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Archive for 2011

Learning from the Past: KikScore’s Top Twelve Blog Posts of 2011 for Small Businesses and Startups

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

It’s been a great year for KikScore! We’ve gained partners, garnered press, interviewed tons of great startups, and released our first white paper. Sounds like a winning year to me. That’s why we put together a list of our top blog posts for 2011. By highlighting some of our beloved posts, we can reflect on what KikScore has accomplished through the year as well as go over some information that we believe is important enough to bear repeating for small business. We hope you enjoy!

#12: 5 Ways to Develop a Killer Brand for Your Small Business and Startup

If you are looking to establish a good brand name for your business, then this post is for you. Although it’s daunting to see big businesses with huge budgets for marketing and advertising, there are cheaper and more effective ways to build your brand. This post goes over the different ways in which you can deal with your customers and make their experiences so great that your brand will practically build itself.

#11: 7 Questions A Small Business or Startup Should Ask Themselves Every Day

It’s critical to ask yourself important questions. Even if it is just to make sure that you know the answer instead of just thinking you know the answer. This post discusses several questions that you need to ask to make sure that your business is headed in the right direction.

#10: The Day in Pictures & Tweets at the 2011 SmallBizSummit

Just as the title says, this post is a compilation of pictures and tweets from the 2011 SmallBizSummit. Here you can find great quotes and images that focus around how all small businesses should act and what they should do. Take a look and feel like you were there yourself.

#9: 5 Reasons that Startups & SmallBiz Must Engage Their Customers

If you think that this list is already beating up the idea of paying attention to customers, then you aren’t thinking like a business should. This next post builds upon the ways to really engage customers and see results. Give it a read and try the advice for yourself. We promise you won’t be disappointed.

#8: Web Design Contracts – Protect Yourself & Your New Business

This guest post, written by Gregg Hand, is of vital importance when preparing to set up a website. We’ve all heard the speech about why we have to read the fine print before signing a contract. However, now that you’re helping to make a contract with a web designer, you must be twice as cautious. If you’ve never had to make this type of contract, this post can help you with a set of helpful advice on what to look out for.

#7: Top Ten Reasons Small Businesses Fail Series

(Procrastination; Competition; Marketing; Clients; Employees; Versatility; Location; Cash Flow (Followup); Closed Mind; Planning)

Here is a series of posts that we’ve worked on throughout the year in an effort to help small businesses understand what they must avoid. Some say that learning from the past is one of the best ways to prevent certain future events. There’s at least some truth to this saying, so we hope that this series will help your business avoid the easily avoidable.

#6: KikScore SmallBiz Interviews’ Greatest Hits & Top Strategy Tips for Entrepreneurs (Part I and Part II)

These posts use quotes from businesses that KikScore has interviewed in the past regarding lessons they’ve learned and challenges they’ve faced. Each quote has years of experience in ingrained in it, so they’re worth the reading.

#5: Championship Sports Teams…What Do They Teach Us for the Small Business & Startup Arena

Bringing together two seemingly different dynamics, this post talks about how the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and the NHL’s Boston Bruins’ respective teamwork reflect how teams in small businesses must act. Just as in sports teams, the members of your business must be willing to work together and take risks. Take a look and see for yourself just how true this is.

#4: 3 Tools for Boosting Your Business’ Image

This post goes over some tools that all businesses can use, so we think it is worth making the cut. Each tool is free and KikScore utilizes all of them. What are they, you ask? Well there would be no point in referring back to the article if we just said it here, so you’ll just have to look at the post for yourself.

#3: Nonprofit or Going for Broke: Ways to Demonstrate Your Business is Legitimate & Trustworthy

Rather than discussing all small businesses, this post gives advice to nonprofits. Whether for profit or not, all businesses suffer from trust issues. If you are having issues with your nonprofit or even just looking for a way to make it better, this post can help.

#2: #SmallBizChat Highlights – Tips on How to Make Your SmallBiz Website Look Trustworthy and Credible

Here we recap our great experience of being the guest of honor for #SmallBizChat on Twitter. It was a great way for us to take and answer different questions about how small businesses deal with online trust. A slideshow is included in the post, so feel free to check it out.

#1: Shoppers Trust Businesses Who Share More Information – KikScore Online Trust Survey Finds

Another important hallmark of KikScore’s year is the recent issuing of our first white paper, which is discussed in this post. It took a lot of time and a lot of research, but it came out great. If you are interested in online trust and how it impacts small business, take a look at this post and KikScore’s white paper.

