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Archive for November, 2009

5 Must Read Tips for Safe Shopping on Cyber Monday and Beyond

Monday, November 30th, 2009

I was sitting around the dinner table this Thanksgiving telling friends and family about KikScore and a recurring story kept being told by different people. Multiple friends and family relayed horror stories of bad online shopping experiences.  These were just a few of the issues that they experienced:

  • incorrect credit card charges that were never fixed by the retailer;
  • others complained about never receiving their products that they bought from an online store;
  • still others talked about bad experiences with returning products that they purchased; and
  • there were complaints about having no contact information for the online stores so these shoppers had no way of contacting the store when there was an issue with the product.

These complaints do not even include the biggest fears of online shopping which often are worries about identify theft or compromised credit cards.  The common theme in these complaints is that shoppers wished they had more information before the bought from an online retailer.  Armed with that additional information, the shopper thought they would have been able to make a better choice of where to buy from at that time. This is especially the case when you are buying from small businesses that often offer better pricing than the larger retail chains that have online stores but often lack any significant information about the small business.

So with today being Cyber Monday (and I learned it is also the start of hunting season in my wife’s home state of PA so especially for folks in PA your safe tip for today is stay off the streets and on your computer to avoid being caught in the crossfire), here are some online shopping tips I gave friends and family. These tips will allow you, just prior to an online purchase, to quickly help gather key pieces of information so you can make a more informed shopping decision on Cyber Monday and in the future.

1. Contact Information: Make sure that the online store has contact information and preferably a phone number and/or email address so if there is an issue/question that arises post transaction you can contact the store.  Generally this information is under the “Contact Us” tab of a store’s websiste.  Remember phone numbers are generally better than email addresses and email addresses are better than no contact information at all.

2. Return Policy: Look for information regarding the store’s return policy.  This is important for you so you can understand what, if any, policy the store has about handling returns.  Be careful of stores that do not list a return policy or at least acknowledge that returns are accepted.

3. Management/Owner Information:  Look for information about who is the owner of the store.  An online store should provide information about who owns the online store, including their names and ideally some background information on that manager/owner.  I call it their story.  Here is a good example of a store at 17thandRiggs.com that provides information about the owners of the online store. This information gives shoppers comfort that there is a real person behind this store and it is not a fraud site. Some sites even have online videos that introduce the management to shoppers.  This is a good prior post on the use of videos to build credibility for your online store.

4. Trust and Validation Marks/Seals: When you go to a site, there should be some type of third party validation and trust mark that a store can provide a shopper.  These trust and validation marks run the gamut, but check them out and click on them before you buy. They provide different types of information about the store such as whether customer information is stored securely, whether the store’s website is scanned for vulnerabilities, where the store is located, and whether there are privacy and customer service policies.  The stores that have trust and validations marks that provide the greatest amount of information often are considered credible and reliable stores.  A few seals even provide much of the information that is covered in this post through just one seal that resides on an online store’s website. Look for those seals.

5. Customer Feedback: The online store that you are about to buy from should have some customer feedback.  Stores today thrive on this feedback.  Now, buyer beware there are ways to game customer feedback.  Its not hard to have friends or even the store’s owners themselves submit fake feedback.  So be wary of all positive feedback for a site.  With that caveat, online stores should have some feedback mechanism that you should be able to review to see what other purchasers experienced when buying from that store.

6. Bonus Tip – Your Own Internet Search: Use tools such as Domain Tools to quickly research the history of a website.  This is helpful because if the store says its been around for 20 years and you see that the store’s website was just registered last year then that should be a red flag. Also Domain Tools will tell you if that site you are just about to buy from is actually based in Nigeria when they claim they are in the beautiful, Buckeye State of Ohio. Again, this is a quick way to do your own diligence.

Next  do a quick Google search of the store’s entire website name (i.e. www.ClevelandSportsChampionshipTshirts.com) and the management’s name and see what comes up in Google. You can find out a lot about a store from an online search including their Twitter postings, Facebook etc.  Why is this important?  Because it will give you comfort that this is a legitimate store and that there are multiple avenues for you to communicate with the store, if something goes wrong. Also you may come across blog postings about the store which will give you even more feedback about the store.

Lastly, if you have concerns on whether the site is legitimate you can always check out a great tool at Compete.com that will allow you to review the traffic history for an online store.  If there is little to no traffic to the site and the store claims that thousands of people buy every day from the store, then that should be a red flag for you as well.

