketing systems, streamlines them, and sets them to run on autopilot.

Little RobotWhat it is marketing automation and why do it?

Marketing automation is often confused with an email auto-responder system. While it does incorporate such an automated response function, marketing automation encompasses a much broader set of systems, including:

  • email marketing platforms
  • website analytics
  • lead scoring
  • campaign management
  • content management
  • numerous others.

All these separate systems can be controlled through one solution, effectively automating repetitive tasks.

Customer information lies at the heart of marketing automation. Every business aims to understand its customers to streamline the products and services according to the data obtained. How customers use and approach the Internet and its possibilities are of primary interest.

In the Internet age, marketing automation is no longer optional but is a decisive component of business success. To thrive in the digital marketing era, companies need to stay on top of performing numerous tasks and tracking numerous data points, a feat that cannot be done without an automated system. What’s more, most of these tasks are tedious and manual. An automated system will greatly relieve a company of performing high-touch processes, providing more legroom to refocus efforts on other crucial activities.

How to get started with marketing automation

According to DemandGen Report, 76% of companies that implemented marketing automation said that ample preparation should be taken in order to build efficient systems. If done right, marketing automation will generate worthwhile results, which makes sufficient planning time important in order to get things right from the start. Marketing automation software company, Prospectvision, recommends the following four steps to ensure the efficient implementation of an automation solution and, thus, marketing success.

1) Choose the right time to implement

In business as in everything else, there is a right time to introduce changes to a system to ensure a greater chance for success. Likewise, marketing automation will be most profitable under certain business conditions. These may include stages in the existence of a business, particularly, during startup and during a significant change in investment.

Marketing automation may also become necessary in specific situations, like when the proportion of manual tasks and staff is disproportionate, the business spends too much time managing tools and reconciling data, and when there is lead overflow.

2) Align goals and processes with the chosen system

The automation system adopted should be able to carry out the processes and goals unique to the business. These business processes and goals should be determined at the outset in order to choose the most appropriate system. Otherwise, the system will not be utilized optimally.

3) Embrace marketing automation best practices

Although the goals and processes will vary with every company, there are established best practices that can be applied universally. These practices include:

  • establishing a proper lead management framework
  • aligning marketing processes and goals with the sales department
  • compiling engaging marketing content
  • focusing on the marketers instead of the IT requirements when deciding on an automation solution.

4) Stick to a project plan

The use of a project plan will increase the probability of success. Typically, a plan undergoes three stages:

  • planning
  • vendor selection
  • technology implementation.

Various considerations are made at each stage to ensure that the goals and processes of the business can be implemented by the chosen automation system and integrated with other business solutions.

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How to Manage Collaborative Ventures

This is a guest post by Certified Family Life Educator, Akilah S. Richards.

ReferralTwo years ago, I taught a workshop on strategic partnerships at a blogging conference in Los Angeles, California.  The workshop was co-facilitated by fellow wellness entrepreneur, Takeyah A. Young of Core Connection Lifestyle. Since Takeyah and I had collaborated on projects before, and both shared the philosophy of building our brands through collaboration, not competition, we were in an ideal position to deliver this particular workshop.

The gist of the workshop was this: Partnerships offer vetted access to potential clients and builds authentic community among entrepreneurs. Many of our workshop participants didn’t share our sentiment.  They had experienced failed partnerships, and noted financial loss, compromised reputation and fear of future collaborating as the common outcomes.

In our workshop, we encouraged other small business owners to focus less on competition and more on collaboration, but not without coverage and caution.  The workshop was very well received, and Takeyah and I still apply the principles we shared back then to our joint venture efforts today.

Tips for Managing Collaborative Ventures

What follows are a few of the strategies and insights we shared for effectively managing collaborative ventures:

Run a self-assessment: Before embarking upon any partnerships, run an internal self-assessment. It’s vital that you get clear on what you want and expect from the collaboration.  Ask yourself the following questions, and let your responses determine the structure of the collaboration:

  • What critical company/organizational or client issue(s) do you wish to address through a partnership?
  • What are your primary desired outcomes of the strategic collaboration?
  • What does your organization bring to the table (what are the benefits for your partner)?
  • How can you ensure that you obtain value from your partnership?
  • How do you define value in the relationship?