We’ve had a great year all-in-all and we anticipate that 2012 will be even better! We appreciate everyone who has worked with us and taken the time to help us this year and we hope you all have a great 2012!

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Archive for 2011

Shoppers Trust Businesses Who Share More Information – KikScore Online Trust Survey Finds

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

We are excited to announce our first KikScore Online Trust Survey.  Since we are a business that serves the small business community we wanted to learn first hand what shoppers and website visitors are saying about their browsing experience, especially how it relates to small business websites. The KikScore Online Trust Survey provides an overview for small businesses, shoppers and the greater community about trust and reliability trends. It especially focuses on how consumers approach the trust and credibility issue as they perform local searches for small businesses in various search engines.

The Context and Background for the KikScore Online Trust Survey

Really since the inception of the internet, small businesses have faced the constant challenge of proving that they are trustworthy and reliable online businesses and website visitors should trust them.  Lacking the large marketing budgets and brand names, small businesses face the battle of demonstrating to website visitors that they are legitimate and trustworthy businesses.  This online trust challenge has resulted in billions of dollars in losses for small businesses.

Recently, to add to this challenge that small businesses face is the rise of local search.  As more consumers perform local searches on Google and Bing, search results are returning more and more small local businesses.  Website visitors have the increasing opportunity to visit small business websites of plumbers, realtors, contractors, lawyers and local stores such as dry cleaners and transact on many online small business websites.

We set out to study what are the trends for shoppers as well as small businesses for demonstrating trust through both local search and online shopping.

The KikScore Online Trust Survey & Report Findings

Here are some of the key findings from our report:

  1. The fear of being defrauded or a victim of an online scam has led more than 90% of consumers that shop online not to complete a transaction;
  2. 87% of website visitors feel safer buying from websites that feature information about the business and the track record of the business;
  3. 85% of website visitors that perform local searches are more willing to hire a small business service provider that has a trust seal on their website;
  4. Over 60% of website visitors are more likely to buy from a website that posts information and details about the management of an online business; and
  5. More than 90% of website visitors that perform local searches are more willing to trust a service business that posts information on their website about their business history and track record.


Key Implication from the Online Trust Survey for Small Businesses – More Information Means More Sales

The main takeaway from the Survey is that website visitors want to know who is “behind the online business” and information about the business itself.  Further, the data indicates that one way to combat the online trust challenge for small businesses is to address the information asymmetry that exists between website visitors and small businesses.  The recurring theme through the data from the report is that local searchers and shoppers want transparency through reputational information when they reach a small business website. This finding tends to makes sense from a layperson’s psychological approach to approaching something unknown.  From a human relations perspective, once a person finds out more information about a previously unknown subject/person, that person then can make a much better assessment about the credibility and trustworthiness of that subject/person.  The same approach generally holds true for a website visitor to an unfamiliar online business.

From this key finding, the KikScore Report provided these following recommendations for small business to act on to start addressing the information asymmetry:

  1. Start providing key information about your small business on your website;
  2. Important information to provide can include, details about the management team, financial history, location information, website history and security information, customer service and privacy policies, certification and awards and introductory videos;
  3. Display real customer feedback and testimonials about a shopping experience or your customer’s experience hiring your small business to provide a service; and
  4. Using and displaying a trust seal(s) that help you show website visitors that your business has been validated and provides information about the reputation of your small business.

The important point for small businesses from this report is to use these four steps outlined immediately above as a way to use information about your own business, your management team, your own track record and make that transparent to website visitors.  These steps will help small businesses address the online trust challenge and directly help balance the information asymmetry between website visitors and small online businesses.

Case Study: PaybaQ Proves the Importance of Displaying Reputational Information

As a part of the Report, KikScore included a case study from a small business that had already implemented the recommendations above to provide an illustration of how one small business owner successfully tackled the online trust challenge.  The case study is of Brian J. Esposito the CEO and founder of PaybaQ.

Shortly after launching PaybaQ, a peer-to-peer lending site, Mr. Esposito faced low signups, abandoned shopping carts and abandoned registrations.  Mr. Esposito, being a prior Inc5000 listed business owner, sought to use his own reputation as a way to show website visitors his website was trustworthy and reliable.  After Mr. Esposito signed up for KikScore and started using the KikScore Confidence Badge to provide more information about his track record as a business owner and also offer a way to provide feedback, PaybaQ experienced a 20% increase in conversions.