Start using these tips and hopefully you will have a safe and happy holiday shopping experience online.  Feel free to share if you have any additional safe shopping tips.

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Archive for November, 2009

Small Biz Thankful List

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

bush_turkey

In honor of the day, we are doing our KikScore Small Business Thankful List.  These companies, tools and sites have been helpful for us or other start-up businesses we work with.  Clearly this isn’t an exhaustive list (and feel free to add your own in the comments).  So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we here at KikScore are thankful for:

1.  MyBusinessAssistant.com — helping out small businesses manage their, well, their business — via their virtual assistant service

2.  Shustir.com — creating a unique online marketplace and community for new and small businesses.

3.  Design2Print — did a great job on our marketing gear.

4.  Freeconference.com — Free and Conference, need I say more.

5.  WordPress — allowing small business to create an inexpensive way to spread the word.

6.  Twitter/Facebook — I’ll start talking about it soon enough, but social media has been wonderful for KikScore and Small Business in general.

7.  YouTube — allowing Small Biz to create and distribute their own commercials without buying a slew of server space.

8.  Google — providing research resources that 20 years ago would have cost thousands of dollars.

9.  iPhone — providing Small Biz a reasonable excuse for dropping calls (and it’s a pretty handy tool).

10.  oDesk — providing some relief to our development team, with providing a marketplace for Tech contractors.

11.  Minnesota Vikings — because Small Businesses love a winner (okay, i’m throwing that in there to see if anyone is actually reading this).

12.  MicroSoft BizSpark — providing KikScore and a lot of startups, a lot of free software (we really like groove…check it out)

Here’s hoping you’re having a great holiday…we’re most thankful for our readers and customers.

Team KikScore

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Archive for November, 2009

Tips for Using Video to Help Your Small Business

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

It really surprises me that small businesses do not more often use videos and online clips to help them with promoting their business.  Before YouTube, online videos were relatively few and far between.  But with YouTube’s popularity and the explosion of video clip sites, online videos are everywhere. Not only are they everywhere, today these video clips are even easier to upload and circulate.  If you have not seen the wedding video from this summer that went seriously viral, this is one example of how easy it is to get a video uploaded and circulated (this video has had over 32 Million views. Yes, I said million).

So what how can your business start using videos.

1. Introduction Video – Start by have an introductory video on your website.  The introductory video can help you introduce your company to shoppers. An introductory video can also personalize the experience that a website visitor has as they can virtually “meet” the management of your small business.  An introductory video allows potential customers to see who they are about to do business with and can give you a boost of credibility.

2. Product Video – Sometimes it is difficult for website visitors to get a grasp of a product and its key features from a list on a website.  Try a short product video that describes your company’s product.  Use a video where a company representative or owner can narrate a description of a product and also personalize the product experience.  Sometimes a product can be a lot more appealing if the customer hears a passionate voice that is describing the product in detail while that company spokesperson highlights the key product benefits.  Check out KikScore’s product video at the bottom of this previous post.

3. Customer Testimonials – You can also use online videos for short customer testimonials about a product or an experience with your company.  You can then post these testimonial videos in the “Testimonial” section of your company’s website.  When do you get to shoot these customer videos? Use a customer meeting or your next industry conference to shoot a quick video of the customer.  Also it never hurts to ask a customer too.  If you will not be seeing a customer that you know is happy with your product, just ask them if they can record a short video with their video phone and have them send it to you.  The quality may vary, but online video can now be cleaned up very quickly.

4. Educational Videos – These types of videos are underrated but can really be helpful for potential customers.  Take the time to shoot short videos that can contain educational tips for your customers.  You can even use this as an opportunity to have employees or product managers film these tips so they can get some “face time” with your customer community.  Using employees is also a good way to convey your brand to the world by allowing the community to put an employee name to the face of your company.

5. Thought Leadership Videos – There has been a real rise in posting of videos that have been taken from conference speeches or panel sessions.  Next time you are speaking at a conference or an event, make sure the video of your speech gets uploaded to YouTube (provided there are no copyright issues) and then gets posted on your website.  As potential and actual customers start to see you as a thought leader in the industry, your business and management will get even more credibility.

So start using videos today to spread the word about your business.  Tell us in the comments how your company plans to use video in the future.

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Archive for November, 2009

When to Shut Up About Your Small Business

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

 

shut upThis post may seem a bit counter-intuitive, since we’ve been evangelizing about the need to promote your business on social media.  We’ve talked about how this blog, and our tweets, and facebook have led to good things for KikScore.  But there are times when you should stop sharing.