Sign an NDA:  Once you and your potential partner are have spoken about the general premise behind the collaboration, have your partner sign an Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) or an Agreement of Confidentiality to protect the ideas you share during that specific venture. These types of documents protect you even if the collaboration does not materialize, and can go a long way in dissuading other people from taking your ideas or using your contacts to step on your proverbial toes.

Set up a structure: If you’ve both signed a document that protects proprietary information, your next goal should be to set up a structure that minimizes the risks for you. Your collaboration should not begin without clarification and intention documents such as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). MOUs offer a great way to put your and your potential partner’s expectations in writing, and iron out any ambiguous details.

Decide who does what: Don’t underestimate the value of mutual compromise.  If you’re used to doing business on your own as a solopreneur, or as the primary decision-maker in your business, it can be difficult to recognize your own rigidity in a collaborative venture.  To avoid that, verbalize the three main “whats” of your joint venture: What I do, what you do, and what we can do together.

Have an exit strategy: Lastly, don’t be so caught up in the potential that you forget the possibility of fallout.  Prepare an exit strategy for yourself.  What are you willing to walk away from? Where are there potential risks of your reputation being compromised? Is there anything you can do to cover more of your bases?

Managed strategically, with positive intention and honest dialogue, your collaboration could deliver a win/win that offers you and your partner increased income and impact in your respective businesses.

Additional Reading

Also from Akilah: How To Integrate Self-Expression into Your Life as an Entrepreneur

Tools for Collaboration: Organizing a Project from Day One

About the author: Certified Family Life Educator, Akilah S. Richards, helps women engage in self-exploration, and learn how to utilize emotional wellness practices to reclaim their voice in their work-life experiences.  The international speaker has authored several books—including How She Got Free available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.   Her work has been featured in national publications such as Essence, Clutch, and Real Simple magazines, and online spaces such as MSNBC’s Today Moms, RollingOut.com, and CNN.com.

Promise But Don’t Please (Everyone): What You Need to Know about Fitness Marketing

Sculpting abs from flab is a tough business when about 30,000 other fitness outfits are trying to do the very same thing. The fitness world is an overgrown jungle, and everyone wants to stand out. Like any other business, fitness firms make the necessary effort to execute various marketing campaigns in the desire to earn the top rank as health and wellness provider.

Fitness Business MarketingBut, here’s the thing. The tightest lead generation tactics, slickest deal-closing strategies, and sweetest membership deals will only amount to so much. If you don’t get the fundamentals right, expect to be devoured in the churn (gulp).

Should we get a good logo, come up with a catchier slogan, and work some more on branding?

No. At least, not yet.

Is it about getting the buffest, most energetic staff on the team, then? As an eventual add-on, maybe.

In the fitness industry, the most attractive selling proposition that will keep the boat afloat is the one that actually delivers a rock-solid benefit. So what must a fitness business really focus on?

Become the Go-to

In order to stand out, you have to be really, really, really good at something. But, to do that, you have to forego being really, really, really good in all the other departments. In short: Specialize. Find your niche market. Sometimes, the operative term for it is passion.

Establishing expertise in a specific area is very much like setting up a one-of-a-kind shop in a neighborhood: it allows you to enjoy a monopoly of business and automatically makes you the go-to person for the kind of training that only you offer.

Once a specific niche has been singled out, the marketing agenda automatically becomes more streamlined. The marketing efforts become more focused on satisfying the needs of a specific group of people, and the company can now bank on slogans that begin with “The leading in” or the “The best in.” Besides, funds can be put to better use than in the shoot-and-miss affair of trying to appeal to a general crowd.

Naturally, the kind of services you want to specialize in will not, and won’t ever be, for everyone, so there’s no point in trying to please them all. The trick is to find the niche market that can maximize your expertise and interests.

The one crucial mistake a fitness professional can make is to become a jack-of-all-trades. The bunch that does often ends up being nothing to no one.