As seen from the increase in PaybaQ’s conversions after using the KikScore Confidence Badge to display reputational information about the business owner, management team, website and policies, information transparency is the fundamental method for small businesses to demonstrate trustworthiness and achieve success online.  Mr. Esposito noted: “Immediate access to information and transparency into any company is crucial, especially startup small businesses.  Implementing a seamless solutions on PaybaQ.com gives my potential users exactly what they need, a quick snapshot of my company, team members, and even myself.  This tool helps show browsers who find our site through Google and Bing that they are on a safe credible site that they can trust.”

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Archive for 2011

Mobile Shopping is Going Viral this Holiday Season!

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

With only 11 shopping days left until Christmas, shoppers need all the help they can get this holiday season while trying to find the best deal on the perfect gift for their loved one.  This year more shoppers than ever before are using their smartphones to find the best deals while they are in stores around the country and even at home and work.

Pricegrabber just released these survey results last week of 3,574 online consumers in the United States.  According to these results, 39% of all respondents have a shopping-related application on their smartphone.  Out of the respondents with a shopping application on their phone, 56% indicated that they have these applications on their phone because they believe they get the best prices using mobile shopping applications.

These numbers show a staggering increase from just 1 year ago when I wrote this KikScore blog post that talked about a Wall Street Journal article that indicated that only 5.6% of consumers used a mobile phone to price compare while on the go.  The WSJ article referenced in the aforementioned blog post also says that only .1% of consumers used a mobile phone in this way in 2009.  As you can see from these numbers consumers are continuing to increase their use of smartphone mobile shopping applications at an exponential rate!

So, what are merchants across the Unites States doing in response to these legions of mobile smartphone shoppers?  Unfortunately, the answer is still “not very much” at this time.  Again, like I mentioned in my blog post last year, I still cannot walk into a Best Buy, use my smartphone to find a better price on an item online and get the store to match this price.  Many bricks and mortar stores are still having a problem reacting to this new wave of technological advancement in the pocket of the U.S. consumer.

According to this article in the Chicago Tribune, some retailers like Macy’s and J.C. Penney are starting to react to these mobile shoppers by streamlining their mobile websites, creating custom shopping applications, and increasing the speed and efficiency of their sites.  In my mind, however, this is just the very basic levels of catering to the mobile shopping consumer and great strides will need to be made in the coming years in order for this new bread of consumer to be on the same page with these large retailers in the U.S.

Have you had a positive or negative experience while using a smartphone with a mobile shopping application at a retailer?

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Archive for 2011

Reach Your Best Insights! A SmallBiz Interview with Pierre DeBois

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Today’s KikScore interview features Pierre DeBois, founder of Zimana, a web analytics service. In this rapidly changing e-commerce environment, Pierre is instrumental in helping other small business reach success through his analysis of their web analytics and his assistance and advice for marketing and social media strategies. I had a pleasure talking with Pierre and learned a lot, so I hope you all share similar benefits from reading what he had to say.

Tell us about Zimana and who you focus on serving?

Zimana is a web analytics consultancy service for small businesses that are at a unique stage of operations, having launched their businesses that rely on analytics data. These businesses require marketing optimization but do not have enough time determining their marketing effectiveness and aren’t ready to reach a larger analytics firm. I analyze their analytics data, ranging from basic keyword analysis to website traffic exploration, and then I help them develop an optimizing marketing strategy with projections. My clients encompass a wide array of small businesses, from mom and pop companies to businesses that built their firm around a particular platform with numerous employees.

What prompted you to start Zimana?

It was very accidental; my original idea was that I wanted to work with small businesses that needed help with their financial data.  I found out that a lot of the time these businesses tend to seek financial help, but it’s often too late to implement the advice. Therefore, that doesn’t strike me emotionally as a way to be helpful. So back in 2007, I was working for a government contractor firm in Huntsville, Alabama. The firm was determining if potential clients were reviewing products and services at the company website. I researched and discovered the measurement solution Google Analytics. I used my own resources and vacation schedule to undertake the training on my own. I then worked with the web developer to implement site content changes. The end result was successful and identified traffic flow through the site. It helped the firm place a value on their marketing budget. That was my first taste of web analytics though it wasn’t until 2.5 years ago when I launched Zimana. It’s been great and fun, though still very challenging especially due to the economic environment we are in. But the responses have been positive.