Keeping Your Competitive Advantage:  No matter what business you have, there are certain things that you do, or mistakes that you have learned from, that your competitors would love to know.  When we thought up the KikScore service, we took the time, prior to launching, to file a couple of patents.  But patents don’t completely protect your business.  To file a patent, you must disclose exactly what your competitive advantage is — prior to knowing if you’ll get the patent granted. That’s why Coke has never filed a patent on its secret formula…because they’d have to disclose the exact formula.  Same thing goes for your business.  If you do something better than your competitors, it’s a valuable trade secret.  And it’s not just your competitors you have to worry about…you also have to worry about people interested in investing in your business.  This article describes a recent example of a potential investor that, after learning about a business, deciding to forego the investment and just start a similar business.

Going From Enthusiasm to Annoyance:  We’re all excited about our businesses.  And we love to talk about to our family, friends, followers on Twitter, the guy at the bus-stop, and the deranged homeless man asking for money.  Generally, our enthusiasm is viewed in  a positive light.  But what is the fine line between our enthusiasm and becoming a spammer?  The other night, I was having dinner with friends and letting them know how easy it is to automate updates on my facebook page.  My good friend than said “If you go overboard, I’ll do what I’ve done with my other friends and just turn off your updates.”  I realized that I’ve got to make sure not to abuse my friends and over-promote our business, as it will hurt my brand and I will start losing friends.

Feel free to share other instances when you shouldn’t over-share about your business.

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Archive for November, 2009

To Be Or Not To Be: A Business With A Personality on Twitter?

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Should your business have a personality on Twitter and other social media channels?  Businesses are asking that question.  Heck, we at KikScore are asking that question.  By way of example, I was tweeting on our KikScore Twitter account this weekend, and I got caught up in the excitement of the Ohio State victory over our arch rival University of Michigan and I retweeted:

“makes me happy thinking of all the 6 year-olds in Ohio that are undefeated in LIFE against Michigan =D (via @Sweet_UpAndDown) great thought!”

After I tweeted this from our KikScore account I had a thought that passed through my head that said, “Should I have just done that? Is that really appropriate for Twitter and our company brand?”  Now there are lots of sites out there that have Twitter Rules including a good one from Chris Brogan.  Not many give guidance on whether your Twitter business account should convey a personality and talk about non-company related topics like football etc.

Our Guidance – Personality Wanted

Here is where we at KikScore come down on this questions.  You can always just tweet about your company, your industry, your products etc.  That generally is the traditional approach to business on Twitter.

We say, be different.  Have a personality on Twitter.  Actually have a remarkable personality on Twitter and that can even help your brand and sales.  Yes, you should try to follow as many Twitter rules as possible – don’t be annoying by being spammy, don’t tweet about the bagel you are eating after your conversation with Joe from Marketing etc but be unique.  Being remarkable and unique with your tweets will help you stand out from all of the other businesses on Twitter.

The best example that I think small businesses should try to use is Zappos.   Employees at Zappos help bring the personality of the company to life on Twitter and that is just one way Zappos has such a unique brand and they are recognized for that by many.

So here are some tips to bring out the personality of your business on Twitter:

1. Tweet about items that employees are passionate about – charities, sports, events, accomplishments etc.

2. Tweet about positive customer experiences or if employees are doing something special like having a volunteer day.

3.  Even if someone is criticizing your company on Twitter, you can always respond and tell them that you are sorry that they feel that way.  That allows even the angry tweeps out there to know that you are listening.

4. Share funny stories or funny occurrences that happen in your business.  If you come across a funny pet tricks video, share it.  Now do not be that person that solely tweets out forwarded messages.  That could be annoying.

5.  Be sensitive and remember generally do not tweet on controversial subjects from your business Twitter accounts.  These subjects can include politics, religion, gender etc.  Your rule should be do not tweet about something that you would not want your mom/dad to see that you wrote and was then was posted on the cover of a major national newspaper.

We think having a personality on Twitter and other social media sites can be fun, rewarding and also help you interact with your community of followers at a deeper level.  That interaction can then turn into a more committed and loyal community for your business which is a good thing!

So when you are hanging out on Twitter this holiday season trying to get sales using the tips we covered previously, show the world that you are a little different.  Let us know how you are remarkably unique on Twitter.


