April 13, 2012

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Happy Friday! Here are my favorite reads from around the web this week:

Lastly, on a personal note, if you’d like to help Ex-Boyfriend out with our charitable fundraiser for homeless animals any little bit is appreciated! Read the details here! Fundraiser ends Sunday.


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January 6, 2012

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

I’ve been so behind in sharing links. The holidays were crazy busy and my Smaller Box updates get a little behind. I realize today’s list is a bit long but it’s chock full of great stuff. Here’s what I’ve read that you should check out:


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December 5, 2011

Your Baby is Ugly! 3 Important Things Your Friends Aren’t Telling You About Your Biz

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 9:12 am

When you start a creative business it’s natural to ask your friends for input. The trouble with relying on their feedback is that it’s a little like asking them if your baby is cute. Even if it’s the ugliest baby they’ve ever seen, they’re not going to tell you. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. The fact of the matter is, sometimes babies are ugly, and sometimes there are problems with your business that are glaringly obvious to your friends. Here are 3 common things your friends are probably lying about (and what to do about it).

1. Your website
Creating an attractive, user-friendly website is not easy. There’s a reason people spend years getting a degree in graphic design. If everyone could make a great website, the internet would be a whole lot prettier. Those websites that look beautiful were anything but effortless. Most professional websites that you see were designed over weeks or months by a team of professionals. If you think a quick read through HTML for Dummies is going to get you the same results, think again.

The trouble is, when you finish your clashy, tacky, flashy, blinky monstrocity of a site and show it to your friends, they’re not going to tell you it’s bad. They probably aren’t design professionals and even if they know it’s bad, they don’t want to offend you.

The fix:
The best fix is hiring a design professional. There are lots of talented web designers out there who can give you a website to be proud of. If you sell online, that website is going to be the face of your business, so don’t let a bad first impression kill your sales. If your website is a hot mess, customers are going to think your products will be just as shoddy.

If hiring a professional is out, that doesn’t mean using their design work is. Sites such as Template Monster have thousands of pre-made web designs you can purchase. You can even have the themes professionally installed, so you can have a perfectly professional look to your website, without the steep price tag of a custom site. Template Monster has themes for most popular ecommerce programs like osCommerce, Zencart, and Magento. Most themes are under $200.00, and many are even under $100.00

2. Your product photos
The quality of your product photos can make or break your online sales. It doesn’t matter how amazing your products are, if the photos aren’t up to par, customers won’t be buying. Like an ugly website, ugly product pictures don’t engender trust in customers. They’ll think you’re unprofessional and that your products will be cheap and low quality.

Chances are your friends aren’t photographers or experts on selling online, so when they see your product photos they may not be able to critique them properly (and again, they don’t want to hurt your feelings). That doesn’t mean your photos are going to pass muster with customers.

The fix:
Hiring a professional photographer is going to be the safest way to ensure great product photos. They have the proper cameras, lighting and other equipment to get great shots and the experience to stage your products in an appealing way.

If you can’t spring for a professional photographer, get as educated as you can about product photography. Make sure you’re using a good camera. Take cues from professionals about staging product photos (look at catalogs for larger stores for ideas) and shoot with a light box or using natural light.

3. Your products and branding
With so many people trying to start a creative business these days, it’s really hard to compete. To succeed you’ll need terrific products and remarkable branding. You might enjoy stringing beads or knitting scarves, but that doesn’t mean you can start a business with it. Your friends don’t want to be the ones to tell you they’ve seen what you’re doing a million times before, even if they’re thinking it. They also might not be aware of the vast competition out there, so even if they think your items are perfectly nice, they may not understand that several other people are already doing the same thing.

The fix:
You need at least one of two things to stand out in the marketplace: exceptional products or exceptional branding. Ideally, you want both, but plenty of unremarkable products have been saved by clever branding.

Take product lines like Blue Q for example. They sell fairly mundane things like tea bags, but brand them as “Get along with your co-workers tea” and instantly a box that’s no more interesting than a $1.50 12 pack of Lipton becomes a great gag gift for the office that sells for 10 times the price it would fetch in an ordinary box.

