20+ Considerations on The Future of Web Hosting, Website Builders & Digital Marketing Beyond 2020

This post originally appeared at 20+ Considerations on The Future of Web Hosting, Website Builders & Digital Marketing Beyond 2020 via ShivarWeb

Considerations on The Future of Web Hosting, Website Builders & Digital Marketing

There has never been a time when running a website has been more accessible, convenient, and profitable than now.

But there has also never been a time when running a website has been so confusing, frustrating, and winner-take-all than now.

And that contradiction comes because some of the major computing & networking innovations from the 2010s are finally coming to the everyday Internet.

And as the 2010s close out and the 2020s begin, here are some of my considerations (in no specific order) that I think would be useful for DIYers, freelancers, small online business owners, and anyone planning an online presence.

Nobody Fully Knows What Is Going On

This post is deliberately a listicle because I don’t have a grand unified idea about the future of running a website on the Internet. And I’m skeptical of anyone who does.

Cloud computing, machine learning, APIs, high-quality open-source software, free toolkits, mobile devices, streaming, and the lumbering giant behavior of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft all point to continuing massive disruption of entire industries that no one can predict or prepare for.

The Website + Marketing Tool Model Is Gone

For years, people built a website on a multi-purpose host with a custom domain. And then they used 3rd party tools & distribution channels to promote content, products & services that lived on the website.

But now, the website on a domain is simply one tool in a toolkit. In fact, you can build a model where your website is a backend for your other marketing tools…or you can use a marketing tool to build & run your website.

This shift is clearest with online stores. Between Buyable Pins, Checkout on Instagram, Amazon integration, dropshipping APIs, offline pop-up shops, etc – the website is just another piece in the business puzzle.

Now, websites are still critical because they remain the only piece of that puzzle that you can control & own as an asset. But…I do think they are losing their relative importance. And their importance depends massively on what industry you are in.

Platform Choice > Tool Choice

The demise of the website + marketing tool model will mean that website owners will choose their platform of choice rather than their tools of choice based on what business they have.

Online retail is in this place already. Very few successful retailers have a collection of tools. It’s all about integrations and platform. But increasingly, every business sector will move to this model.

Local small businesses will look at platforms that do their primary function plus whatever integrates well with that platform. For example, a website builder will not compete with other website builders. Instead, the website builder will compete with the CRM platform and the email marketing platform…because all three will have a website builder, CRM, and email marketing tool bundled in a single platform

In other words, a website builder like Wix no longer competes with Squarespace. Instead, Wix competes with MailChimp and HubSpot and Google.

In online retail, Shopify and WooCommerce and BigCommerce don’t really compete with each other. They all compete, as a group, against Amazon, Instagram, Depop, MailChimp, Square, Salesforce, and eBay.

In hosting, hosting companies no longer compete with each other as much as they compete against Google Business Suite, Hubspot, hosted website builders, etc.

Now, there will still be incredible power & opportunity for website owners who have the resources & wherewithal to mix & match services to get the best of all worlds. Those website owners will be able to maintain costs and control where others will cede more power to their platform of choice.

Convenience Killed Cost & Control

The big reason why DIYers are a declining & disrupted market is that when consumers distill down what they truly care about – convenience always wins.

The same reasons driving the growth of takeout, restaurant, delivery, and meal kits at the expense of cooking are also driving the growth of online platforms at the expense of websites + tools.

If you are a DIYer, it will pay to be hyper-aware of what your true wants, needs and goals are – and what tradeoffs you are willing to make. Platforms are great in many ways, but beyond 2020, the most successful DIYers will be able to manage the tradeoffs of platforms.

If you are a freelancer, it will lead to bigger rewards to both specialize in a platform and maintain familiarity with how adjacent choices work. Even if your clients do not know about or understand platform choices, you can still use them to streamline your business and add value without adding extra work.

Spam, Security & Speed Killed What Could Have Been

I am a huge fan of the Open Web. Regardless of the short-term rewards of the platform of the day, it’s still worth investing in a website for the long-term.

But in 2020, even the most die-hard prophets preaching against Google, social media companies, cloud computing, hosted builders, and big corporations will have to admit that the vulnerabilities in the Open Web & running / managing your own website are pushing people to big platforms as much as those big platforms are pulling people.

For example, Google might be pulling people & businesses to hand over their personal email & confidential documents. But hackers, spammers, and human impatience are doing plenty of pushing as well.

For example, I would *love* to run conversations via blog comments instead of using Twitter. But my blog comments are like an absolute honeypot for the worst of the Internet.

Another example, I would love to avoid ecommerce transaction fees and SSL fees but hackers only need one shot. Security is difficult and, honestly, much more effective to do at scale across thousands of websites.

Most of my clients gain a lot from controlling their own hosting rather than using a hosted website solution. But I have to set expectations to prep clients for the amount of time & money it takes to keep the site secure & speedy beyond using a solid hosting company. Web visitors will absolutely ditch a website in a heartbeat over a millisecond. That’s why so many publishers with massive brands are blindly handing control over to Google’s AMP initiative. Even the biggest brands in the world can’t compete with human impatience.

Traffic Sources Are Consolidated & Fragmented

Facebook’s properties & Google’s properties will continue to become bigger. But they’ll also become more winner-take-all. But also, a much longer tail of random completely unpredictable traffic sources will continue to fragment.

Even more traffic will be “dark” or untrackable. Planning a marketing strategy will increasingly rely solely on your target audience rather than your target traffic source.

Organic Traffic Is A Bonus

Treat any organic traffic from Google, Facebook, Pinterest, etc like a bonus. You can’t project or plan long-term around organic traffic. Agencies, freelancers, etc will have to adjust pricing and clients will have to adjust expectations.

Digital marketers spent years making fun of John Wanamaker old-fashioned quote that “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Online attribution was supposed to solve that problem. But now, no matter how creepy your tracking and attribution is…consumer & traffic behavior is so unpredictable that you won’t be able to truly plan long-term…unless you pay.

Marketers Growth Demands Killed What Could Have Been

More and more platforms & websites will be “walled gardens”* due to pressure to grow…and grow…and grow some more. The Web could have been a world of accessible, free-flowing information where many businesses and types of businesses made a living. But platforms have to be more closed to make more money off users. And as valuable traffic has declined, website owners have become more desperate and more annoying to drive up ad rates.

*Even previously open platforms like Reddit, Pinterest and Twitter are closing in.

