The federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) just wasn’t enough for many small businesses, according to a recent survey by lending marketplace Fundera.
Of the 526 small businesses Fundera surveyed during most of June and July, 55% responded that their PPP funds didn’t stretch far enough to cover expenses and other needs. In a different question, over 80% of business owners told Fundera that they’ll apply for another financial relief program should one become available.
“The PPP has been an important lifeline for many small business owners and their employees,” wrote Fundera’s partnership editor Eric Goldschein. “That being said, with the pandemic far from over — and in many places, still not reaching its peak — itâs imperative that the government listen to the needs of businesses that are struggling, even now, to survive.”
The PPP was introduced on April 3rd as part of the federal government’s CARES package. Since then, it has handed out $520 billion of its $659 billion war chest in an effort to keep America’s small businesses on life support during the coronavirus pandemic. But besides its failure to adequately cover all the financial needs on Main Street, the program has received ample criticism for giving money to large chains and failing to adequately serve minority-led businesses.
Unless the government proposes its second 11th-hour extension, the first rendition of the PPP officially comes to a close this Saturday, August 8.
Fundera’s survey also exposed the convoluted nature of the PPP’s forgiveness process — over 40% of respondents said they don’t fully understand how to seek forgiveness on their loans. Despite this confusion, however, business owners are keen to receive forgiveness on their PPP loans — more than 96% said they’d request full forgiveness.
With such a confusing process, tools like the one recently introduced by AICPA and Biz2Credit aim to make the forgiveness process easier. The idea of universal forgiveness for PPP loans under a certain amount (such as $150,000) has also been gaining popularity in recent weeks, which could ease the burden for already over-strapped small businesses.
Another Round Of Government Aid Looks Likely
Fortunately, lawmakers appear keen to help businesses out with another round of federal funding — although differing opinions are delaying the process.
Last week, Senate Republicans, led by Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), introduced their plan for a new round of business aid. This proposal includes allowing financially stricken businesses with fewer than 300 employees to dip into the PPP a second time as well as simplifying forgiveness for those with PPP loans below $150,000.
“Congress must take action to help industries and businesses, especially minority-owned small businesses and those in low-income communities, that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rubio said in a written statement.
However, critics feel that Rubio’s proposal doesn’t stretch far enough — notably, in its failure to support more mid-sized businesses.
“Weâre having a debate about the eligibility of businesses,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) told Politico. “Partly, that might be based on the jurisdiction of the Small Business Committee, which I respect and I appreciate. … There are a lot of businesses that arenât the smallest businesses that have gotten clobbered here, and they employ a ton of people.”
Bennet and Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) have previously introduced their own bi-partisan proposal, labeled the “RESTART Act.” This bill suggests offering government-backed loans for businesses with up to 5,000 employees. Loans would be at least partially forgivable and would cover up to six months of payroll, benefits, and fixed operating expenses. Unlike Rubio’s proposal — which requires eligible businesses to have seen at least a 50% revenue decline — the RESTART Act’s aid would be eligible for businesses that have posted just 25%-plus in revenue losses.
Earlier this week, a number of top executives from numerous companies — including Starbucks, Google, Microsoft, and Disney — signed a letter backing Bennet and Young’s proposal while pressing Congress to act urgently in providing “longer-term” support for small businesses.
Where Else To Look For Funding
With more federal funding on the horizon, most businesses will need to wait until Congress approves an additional round of government aid.
However, some businesses may still be eligible to receive loans through the EIDL program, an emergency fund set up by the Small Business Administration. Other businesses that haven’t already received PPP funding may still be able to apply for a PPP loan — however, note that the program is closing to applicants on August 8.
For more general financial relief, check out Merchant Maverick’s guide to alternative funding methods.
Do you have a story idea, tip, or press release for the Merchant Maverick news team? Shoot us an email: [email protected]
The post Over Half Of US Businesses Claim PPP Wasnât Enough, Survey Says appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
88% of companies mess up their employee onboarding process, according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report.
Chances are, yours is one of them. It turns out that most employers start onboarding too late and stop too early. Poor onboarding practices not only lower morale in new employees, they hinder productivity and will eventually cost you money.
How can you leverage your onboarding process to improve employee retention, save money, improve your recruiting, and foster better working relationships within your team?
Learn how to create a clear employee onboarding process that meets your specific needs, promotes employee collaboration, and outlines performance expectations with this simple checklist.
What Is Employee Onboarding?
It can take a while for a new hire to become part of your organization, integrate into the culture, and ultimately become a fully contributing member of the team.
The various procedures for making this transition as smooth as possible make up what we call employee onboarding.
Employee onboarding is not to be confused with employee orientation. While employee orientation can be a one-day affair, employee onboarding is the entire process of assimilation which can take months, even a year.
What Is A New Employee Onboarding Process?
The onboarding process begins even before the employee starts working officially, in a step known as âpre-boarding.â
You donât just prepare your new hire to work with your team. You also prepare your team for the arrival of their new employee. This ensures that when the new hire arrives, they are better prepared to extend a warm welcome.
New employees can feel awkward not knowing where to sit, where to put their documents, what machines to use, etc. Prepare for every logistical detail ahead of time.
Introduce your new team member to everyone that they are going to be working with. They might not remember everyoneâs name immediately, but it does break the ice, making future interactions that much easier.
Even when you are dealing with an experienced individual, you need to invest time in training them. Assign current employees to oversee new hires. It helps to have a mentor who can teach them all the ins and outs of your organization, show them how things work, and alert them to any unwritten rules or expectations of your office culture.