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced and how did you overcome it?

Living in New York is a catch-22; though it is the best place to meet and network with people and find good resources, it is economically straining to live here starting out.  It is also tough to follow up with customers in the actual city, as opposed to other locations. When living and working here, you learn how resilient you have to be and it forces you to be efficient. While the fast-paced, business environment makes it hard to initially make a living, it forces you to remain focused and more diligently.

As a hub for business, being centered in New York also allows me to track clients outside of New York; one of my best clients is SmallBizTrends.  Though based in Ohio, I conduct a lot of their monthly analysis. Moreover, being in NYC has helped me to create many business book reviews for the book segment and provide up-to-date analytics ideas that will be beneficial for their future.

How do you advertise yourself to get more clients?  Do you make use of tools like social media?

Yes. Social media has helped me tremendously, especially through Twitter as I have attracted some of my followers through my tweets. In addition, though accidental, my writing has had a huge influence on gaining more clients. What started as being just for fun doing book reviews evolved into writing analytics articles.   I’ve written articles for many different business sites, including AllBusiness.com, Pitney Bowes Smart Connections series, Business Agility, and AllAnalytics.com.  The posts have helped me a lot, expanding my online exposure and clientele base. A great challenge has been balancing my time for writing and managing other business functions. I had not expected the writing to take the direction it has.  In general, client referrals and social media marketing have been the most beneficial for me, with carefully placed and timed ads as bonus exposure. I am a big believer of using analytics to figure out which marketing outlets actually work, so that has helped me tremendously of where to focus most of my attention.

Have you had any trouble proving your business’ credibility and legitimacy to potential customers and website visitors?

Yes, there have been times and I think it’s in a very weird catch-22. In my business, the accountability issue is in the beginning; there are certifications that analytics practitioners must take and my qualifications definitely help. Though at the same time, there is a level of education that is required on part of the customer. The main customers believe that analytics is only for SEO and that’s not the entire case. So the challenge becomes that an analyst can be used for both online and offline marketing functions, though it depends on the organization, and therefore I must educate the customer enough and provide them with enough information that they will be comfortable doing business. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but most times people are appreciative of what you try to share with even if they don’t quite have the budget.

In terms of being legitimate, what’s helped me is dealing with the right customers and not trying to deal with those that are uninterested. Only once or twice have I had to deal with a relationship that wasn’t right, but as a business owner, you have to hold out and fight for the ideal customer. Once you find the right one, then credibility will come into play. The use of social media can be utilized to reinforce that credibility; in order to effectively use social networks, you have to focus on keeping in touch with specific people and make the most of the contacts that you have made.

Based on your expertise, what two things do you think small businesses should be doing concerning online marketing?

First, there needs to be more of a coordinated effort between digital properties (websites, paid searches, social media) and how you market your business offline. There are now studies that are proving that when you gain a customer, that customer has researched your business online and then decided whether they will do business with you. Lots of small businesses do not coordinate their online and offline efforts well, but they need to think holistically about how they market themselves and then track that, which is where the analytics comes into play.

Second, based on my expertise, businesses need to begin thinking about more than search engine optimization. With the emergence of social media, there is more of a need for a combination between social media and search, plus some level of digital marketing, whether it is paid ads on Google or banner ads on Facebook. There needs to be an increased effort beyond search to touch upon the customers and engage them. Businesses are aware of Twitter and Facebook and other networking communities, though they often do not make a dedicated effort to effectively use them. Going beyond SEO, some type of paid search or ad, coupled with social media, will help businesses convert customers on the sidelines as an ongoing customer.

What trends do you see in the business world that you think are important for small businesses to take note of?

A rising trend in the small business world is the use of cloud services. I support these services whole heartedly because it makes it easier to manage a team, whether you’re an army of one or 20. They create value for the services you have and permit more efficient management. I’m finding that the businesses that struggle have not thought in terms of simplicity; For example, one business never thought of instituting PayPal on their site because they didn’t use credit in their operations.  That doesn’t mean that your customers don’t. Most businesses are too focused on their main product or service and therefore they do not think about all the underlying activities that would be essential. You don’t need to have a desktop to quickly search for information, so the challenge for small businesses is not only having access to up-to-date technology, but deploying it in the best and easiest manner for conducting your business.