For example – see basically every recipe website ever. As Google and Pinterest strive to keep more users on their sites, serving their ads…recipe content websites have become more desperate to monetize what little traffic they do have…leading to horrendous car salesman-like levels of unusability.

Users Killed What Could Have Been

Users want convenience above all. For all the pulling that Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon, etc are doing…users are also pushing attention there…because it’s convenient.

For example, I have no idea what to say to website owners about voice search. And anyone who does have a “strategy” for voice search – I call B*S* on. Users want it. I want it. It’s amazing, but you can’t build a publishing business or profitable content marketing strategy around it.

1,000 True Fans Is Still True

That said, the future will always have a small, tough, but sustainable spot for Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans.

On balance, there has never been a better time to run a website or online presence than right now. If you have a good product, service, or concepts, there are likely 1000 True Fans that can & will support your work. Sure, there were “Golden Ages” of organic Facebook traffic, organic Google traffic, etc…but those eras had serious issues and limitations as well.

There Is No Magic Bullet

There is no sure-fire way to build a successful website. I’ve been working in digital marketing for years now. I know that in SEO, there used to always be a sure-fire tactic that was working. Now, there are tactics that work marginally better than others. There are things that you can focus more or less on…but the magic secrets are gone.

Same goes with Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, etc. The only real magic bullet now is hard creative work, constant research, careful planning, constant learning…and a whole lot of luck.

Opportunity Costs Are Very Real

When you choose to do Action A instead of Action B, there is the cost of doing Action A plus the cost of *not* doing Action B.

In a world of limited marketing resources, choosing to create social media posts means that you are also missing out on *not* creating blog posts.

Back in the world where everything online was growing, you could afford to miss one big opportunity for another…because most every opportunity was growing.

Now, mobile devices are ubiquitous. Desktop traffic is actually declining. And many social networks have reached maturity. Choosing one over another or bouncing around chasing “shiny objects” has real costs above whatever you are paying for your main investment.

Even with aspects of running your website, many website features are standardized and predictable. There are opportunity costs to choosing what part of your site to improve or leave alone.

Lookalikes Killed Privacy

I wrote a guide to tracking marketing data on your website. I actively use any & all data to help clients & aid my own research. But on this website & my personal website, I’ve deliberately removed all tracking tags except for Google’s. Why?

Well, sure, there’s the token virtue and hand-washing hypocrisy part of it.

But also, I found that my own retargeting & tracking did not matter in comparison to the massive opportunity presented by lookalike audiences and the data gathered by the big platforms.

Because here’s the thing about “big data” that people miss. It’s that individuals do not matter. All that matters is the sample size.

Every single person has a lookalike about some part of themselves. No matter how special or unique you think you are; no matter how carefully you avoid trackers or cookies or online ads, you can be personally marketed without any kind of tracking to due to lookalike audiences.

Here’s an analogy. Think about the world of DNA testing & genealogy. There are real fears & real consequences to having your DNA in a database. But protecting your own DNA is near-pointless. If a company (or government) knows the DNA from a couple cousins or aunts or uncles or grandparents or a sibling…then they know yours as well.

Lookalikes are the same. Even if Nate Shivar avoids all retargeting trackers, there are still enough people out there similar to me that will allow marketers to reach me if they want.

So – what does this mean? It means that whether you have a large audience data set or not, you can still think creatively about how to profile & reach your audience.*

*that is – until privacy can get solved in a meaningful way. Be sure to tell your political leaders that this needs to be solved at the national / international level. Individual choice & freedom in this issue is a moot point.

Alternative Channels Matter

In investing, modern portfolio theory says that diversification pays for itself because it maximizes expected return even if it fails to maximize actual returns.

In other words, you may know that Investment A is your best bet. But you should still make Investment B as well, because you can’t be sure that Investment A will be amazing.

Same with traffic sources and alternative channels and even website tools.

You may be pretty sure that your priority is the right one. But in a world of uncertainty, alternatives are good to have.

Now – going back to Opportunity Costs Are Real – you have to be honest with the tradeoffs. If you spend time on YouTube in addition to Google Search, you might lose some in Google. But you also won’t lose it all if you have some investment in YouTube.

Web Hosting Is a Utility

Amazon made the technology of hosting files a commodity service. Web hosting companies no longer compete on technology. In fact, they don’t want to compete on technology…because Amazon / Microsoft / Google win on that. Web hosting companies make money on what they provide in addition to basic hosting.

That can include support, onboarding, graphical server management tools, bundled 3rd party services, etc. But the main point is that if hosting is a utility – then anybody can offer it as a feature…not just web hosting companies.

There will be even more plugin makers, software makers, theme designers, tool makers, etc that will simply bundle & resell hosting as a feature.

Website Builders Are a Feature

I remember when I used my first drag & drop builder in the early 2000s with Homestead. It was a “WYSIWYG” builder. And it was terrible. Actually, every WYSIWYG builder was terrible…until just a few years ago.

Now…developer and marketer snobs will turn their nose up at drag & drop…but the software is actually pretty good….and it’s only getting better.

If drag & drop were microwavable pizzas in the 2000s, they became Domino’s in the 2010s…and now they are more like Mellow Mushroom pizza. Nothing like your local sit-down Italian haunt…but consistent and really solid.

All this means is that the core website building software can be a feature bundled with everything else rather than a stand-alone business. That’s why Google, MailChimp, Shopify, HostGator, InMotion, GoDaddy, and a dozen other non-website builder companies are bundling free website builders that otherwise compete directly with Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, etc.

SEO Is a Tactic

For years, the “contract” between publishers and Google was that Google gets to copy & analyze copyrighted content in exchange for free organic traffic.

If publishers made their content easier for Google to copy & analyze (i.e., “search engine optimization“), then Google would reward them with even more free organic traffic.

It created a virtuous cycle that worked for everyone. Sure, Google had to deal with publishers who took advantage of loopholes. And publishers had to waste some time dealing changing guidelines and features (remember Author markup?).

But on whole, the deal worked for everyone.

In fact, you could build an entire marketing strategy around the deal. That’s how entire businesses got built. Help Google and they’ll help you.

But, that deal has broken down. As Google focuses more on users and advertisers – publishers will get left out more and more. And as SEO as a strategy goes away, it will really only remain as a tactic in a broader strategy of organic traffic from all the places.

IRL Original Content Is Underestimated

The Internet makes copying & sharing more convenient than ever. In fact, it’s so convenient that we often forget that there are other sources of information in the real world.

But even more so, we forget that information in the real world is the source for information on the Internet.

In fact, this instinct is true not just among social media users but also among serious website owners and professional journalists.