Remember that onboarding does not end on day one, week one, or even at the end of the first month. Check-in with your new employee on a monthly basis until the year ends to see what progress they have made, what challenges they are facing, what lessons they are learning, and their successes and failures. These monthly check-ins will hopefully address any potential issues before they seriously impact the performance of the individual and the team.
If the process is successful, in a year, that new employee should be in a position to onboard the next new employee.
Why Onboarding Is So Important
Onboarding doesnât get as much attention as it deserves. A full 30% of employees donât feel like their employers were very helpful on their first day at work.
This inattention could be costing companies a lot. An alarming number of employees start job hunting again within months of securing a new job. It is no surprise that 28% of people leave their jobs within the first six months. If your new employees are fully engaged from the get-go, employee turnover may reduce drastically.
According to statistics, the greatest obstacle to managers who want to improve their onboarding process is too many other priorities. This is tragic, particularly considering how expensive high employee turnover can be. The cost of replacing an employee runs up to 1-3 times their salary. This is the cumulative cost of training, development, poor performance, and rehiring (among other costs).
Onboarding is important for so many other reasons as well:
Productivity: Onboarding helps new employees achieve productivity much faster than they would have without it. New employees need up to eight months to become as productive as the other employees. Onboarding makes the learning curve much shorter. In Britain and the US, unproductive employees hurt companies by costing them $37 billion in losses. Unproductive employees are just plain expensive, and employee onboarding helps to reduce this cost. New employees are 54% more productive when there is a proper onboarding process in place.
Reduced Stress: Onboarding also reduces the stress of being a new employee on the job. New hires often experience a lot of anxiety in their first year at a new station. Employers can help their new hires to be better equipped for their new jobs and thereby greatly reduce this stress.
Better Working Relationships: Positive relationships with coworkers are an important part of what makes work a happy and fulfilling experience. So onboarding doesn’t just make new employees happier, it makes everyone else happier by helping to build better working relationships and aligning personal life goals to company goals. From Day One, new employees need to be mentored and feel welcomed and accepted.
Shorter Learning Curve: It takes a while for new employees to learn everything that they need to learn in order to do their jobs effectively. Onboarding greatly shortens this learning curve.
Preserved Culture: Onboarding cements organizational culture. When new employees join your organization and fit in well, the organizational culture of your company is preserved. Such traditions help to cement a common understanding of what it means to work in your company.
Opportunities For Leadership: Onboarding helps to create and establish comradeship, mentorship, and leadership among your employees. Mentorship relationships can be established and nurtured through new employee onboarding. New employees feel closer to their colleagues and they feel equal when they can keep up with their more experienced colleaguesâ performance. These positive relationships will play a role in keeping employees engaged and motivated to remain.
Increased Accountability For Managers & New Hires: One of the main causes of high employee turnover is poor handling by immediate supervisors. Comprehensive employee onboarding programs force managers to be more accountable for how they handle those under them. By regularly checking in with managers on the progress of their new team members, you are keeping track of the well-being and good relationships that will make you retain staff. Employees also have the opportunity to provide valuable feedback. Good managers check in with their employees daily to see how they are doing and whether there are any issues affecting their performance This daily check-ins help to address issues as they arise. With the digital tools available to us today, managers donât need to be there physically to conduct these check-ins.
How To Create An Employee Onboarding Process
The process of creating an employee onboarding program that works for you should be constantly improving from one hire to the next.Â Effective employee onboarding starts before your employee reports to work, during the recruitment and selection process. This is what some refer to as âpre-boarding.â
1) Start With A Strong Hiring Process
As part of employee onboarding, you want to make sure that your hiring process draws in people who are most likely to fit in well.
Hiring begins with identifying your need before you can set out to find someone who will meet that need. Be careful not to follow a generic formula but customize it to fit the unique needs of your business.
You may be hiring because someone has quit. On the other hand, you may be simply trying to compensate for increased workload, or a new business opportunity that you want to exploit. You may be filling a position that was vacated, or creating a new position that was not there before.
Whatever the situation, work closely with your HR department to create a recruitment plan that involves a detailed description of the new position, clear criteria for selection, a well-designed interview process, and a plan for the right person or people to conduct the interviews.
Your job description should include a list of job requirements in order of priority, specifying any desired qualifications, and envisioning the kind of characteristics and experience that you want. You also want to know exactly what kind of salary and benefits you are prepared to offer.
You’ll also need to create awareness about your new position both internally and externally. This means that people within your organization should be made aware of the new position so that they have a fair chance to apply for it.
Overall, your strategy to advertise the job should be designed to attract the kind of person you have envisioned. If you are strongly interested in filling the position internally and you have a sufficient pool of candidates internally, then you may be satisfied with publicizing it in-house. Recruit people in a way that works for you, and that helps you to get the kind of people you want.
Once the applications have come in, you can begin the selection process by reviewing applications.
The initial screening process may begin with phone calls before the actual interviews. HR officials can call the applicants in an effort to cut down the list of candidates and save on resources. Some companies may use personality tests, like the Predictive Index, or other tools to help them determine how candidates stack up when it comes to reasoning, reading comprehension, problem-solving skills, practical job skills, personality traits, IQ, or emotional intelligence.
Conduct interviews one-on-one or with a panel. Again, brainstorm with the entire team on ways to design an interview process that works uniquely for your needs.
A background check on each employee should be the next step. This includes verification of employment history, references, credit score, criminal records, or digital footprints where necessary. Some jobs may even require drug tests.
Choose the best option among the selected candidates. The time between recruitment and making a final decision needs to be reasonable. If you jump the gun, you may not make a well-considered decision. If you take too long, some candidates may have already moved on. (If no one meets the selection criteria, it is time to revisit the entire recruitment process with a view of yielding a better pool of candidates.)