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Archive for November, 2009

First Black Friday Report

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Here’s the first KikScore report on the holiday shopping season. Based on our research, there should be an uptick in activity. What am I basing this on? The fact that DC airport is packed today and my flight was oversold. Also, I’m sitting on a plane right now and have asked a couple of folks if they are going to spend more money this year. They didn’t really respond to me, but I sensed that they plan on buying more. Except the weird guy in 10A. The only thing he looks like he’s in the market for is a shovel for all the bodies he likely has stashed in his basement.
Ok. Not very throrough research, but it will get better. Also, feel free to send in your non-scientific polling/economic data.

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Archive for November, 2009

Stay Classy, Online World …We're Ron Burgundy? KikScore's New Holiday Shopping Watch!

Friday, November 20th, 2009

stayclassy

We here at KikScore are pleased to announce our new seasonal feature — Panda Watch!  No, actually, it’s going to be Shopping Watch!  We’re going to poll our customers, readers as well as gather our own anecdotal information (at the mall, online stats) to measure how this holiday season is going for everyone.  We’re assembling our crack Channel 4 News Team to gather data.  But just in case Papa Burgundy (that would be Raj) can’t gather all the relevant info, please send us your view of how this holiday shopping season is going.  Also send us your favorite AnchorMan scene.  Here’s a best of clip:best of anchorman.

Stay Classy!

Brian Fantana

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Archive for November, 2009

A Few Good Blogs: Our Go To Small Business Blogs KikScore Likes Part 2

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

This is Part 2 in our series of KikScore’s go to small business blogs. Part 1 is here

There are blogs now for nearly everything under the sun. That translates to a lot of noise out there. So how do small businesses try to figure out which resources they should use online to stay up to date on trends and to get rock solid guidance from experts? The best way is through word of mouth and also getting recommendations from other small businesses. So here is our Part 2 of our list of some really good blogs that we at KikScore read:

1. Duct Tape Marketing– John Jantsch who runs this blog is a master of small business marketing, social media and strategy. His guidance is practical, to the point and is recognized by the small business community as one of the go to resources for small business success.

2. Fresh Inc. – Inc. Magazine is by far my favorite magazine to read. If you are an entrepreneur or a small business enthusiast, Inc. is a must for a number of reasons including its rich stories, wonderfully written profiles of small and medium businesses and its relentless focus on telling the small business story. Fresh Inc. is the blog of the writers of Inc. and it is a fantastic extension of the magazine.

3. CopyBlogger -Brian Clark is the founder of CopyBlogger. We like Brian for a number of reasons including because he calls himself a “recovering lawyer.” We have three of those on the KikScore team. But the interesting thing is he uses that legal background to give great guidance on all types of issues including writing copy for websites, making great sales pitches that stick and delivering killer content. Entrepreneur and Technorati are just some of the folks that have recognized Brian and the CopyBlogger.

4. Small Biz Survival – Becky McCray writes from a unique small business approach. She writes from a small town perspective as she owns a liquor store and cattle ranch in Oklahoma. She might write from a small town perspective, but she knows the ins and outs of small business issues big city, small city, global or local.

5. The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur – Mike Michalowicz runs this fabulously named blog! Mike’s approach to his blog and small business success is to stay away from the media’s over glossy approach to entrepreneurship and instead focus on the incredible hard work that makes entrepreneurship success possible. He does a great job of equating in a very good (and clean!) way entrepreneurship with the bathroom experience.

Check these blogs out, when you get a moment. You will not regret it!

Do you have a go to blog? Let us know which one it is.

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Archive for November, 2009

Social Media & Your Biz: Open Up So You Can Close

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Though the Internet seems to be overflowing with blog posts, tweets, and Facebook updates, there are a good number of businesses that don’t use social media in any manner.  Initially, I wasn’t the biggest evangelist for social media.  In all fairness, others on the Team are much more sophisticated about how to properly use blogs and Twitter. My initial feeling on social media was “Why the hell would I want to read the thoughts of a complete stranger?”  The past 6 weeks, however, we’ve gone live with our site/service and my attitude has completely changed.  Initially, we did very informative, yet sterile, blog postings…ones that no one actually read.  My prejudice seemed to be confirmed.  We then became more candid and casual in our postings, linked them up to Twitter and Facebook and all sorts of good things started to happen:

1.  Our traffic and overall visibility to the site is growing exponentially

2. We have come across several companies that are reaching out to similar small business owners.  Two such partners are Shustir and MyBusinessAssistant — services that are helping small business grow faster and with less headaches.