Because of this instinct for convenient & copyable information – there is a growing premium on original information gathered from the real world.

Anyone can get a screengrab from Google Earth. But not many people will take a picture of a location. And which is more useful & unique?

Anyone can get a screengrab from social media…but not many people will go an compose a proper photo in context. And which is more useful & unique?

Anyone can make a drawing or an illustration…but not many people will make an IRL video or photo sequence. And which is more useful & unique?

On my websites & my clients’ websites – I am continually amazed at how often original, IRL images get copied, cited & linked-to. It’s amazing.

It’s no magic bullet, but it’s the most magical of all bullets that SEO’s & website owners have.

IRL Data Is Underestimated

On a related note, data copying and analyzing is easy. IRL data gathered from real people is harder and harder to gather and share.

That’s what makes the US Census so invaluable. But that’s also what makes companies’ internal data so valuable and why some companies use it for incredible link building & PR efforts.

Above & Beyond Pays Off Even More

Regardless of hosting platform, marketing toolset, marketing strategy or collection of tactics – going above and beyond the competition will provide winner-take-all dividends.

Onward!

The Internet & globalization continually push towards sharper and sharper winner-take-all markets for money & attention. And they also increase the long-tail of choice. And technology is continually disrupting itself. Until those core forces are fully understood, you have to play the game.

Focus on using products that you understand and match your goals. Focus on marketing strategies based on audiences that you understand and match your financial goals.

Onward!

“”

WooCommerce Review: Pros & Cons of Using WooCommerce for an Online Store

WooCommerce Pros Cons Alternatives for Online Store

WooCommerce is the most popular ecommerce plugin for WordPress, which is the Internet’s most popular content management software.

Explore WooCommerce’s Feature Set

Explore my WooCommerce Setup Guide

WooCommerce was originally developed by a small theme / web design firm in 2011. It grew rapidly among the WordPress community due to its feature set, but also due to its business model.

Same as now, you could download & use the full WooCommerce plugin for free from the start. WooThemes made money by selling compatible designs, support, and from specific extensions (e.g. to connect to a credit card processor).

1 WooCommerce Install

In 2015, Automattic bought WooCommerce from WooThemes. Automattic is the software company run by Matt Mullenweg, the original author of WordPress software.

Ever since, the development of WooCommerce has been tightly coordinated with the development of both self-hosted WordPress and Automattic’s hosted WordPress.com software.

So that’s enough introduction. The point is that WooCommerce is legit, WooCommerce is growing, and WooCommerce can be a great fit for many storeowners…but not all.

Disclosure – I receive customer referral fees from companies mentioned on this website. All data & opinions are based on my experience as a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

What is WooCommerce?

To run an ecommerce website, you only need a few additional features. You need a product listing, a shopping cart, a payment processor, and order functionality that will merge & manage all the order information within a database. That’s it.

Because of that, ecommerce platforms are very similar to general website software…with just a bit of added functionality.

And like general website software, your choice of software depends on your personal desire for control / customization vs. convenience.

It’s a bit like real estate. A house provides maximum control. But you have to deal with maintenance, contractors, and random issues. A hotel offers zero control or customization, but they take care of *everything*.

Ecommerce Real Estate Tradeoffs

WooCommerce lives on the more control / customization end of the spectrum. If Etsy & Amazon are hotels, then WooCommerce is a house.

WooCommerce is a software plugin that adds ecommerce functionality to WordPress, which is general website software (aka “CMS”).

And WordPress is part of a 3 part bundle that “makes a website” –

  • domain (your address on the Internet)
  • hosting (where your website files live)
  • software (what generates the files & pages that make up your website)

In other words, WooCommerce can help WordPress build a stand-alone store instead of a single-family home.

Now, this leads to the first overarching choice with WooCommerce.

Your choice is that WooCommerce is *part* of that 3 part bundle. It directly competes with other WordPress ecommerce plugins.

But…it also competes with other big bundled ecommerce solutions. And many big competitors deliberately bundle domain, hosting, software & ecommerce into a single, simple monthly price.

That’s great – and there are plenty of upsides & downsides to that bundling. But it’s important to be aware of since exploring the pros & cons of WooCommerce is a bit like comparing apples & oranges with other ecommerce solutions.

But – we’ll do it anyway. I love WooCommerce for what it is, but it’s not for everyone. Here’s a few pros & cons of WooCommerce both in comparison to direct & indirect competitors.

Pros of WooCommerce

Most ecommerce platforms have a series of strong advantages, and WooCommerce is no different. Here are a few reasons to use WooCommerce, not only instead of other WordPress plugins, but also instead of other ecommerce solutions.

Long-term Cost & Value

WooCommerce is free to download & free to use. If you have WordPress installed on your hosting account, you can navigate to Plugins –> Add New and add it to your website right now.

Explore my WordPress Ecommerce Setup Guide here.

WooCommerce is also fully functional with no add-ons or extensions.

That means that your annual website costs could be as low as ~$120/yr, depending on what hosting plan you have.

For contrast, the average low-tier ecommerce bundle with a hosted service like Shopify (review), BigCommerce (review) or Wix (review) will run around $360/yr for a single website.

But it gets even better for WooCommerce.

Since your main annual cost will be for a hosting plan, you can maximize the value of your hosting account with multiple websites.

If you had 4 small WooCommerce powered websites on your hosting account, then your annual per website costs would be $30/yr.

To run 4 small ecommerce websites with Shopify or Wix, your annual per website costs would be at least $1,440/yr.

For example, one of my earliest clients had a personal website, a home decor blog, a cat collar store, and an embroidery store – all on her same hosting account.

All 4 sites used WordPress, and the 2 store used WooCommerce. It helped her defray the costs and keep her 2 stores profitable – since they were side-hobbies anyway.

But it gets even better for WooCommerce.

WooCommerce comes fully-featured and fully supported with no transaction fees of any kind. There’s no “premium tier” to move to. Your long-term per-feature costs will always be lower with WooCommerce.

Also, almost all of WooCommerce extensions are flat-fee and under $100. You have access to a huge and rapidly expanding library of advanced, complex ecommerce features for flat-fee optional cost.

WooCommerce Extensions

And, lastly, since WooCommerce works within WordPress, you get a double cost benefit for any free or premium plugins that you already want to use with your website.

For example, the most popular Redirection plugin for WordPress is free. And it’s free for WooCommerce too, since WooCommerce is integrated with your website.

If you are already paying for speed, security, and anti-spam for your existing WordPress website (with something like JetPack), then you can simply extend that subscription to cover your store as well.