Prepare an offer for the selected individual. The offer needs to include salary, benefits, time off, expected starting date, and any other benefits of working with you. Work with HR to decide which terms are negotiable and to what extent.
After this, you can begin the onboarding process for the successful candidate.
2) Get Your Ducks In A Row Before Day One
You want your onboarding process to work for you and your unique needs, so stay on brand as you create your employee onboarding guidelines. Start by designing a hiring process that attracts people who fit in better with the organizational culture, vision, mission, and goals of your company.
A prospective employee will probably visit your website at some point before or during the recruitment process. Make sure that your websiteâs career section gives accurate and relevant information about your company, its culture, and its goals. Anyone who walks into an interview should already have an idea of what they are signing up for. (Remember, people whose culture and values are compatible with yours will probably become more engaged and productive employees.)
Prepare the paperwork ahead of time: a formal offer letter, employee handbook, contracts, and everything you will need to process payroll. Some of these documents can be shared with the employee before they report to work, to avoid overloading them with new information. If they are going to be fitted with uniforms, have their measurements taken before they report. Before the new hire arrives, they should have a checklist of how to dress and what documents to bring.
Make sure to let all your current employees know ahead of time about the new hire so that they are mentally prepared to welcome them.
Everyone needs to be on the same page when onboarding the new employee: HR, Finance, IT, Team Managers, and everyone relevant should prepare together. It helps if you have the right tools to automate these systems.
3) Make A Schedule For The First Day
By Day One, you should have created a solid plan for what that day will look like on your end and from the perspective of the new hire.
New employees are not likely to ask questions whose answers they feel they âshouldâ know. Are there things they should know but might feel shy about asking? You donât want them struggling to figure out where the copy machine is, or where to find the kitchen or toilet. Think through the typical day of that employee at work and list the most basic and essential information that they will need. Answer those questions first, before they have been verbalized.
Overloading your new hire with information is just as bad as giving them too little information. So Day One should be reserved for the most essential bits. Who will the new hire be directly reporting to? Make sure that this person is present on Day One.
4) Prepare A WelcomeÂ Pack
Prepare the physical items your employee is going to need. This could include a badge, uniform, nameplate, work station, email account, software, phone, business cards, etc.
Some of these resources, like phones and work stations, might be shared with other employees, so you’ll want to prepare everyone involved.
5) Designate A Welcome Person
Assign someone on the team to answer your new employeeâs questions. This person will show them where to park, the location of the restrooms, the location of the copy machines, the cafeteria, and how to use the equipment they have been assigned.
They will answer any questions the new employee might feel too shy to ask you.
Find ways to personalize the process. If you are dealing with someone who is self-aware (which you should be, if your hiring process was right), it might be a good idea to ask them how they prefer to be managed. This will help their new supervisor to learn how best to manage their performance going forward.
(Please note that this might not work well for an entry-level individual who may not understand themselves that well, yet. For someone who is reporting for their first job, a personality test might be a better idea.)
To make the process even more personalized, you might want to do a one-on-one discussion about the new hire’s personal goals vis-a-vis the company vision, mission, and goals. If the two can align, then you are more likely to end up with an employee who stays with you for the long run. In some large companies, the CEO periodically joins in to orient new employees; the idea is for them to understand the company vision directly from the vision bearer. However you choose to handle it, the new staff member should come away with an appreciation of the big picture and the ultimate vision of the company.
Your employee should also have a clear roadmap to their own personal success at your company. How does your performance appraisal scheme work? If they understand it well, they will probably focus on what matters instead of wasting time on unimportant things.
Someone who can see a clear path ahead of them will stick around for the long run.
6) Cultivate Relationships
Your onboarding process should take into account creating positive relationships with co-workers because these are an important component of job satisfaction.
Social ties in the form of healthy relationships with co-workers can facilitate a positive work experience. Assigning an accountability partner will help you to get the most out of your new hire.
7) Focus On Company Culture
Create an onboarding process that is aligned to your company culture, and design it to last over the next year or so. After the first day, work with the employeeâs direct manager to check in with them on a monthly basis to keep track of their performance and to deal with any challenges that may have come up.
Check-ins should occur at the end of day one, week one, and then on a monthly basis for 8-12 months. These check-ins will help you to manage the employee better, and the feedback you get from them will help you to do better with future hires. Get feedback on the recruiting process, their experience working with technology and the tools at the workplace, and their own strategic goals. This will help you to see how well-engaged they are.
See the employee onboarding process as a work in progress that you perfect with every employee that comes in. Work with managers to achieve better results from each employee.
Best Employee Onboarding Tips
Follow these tips when creating your onboarding process to get the best results possible:
The process of successfully onboarding employees needs to be well thought out. Think ahead at every stage and prepare for the next step. Putting yourself in the shoes of the new employee and envisioning every stage will help you to create an effective employee onboarding process. To anticipate successfully, you have to start onboarding early.
Collecting feedback from your employees both old and new will help HR to create a better employee onboarding process every time. With constant iteration and willingness to learn from previous experiences, you will have an onboarding process that works better and better for you.
3) Start Early
By the time your new hire walks in, it’s too late to begin onboarding. Start early.
4) Make your Expectations Clear
New employees need to be given a fair chance to succeed. This begins with setting clear expectations from the beginning. Donât make misleading promises, and let them know exactly what they need to do to succeed with you.
Get Started With This Employee Onboarding Checklist
Employee onboarding may seem like a lot of trouble, and there are many other competing priorities for your time, but it is certainly worth every effort you put into it. An effective onboarding process will save you money, help retain employees, increase morale, improve communication, and prepare new hires for success.