Results, Results, Results

Want to retain clients and attract new ones? Let me hit you with it: Results! There may be nothing more decisive for the business. At the beginning of the program, you promised results. Deliver on them. Make everything that your clients go through worth the sweat and blood and tears. As Six Figure Fit Pro guru Ryan Dobbs puts it, “It is our job to show results above all else. Otherwise, you are just another trainer.”

Think of it as another way of standing out from the multitude of fitness experts. Besides, the results will soon do the talking for you. What do you think clients will do when they get the physical transformation they have been looking for? They will spread the word! Think massive referrals, numerous word-of-mouth recommendations, and they will not even cost a penny.

Ultimately, the changes that a program can achieve for clients spell the be all and end all for the business, so spending time to design a kick-ass program that delivers is essential. Couple that with a first-rate client experience that overdelivers in proportion to the price, and perhaps you will have more business on your hands that you can handle. If the program works, the clients will stay. Enough said.

At the end of the day, a successful marketing strategy suited for the fitness business boils down to two P’s: passion and promise.

Marketing Your Fitness Business?

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Using Promotions to Grow Your Brand Awareness

As a small business owner, you know how important marketing and advertising are for fostering an avid and loyal customer base. But if you’re focusing solely on fliers, ad space, and even content strategies, you’re missing out on a key method for growing your brand awareness: promotions. Sure, promotions can be cheesy, and if you’re not careful, you can easily become another deal site horror story, but if you take the time to really think out your strategy, they’re an extremely effective way to grow your brand awareness and engagement rates. Here are just a few key ways to get it right.


1. Impose Limits and Goals From the Get Go

Where companies get in trouble with promotions is in going too big or too small—often without even realizing they’re doing so. That’s what’s usually wrong with the aforementioned deal sites, as companies slash their prices and then are overwhelmed by the demand. Not only does this wind up costing the business far more than they’re likely to make up, but these kinds of promotions also tend not to develop very loyal customers.

That’s why it’s so important to set both goals and limits from the get go in order to keep yourself out of a sticky situation. A few questions you might want to ask yourself:

  • What is my budget for this promotion? How much of a loss am I willing and able to take for the sake of increased exposure?
  • What are my goals for this promotion? Answers to this question might include signing up 100 subscribers, adding 50 new Facebook followers, generating 20 more retweets a week, or anything you can dream up. Just be as specific as possible, so you can focus and measure your results.
  • What is my audience? The kind of promotion you run and how you run it will depend largely on your ideal audience. Want to target professionals? Head to LinkedIn. Want to target recreational sailors? Run a Facebook ad so your target audience knows about your current deals. The better you know your audience, the more specific you can be, the greater the response you’ll receive from the kind of customers you actually want to keep around.
  • What kind of promotion do I want to run? Promotions come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Just look at all the different kinds of promotions Amazon runs on their software, and that’s just on one platform. Whether it’s a free iPad or a free hour of service, use your budget and creativity to find you the kind of promotion that will really make your audience sit up and take notice.
  • How long will the promotion run? If there’s one limit that matters more than any other, it’s time. Having a firm end date will provide a much needed cut off to any bending over backwards you have to do to accommodate the crowds. That said, don’t make the time frame too short, or else you won’t generate enough traffic. Do a little research into ideal time frames by looking at similar promotions your competitors may have run in the past.

2. Keep the Barriers to Participation Low

Of course, there’s no point in running a promotion if you’re not capturing any consumer data (or at least, there’s very little point); how else, after all, will you re-target them in the future with hyper-specific content and ads? And yet if you rely on lengthy, cumbersome forms to snag that info, potential participants are likely to bounce elsewhere, even if they were seriously interested in what you were offering.

As such, it’s important to keep those forms as simple and as minimalistic as possible. Use checkboxes where you can, and stick to the essentials, like name and email address.

3. Make it Mobile and Multi-Media Friendly

More and more users are engaging with social media sites and the web at large on their phones, and yet many small businesses either aren’t doing anything to make their sites mobile friendly or are simply making their mobile sites smaller to fit smaller screens. This is a major faux pas, as a Google Research study found that 66% of even the most loyal brand activists are disappointed with poorly designed mobile sites.