And, you can piece together any 3rd party software based on cost, need, compatibility, etc.

If we stick with the housing analogy with WooCommerce, you can sub-lease rooms to help with the rent, your home office can benefit from your general security bill, and you can add-on *exactly* as your budget allows.

Now…all these massive cost benefits for WooCommerce comes with a few massive caveats, which I’ll cover in the cons. But on face value, WooCommerce is an incredible short-term and long-term value for any storeowner.

Integration with WordPress

WordPress software powers more than 1/3rd of the entire Internet. And it’s popular for a reason – it works well, it’s incredibly versatile as software, and it has a huge community (both for-profit and non-profit) supporting it.

And WooCommerce benefits from all three reasons as well, since it’s been a part of the broader WordPress community for years now.

This seamless integration with WordPress is important because WooCommerce can pull features in from an entire universe of plugins, themes, tutorials, and values that simply does not exist anywhere else.

For example, Yoast SEO has long been a hugely popular plugin with lots of international translations, advanced SEO feature support, and good usability.

There is no hosted platform with anything like it (or like any of Yoast’s excellent competitors). But since WooCommerce is integrated with WordPress…Yoast is integrated with WooCommerce as well.

The same goes with popular themes. Themes will support the same PHP structure as WooCommerce. In fact, developers will often go ahead and add bonus features to WordPress themes to make it extra appealing to WooCommerce users.

Plus, WordPress has long upheld the values of the Open Web with full RSS support, nice permalinks, W3 valid code, cross-browser compatibility, and full control over your code, content & data.

Themes for WooCommerce

f you want to leave WooCommerce, it’s easy and well-supported. Your data is only accessible to you – and anyone you grant permission to (not the other way around).

Lastly, if you have an existing WordPress powered website and want to add ecommerce, WooCommerce makes it as seamless as any other plugin so that you don’t have to style & support a store on a completely different platform.

Support from Automattic

Automattic is a company founded by Matt Mullenweg, who is also the author of WordPress software.

WordPress software is free, open-source and community supported. But Automattic is the for-profit company that makes & sells tools for WordPress software.

They run WordPress.com, a bundled hosted service for WordPress software in addition to JetPack, a speed / security / utility kit for WordPress websites, and WooCommerce.

Now, there’s a whole universe of for-profit companies offering WordPress plugins, themes, support, etc. They all do great work, and I recommend many of them.

But for longevity, consistency, and building more 3rd party integrations, I think it’s in WooCommerce’s advantage to be owned by Automattic.

There are plenty of WordPress software companies, and plenty of good ecommerce plugins. In fact, some have features and setups that I like a bit better than WooCommerce (mainly for digital goods only).

But the bottom-line when comparing WooCommerce not only to other plugins, but also to Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, etc – is that you need a large company that will be around and have an financial interest in keeping the software cutting-edge.

Additionally, since Automattic is still private and venture-funded – they are still in “growth” mode, which only means more investment in features & customer service.

WooCommerce’s ownership is a huge advantage for choosing WooCommerce over other ecommerce plugins, and put it at parity with other ecommerce solutions offered by large, stable companies.

Versatility & Compatibility

A few fun facts about WooCommerce –

  • You can use it to sell memberships
  • You can use it to sell recurring licenses
  • You can use it to sell digital goods
  • You can use it to sell apppointments
  • You can use it to sell affiliate, drop-ship, or even Amazon products
  • You can “hack” it and combine to sell really anything you can imagine

The actual plugin is incredibly versatile and compatible with a huge range of uses. Like WordPress, your imagination is likely more limited than the tool is.

WooCommerce Extensions

The plugin automatically creates & manages a range of page types including products, product categories, orders, confirmations, etc

It’s compatible not only with most single-use WordPress plugins but also with large site-type plugins like the BuddyPress social network plugin and bbPress forum plugin.

In other words, you can create a niche social network with forum and online store all with the same WordPress install.

3rd Party Integrations

WooCommerce has a large & growing Apps & Extensions store. It’s a library of premium extensions that allow you to harness powerful 3rd party software for things like payments, shipping, cross-product listings, inventory management, marketing, bookkeeping, and more.

If you are an offline merchant who loves a 3rd party processor (like Square), then you can use an extension to add it to WooCommerce.

If you love your 3rd party shipping or inventory software, it will probably integrate with WooCommerce.

Ease of Use & Onboarding

This pro has a caveat – I’m assuming that you have worked with WordPress before. If not, this will actually appear in the cons section.

But, if you have, WooCommerce’s onboarding is amazing. They’ve upgraded the process to the point where my WordPress Ecommerce Setup guide isn’t nearly as useful as it used to be.

Woocommerce Wizard

When you add the WooCommerce plugin, you are instantly moved into a setup sequence that will help you list your first product, set up your page types, and get all your basic settings ready to roll.

You really can be set up to sell in minutes. And unlike some plugins that create a dedicated section for use, WooCommerce automatically folds pages, media and options within the existing WordPress install so that everything appears where you think it should be (e.g., media settings, categories, etc).

Control & Customizations

Since WooCommerce is a PHP-based plugins that integrates with your WordPress install, you have direct access to the code via browser and FTP.

You can add, remove, edit scripts and bits of code to your heart’s content. If you want to edit your checkout flow or your error codes or your analytics script or your CSS – then you just do it.

WooCommerce Permalinks

You are not limited by a platform’s plan or code access or script limitations. If you want to hire a designer or developer or marketer, you can hire from a huge pool rather than a narrow field.

There are even custom extension developers who will create whatever extension for WooCommerce that you want.

Do you run a store than needs to accept Dogecoin? Or a very specific shipping option? You’ll need to use WooCommerce – because no major ecommerce platform will be building that anytime soon.

Cons of WooCommerce

Every ecommerce platform has natural disadvantages since there is an inherent tradeoff between control & convenience. You’ll likely find a lot of WooCommerce complaints and issues around the Internet.

Here’s a few of the key disadvantages you’ll find with WooCommerce – and using WordPress as an online store in general.

Ease of Use & Onboarding

WooCommerce & WordPress both try to make ease of use & onboarding (i.e., moving a new user to an active user) simple, straightforward and intuitive.

There are plenty of guides around the Internet, along with prompts, Q&As, support, and more.

But the bottom line is that there is still a basic tradeoff between control and convenience.