For a simplified roadmap to creating an effective employee onboarding plan, just follow our employee onboarding checklist.
The post How To Create A Great Employee Onboarding Process For Your Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
Minority-owned small businesses will have the chance to dip into $1.5 million of funding this week thanks to a new grant program announced Monday by Citizens Bank.
The money will be doled out to 100 minority-owned businesses in the form of $15,000 grants. Besides being minority-owned, businesses will need to be located within a community where Citizens Bank operates.
Citizens Bank is currently accepting applications through its website. The window for applications will close on Friday, August 7 at 5 PM ET. Funds for grant winners are slated to be dispersed in mid-September.
In a press release, Citizens Banks said that this program was started to provide “recognition of the value that [minority-owned businesses] bring as a vital part of our communities.”
Grant winners will also be offered the opportunity to be partnered with a business mentor through SCORE, a nonprofit organization that operates a volunteer mentorship network.
This latest grant program is part of Citizens’ ongoing financial aid initiatives for underserved communities. In June, the Providence, R.I.-headquartered bank pledged it would invest $10 million “to promote social equity and drive economic advancement in underserved communities.”
Grant Program Has Simple Application Requirements
The grant eligibility requirements for the Citizens Minority-Owned Small Business Grant program are pretty simple. Eligible business must be at least 51% owned by an individual who is a minority (defined by Citizens Bank as “Asian American, Black American, Hispanic American or Native American”), been in operation for more than one year, and have an annual revenue of at least $1 million.
While applicants don’t have to be Citizens Bank customers, they will need to reside within one of the 11 states the bank operates in:
Interested parties will need to write a 150-word essay that answers the question, “How would you use this grant to strengthen your business and community?”
According to Citizens Bank, each applicant will be judged on their plan to use the grant to strengthen and sustain their business (40% of the judgement criteria), how they intended to use the grant to help their community (40%), and how the applicant conforms to the program’s theme and the Citizens Bank brand (20%).
Funding For Minority-Owned Businesses Is Much-Needed
Citizens Bank’s program comes at a time when minority-led businesses are particularly struggling hard.
Most notably, an analysis of government data by UC-Santa Cruz economics professor Robert Fairlie found that the number of Black business owners within the US decreased by 41% between February and April of this year. Latinx business owners saw a 36% decline while the number of Asian owners dipped 26%. All those numbers are starkly higher than the national average of 22%.
“The COVID-19 recession is disproportionately hurting these minority businesses, making their communities more vulnerable to gentrification pressures than they already were before,” UCLA economist and urban planner Paul Ong told the Washington Post last week. “The expectation is that minorities will lag behind in the recovery, putting them in a weaker position to hang onto their businesses.”
The federal government’s own aid programs have reportedly struggled to help as well. For instance, the Small Business Administration’s inspector general failed to find “any evidence” that the SBA directed lenders to prioritize business owners within underserved communities, per a report from early May.
Among Black small business owners specifically, 77% of the 29,000 who applied for emergency grants through Hello Alice have reported the need for emergency cash to survive COVID-19. 34% said that grants between $10K and $25K would ensure their business’ survival through COVID-19. This data comes from a recently released impact report from Hello Alice that highlights the struggles Black-owned businesses face in a pandemic-stricken world.
Other Grant Options For Small Businesses
Beyond Citizens’ newest offering, there are a few other grant programs out there for small businesses.
You can take a peek at Merchant Maverick’s general guide to small business grants. For those struggling due to the pandemic, check out our previous coverage of COVID-19 relief grants.
Minority-led businesses may also find help via our guide to the best small business grants for minorities.
Do you have a story idea, tip, or press release for the Merchant Maverick news team? Shoot us an email: [email protected]
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One small town in Washington has flipped an old adage on its head: Here, money does grow on trees.
This twist was spurred on by the recession generated by COVID-19. With little economic movement happening in its town of 2,000, Tenino, Wash. began printing wooden dollars.
These dollars aren’t legal US tender, but they are backed by the town’s general fund. These wooden bucks have become so successful that roughly 200 businesses in and around Tenino accept the new form of currency.
While other communities may not be circulating wooden money, Tenino’s local currency isn’t alone in the wake of the pandemic.
In southern Italy, the small town of Castellino del Biferno began printing “Ducati” banknotes to help the community’s businesses after COVID-19 hit. According to euronews, the town’s 550 residents have spent thousands of the currency at local shops.
“We decided to mint money to make sure the local economy could withstand the impact of the situation,” Castellino del Biferno mayor Enrico Fratangelo said in April. “However small this economy may be, there are three or four businesses still open, without considering bars or pubs.”
And at least one other community has started its own currency due to COVID-19: Shiawassee County in Michigan has been using its ShiaCash program to help businesses stay afloat during these uncertain times.
“Weâve got a lot of people that work in the county that donât live in the county,” Theresa Trecha, an owner of a local bowling alley in Shiawassee County, told MLive. “A lot of those folks, they work and then they go, and so in order to maybe get those people to take advantage a little bit of what the town has to offer — thatâs a great way to do it.”
Local Currencies Can Stabilize Local Economies
For many years, the US dollar has enjoyed success as the world’s currency.
In recent times, however, it has seen challenges from the Euro — the primary currency throughout most of Europe — and the Japanese yen. While local currencies won’t ever rival these global titans of monetary units (in fact, the US is pretty stringent on new currencies; for instance, you can’t use a private currency in an attempt to replace US dollars), they have seen some success at becoming more valuable than the US’ primary form of legal tender.