Of course, this means that you should ready your entire brand for mobile use, but it’s all the more true for any promotions, whether you build your own platform or you go with one that’s already established. Just like you don’t want to make things difficult for users with lengthy forms, you don’t want to turn them away just because their big thumbs can’t depress the “submit” button.

Likewise, it’s also important to know the medium of promotions in terms of the content you provide. Unlike other mediums, upon which meatier, richer content might be rewarded, contests are all about grabbing those eyes. Photos and videos will do just that, as will copy that’s short, sweet, engaging and to the point. Again, keeping it simple is the quickest path towards success.

4. Promote Your Promotions

Just because a promotion is a form of marketing, doesn’t mean it doesn’t need a little marketing TLC itself. In fact, the quickest way to sink a promotion is to let it float in the ether without directing any buzz its way. A few key things you can do to get the word out:

  • Let everyone on social media know. Just as you designed your promotion for specific platforms, tweet and post highly targeted and relevant messages about your promotion on all of your many social media accounts to generate interest.
  • Make every employee a member of the marketing team. No, not literally. Just make sure you’ve got every employee telling their friends and family about your nifty promotion, as personal referrals are the most powerful form of advertising. You may even want to run an internal contest to reward the employee who generates the most traffic. You heard me a right: an internal promotion to help promote the promotion of your promotion.
  • Pay for advertising. While free advertising is always nice, paid advertising works. Use Facebook’s many different products, from promoted posts to ads and sponsored stories to directly target the most relevant customers. Promoted Tweets are also well worth the investment, as can be LinkedIn ads, depending again on your audience. No matter what route you choose, think of advertising as your way to quickly target the most relevant customers possible and drive traffic to your promotion.

5. Analyze the Results

Just like any other marketing campaign, a promotion is only as good as its post-game breakdown. If you’ve got Google Analytics, that’s relatively easy to do, looking at a few key stats, like the raw traffic increases to your site, number of social media referrals and number of entrants. You might also want to examine any spikes in deeper engagement rates, like newsletter signups or product sales, and you’ll definitely want to compare this data to that of any other promotions you’ve run in the past.

The Takeaway

Done the right way, promotions are a highly effective way to grow brand awareness and increase your revenue. Done the wrong way…well, they can pretty much bankrupt your brand. But that shouldn’t make you fear promotions. With just a little bit of planning, you can fully take advantage of all that promotions have to offer, and grow your business as a result. Good luck!

SimplifyThis provides easy to use online appointment scheduling and invoicing software for your small business.



How To Integrate Self-Expression into Your Life as an Entrepreneur

There is an unstated sentiment that when we go into business, we must polish up, fit in, and be part of the pre-approved crowd.  The standout personalities in business, particularly for digital entrepreneurs, are often the exception to the rule.  Most often, the idea of full self-expression is relegated to personal endeavors, and considered officially off the table for “serious” entrepreneurs. But what happens when who we are and what we do feel like part of the same equation? 

rock on

For the man or woman who feels that the compartmentalizing of his/her personal and professional expression is as stifling as keeping their 9-to-5 job, or staying in any relationship that leaves them feeling muted and stagnant, here are three things they can set in motion to un-mute that space.

1. DEFINE your personal voice as it relates to your business

Most of go into business for one of three reasons: to fill a gap, to fulfill a dream or to own our time

Essentially, it’s usually about feeling like we can be ourselves, and letting that unique self create a plan for solving a problem, realizing a dream, and helping us live liberated lives.

Yet somehow, the more we delve into entrepreneurship, the less we stay true to our authentic selves.  That’s often because many of us don’t make the time to define who we are as individuals, much less who we are as businesspeople.

Here are some questions that will start the self-exploration process and help the soul-centered entrepreneur define themselves and their work:

  • What do I want to represent when I walk into a room?
  • How is my business an extension of me?
  • What impact do I want to have on my potential customers?
  • How will this work enhance my sense of fulfillment?
  • What value does my work bring to people who buy my products/services?
  • How am I uniquely suited to do this type of work?