For a beginner, WooCommerce has a learning curve that is even steeper than WordPress’ learning curve. When you install WooCommerce, you not only have to learn the basic jargon of an ecommerce store (listings, checkout flow, payment tokens), but you also have to learn the basic jargon of WordPress (permalinks, posts, pages, plugins, etc) and the basic jargon of any self-hosted website (difference between HTML & CSS, page load speed, etc).

WooCommerce Menu Settings

For a beginner with zero experience with WordPress or running a website, WooCommerce will require a steep learning curve. Now, it might be worth it if you have the time & patience to learn everything.

But compared to drag & drop basic online store builders like Weebly or Wix or even comprehensive ecommerce platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce’s onboarding & setup is a huge downside.

Technical Maintenance

Sticking with the house / apartment analogy, you know how you can just call the landlord when something goes wrong?

Yeah, you can’t do that with WooCommerce. There is some semblance of support via your hosting company and Automattic (if you are a premium JetPack subscriber) and the WooCommerce community. But there’s no single place to just call and get something fixed.

In fact, like a landlord, there’s no one who will come by and just check on the HVAC filter, the roofing, and basic structure.

Running WooCommerce is really like owning a house. There are plenty of people who will help you maintain it. In fact, many are quite reasonable and even quicker than a landlord.

But…when it comes down to it, *you* and *you* alone are in charge of keeping your website maintained, available, and operating.

Plugins will notify you of security updates, but you will need to install them and manage any new conflicts. Your hosting company will give you support, but you need to know what questions to even ask. You’ll need to know how to troubleshoot.

This downside comes directly from the benefit of maximum control. With maximum control & freedom comes maximum responsibility.

Again, you can get customer support for WooCommerce. In fact, some hosting companies offer “WooCommerce Hosting” with management included.

But compared to online store builders like Wix & Weebly or ecommerce platforms like Shopify & BigCommerce, WooCommerce is lacking in simple technical maintenance.*

Shopify Backend

*The one caveat here is the WordPress.com option – they are a hosted version of WordPress run by Automattic. Since they bundle hosting, software, support & more – you can get many of the benefits of WooCommerce without this downside. They’ll take care of all the maintenance…at an extra price.

Speed & Security

With the continued growth of mobile and the profitability of hacking, website speed & security are more important than ever.

Like the situation with technical maintenance, WooCommerce leaves you basically in charge of speed & security – even though there are plenty of native & 3rd party options to help you.

WordPress & WooCommerce are inherently secure when installed with a good hosting company, maintained, and used with basic security best practices.

Additionally, WordPress & WooCommerce are inherently fast when installed with a good hosting company, maintained and used with basic speed best practices.

But your weakest link is the toughest part with both speed & security.

For hosted platforms like Weebly, Wix, Shopify or BigCommerce (and the WordPress.com option) – this is an area where they truly shine. Your website lives on their infrastructure with their team of professionals watching constantly for issues and keeping software cutting edge.

In fact, several have bounty programs where they pay hackers to deliberately seek vulnerabilities in their systems. They will also have direct partnerships with payment processors for real-time fraud alerts.

Overall, speed & security should not be an issue for WooCommerce storeowners – including beginners. But, like with owning a house, you are still the one responsible for any issues.

It remains a key downside of WooCommerce, especially if you store starts growing rapidly from hundreds of visitors to hundreds of thousands of users – which brings us to the next downside.

Growth & Scaling

Since WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress, it has to work within WordPress’ basic functionality.

And WordPress’ basic functionality is not built specifically for ecommerce, it’s built for versatility.

This issue means that the way WooCommerce works starts to break down when you get above a certain threshold of “queries” – ie, requests of the database.

And unlike browsing content, or really any other type of functionality, ecommerce can generate *a lot* of queries, very quickly, and in a short space of time.

Imagine WooCommerce is a single dude standing between a group of customers and a library. Imagine they all need to request books and return books before paying you, getting change, and then leaving. Now, if they go one at a time, it’s fine. In fact, you can probably push the guy to handling several returns and new books at once.

But imagine they all show up at once, say, on Thanksgiving, and start shouting out lots of book orders. And they start giving books to put back…and they all want to pay all at once.

Well, the dude is going to get really confused, tired, and crash. Not because he’s not good but because it’s a not-ideal system.

That’s WooCommerce’s core problem – handing *lots* of add to cart and checkout events all at once.

Ecommerce platforms that are built from scratch for ecommerce like Shopify and BigCommerce do not have this issue. They use a completely different set of technologies to avoid WooCommerce’s inherent issues.

Now, before a bunch of WordPress folks’ start sending me emails, WooCommerce can absolutely scale to hundreds of thousands of orders. WooCommerce says that the issues is a myth and has examples to prove it.

All true. But it take a lot of work & expertise to make that type of scaling happen. Here’s an interview with a top WordPress expert on making WooCommerce scale…and even he discusses it like a huge project, not something built-into the product.

If you have a small, growing store, this is a non-issue. You can solve problems as they come.

But if you are starting what will be a large ecommerce site very quickly, it’s a critical disadvantage to be aware of – especially when looking at other Enterprise ecommerce options.

Potential Long-term Costs

WooCommerce’s price (free!) and potential long-term value are amazing for beginners and anyone on a budget.

However, you may have noted the potential need for 3rd party help, WooCommerce can become quite expensive.

One of my earliest clients back paid me $1200 to fix several emergency issues that she simply could not figure out before her sales deadline.

She had chosen WooCommerce specifically to control costs (rather than integrate with an existing content site). But it will take several years of no issues to recoup those costs compared to a Shopify plan.

Shopify Pricing

Since WooCommerce is not bundled with hosting and other software, it’s also easy to let regular costs get out of control. Once you start paying for automated backups, security scanning, managed hosting, CDN, premium plugin extensions, and more – your monthly costs may be much higher than anticipated (again, just like homeownership vs. renting).

Now, all these costs are *potential* costs. And if you have the time and patience, many storeowners would rather than potential costs that they choose rather than an high guaranteed cost. But it’s a potential downside to be aware of.

Future of Ecommerce

Ecommerce is changing rapidly. And the speed of change is happening faster everyday.

Apps like Poshmark, Depop, Pinterest, and Instagram are moving more ecommerce to happen seamlessly within apps via “headless” ecommerce backends.

In other words, some ecommerce platforms are simply inventory & order tracking systems where the actual shopping, cart, and payments happens within a 3rd party app.

In some ways, WooCommerce’s open structure should be an advantage. And yet, cutting edge ecommerce relies increasingly on APIs and direct integrations, which are not WooCommerce’s specialty.