“We now have people from outside of our borders, so outside of the city, who are willing to pay more than the face value,” Tenino mayor Wayne Fournier told Radio New Zealand. “There are some people who are willing to offer seven times the face value of the currency that we’re printing, so our Tenino dollars are worth more than the US dollar right now in an exchange rate sense.”
Fournier further added in an interview with Fox Business that some businesses in the town are accepting 25 Tenino dollars for as much as $50 worth of goods.
According to the Schumacher Center for New Economics, an organization that has helped grow local currencies in the past, the main advantage of these alternative currencies is that they keep the money local. This in turn helps stabilize small businesses that may otherwise struggle to compete against larger chains. National currencies like the US dollar, meanwhile, can be spent within a community and then be moved outside of the local area. Additionally, these currencies can foster “stronger relationships” between local businesses and their neighboring citizens.
Community Currencies Are Nothing New
The concept of local currencies often gains steam during times of economic downturns. This is actually the second time Tenino has “printed” wooden money — the first was during the Great Depression in the early 1930s.
Tenino’s first go at a community currency was quite popular and it became something of a viral sensation. In fact, hoteliers as far away as Chicago and Eugene, Oregon even accepted the money in lieu of American dollars. The first iteration of the Tenino wooden was such a success that people continued making commemorative versions for tourists up until at least 2018.
Other communities in the past have also seen economical gains by implementing a local currency.
For instance, Berkshares have only risen in popularity since their introduction in 2006 in the Berkshire region of New England. Since inception, the currency has seen over 10 million of its own dollars go out into circulation — for a region of fewer than 25,000 people. Berkshares also net consumers a tidy savings — for every $100 in Berkshares someone spends, it only costs 95 US dollars.
Community currencies have also enjoyed success the world over. Just two years ago, the VaramedÃ launched in Spain. In England, the Brixton Pound has popularly aimed to keep money local in a South London district. There are also active community currencies in places like Japan, New Zealand, and Kenya.
Starting A Local Currency In Your Community
Starting a community currency is no easy task.
You’ll need to first get other organizations and businesses within your community on board. This means reaching out to your local government, chamber of congress, and other business owners. Once you have enough backing to get the ball rolling,
There are tools and organizations able to help, however. Complimentary Currency offers a platform (and an app) that communities can take advantage of to boost their economies. The Schumacher Center also runs its Local Currency Program, which could help get your ideas up and running.
If you find starting a community currency too daunting, there are other ways to help kick start your local economy. For instance, consider a gift card program like the Pay Forward Project in Seattle. Other communities have also found success with passport programs, such as the initiative ran in Gray, Maine.
Do you have a story idea, tip, or press release for the Merchant Maverick news team? Shoot us an email: [email protected]
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Here’s a tough question: Is your eCommerce website doing enough to bring in sales for your business?
Technology trends and standards change quickly, and many expert agree that you should overhaul your eCommerce site every two to three years to make sure you’re staying on top (in addition to regularly updating your site with product information, for example). However, if your site isn’t delivering the sales or the growth that you’ve been hoping for, the time to update could be right now.
Don’t worry. You don’t need to tear it all down and start from scratch. Take a look at these top design tips, identify areas where your site could use an update, and dig in to make a more navigable, appealing, and profitable online store!
Top 10 Design Tips For Your eCommerce Website
Start by taking a long hard look at your current website. According to Statista, these are some of the design elements online shoppers value most:
Good search function
User comments/product ratings
Good product placement
Overview of recently view items
How does your site rate when you look at it with those elements in mind? Check out some of your competitors’ pages, noticing what positives jump out at you as well which elements turn you off.
How does your site compare in these key areas?
1. Improve Search Functionality
Imagine walking into a new store. Maybe you have an idea of what you’re looking for, or maybe you’re just in the mood to have a look around. In this case, it doesn’t matter why you went in, because all the shelves in the store are covered with cloth, so you can’t see what’s on them, and the aisles are blocked with locked gates. How likely are you to stay in that store, much less to make a purchase?
That’s a ridiculous scenario, right? No one would ever design a store that blocks would-be customers! The truth is, though, that too many eCommerce websites place obstacles in customers’ way. So how can you remove them?
When shoppers visit your online store, no one physically greets them and says with a smile, “What can I help you find today?” Customers may have to find what they want on their own, but you make it easier for them to find what they need and have a pleasant browsing experience. That’s what’s meant by the term search functionality.
It can be as simple as making sure you have a search box located at the top of the screen, so it’s easy to find. Or you can take it to the next level, by customizing the search function to match your products, like in this example from music licensing site Rhythm Couture, which allows browsers to search not only by genre but also by mood.
Screenshot of Rhythm Couture website, captured 7/30/2020
2. Let Satisfied Shoppers Help You Sell
When it comes to eCommerce, trust can be a barrier that’s hard to overcome. As new customers find you, some of them will wonder if they can actually depend on your and your products. Will you really deliver what you say you will? And on time?
A well-designed, professional-looking website does a lot to establish your credibility. But you can go one better by allowing new customers to see testimonials from those who have shopped before them.
If your eCommerce platform allows customer reviews, enable them. Then display them prominently. You can put snippets of good reviews on your landing page and on the product reviews on product pages. Don’t worry about the fact that you might receive some negative reviews. A negative review alerts you to a problem that you then have the opportunity to correct. When new customers see that you respond to problems or shortcomings, they focus not on the problem but on the way you handle it.
By the way, you should reply to positive reviews as well as negative ones. Acknowledge satisfied customers and thank them for their business! That adds a personal touch to a faceless transaction and helps online shoppers form a relationship with your brand.