2. DESIGN the What and Why of your business with an unconventional business plan

Once you have some clarity around the way you define yourself and the way you want your business to complement that definition, you’ve set a good foundation to start creating a strategy for the implementation of that purpose.  A business plan is a vital element of your success; but (thankfully!), your business plan doesn’t have to look like the traditional plan.

Does the idea of running a SWOT Analysis or crunching numbers make you cringe? For many entrepreneurs who value self-expression, the right-brained approach can be beneficial on the creative side of the business, but detrimental on the strategic, more structure-focused component. Certified coach, writer, and artist Jennifer Lee authored The Right-Brain Business Plan: A creative visual map for success, which may be a valuable resource in that area.

3. LIVE your daily life with a commitment to being present in your work

The more you do something, the easier it becomes to make it part of your daily flow.  Ask anyone who has adopted a fitness routine, or even a bad habit.  This principle is your ticket to living and working in a space of self-expression.

Once you’ve done the soulwork of defining yourself and your business, and done the strategic work of designing a plan to get you from muted and unsure to expressed and clear, the next step is to get confident about this voice you wish to express.  You do that by practicing self-expression, not just as an esoteric idea, but as one of your core values.

Start with the define, design, live model above and see how much more fulfillment you experience in your work as a fully expressed entrepreneur.

About the author: Certified Family Life Educator, Akilah S. Richards, helps women engage in self-exploration, and learn how to utilize emotional wellness practices to reclaim their voice in their work-life experiences.  The international speaker has authored several books—including the Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller, How She Got Free.  Her work has been featured in national publications such as Essence, Clutch, and Real Simple magazines, and online spaces such as MSNBC’s Today Moms, RollingOut.com, and CNN.com.


Three Tips for Building Your Small Business Website


If you’re a new business owner and you’re about to embark on having your website built, here are a few tips to make the process go as smoothly as possible.

tips for building a small business website

There is a process and it’s best to follow one

One thing small business owners seem to sometimes overlook in web development is that there actually is a process to designing and developing a website, beyond this fact, if you don’t acknowledge that there is a process and also predefine what your process  is, your web development project runs the risk of becoming unruly and also running over budget.

If you are working with a web developer be sure and ask him or her what their process is. If they can’t tell you what their process is, consider working with someone else, or ask them to identify a process they are comfortable following and also ask that they attach their process to a timeline. It’s best if you know what to expect and also what is expected of you before heading into a web development project.

Know your brand

A very common mistake to avoid when making a website is going into it without fully understanding what it is you want to communicate and to whom. Entrepreneurs, founders and small business owners sometimes think that the web developers and writers will just work it all out and, based on their expertise alone, turn out a great website. Simply not true. Great websites are built upon solid brand strategies. It doesn’t have to be a complex strategy it could be very simple, but you do need to at the least know what your goals are and who your audience is before you can truly decide what you will say to them on your website to create the actions you desire.

Get a little technical

You don’t have to be a techie, that’s why you’re hiring a Web developer to build your site. At the same time, small business owners sometimes can put too much confidence in web developers that they don’t know well. It’s best to approach web development as you might approach your health care, go to the experts, but plan on being an educated partner in your own care, or in the case of Web development, let the experts do their jobs, but plan on being an educated partner in the development of your site.

The thing is, there are a lot of people working in web development at the moment. People with different levels of experience and knowledge and of course different prices. As a business owner, if you’re just having your first website built, it will serve you to be a bit knowledgeable yourself, until you have enough working experience with your developer that you know you can leave the whole thing in their hands.

Be familiar with SEO concepts, understand the importance of responsive design (and be sure to request that your site is responsive, if your developer doesn’t bring it up first), weigh-in on decisions about whether to build your site on WordPress or from scratch. Know your stuff. After all, today all the information you can ever need is there at your fingertips through Google and other search engines.

These are just a few basic tips for getting started on building your first website. Have fun! And good luck.

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