5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business

By: Chad Bell
Recently, I met with a prospective client who had an idea to develop an eCommerce store for a new product he had created. He waxed on about how great the product is as well as the value that it would provide his future customers. Having met too many people who have not stopped to consider whether or not their brilliant new product or service will actually provide significant benefits, I was impressed. Excited, I asked, “Who is going to buy this?” That’s when we hit a brick wall. With an empty stare he responded, “I don’t know.”

Sadly, my new client was following in the footsteps of many before him, particularly those who found themselves broken down on the side of the new business highway. He, as so many others, fall prey to the belief that the criteria for a successful business is comprised solely of a good idea. The idea of ‘build it and they will come’ worked in “Field of Dreams”, but it won’t work in business. The art of business is spotting an opportunity, or an unmet need in the marketplace, and filling that space with your product or service.

So before you invest your, or worse – someone else’s, money you should be able to answer these 5 simple yet very important questions.

  1. What value will my product or service provide for customers? In other words, what pain will my product or service alleviate?
  2. Who will my customers be? More precisely, who is going to buy my product or service?
  3. How much will customers be willing to pay for my product or service? It is important to differentiate between what you provide and its perceived value.
  4. Why would customers choose my product or service over competitors’? “I don’t have any competition” is not the correct response here.
  5. What resources will I need to provide my product or service? Think production: financial, tangible, intangible (e.g. trademark), human capital, etc.

Whether or not you are beginning a new venture, you can minimize the risk of losing customers to competition by focusing on ways to better provide your services. Asking yourself these questions will serve to help you launch a new product or service, or to improve your existing business.

What questions did you ask yourself before starting your business?

Not Your Grandmother’s Project Management System

By: Chad Bell
An increase in project acquisition is usually the first sign of growth for small businesses. Great as it is for your business development goals, taking on more work also means more room for mistakes.

To maintain your momentum while also keeping up with the unique demands of each client, project management tools can be used to keep colleagues and/or clients working together. For small businesses, this small step signifies a giant leap towards expansion.

Not all businesses are operated identically. Successful implementation of project management begins with the understanding that not all projects are managed identically. So before you start perusing the web for the “best” project management system, consider your objectives. Here are some to get you started.

Examples of Project Management Objectives:

  • Define Roles for all (Small-Large) Project Scales
  • Assign Tasks & Set Milestones
  • Monitor Progress & Efficiency
  • Integrate with Time Logging System
  • Establish Benchmarks for Quality-Control
  • Facilitate Team Collaboration

Next, consider how your day-to-day work process can be expedited by your project management application. In most cases, communication is central to the success of any project, and fully functional Gantt chart generator just doesn’t cut it. Nowadays, critical paths are supported by Google Calendar and iCal integration, and status updates are just one of the many social project networking features available.

Here are some great new project management features:

  • Email Integration to receive & reply to message notifications
  • File attachment capabilities
  • HTML formatting of notes
  • Link saving ability for 3rd party applications, such as links and web pages (e.g. Google Documents, YouTube Videos, and Standard Web pages)
  • Custom Calendar reminders
  • Time Tracking for billing & payroll
  • Social Project Networking to update status or share links and resources
  • Mobile Integration for on-the-go project management

We all know that adapting to change, even a positive one, often requires overcoming some growing pains. But just like what we tell many of our clients, the hard work is usually front-loaded. In this case, ease-of-use will come with understanding project management objectives, familiarization with its functionalities, and collaboration among members.

If you don’t already, you may soon find the value of project management in helping to deliver high-quality products/services, improve overall efficiency, and increase overall ROI.

Here are some helpful links to get you started!

2011 Online Project Management Review Comparisons

20 Online Project Management Tools to Boost Productivity

Find the Best (Comparison Tool)

Have you ever implemented a project management system? Share your experience with us!

WordPress Tutorial for Beginners

By: Chad Bell
Take a look at Zen Den’s WordPress Video Blog Tutorial for Beginners!