Speaking from personal experience, the people who helped me the most were freelancers. One lady designed my website and also developed my hand-drawn logo into something very unique. Another was a photographer whose photos of me grabbed the right attention. I learned many different tips from many sources, ranging from billing ideas to learning to focus on the big picture as opposed to the little details. The biggest thing is to learn from others how to conduct business efficiently, so you are working to grow your business and “on” your business, not just “in” it.

How do the folks at Zimana let loose after a busy day working?

For me, I’m a big fan of The Big Bang Theory; I love it and think Sheldon is hilarious and the best television character in years. I watch a little Big Bang Theory and football, and I’m good! I still love automobiles like I did growing up so I read up on cars quite a bit. Pretty much besides that, I just try to keep up with my close friends and family. I haven’t had as much time to relax as I’d like to and for the most part, my business is my time. In addition, I talk a lot with other small business owners, which is both informative and also energizing.

Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers and the small business community?

Stay driven and keep your faith. If you are in any struggles, keep your faith and make sure every day spent on your business is actually productive; business owners spend too much time talking about their business, as opposed to working on it and helping it grow. Using your time efficiently is necessary, as well as networking and making sure that you are learning what needs to be learned to stay current with your business and surrounding technologies. At the end of the day, you need to be driven to put all of the pieces together and keep your business moving into the future. 

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Archive for 2011

Business in Bloom: An Interview with Mark McCurry

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Recently, I had the opportunity of speaking with the amazing entrepreneur, Mark McCurry. Mark is a man with an impressive background; not only is he the president of the successful delivery business 1-800 Courier, but he has recently started the rapidly emerging online florist business known as Peachtree Petals. From our interview, I quickly became aware of Mark’s impressive knowledge of creating and maintaining businesses, which I want to share with others:

When and why did you decide to create Peachtree Petals?

I actually started Peachtree Petals about one month ago. At my other brand, 1-800 Courier, I noticed that we were getting a lot of delivery orders from florists. This got me to thinking that, instead of just delivering floral arrangements, maybe I could make and sell them myself. It was really easy to set up Peachtree Petals’ online store using Shopify. As of right now, we are 40 to 50 orders per day.

What was one of the biggest challenges you faced and overcame in launching Peachtree Petals?

Honestly, with my experience of launching and maintaining 1-800 Courier, I didn’t encounter a whole lot of challenges with Peachtree Petals. The one thing that I would say was most difficult was finding a designer, since I don’t really know much about flowers.

How do you advertise yourself to get more clients?

I was able to get a lot of customers out of my other business’ clientele, but I have taken a few other routes. I take advantage of Google AdWords, which is useful regardless of your business. I also set up a Peachtree Petals Facebook page, am part of a floral network, and had two billboards put up.

Have you had any trouble proving your business’ credibility and legitimacy to potential customers and website visitors?

There’s always some trouble when trying to show people that your new business can be trusted. That’s why my store uses KikScore. It’s already helped to increase by conversion by 10 percent or so.

When you’re not working on Peachtree Petals, what do you do to relax?

I have three daughters, so I spend time with them and take them to their various events. I also enjoy going out to dinner with my wife on weekends. Aside from that, I have five websites that I spend a lot of time on.

What trends do you see in the business world that you think are important for small businesses to take note of?

The biggest trend that I am seeing lately is that margins are shrinking in retail. This is due to internet-based shopping. It’s now a lot easier for people to go on line and compare prices. There’s no longer a need to get what you see at first sight.

What tools would you recommend in the small business world?

I definitely recommend Shopify for setting up your store. As I mentioned earlier, it’s really easy to do. Google Analytics is another useful tool for helping you monitor your store. Other than those two, I would suggest interconnecting through blogs. That’s a really good way to help spread the word.

If you had to pick two lessons that you’ve learned from launching and maintaining your business, what would they be?

One lesson is that you need to watch your marketing cost. If you don’t do this, you run the risk of overspending and hurting yourself more than helping yourself. My other lesson would be to make sure that you’re selling something that there’s a demand for. If there’s no demand, then who is going to buy what you’re selling? It’s best to keep watch and look out for what is in demand.

Thanks to Mark for a great interview! I hope that everyone can benefit from his business savvy and entrepreneurial spirit!