Shopify is able to leverage its size, infrastructure, and tech team to create cutting edge integrations. Same with MailChimp, Square, and a whole universe of similar marketing tools.

And all that does not even start to discuss Amazon.

All that to say, WooCommerce does have a current disadvantage with ecommerce as it is currently evolving.

However, it could have a huge advantage as content becomes more important. And it will forever have an advantage as somewhere that you truly own & control. It’s this bet that Automattic has their money on.

It’s a potential downside to consider. There’s no right answer, it all depends on your goals, expertise, and view of the future. There’s a reason why so many website builders like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, WordPress.com, and GoDaddy GoCentral are adding basic ecommerce functionality.

All of which leads us to a few direct comparisons.

WooCommerce Alternatives

There is a whole universe of ecommerce solutions on the Internet. Compared to 2003, this is a really good problem to have. But as an online storeowner, navigating choices is still an issue. Here’s a quick rundown of the main alternatives to WooCommerce, along with links to further posts.

WooCommerce vs. Other WordPress Ecommerce Plugins

There are lots of ecommerce plugins, but most are pretty terrible. WooCommerce’s main direct competitors are –

  • Easy Digital Downloads – a focus on simple digital goods.
  • WP Easy Cart – a focus on simplicity but limited add-ons.
  • WP Ecommerce – a non-Automattic comprehensive option. Meant for developers due to limited support options & simple extensions.
  • NinjaShop – a focus on simplicity but limited add-ons.

WooCommerce can also run on WordPress.com as part of a hosted bundle. This option removes a lot of WooCommerce’s negatives, but also increases WooCommerce’s costs & removes some of the self-hosted freedoms.

WooCommerce vs. Shopify

I wrote a full comparison of WooCommerce and Shopify here. The short version is that unless you have a specific reason to use WooCommerce and plan on running a growing ecommerce store, then you’ll probably do better with Shopify.

WooCommerce vs. BigCommerce

I wrote a full comparison of WooCommerce and BigCommerce here. The short version is that unless you have a specific reason to use WooCommerce and plan on running a growing ecommerce store, then you’ll probably do better with BigCommerce.

WooCommerce vs. Wix

Wix is much more user-friendly compared to WooCommerce. However, Wix also constrains your options more than even WordPress.com and hosted ecommerce platforms like Shopify. If you have a small store and want drag & drop convenience, then use Wix.

WooCommerce vs. Magento

Magento used to be a much tougher competitor to WooCommerce until Magento’s sale. Now, self-hosted Magento is going away. If you run an enterprise site, then scalability will likely make your choice for you. You’ll want Magento (or other Enterprise options). If you have a small ecommerce shop, then WooCommerce will be a better option.

WooCommerce vs. OpenCart

OpenCart is well-respected open-source ecommerce software. If you are building a ecommerce store from scratch and you want to host it yourself, then OpenCart is a solid option. However, it is declining in use (and with that, apps & extensions & developers). Unless you have a reason to use OpenCart, WooCommerce will give you access to a larger open-source community.

WooCommerce vs. Ecwid

Ecwid is less an ecommerce solution and more of an “anywhere shopping cart”. You can quickly add it to an existing website (ie, a plain WordPress website) and provide an ecommerce experience of a sort. However, it does not integrate with your backend. You also will have trouble competing for inbound marketing. It’s a good option to quickly add ecommerce functionality to your website without going through the WooCommerce setup process.

WooCommerce vs. Prestashop

PrestaShop is well-respected open-source ecommerce software. If you are building a ecommerce store from scratch and you want to host it yourself, then PrestaShop is a solid option. However, it is declining in use (and with that, apps & extensions & developers). Unless you have a reason to use PrestaShop, WooCommerce will give you access to a larger open-source community.

WooCommerce Review Conclusion

WooCommerce is the best ecommerce solution for 3 types of storeowners –

  • Storeowners with technical resources who want to heavily customize their store or use unique functionality.
  • Website owners who have a content-driven website and want to add-on a complementary, but seamless store.
  • Storeowners who are highly cost-conscious and feel comfortable investing time rather than money into running their own website.

If you fit those buckets, I’d highly recommend checking out the main WooCommerce website and using my guide to setting up your WooCommerce-driven ecommerce store.

If you don’t fit in those buckets, I’d highly recommend checking out a hosted solution. Explore my ecommerce platform quiz here. Or if you are building a small store (a dozen products), explore my online store builder quiz here.

Lastly, be sure to explore my guide to marketing your ecommerce store. So many stores fail, *not* because of platform…but because of a bad marketing plan. Spend as much time planning your marketing as you spend researching your store software.

The post WooCommerce Review: Pros & Cons of Using WooCommerce for an Online Store appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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Types of Digital Marketing: Examples, Uses, and Resources

Types of Digital Marketing

Saying you’re going to start doing “digital marketing” for your business is like saying you’re going to the “Western Hemisphere” when someone asks where you’re going for vacation. Digital marketing is made up of a bunch of marketing concepts, each with their own strategies and purposes.

And if you’re wondering what types of digital marketing you should be using in your business, a bunch of grab-bag tips and techniques won’t help you until you first understand how digital marketing breaks down and exactly how each marketing concept works.

I’ve put together a guide on the different types of digital marketing with examples, uses, and resources so you can evaluate which digital marketing strategies support your goals.

I’ve broken digital marketing into three media types (owned, earned, and paid) to categorize the different marketing concepts.

Let’s dive in!

Owned Media

Owned media is any media or attention that you own and control.

Your website(s), blog, and social media channels are all examples of owned media.

Marketers use it in contrast to Earned or Paid Media where other people control the attention you receive. Successful owned media means that your audience pays attention to you directly rather than via other websites or ads.

SEO 

SEO stands for search engine optimization — it’s all about getting your website to appear when people search for it / you / related content topics. The world of SEO is wide and takes time. So while I won’t tell you it’s the best channel for immediate satisfaction, there are still some amazing results to be had.

For most, a successful SEO campaign would be a huge win due to the sheer volume of traffic that Google organic search can drive. Google processes over 3.5 billion queries per day and most of the clicks go to an organic result.

You’ll learn pretty quickly that in paid advertising, clicks for competitive keywords can be quite expensive. That’s a cost you don’t have to pay if you rank in the organic search results.

SEO breaks down into three categories: technical, off-page, and on-page. Technical and on-page SEO are owned media, and off-page SEO is earned media (more on that in a bit!).

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is all about ensuring that Google/Bing bots can crawl and index your website effectively. It’s about making sure you’re not generating tons of duplicate content. This is really about making sure the technical components of your site are up to snuff (no broken links, no multiple versions of your about page, etc). 