3. Make Sure Your Site Is Mobile-Friendly
Is your eCommerce site designed to work best on a big screen, like a laptop or desktop computer? How well does it translate to the small screen of a mobile device? Grab the nearest mobile device and test it out. If you’re wondering how important this really is, you can stop wondering. Last year, according to Statista, U.S. shoppers spent more than $135 per online order placed via desktop or laptop computer. From tablets, the average order totaled almost $102, while smartphones averaged $95 per transaction. That means total sales from mobile devices, combined, were almost 50% higher than sales from traditional computers. In other words, if your website doesn’t look great on a small screen, you may be turning customers off and leaving sales behind.
The good news is that whether you worked with a web designer or built the site yourself using a web-builders app, your site probably looks okay on a mobile device. The most popular web builders automatically convert your site from desktop to mobile for optimal viewing. If your site’s a little older, you can test it using Google’s mobile-friendly test. Don’t forget that many phones will load your site more slowly than a computer will. So don’t overload your site unnecessarily with enormous images or video files.
Screenshot of Google Mobile-Friendly test, captured 7/30/2020
4. Don’t Visually Overwhelm Your Users
Online shoppers don’t tend to stay on any website for too long. Even for a giant like Target, Walmart, or Amazon, the average customer stays only 3.5 to 10 minutes, according to Statista. The average visit to your website may be of even shorter duration. It’s tempting to use the “kitchen sink” method and throw everything you have onto your landing page, in hopes of giving that customer the one thing they’re looking for.
Don’t give in. A cluttered landing page is one of the worst design mistakes you can make. It’s far better to use simple design elements to speak to your customers and entice them to dig in further. Take a look at this example, from real estate website Trulia.com.
Screenshot of Trulia webpage, captured 7/30/2020
What’s great about it? It uses a compelling image as a background, one that speaks to the target audience of people searching for a new place to live. It has a simple and appealing tagline: “Discover a place you’ll love to live.” And customers can easily see how to use Trulia’s search function to locate their new home.
5. Don’t Hide From Customers
Remember just above, where we talked about trust as a deterrent to online sales? You have another chance to build credibility by making your contact information not just available but obvious.
Why is that important?
Whether it’s a first-time visitor or a returning customer, anyone considering an online purchase from you seeks reassurance that it’s safe to do business with you. That’s true not only when a problem arises but also when you’re just starting a relationship. Let customers see from the outset that you’ll be there to back them up on the off-chance that something goes wrong, and you’ll be more likely to earn their business.
That doesn’t mean you need to splash your personal email and contact information across your website. Take a look at this contact page from PayPal. It’s clear and uncluttered and the most important information is right up front: “Tell us about your issue so we can help you more quickly.” That personal offer is followed by an FAQ list that allows customers in a hurry to help themselves by searching a database of common questions. Down below are other contact options, including instant messaging, a community board, and a link to a resolution center, for customers with serious concerns. Your contact page may contain different elements, but the message should be the same: If you trust us with your business, we’ll be there for you when you need us.
Screenshot of PayPal webpage, captured 7/31/2020
A couple of last thoughts on the trust issue: You won’t be able to resolve every issue customers have, and that’s OK. You can reassure them at the point of sale by acknowledging that sometimes things go wrong, and you’ll still be there for them. That means making your returns policy obvious too. If you’re not sure how â or why â to create your online store’s return policy, read our article on eCommerce return policies to learn all about it.
Finally, make sure you let customers know that your online store is a safe place to do business from a cybersecurity perspective, too. Post your SSL certificate on your website to give customers peace of mind.
6. Use Images That Sell
It won’t matter if you have the finest, most perfect products in the world. Post crummy images of them online and you’ll find that sales are hard to come by. Does that mean you need to shell out big bucks for professional photography? If you have money in your budget, that’s certainly not a bad idea! But it’s not strictly necessary, so long as you follow some commonsense rules. The photos on your sales website should share these qualities:
High Quality:Â Don’t post photos that you snapped on your phone. Find a good digital camera and learn how to use it.
Zoomable: You can find a widget at low or no cost that allows users to click or rollover zoom to see details in your online photos.If you use a website builder, it probably has this function built-in.
Plentiful:Â Don’t place one picture per product and call it good. Show the item from multiple angles. Show how it can be used. Studies suggest that customers respond well to up to five photos per product.
Uncluttered:Â There’s no one right way to shoot your product photos. It depends upon your product and your audience. You may find it’s best to shoot them on a neutral background or to show them in the setting where they’ll be used. Just make sure to keep the focus on the product, and not any extraneous items included in the photo.
7. Stick With Your Branding
Your eCommerce store is an extension of your business and it should represent you well. Make sure that it echoes and amplifies your branding decisions. That means you should use the same color scheme as you use on your business card and brochures, the same type of background as you use on your social media sites, and the same language you use when you talk to customers about your product. Feature your logo prominently, too, so you make a strong first impression.
8. Make An Offer They Can’t Refuse
When new customers click their way to your website, you may have only a brief window of opportunity to gain their business. Give them an opportunity to save money or gain something for free, and you’ll have captured their attention â and maybe the sale. Whether it’s a buy-one-get-one sale, free shipping if you spend $100, or a no-strings-attached download once you enter your contact information, a special offer can convert a looker into a customer.
9. Tell Your Story
Another way to personalize the online sales experience is to let customers know who you are or to see an example of what you do. Take a look at the Grammarly landing page, below. Although this is just a screenshot, if you visit the site you’ll see that the box on the right provides an actual example of Grammarly’s editing service in action.