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Archive for 2011

Net Shopping and Net Gains: Online Buying Spikes for the Holiday Season

Monday, November 28th, 2011

If it Exists, People will Use it for Shopping

Not too long ago, people had to walk through crowded stores and malls if they wanted to get any holiday shopping done. Alright, so maybe this is still true. However, it’s far from the only way to buy what you want these days. According to Forrester, sales from online shopping for the holiday season will see a 15 percent increase from last year. Although this is only a particularly high prediction for the moment, it is already shaping into an underestimate. comScore is keeping its eyes on the November/December 2011 shopping period and has reported that the first 20 days have already seen a 14 percent increase in ecommerce spending for the holiday season. Furthermore, IBM has found that online sales for this past Black Friday increased by 24.3 percent. What does all of this mean, though? Is it that shoppers are becoming more inclined to shop online because it’s convenient and easy for comparing prices? Of course, but this is only a small glimpse of a much larger picture. We need to instead look at this trend as a set of guidelines for how to act throughout this season.

More Trust, More Business

An important thing to note from this trend is that ecommerce businesses need to realize that, if they want shoppers to target them for their purchases, they need more than great prices; they need trust. Throughout the holiday season, as people search the internet for the best deals, they are also looking for a site that provides the least amount of risk. In other words, since shoppers are skeptical of where they buy from, your business has to be reliable in a way that is easily conveyed to shoppers.

A number of factors can help your businesses gain the trust it deserves. If you look back at our #SmallBizChat post, you can see several ways to make your business’ website more trustworthy. These include showing management information, having a helpful ‘About Us’ page, using a confidence badge, and more. Businesses that take advantage of features such as these are far more likely to inspire trust and see more business knocking at their door (or at least purchasing from their website, in this case).

Create the Rush and Prepare for it

Another takeaway from the information above is that businesses need to know how to go about getting their names out there. After your business has established and conveyed a trustworthy image, there is still the issue of how many shoppers are aware of your presence. Without this, you’re reliability can’t save you from being invisible. Build your brand and then prepare for the inflow of customers.

However, there is another part of this task that bears mentioning: make sure your business is prepared to receive a large inflow of customer orders. If you cannot provide people with what they want, they won’t buy from you. If you only have a certain amount of a popular product, than you most likely already know exactly how many orders you will fill for it. Don’t go overboard, but it can’t hurt to stock up on items you know will sell.

To wrap things up, there is one other piece of advice that applies to both businesses and shoppers: stay safe. No one should get too caught up in the zeal to know how to deal with the holiday shopping season safely. Think about the advice above and avoid a virtual version of Black Friday’s craziness. Enjoy your Cyber Monday and the holidays to come!

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Archive for 2011

6 Steps to Protecting Yourself When Shopping Online This Upcoming Holiday Season

Monday, November 14th, 2011

It’s holiday season again and I’m sure people are already starting to shop for gifts. If you’re buying online, check out these 6 tips to help you out and increase your chances of having a “safe” shopping experience:

  1. Research the company. Who are the owners? Is it a successful businesswoman from Texas or a teenager living in China? Take a few minutes and check out on the website who is actually behind the business and who operates the website.  Click to the “About Us” page or “Contact Us” page and see if there are some actual names listed on the website.  Then drop some of those names quickly into Google or Bing and search on those names.  What comes up about them?
  2. Find out where their servers are located. Are they based in France, but have a server in Ohio? (You’re probably alright with a company like this) or are they based in England and have a server in Somalia (this should send up a red flag.)  Also, make sure to check out where their website is hosted. Here is a great tool to use to look up domain owners here. It is called Domain Tools. I use it all the time when I am shopping.
  3. Check their website thoroughly. Is there anything in their wording that seems fishy? Are there typos on the website or does the footer of the website say copyright 2002? Does calling that phone number give you someone asking for your pizza order? Confirm that the business is legitimate before buying that scarf for Aunt Joan. Perhaps this post on how to make online websites look credible will help you see what to look for when you are reviewing the four corners of an online store or service business?
  4. Is the business on any Social Networks? Being on social networks like Twitter and Facebook can show that a company is willing to have some transparency when dealing with customers. What type of personality does the business have online? Does it come off as a company that you don’t want to do business with?  Check their Twitter stream or Facebook page and see do they respond to customers or is there just a username set up and just “dead air.”  If you see some level of engagement, that is a good sign.
  5. What are people saying about the businessonline? Most companies will have some type of reviews of them online.  What are people saying about them in these reviews? How about their products, customer service and delivery times?  Can you really trust those reviews? If the reviews sound fake, you might want to check into the company a bit more. Remember our post on how to spot fake reviews? It’ll help!
  6. Do they have a trust seal or an ssl certificate? When you are reviewing a website you are about to buy from check out whether they have an SSL certificate meaning that your communications of your credit card information is encrypted from your browser to the company’s browser.  Also look to see if the business has any trust seals and in particular click on those trust seals and see what they say about the business.  The sites that have trust seals that actually give you more information about the business management team, their track record of financial health and information on customer service, return and privacy policies will give you even more transparency into who you are buying from over this holiday season.