Seeing it in action: 
Some of the biggest gains in organic traffic can come from good technical SEO. Bad technical SEO creates problems like this –

A huge technical issue with re-launched sites is link redirects. I’ve helped several clients triple their organic traffic simply by redirecting old URLs to new URLs.

If you’ve ever had difficulty searching large retailers on Google for products…it’s because they are terrible at technical SEO (I’m looking at you Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic…also Nordstrom’s).

Why it’s useful: 

I mean… you want Google to be able to evaluate your site, right?! Technical SEO is here to make sure users can find the actual information they’re looking for, and that Google can see all of the great content you’re creating (more on that in a minute). 

What’s tough about it: 

If you’re using WordPress, a good website builder, or a good hosted ecommerce platform you have the big barriers taken care of.

If you are already using a different platform, a technical audit might be the SEO item worth paying for, especially if you don’t have any technical SEO experience or you are working on a large enterprise scale.

Mentioning a “stand-alone technical audit with recommendations” to an SEO expert can be valuable if you’re on a custom-built site. Just don’t let them sell you on “ranking #1 tomorrow!”

What to Learn: 

If you are running WordPress, install WordPress SEO by Yoast and run through my guide for using it effectively.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO  is all about “targeting” the right keywords and ensuring that your website is laid out in a coherent way that is understandable by search engines and users browsing your website. It’s about creating targeted content that helps answer your audience’s questions (either through a blog, a newscenter, or targeted landing pages!).

Seeing it in action: 

REI is a master at on-page SEO. Check out what happens when I search “stand up paddle boarding”. 

REI has created tons of content around various outdoor sports, and they rank in the top of the search results consistently. So while I may not be ready to buy a stand up paddle board, REI is on my radar from the very beginning because of the educational content they’re giving me. 

Why it’s useful: 

The goal of on-page SEO is to get specific content to appear on Google when someone is searching for it. It should bring in new people AND support sales (and it shouldn’t be keyword-stuffed content that won’t help customers on your website make a decision). 

When done correctly, you can create authoritative content that addresses problems, questions, etc of your market, and when coupled with off-page SEO (more on that in a minute!), you can drive organic (AKA free) traffic to your site and capture your audience in the “research phase”. 

It’s a way to build trust and authority with your ideal clients. 

What’s tough about it: 

It’s a long game for sure. And, if you’re just getting started, you’re already behind the curve. That’s not to say don’t do it (you should absolutely be creating content that addresses the problems your audience has). But you have to be consistent, research the right keywords that you can compete for, and build some trust with Google in order to get your content to appear in the top level of search results. 

*Bonus – listen to Nate debate the merits of focusing on on-page SEO over off-page SEO.

What to learn: 

  • How to use keywords on your website 
  • How to do keyword research
  • Using title tags and meta descriptions
  • Using Google Search Console
  • Finding Content Ideas for SEO

Email Marketing

Email marketing has been around for ages. It involves having a list of “subscribers” (people who have opted in to say they want to receive emails from you) and sending them periodic emails with content, promotions, news, etc.

Seeing it in action:

Those promotional emails you get from your favorite retailers? Reminders that your car is due for service? Heck, even promotions from your credit card companies!

Yep… they’re all a part of email marketing. Here’s an email marketing example one of our team members received from Madewell:

Why it’s useful:

You can create highly targeted content with email marketing based on buying behaviors, automation rules, and even site behaviors. Email provides a highly customized experience and helps businesses create a more intimate relationship with their audience.

Why it’s tough:

How many emails do you get a day? Probably hundreds! In fact, if you have a Gmail account, you likely have an entire section of your inbox dedicated to promotional email. It’s a noisy space that can be difficult to breakthrough in, and in order to do it correctly, it requires consistency, strategy, and basic copywriting skills.

What to learn:

  • How to Write an Email Newsletter
  • Email Copywriting basics
  • Avoiding spam trigger words

Social Media

While social media platforms technically own the content on them, you do own your channels to a certain extent. You have complete control over what you post, which makes your profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, etc. part of your owned media.

Seeing it in action:

Brands use social media in several different ways. For example, some use it to drive sales, like this men’s apparel brand:

While others, like me, use certain platforms to share content (like on Pinterest).

Why it’s useful:

Social media is, well… social! Building your brand’s presence on certain channels is a great way to connect to your audience on a deeper level and get to know them better. Plus, with the advanced analytics social platforms provide, you get such a detailed picture of who your ideal clients are.

Why it’s tough:

Social media experts make social out to be rocket science. It’s really not. Unless you started a business you know nothing about, you should know where your audience hangs out.

Where people tend to go wrong is when they try to be 100% present on every single social network. Effective social media is about having direct interactions where you build relationships and learn more about your audience.

What to learn:

First, I’d definitely recommend any resources from Buffer. I’ve also written a good bit on social media analytics & content marketing.

But second, I’d recommend focusing & learning a single platform. Don’t expand until you really understand your “wheelhouse”. Every platform has a manual and best practices. Study and practice more than anything else.

Earned Media 

Earned media is press, coverage or mentions on other websites that you do not pay for since the story/content is useful enough to the outlet to stand on its own. In other words – you “earn” the placement in the news instead of paying for an advertisement beside the news. Earned media is a big deal not only because you don’t pay for it but also because readers trust it more than overt advertisements.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO is basically just SEO-speak for getting links or “link building”, with the caveat that links are not all considered equal.

Sketchy $5 links are going to harm your site. Quality links placed on a related or well-known website are the primary factor for getting better visibility in Google search results, hence why on-page SEO and off-page SEO work well together.

Create high-quality, educational content, get people to link back to it because it’s actually helpful, build your site authority, show up higher in the search results. 

Seeing it in action: 

The only real way to see off-page SEO in action is with a backlink profile tool like Ahrefs. Check out my post on Ahrefs for how to explore and understand backlink profiles.

Why it’s useful: 

Again, off-page SEO works hand-in-hand with on-page SEO. When you have quality sites linking to your quality content, it raises the overall quality of your site. Google takes that into consideration. If you’re a more trustworthy, authoritative site, you rank higher in the SERPS. If you rank higher in the SERPS, your high-quality content appears above competitors, and you get more of the right people onto your site. 

What’s tough about it: 

Again, it’s a long game… and it requires consistent outreach. When you’re just starting out, you can’t just write a piece of content and hope for links to come. You’ve got to get them, and you’ve got to get them for quality sites. This means pitching your content, doing outreach, etc. It also means having high-quality content for people to link to. 

