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Archive for November, 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 November, 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 November, 2011

Top Ten Reasons Small Businesses Fail: part ten – Planning

Thursday, November 10th, 2011


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 November, 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 November, 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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