Screenshot of Grammerly webpage, captured 7/31/2020
This is a great example of telling your story online, in a compelling way that grabs customers’ attention. You may not be able to include a demonstration of your product or service, but you can add an About Us button that gives customers a look inside your operations and motivations. That’s another key to building trust.
10. Ask For The Sale
Traditional sales revolve around The Ask. Salespeople are trained to ask for the sale multiple times, in multiple ways. An online sale is really no different, except that you won’t have a live salesperson standing in front of the customer to close the sale. Your website itself needs to do the work for you. This landing page for the online collaborative coding platform Glitch offers a great example. It’s an uncluttered page, with some graphic elements and a description of what the site does. Right below that is The Ask:
See that big green button? “Join Glitch,” it entices. “It’s free,” it adds. That’s a pretty unmistakable call to action. Does your website ask customers to buy in such a straightforward fashion? If not, you may be leaving sales on the table, simply because you didn’t ask the customer to buy.
Screenshot of landing page for online coding platform Glitch, captured 7/31/2020
Optimizing Your eCommerce Website
A lot of elements combine to create a great eCommerce website. Hopefully, this list provides a starting point as you look at your current website and think about how you can improve it. If you feel it’s time to start from scratch, you can find a great website builder that allows you to do it yourself, even if you don’t know how to write a single line of code. When you work with an online builder, you’ll find templates and tools that have already taken these design elements into consideration, and it won’t be as much work as you anticipate to create an effective website. Before you know it, you’ll have an up-to-date, improved website â and online sales to match.
The post How To Wow Your Customers With Your eCommerce Website Design appeared first on Merchant Maverick.
This post originally appeared at 22+ Property Management & Apartment Marketing Ideas To Get More Leases via ShivarWeb
Most apartment & rental unit owners would agree that there’s nothing like finding a good tenant. But it’s hard to find a good tenant if you don’t have lease applications coming in.
Some apartments have a location that brings in applications with nothing but a For Rent sign on the curb. But for most property managers, you have to go out and market your property to get a quality pool of potential tenants.
I’ve consulted on search marketing for several large, regional residential real estate service companies. Based on those experiences, here are some property management & apartment marketing ideas that you can use to bring in more leases.
Create Neighborhood-Specific Website Pages
For tenants, city searches are too big, street searches are too small, and ZIP code searches are not relevant. Neighborhood searches are just right.
That may sound obvious, but most real estate firms that I’ve worked with still don’t focus their marketing on neighborhoods. It’s a lot of work. It’s tedious. But it can still be worthwhile.
If you list multiple apartments on your website, simply organize them by neighborhood (i.e., make neighborhoods your category).
If you have a single apartment complex, create a neighborhood & next to your neighborhood pages to try to rank for “apartments in [neighborhood]” searches.
Create Niche Amenity Pages
Lots of tenants have specific amenities and/or requirements that they want. Instead of listing your amenities in a giant list, make detailed pages about each amenity. Try to rank for searches like “apartments with [amenity]”.
You can use Google Suggest for ideas. Go to Google and type in “[city] apartments with” and hit space, but not enter. You’ll see some suggestions.
You can do this with the entire alphabet and as many modifiers as you can think of.
Create pages that match those search queries to show up when people search.
If you want to take this to the next level, you can use a tool like SEMrush’s Keyword Explorer to provide phrase match search terms in bulk.
Create Local Data Pages
Create resource guides for people moving to your city. Create lots of them.
Use Google Autosuggest to understand what people are searching for in your city.
Develop Your Local Citations & Reviews
You should already have a Google My Business profile so that you can show up in Google Maps.
But you can take it to the next level to show up even more prominently.
First, you can build your Google My Business profile with photos, posts, and full listing details.
Second, go to every local business listing site and make sure that your Business Name, Address, and Phone Number match exactly. Whether it’s on the Yellow Pages, Yelp, or elsewhere – everything must match. These are called your “local citations” and Google uses them to confirm the relevance of local business.
You can use SEMrush’s Local Listing Management Tool to audit all these listings quickly.
Third, create a local review strategy. Having diverse, unique, and regular reviews on your Google My Business page is the number one way to get more views (aka lease applications) from Google Maps.
Steal Ideas from Large Local Competitors / Businesses
I’m not a fan of brainstorming. I think that it’s more effective to build off ideas that have already worked.
No matter your size, you can always look to larger competitors or larger businesses for inspiration.
With property management & apartment marketing, make a list of local businesses that you *think* are being creative – including companies in different industries.
Like local listings and keywords, I then use a marketing tool like SEMrush to spy on those competitors. Type in the URL of a competitor below to see an example.
Here’s what you’ll see.
It looks like a lot. But drill down and categorize each link. You’ll quickly get a sense of what they are doing. You’ll see where they are posting on social media. You’ll see which media outlets have accepted press releases and what types of digital marketing they’re doing.
The trick here is *not* to copy cat them. Instead, take the general idea of what your competitors have done and make it your own – or, make it better.
Work with Local Real Estate Blogs
Every city, no matter how small, has an interest in real estate. In Atlanta, where I live, we have a Curbed blog in addition to the AJC Real Estate, Atlanta Business Chronicle, and dozens of smaller neighborhood newspapers and real estate blogs.
Find those and become a regular fixture. All real estate blogs act on tips & press releases. Very few have a “boots on the ground” journalist. If you can be the place to provide inside information, free images, and consistent write-ups, you’ll earn attention and links.
That extra attention and those links will help every other idea on this list. Google loves links. Social media users find URLs via links.
Your neighborhood pages, rental listings, amenity pages, and everything else on your website will benefit from more inbound links.