If you’re selling something common like soap or mittens, that a zillion other people are selling, you may need to rethink your branding. You have to find some way to position your products in a unique way so people have a good reason to choose your items over the competition.

Take honest stock of what else is out there and really think about what makes your products better and more appealing than the others. Develop a list of benefits and features that your product provides that makes it stand out. If you can’t come up with anything, it’s going to be tough to convince consumers to shop with you instead of someone else.


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November 11, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Filed under: Link Love — Tags: , , , , , , — Meredith @ 1:20 pm


Happy 11/11/11 everyone! And it’s Friday, woot!

Here’s the best stuff I saw around the business blogosphere this week:


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June 29, 2011

7 Little Tricks For Making Your Company Look Like a Big Deal


Ever hear the expression “dress for the job you want”? What it means is, if you keep showing up to the office in cut off shorts and ratty t-shirts, people will think you look like you belong in the mail room and that’s where you’ll stay. If your business is, figuratively speaking, dressed like a ragamuffin, it’s always going to be one. If you want to run a million dollar business, then fake it til you make it. Below are 7 ways you can make your business look like a big deal:

1. List your Phone Number
Real businesses have phone service. If you want to look like one, include a contact number on your website, ideally some place easy to spot. It says “we’re a real company, with real staff waiting to take your calls.” Even if you can’t man your phone line 24/7, have a professional voice mail greeting that implies that customer calls are returned in a timely fashion. (And then actually return the calls in a timely fashion.)

There are dozens of services that provide phone numbers for small companies. You can even get a free number from Google Voice (though it does have Google Voice branding on it). If you are willing to spend a little, you can get a toll free number for less than 10 bucks a month.

Bonus: Having a phone number ups your website’s trust factor, an important component of conversion rate optimization. People want to give their money to businesses that seem trustworthy. Having a phone number listed makes your business seem more like it can be trusted to take a credit card number and deliver products.

2. Have a beautiful web design
Not just any old website will do, you need a website that looks really great. Having an attractive professional website makes your business seem successful. It makes journalists more willing to write about you. It makes wholesale buyers more interested in doing business with you. It makes consumers more willing to trust you.

If you’re thinking “web design is hard” or “a web designer is expensive”, consider all the money and opportunities you’ll lose by having a terrible website.

3. Have great product photos
Great looking product photos are an extremely important part of your company’s image. Don’t bother with indoor lighting and a cheap camera. You want your photos to look compelling. Like a great web design, great product photos impress all kinds of online visitors from customers to the press.

If you want to take your own product photos, do some research to see how other people have staged photos of similar products. This will give you ideas on how to stage your photo shoot. Then be sure to work with proper lighting, so photos don’t look murky or gray. Finally, do some retouching in a program like Photoshop, so your photos look perfect.

If you’re not up for all this work, consider hiring a professional photographer to shoot your items. There are even photographers that specialize in doing product photography and will shoot your products for a pretty affordable rate, usually charging per product photo.

4. Merchandising
Merchandising products on your website in a variety of ways is useful for several reasons. It makes your product catalog seem bigger and it makes shopping for products easier. I wrote a detailed piece for Design Sponge last year on ways to merchandise a shop. You’ll notice a lot of bigger companies merchandise their online stores using the same strategies.

5. Publicity
Getting a mention from a major media outlet is not only a great way to increase brand awareness and give your sales a boost, it also makes your company look important. These placements give you credibility with both retail customers and wholesale customers, so they’re a valuable boon to your business if you can get them. Once you’ve scored them, you can use them on your website, adding logos like “as seen on” to product pages and your home page.

Not sure how to get publicity? Check this out, I’ve written a very detailed how-to.

6. Engaged Social Media Followers
Want to convince media outlets, wholesale buyers, competitors or potential new retail customers you’ve got an army of rabid fans? Of course you do, and social media makes that easier than ever. By truly engaging your fans on sites like Twitter and Facebook (instead of just selling to them), you can get them to talk to you and about you, thus making your fans seem like they’re crazy for you.