3. We are getting direct feedback from the marketplace.

4.  Our customers have a good understand with whom they are doing business with — not just a slick website (though our site is pretty slick).

5.  I’ve been able to share my drinking stories and show pictures of my dog online under the guise of being helpful for small business.

We’re not just the only ones seeing the positive impact of opening up to social media.  One of our customers, www.17thandRiggs.com has a great blog and is active on Twitter http://twitter.com/RebeccaSM).  In under a year, Rebecca has transformed her site from a passionate hobby to a destination site for interior designers and those who want to keep up with the latest design trends (as well as a full-time business).  If you don’t like my anecdotal examples, do you prefer the Wall Street Journal’s anecdotal examples?  In a recent WSJ article, a featured small business discussed how her wedding planning business was significantly buoyed by using social media. 

Feel free to share your favorite social media success stories…or tips on using social media.

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Archive for November, 2009

The Rise of Nights and Weekend Entrepreneurs

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

While entrepreneurs may share various character and personality traits, there are may types of of entrepreneurs.  Some exist under the radar while others get all of the hype.  The one that probably gets the most news coverage and are therefore the most well known is the startup entrepreneur. The startup entrepreneur is the person that takes an idea, may get some angel or VC funding (or even self fund) and creates and launches a product.  These types of entrepreneurs get a lot of coverage as they sometime have high profile exits where other companies buy their product for millions of dollars. The recent Mint.com story is an example of this.

Other Entrepreneur Types

Of course there are many other types. One that is getting a lot of recent attention is the home based business entrepreneur.  Businessweek just had an article that covered some surprising stats for this group.  There are also the small business entrepreneurs that have stores, shops, bars and restaurants that we all visit nearly everyday of our lives.   Then there is the purely unintentional entrepreneur that due to job loss are forced into starting a business.  There has been a lot of coverage of these unintentional entrepreneurs lately due to the huge amount of job losses during the economic downturn.

Enter the Night and Weekend Entrepreneur Warrior

The entrepreneur that floats under nearly every radar is the person who has a full-time day job, but still is an entrepreneur through a side business. As demonstrated from this clip from the cult classic Office Space, Milton Waddams exemplifies where some people get their motivation for their side business while they work their full time job:

While nights and weekend entrepreneurs have various motivations for starting their businesses, they all face very similar experiences:

1) Time Crunch – Even more than other entrepreneurs, because of their 9-6 day jobs,  nights and weekend warriors can really only fully focus on their side businesses during limited time periods.  That can be used as an advantage because since time is so precious, these types of entrepreneurs must be even more focused on time management and efficiency when they do work on their own business.

2) The Constant Pull Away From the Business– Each night and weekend these entrepreneurs face the temptation when they come home from work or on that weekend, to turn on the TV or to go into procrastination mode.  It is even more tempting to the nights and weekend warriors because of the fatigue that sets in from the day job.  Nevertheless, there are successful entrepreneurs that overcome this temptation and beat the fatigue and procrastination demon that is there every time you come home from the day job.

3) Beating the Not Doing Enough Syndrome – Because the nights and weekend warriors do not have a dedicated 40 hours of time for their business, they constantly are fighting the guilt that they are not moving fast enough or getting enough done.  The way these warriors get through this syndrome is keeping that eternally optimistic side that is in the small business psyche and saying, I am moving forward and doing all I can.  Otherwise, this guilt will overcome and doom you.  Night and weekend entrepreneur warriors battle this syndrome every time they look at their “to do” list.

While these are common challenges, nights and weekend entrepreneurs also share the same hunger to create something that they can set the direction for and grow.  We imagine that we will increasingly hear more about these entrepreneurs in the future.

Examples of Nights and Weekend Entrepreneurs

Here are just a few examples of Nights and Weekend Entrepreneurs we know about:

KikScore is a company that is made up of nights and weekend entrepreneurs and see here and here for some background on our experience.

Design 2 Print – which is KikScore’s hats and bumpersticker vendor.  Rush at Design 2 Print offers a lot more promotional items such as apparel, glasses, mugs, badges, calendars and much much more. Their slogan is “Our Business is Promoting YOUR Business.”

Simply Astro – Shiv who owns this site and a host of others spends nights and weekends devoted to fine tuning his astrology, horoscope, match making and Feng Shui site.

Know of any more, please leave them in the comment section below.

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