Good luck and stay safe when shopping online!  Also let us know if you have any safe shopping tips.

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Archive for 2011

Top Ten Reasons Small Businesses Fail: part ten – Planning

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Planning

We find ourselves ending at the start: the Plan.

While many are aware of the need for a well-crafted business plan, few businesses of any size actually have completed one. There are several valid reasons: a thorough business plan is a complex document, requiring much more than expertise in tradecraft and knowledge of the potential market segment.

One- and five-year financial projections, competitor analysis, growth plans, best- and worst-case scenarios, – even an exit plan – are all part of a comprehensive business plan. Many Small Business entrepreneurs, especially in the current economy, have entered into their business ventures more from necessity than desire. Down-sizing and layoffs, it seems, create more Small Business than a burning desire to “go it alone” and brave the rigors of competition.

Yet as the saying goes, “failure to plan is planning to fail“. You may never have the time to draft a complete business plan – but then you’re probably not seeking a commercial loan or investors at this point. Still, there are steps you can take to give yourself a guide, to ensure that you’re operating on more than just “a wing and a prayer“.

SWOT analysis

This is a simple document – usually a page or two – though it may take some time to prepare. It is an acronym that stands for “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats“. If you prepare no other document or plan, I urge you to prepare a SWOT analysis. Take a serious look at the business you’re in or are planning to start or enter into.

Strengths: What qualifies you? Seriously; it must be more than just “I got laid off“, or “I’ve always wanted to do XXX“. Are you REALLY qualified to pursue this line of work right now? If not, how quickly can you get yourself up to speed, and what would it take.??. I don’t ask this to discourage you, but ask you to consider the training, advice, mentoring and networking opportunites available that can enable you to answer this question positively.

But whatever you do, don’t operate blindly with a false sense of optimism: entering into a business venture without proper qualification can cost you more than you’re prepared to pay — in time, money and  reputation — and even expose you to litigation.

Weaknesses: This is the inverse of your qualifications. I’d actually focus on this first. You’re probably more aware of why you should enter into your chosen business than why you shouldn’t – after all, noone starts a business expecting to fail. Still, an accurate assessment of your deficiencies and shortcomings automatically maps out a course of action to enhance your skills, increase your knowledge and make up for whatever you determine you lack.

Opportunities: This may seem clear, but think beyond the obvious. If you’re creating custom clothing, might you have an opportunity to repair antique items as a side business? What partnership opportunites are there? Could you conduct a free course at a local college or community center, that would allow you to establish a reputation as a valuable local resource, demonstrate your skill… and discover potential clients in the process? Here is where thinkingoutside the box” is most important. Look beyond the surface, and think creatively — try to see things you wouldn’t ordinarily consider when dealing with just your core competencies.

Threats: Competitors. Lawsuits from upset customers. Negative online reviews. Disgruntled employees or partners damaging your reputation. Noone wants to dwell on these unpleasant things, but better to consider them in advance and prepare a strategy, than to be blind-sided and have an otherwise profitable business fail because of unanticipated threats to its existence.

There is also the Strategic Business Plan which, as its name implies, is a more focused document than a full-blown business plan. Where a comprehensive business plan is usually drafted when starting a business with, among other things, appealing to a bank or series of investors in mind, the strategic plan is devised for the business owner, and possible partners or employees, to map out the course of action for a few years.

It is everything from a mission statement to a declaration of intent — it says “this is who we are, why we’re here and what we’re doing“. It’s a good exercise to prepare it, and review every six months or so, to either revise it or simply to make sure you’re still on track with your original… plan of action.

Plan the work, and work the plan. That’s the fundamental key to success… or at least, a good way to avoid outright failure. And that’s been the purpose of this series – not to discourage you, but to point out some of the roadblocks, and help you chart a path over, around or through them.

Good luck to you all. And keep reading – there’s more good stuff to come, from Your Open Source CIO.