Some tricks that help:
- Ask questions that prompt responses
- In your product packages, include a note that asks customers to share a photo of themselves using your product on Facebook
- Take photos of fans at live events using your products and tag them on Facebook/share them on Twitter and Flickr
- Shoot videos of live events and interview your customers. You can just ask a couple of quick questions such as “what did you buy from [insert brand name] today?” or “what did you enjoy best about today’s event?” Then post to Youtube and let fans know they’ve been featured.

7. Product Presentation
If you’re just shoving your products into a mailer with an invoice print out from Paypal, STOP IT! You’re leaving the customer with the impression that you’re simply a transactional seller and not a real brand to be remembered. You want every customer who gets your package to remember it, so make sure your packaging isn’t an afterthought. This includes creating a stylish branded invoice and adding other little details to make your brand seem like a big deal. This can include hang tags, branded products or little freebies like branded vinyl stickers. These same rules apply to samples that go to the media. If your shipment looks impressive, it’s going to make an impression on anyone who gets it.

Bonus Tip for Wannabe Big Shots: A lot of small businesses who sell online take Paypal. It’s super easy and inexpensive to implement. The problem is, it makes you look pretty small time. Having the ability to take credit cards makes you look like a bigger company. If you’re a Paypal junkie, consider their virtual terminal product. It’s a nice all-in-one solution. This isn’t your only option, of course. A little research on merchant accounts will help you find plenty of other vendors that enable you to take credit cards online. And you need not completely ditch Paypal. Accepting both cards and Paypal is a great way to look professional and satisfy customers who have a preference for one of those two payment methods.


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June 3, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week


Sorry June’s started off a little quiet. I am back from vacation and have more posts lined up for next week. In the meantime, check out some of these useful reads below:


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April 15, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Filed under: Link Love — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 7:23 am


Thanks to all the SB readers who’ve helped my online shop raise funds for homeless animals. Today is the last day of the fundraiser. If you want to help details are here!

Don’t forget, I’m de-stashing some craft supplies I’ve amassed over the years and the prices are CHEAP. All items ship for free within the US. If you’re outside the US and want something let me know and I can check into how much shipping will be.

Here’s what I’ve read this week that I recommend checking out:


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April 8, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Filed under: Link Love — Tags: , , , , , , — Meredith @ 7:28 am


A few personal notes before I get onto the link love goodness this week.

1. Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I switched to a new web hosting company and that was kind of a hectic time-consuming process. Hopefully things will be a little more reliable with the new host, but we’ll see what happens.

2. My online shop is doing a special fundraiser for homeless animals. If you enjoy this blog and want to do me a favor please please tell your friends about my fundraiser (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and/or order one of our fundraising items. We’ve designed keychain bottle openers and magnets featuring super cute original illustrations and 100% of the money goes to homeless animals. These items are only $6.50 and there’s no shipping charge! Probably cheaper than your average lunch out. So please please help us support this great cause.

3. I’m de-stashing some craft supplies I’ve amassed over the years and the prices are CHEAP. Help me out with my spring cleaning efforts? All items ship for free within the US. If you’re outside the US and want something let me know and I can check into how much shipping will be.

Now onto some linky goodness…


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February 4, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week


Every day I check out the 100s of subscriptions in my RSS feed about marketing, PR, advertising, branding, social media, and a host of other topics of interest to small businesses that sell online. Most of what gets posted isn’t earth shattering but I reserve Fridays for the best reads of the week. So here you have it, the most valuable things I read in the business blogosphere this week:


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January 7, 2011

Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week

Filed under: Link Love — Tags: , , , , , — Meredith @ 8:54 am


Every day I check out the 100s of subscriptions in my RSS feed about marketing, PR, advertising, branding, social media, and a host of other topics of interest to small businesses that sell online. Most of what gets posted isn’t earth shattering but I reserve Fridays for the best reads of the week. So here you have it, the most valuable things I read in the business blogosphere this week:

Reminder: The Valentine’s Day co-op is about to get started. If you’re thinking about joining, sign up today! Our ads start running Monday and our newsletter goes out to over 3,500 subscribers on Friday!

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