Use Hyper-Local Facebook Ads
A local business has one massive advantage against national brands trying to operate locally – you live in your city and understand it.
Facebook allows for hyper-local advertising. You can run ads that show within a radius of only a few miles. It’s tedious to set up, but it’s relevant and effective.
Learn how to create hyper-local targeting for demographics and geography to find lots of interested tenants.
Additionally, Facebook operates Facebook Marketplace, which is one of the largest local listing places online.
You can run small, targeted campaigns that show multiple places at once.
Use Hyper-Local Google Search Ads
Google Search ads are famously effective and famously expensive. The best tenant is someone who searches for “apartments for rent in [neighborhood]”.
But that search click will be very costly.
But like Facebook, you have an “in” – Google Quality Score. Google will show ads higher if they are more relevant even if they don’t have the high bid.
Like Facebook, it’s tedious to set up, but if you can set up a hyper-local campaign, you’ll be able to get Google Search traffic that large competitors can’t bid on.
Use Hyper-Local Google Display Ads
Google’s Display Network also offers opportunities for local advertisers who are willing to put in the work.
Google serves banner & text ads on some of the best ad locations on the Internet. Many placements are expensive for bulk ad buys.
But again, Google would rather serve a relevant ad with a low bid than an irrelevant ad with a high bid. That’s your opportunity to set up a hyper-local campaign focused on specific demographics in a specific area.
List on Locally-Popular Apartment Websites
Apartment listing websites are a dime a dozen. They will send traffic to your listing. But they are expensive and require a lot of legwork.
The key is to find a few key apartment websites that are popular in your area – and list on those.
You can use Google Trends, tenant interviews, SEMrush, or simply looking at the Google Search Results to see who is more popular for your city / neighborhood.
List on NextDoor & Local Forums
NextDoor is one of many local social media websites & forums. They are hard to find and hard to join, representing an opportunity for any local, enterprising property manager.
These networks are interesting because they are specifically local and extremely relevant for real estate.
Advertise / Post on Local Subreddits
Reddit is an attractive website for many industries. But local subreddits are especially interesting for property managers and landlords for a couple of reasons.
First, they are hubs for local discussion & recommendations.
Second, they are the first place for people to plan a move visit to ask specific, local questions.
Now, they are decidedly non-commercial with lots of rules. You should get to know them before posting or commenting as a commercial entity.
However, you should explore their sidebar wiki for research.
You should get in touch with the moderators to listen to their rules about business posting. And you should look at running ads or giveaways there.
Post Listings w/ Photos in Instagram
Think about how you can take listing photos & repurpose them across different platforms. I don’t think you should simply post listings on every platform, but instead use photos from listings to create a truly interesting feed on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter.
For example, suppose a unit has an excellent skyline view. That should be a post. Suppose you put in native landscaping around your unit. That should be a post. Do further research around hashtags to make sure that your post shows up in listings.
Develop a Local Real Estate Pinterest Board
Pinterest is an incredible resource for people looking to decorate & upgrade their living. You can get in front of prospects with a locally-focused Pinterest board.
Use local photos, decor, etc from real listings to provide ideas. Promote local artists, makers, etc.
Identify & Market Local Employers
Your tenants are all working somewhere. And your prospective tenants all will want to be close to their job.
Identify all the largest employers & sources of potential tenants nearby. Create resource pages for those employers (especially if they are large).
Create discounts, bonuses, etc. Get in touch with those employers to see if there is a way to collaborate.
Identify & Market Local Schools & Amenities
Take what you did with local employers and do the same with local amenities and resources.
Create pages that act as resource hubs for neighborhood amenities & schools.
Identify & Market Popular Tenant Sources
Take previous & existing tenants and try to understand where those tenants came from and how they found you.
See if there is a way to build off that success.
Cross-Promote Local Real Estate Agents
Local real estate agents usually have an incredible offline network, but have a poor online network. If you are investing in your online marketing efforts, try to develop a relationship to cross-promote the agents.
Cross-Promote Local Businesses
Your tenants will spend money nearby. Figure out what other businesses do well when you have 100% occupancy. Offer a way to cross-promote, especially if they have multiple locations or a presence with your target tenant.
Remember that even a link to your website from their website will dramatically help your other online efforts.
Use Events To Get Social Media Attention
Events like open house tours, openings, holiday showings, etc are marketing staples for apartments. But events have a bonus effect online.
You can list them on multiple platforms to get extra exposure. Facebook is the best place for this tactic, but it also works on Google, Instagram, and event apps like Meet and Four Square.
Use Video Tours To Hack Social Media
Like events, most social media gives preference to video in their feeds. Take interesting video tours of listings.
Post the file natively to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Pay a small budget to boost it. And look for opportunities to embed it on your website.
Use Digital Referral Fees for Word of Mouth
Referral fees are also a staple of apartment marketing. But they don’t get the same reach as digital referral codes.
Whether you use a simple bit.ly link, manually hand out custom codes (i.e., apartment numbers), or use a software service – digital referral codes can help you move limited physical word of mouth to unlimited digital word of mouth.
Find & Sponsor Local Charities
Sponsoring local charities provides a few marketing benefits.
First, you can likely get a link to your website, which will help your other efforts.
Second, you can tap into a well-networked organization with lots of word of mouth potential.
Third, you can tap into neighborhood goodwill to help with soliciting reviews to help with your Google My Business efforts.
There are a lot of marketing ideas out there for property managers and apartments. You don’t have to do all of them. You just have to do one or two well.
Find the one that fits your interests & resources and give it a try. Learn based on your initial experience and improve.