Series inspired by “Top Ten Reasons Why Small Businesses Fail” by: Connie Holt, E.A. cholt@henssler.com
The Henssler Financial Group Position Paper
© 2004 The Henssler Financial Group | www.henssler.com


Cornell Green is Your Open Source CIO, guest blogger for KikScore. Visit him at http://opensourcecio.blogspot.com

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Archive for 2011

Small Business Interview with Sophie Kovic from FlockStocks

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

I recently had the chance to interview Sophie Kovic from FlockStocks and here are some of the highlights of our discussion:

Tell us about your business and who you focus on serving?

We are a feather hair extension supplier that mainly sells to salons. We hit it big when we opened up FlockStocks as our store opening serendipitously coincided with the start of the Shopify Build-A-Business competition. Since then we have been focusing on improving our products and services and following trends. We are really trying to listen to what our clients want, and developing our products accordingly.

How did you get started selling online?

We started on eBay selling a range of products. I had a clothing label originally.  Selling online was inspired by Timothy Ferriss and the Four Hour Work Week. But the clothes didn’t really match his lifestyle model. FlockStocks is much more rewarding, and far less work. Tim would be proud.

What inspires you to grow your business?

Besides the obvious cash incentive and the subsequent lifestyle, I just really enjoy the work. One of the exciting things for me is meeting new like-minded people. At the moment my goal is to meet an inspiring business mentor.  I also have a new baby and want to make sure I can provide for him properly.

If you had 2 lessons learned from your business that you could pass on to others about selling online, what are those?

1) Choose something with little or no variation, such as size, color etc. With little or no variation you get less hassle, less complaints, less stock-keeping, and less returns.

2) Choose something with good Adwords potential. High clicks and low competition is everything. You must be sure you can drive customers to your site in the beginning.

Where has your business focused most of its energy this year?

We have been focusing on developing a new way of grading our products, which makes the whole process much easier for clients to select a product based on their needs and budget. That is still in the works. We have also been diversifying our products, finding better suppliers and generally growing our range. Staying current and rolling with the trends is absolutely vital to our business.

What do you see as 2 new trends in small business and in your business?

1) Sites that host timed discounts such as Groupon are great ways to get exposure.

2) Instant advertising methods have changed the way we can get potential customers to our sites. Adwords, for example can get you results in one day. Long gone are the delays of print advertising.

If your business/store could be any movie or movie character, what movie/movie character would it be and why?

Juno. That movie came out of nowhere. It didn’t appear to fit with the mainstream, but most people ended up thinking it was really cool.

If your business could have a dream spokesperson for your company who would it be and why?

Kim Kardashian would be our dream spokesperson. Besides being gorgeous and surprisingly articulate she has a very talked about hairstyle and would be the perfect fit for our premium positioning in the market.  

What is the biggest challenge that your business faces as a small business and how do you work to overcome that challenge?

A new flooding of competitors is the main challenge facing our business today. Refocusing on a different clientele (salons rather than individuals) where there is less competition has been our approach to this problem.  That also works in well with Tim Ferriss’s  80/20 principal, where 80% of profits come from 20% of customers.

Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers and the small business community?

Read The Four Hour Work Week. It changed my life. I am writing this from a villa in Thailand, where I just celebrated my 25th birthday, with my partner, son and friends. We have just spent 3 months here, and I have not so much as looked at an order the whole time. I learnt that things can be automated. The world will not fall apart if you step away. Trust your people. They are smart. They will work it out. You will have more time to come back with better, bolder and bigger ideas.

So go. Do something. Be inspired. And have fun! 

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Archive for 2011

SmartCEO Magazine & Ecommerce for Beginners Features KikScore

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011


We just wanted to take this opportunity to send a shoutout to two great publications that featured KikScore recently.  We had the honor of being featured in Rachel Cieri’s article in SmartCEO in October called Good, Bad and Uncertain – As the Internet Changes So Does E-commerce.  We were able to give our feedback and some lessons learned to SmartCEO magazine and Rachel on our experience at KikScore being an e-commerce company and also serving small businesses.

Also a special thank you to JP Jones at the Ecommerce for Beginners Blog.  JP did an awesome interview of KikScore where she allowed us to tell the in-depth story behind KikScore, the biggest obstacles we have overcome, marketing tips for small business, how we handle customer service and so much more.  Check out our interview and so many other small business interviews on the Ecommerce for Beginners Blog.  We recommend JP’s blog for regular reading for all small businesses!

Many thanks again to JP and Rachel for showcasing KikScore.

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