Despite its powerful features, WordPress is designed with ease of use in mind. Once your site is running, you simply log in and manage your content from the administration panel. Find out how you can do this easily by watching our WordPress expert create blog posts, edit page content, upload photos, and much more.

About WordPress:
More and more websites these days are being designed entirely in WordPress. WordPress is a free platform that makes it easy for anyone to create and update content for their site without any technical knowledge. Originally intended to be used primarily for blogging, it has since evolved to be capable of handling fairly advanced sites.

5 Tips to Increase Website Conversion For Your Online Store

Your conversion rate is a measure of the number of potential customers that actually go on to make a purchase from your website. Many websites concentrate solely on increasing the number of visitors to their site, when often they have fairly simple problems that, if solved, would have a huge effect on their conversion rate. Improving a website conversion rate can be relatively simple, here are 5 proven and easy to implement tips increase your conversion rate.

1. Promote Search Function Usability
The best practice for an eCommerce website is to offer an easy to use search function facility. Your potential customer has probably been to hundreds of eCommerce websites and has come to expect certain practices within the search function. For example, your shopper wants to be able to easily navigate around your site in a quick fashion. Since common practice is for the search bar to be placed at the top right hand side of a website, you will want to follow suit.

By not even having a search bar, TJ Maxx is making it very hard for potential customers to navigate their site!

If your site offers many products, the option to refine searches by category will effectively prevent shoppers from getting lost in a sea of options. Furthermore, refined search functionality helps customers engage more with the site and keeps them looking through your products longer which increases conversion rates.

2. Enhance Credibility by Including a Sales Phone Number
Purchasing online is a process that can include many steps and be confusing for some people. By providing a phone number, the potential customer is able to directly call to either place their order or to discuss any questions or comments that they may have about the product. Online purchasing is undoubtedly convenient , but phone or in-person sales are still ideal for establishing long lasting relationships!

3. Speed Up Your Site
Slow page load times are the number one reason for poor conversion rates.  Common sense tells us that if a page is too slow to load, we go straight to the next result. Patience is not a virtue of Internet shoppers. Do whatever you can to make the pages pop up as quickly as possible, such as optimizing your images or switching to a different hosting server.

4. Follow the Shopping Cart Basics
The fact that a someone has added something to their shopping cart is a very good sign – it means that they want to buy from you. By asking them to log in before adding to the cart, you are killing your conversion rate. Many people dislike registering for countless sites and may abandon the cart altogether. Differentiate your site from the countless others that enforce this requirement and allow your customers to create an account after the sale is finalized.  It has been found that 80% of potential customers are initially searching for the best price offer that they can find before they decide where to buy from. If you require your customers to log in before adding a product to the shopping cart, you might be left with only 20% of potential customers!

5. Always Show Total Costs!
If there is anything that shoppers hate, it is getting to the end of the checkout process to find a whole slew of extra hidden costs. To avoid producing unhappy shoppers, provide a shipping calculator with the final cost available to view before beginning the checkout process. This way, shoppers will know exactly what to expect and be more likely to have enjoyed the experience of your site as a whole.

You should be told before you enter your credit card details exactly how much shipping will cost you!

Considering the cluttered designs of many eCommerce sites, online shoppers appreciate transparent, stress-free, and easy transactions. Just like traditional salespeople in brick-and-mortar stores, your eCommerce site should function to reduce buyer anxiety and facilitate purchasing. Following these 5 tips will ensure that your site produces the highest possible conversion rates!

3 Quick SEO Case Studies

By: Chad Bell
When it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization), understanding of the concept usually caps off at name recollection. Our Lead Developer has spent over 10 years working in internet marketing and web development. Join him as he discusses the following case studies that highlight 3 major SEO considerations crucial for all websites.

1. Robot-Friendliness

A quick Google search will confirm this as one of the most important aspects of improving traffic from queries. Surprisingly, making your site robot-friendly is the one SEO tactic that is often neglected. Often, this becomes the case when businesses have sites built by developers who have not been asked to think about SEO or by those were are just plain negligent.

Consider the following: to humans, a well-designed page requires highlighted content to be communicated from page headings and titles. In comparison, robots from search engines such as Google and Yahoo seek similar clues. The problem is that the back-end, or coding, of most web pages are made up of an undifferentiated mass of equally important text.

Case: Not long ago, I had a client operating within a highly competitive industry that needed to enhance the search performance of their site. The initial step was to rip out all of the tables and organize each piece of content in appropriate HTML tags styled with CSS. Then, headings were coded as HTML tags and body copy went into paragraph tags, with menus and content lists copied into list tags. I also created a meta description tag (nonexistent at the time) and unique page titles for each of the different sections. Within days of these initial changes, the company website moved onto the 1st page of computer training search results for its city. The corresponding increase in business was so significant it led this client to move SEO to the top of her marketing priorities.

2. Keyword R&D

Making robot-friendly sites is a job for a developer, but any site owner can conduct basic research to find out what key terms and phrases they should be targeting. There is a range of sites available for determining what phrases will be most successful in driving more traffic to your site.

Case: When optimizing the Zen Den Web Design site, Google Insights is a go-to tool for geographic and season-specific data. For example, over the past 12 months there were over 30% more searches for “web design” than for “website development” in San Francisco.

Your list of key words and phrases should change over time and be used consistently, as in each time you generate content for your site. The list should inform the headings, page titles, search-friendly URLs, link text, first sentences of paragraphs (these tend to get more weighting by search robots), and even the subject/category of articles for newsletters.

3. Growth Consistency

Significant growth may be easily attained, but consistency is the key to successful SEO. Variations of this idea exist, but I discovered this very useful and simple trick by accident on a forum I developed.

Case: Every month, I made a different post that included popular search terms that would send the user to the site from search results. The posts listed the terms, with each linking to the post or article that the user went to. Immediately, I saw the terms starting to rank increasingly higher in Google searches. Month on month, I supplemented the original terms with ones that I wanted to target but needed to rank higher, perpetuating a positive SEO loop.

The same rationale behind spending more on ad space than on the ad itself, exist for businesses who spend more on SEO than web development. Considering the resources often required to create visually stunning and functional websites, it’s worth the additional investment to ensure your website easily found.

Please feel free to comment on this post or contact us directly!

Top 4 Trends in Logo Design

By: Chad Bell
The company logo functions to establish identity and boost sales – it is often one of the first and most important things every company must consider. In many cases, a logo update is called for every ten years or so to keep up with modern design trends and business logo styles. While little tweaks here and there are strongly encouraged, frequent or radical logo updates are not advisable as it may corrode brand recognition. If you are wondering how your logo stacks up against a few highly recognized brands, consider these top 4 logo design strategies:

Minimal Fonts– currently one of the most popular logo design trends applied by designers, minimal style fonts emphasize typography to depict a web2 or user-centered focus. A technique based mainly around basic and equally sized shapes, the use of fewer elements in font design is effective in producing content that is easy to read and understand.

3D Effects– often used to introduce new concepts, 3D graphics can be extremely effective in communicating modernization. Where simple transparency and basic design shapes meet, lies the organic effect of visual stimulation. The secret behind its appeal is its ability to create logos that “pop”.

Waves- used to inject flexibility and flow to designs, this trend is not to be ignored. By employing a fade technique of colors, waves function to depict movement.

Transparency– arguably one of the best design tactics, transparency has remained fashionable throughout the years. Elegant and unique logos are developed using the various depth-enhancing elements of transparency.

For businesses to continue thriving in the new decade, it is vital to keep up with design trends. When successfully applied, these strategies improve and modernize company appearance to retain existing interest and attract new generations of consumers.