What to learn: 

  • Broken Link Building 
  • Redirecting Old URLS
  • How to Use Ahrefs

Public Relations

Unlike paid placements, public relations is where you earn publicity for your brand, either through features, news stories, press coverage, social shoutouts, and more. It’s all about working with the media to get the word about your business out there.

I’ve broken public relations down into two categories: traditional media relations and viral marketing.

Traditional Media Relations

This is probably what most people think of when they think of PR. It’s pitching your content to media outlets + trying to get coverage. Keep in mind this isn’t about pitching your business. Focus on being a reliable source & providing good stories / content (In fact, media relations works hand-in-hand with your on-page SEO strategy. Create good content, pitch it to outlets that may find it useful).

Seeing it in action:

Anytime you see a news story about a company or organization…it was probably via a press release or press outreach. PR is everywhere. Here’s an example from a campaign I did for this website.

Why it’s useful:

Having reputable outlets link back to your website or even run your content not only grows your website traffic — it builds brand authority. When you’re trying to stand out in a crowded space (i.e. the Internet), having coverage from reputable sources helps build trust with your audience quicker.

Why it’s tough:

Pitching to the media isn’t a walk in the park. Most outlets get tons of pitches every single day — which means yours needs to stand out and provide actual value. It can be a time-consuming process.

What to learn:

How to Plan a DIY PR Campaign

Viral Marketing

Viral marketing is when a piece of your content goes “viral” — AKA it gets a massive amount of shares and attention in a short period of time. Viral marketing is tough to do, but when it is done, it can create massive traction for your brand.

Seeing it in action:

There are plenty of big corporate campaigns that spark outrage, curiosity or some other big emotion. The original “small business” viral marketing effort was Blendtec’s “Will It Blend” series of videos.

Why it’s useful:

When your content goes viral, you can see a huge spike in traffic over a short period of time. You get more eyes on your site, get in front of larger audiences, and get in front of new audiences you likely haven’t seen before. If it’s high-quality content, you’ll also likely get links back to the viral piece, which can build your site’s authority with Google.

Why it’s tough:

You can try your best to guess what goes into creating viral content, but you’re also at the mercy of the Internet. There’s not an exact science to viral marketing, which makes it hard to pull off.

What to learn:

A big part of viral marketing is tapping into trending topics or trending emotions. The rest is not really a secret. It’s just combining those and hitting the right moment.

Paid Media

Paid media is any media or attention that you pay for. Paid media is a great way to promote your website and get the ball rolling on your business. Usually any type of media business will offer businesses attention for a price. The trick is choosing the right media and getting a positive return from it. 

I’ve broken paid media into three categories: search ads, display ads, and social media ads.

Search Ads

Search Ads show up when someone searches for a query. For example, if you search “shoes” – you’ll get ads for shoes. Google was the first mover here and made their billions with search ads. But now many networks from Pinterest to Twitter to Amazon and more all use search ads within their networks.

Seeing it in action: 

Search ads are anywhere — just try searching for something on Google! I searched “dentist in Atlanta” and got this… 

Again, these ads show up whenever you’re searching for a specific query on search platforms (i.e. Google).

Why it’s useful: 

The key benefit of search ads is that the searcher has intent — i.e. they’re actively looking for what you have to offer (like a dentist in Atlanta). The marketing jargon here is that you are “harvesting” demand rather than generating demand.

Why it’s tough: 

You’re paying to play, and volume and bid prices can affect your performance significantly, especially if you have budget limitations. If you’re bidding on a competitive keyword, it’s going to cost you. You’ve also got to compete with others who are bidding on high search volume, competitive keywords. 

What to learn: 

  • How Google Decides What You Pay
  • Alternative PPC Networks

Display Ads 

Display ads (AKA Banner ads) have been around since the dawn of the Internet. They’re everywhere both the Internet + within platforms (think about the banners that pop-up when you’re using an app on your smartphone).

Display ads differ from Search Ads in two main ways. First, they use images / banners. Second, they focus on interest rather than intent.

Seeing it in action: 

Display ads are EVERYWHERE. Just log into Facebook and look on the left side of your newsfeed.

With the data Facebook provides to its advertisers, they can show me ads based on what they think my interests are.

Why it’s useful: 

Displays Ads are different from Search ads because you’re targeting interest rather than intent. In our example above, I’m getting targeted with ads for software that helps small businesses, because Facebook knows I’m a small business… so they’re betting I’m interested in software that can help me manage my business.

And while Google handles most Display Ads around the Web, the big opportunity for Display Ads is on “walled gardens” like Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Zillow, etc who all know everything about users on their network.

There are also a range of targeting options, match types, and formats depending on network and goal.

Why it’s tough: 

If you don’t know a ton about your audience (or don’t have access to that data), you’re taking a shot in the dark. Targeting interests can be way broader than targeting intent, which means your chances of getting highly qualified leads are less than what they are with search.

What to learn: 

Like social media, it pays to learn a single network. Read their manual, learn how to read analytics, and run lots of test campaigns before “scaling up” your spending.

Social Ads

Social ads are exactly what they sound like… ads on social media platforms! Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, etc… they all have advertising capabilities that allow advertisers to run paid promotions on their platforms.

Seeing it in action:

Check out this ad from UNTUCKit on Pinterest:

One of our staff members uses Pinterest primarily for fashion, so her Pinterest feed includes ads based on her interest in fashion!

Why it’s useful:

Social networks have a ton of data on their users, which gives advertisers a huge opportunity to create very targeted ads based on their users interest. There’s also massive opportunities to retarget users who visit your site and bring them back to your platform.

Why it’s tough:

You’re not just learning one ad platform… you’re learning several. Each social media advertising network operates differently, has different policies, and is constantly changing. It can be easy to spread yourself, and your budget, too thin. The trick is to focus where your users are most active and you have the most data so you can get the most bang for your buck.

What to learn:

  • Advertising on Reddit
  • Advertising on LinkedIn
  • Advertising on Snapchat
  • Advertising on Pinterest
  • Advertising on Quora

Next Steps

As you can see, digital marketing is made of up so many different avenues and methods. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you have to master them all, but you really don’t.

If you’re just starting out and don’t want to spend a dime, I recommend checking out my guide on How to Promote Your Website Online for Free next.

If you’re ready to spend a little and want a step-by-step process to advertising online now that you know the different digital marketing methods, check out this guide here.

The post Types of Digital Marketing: Examples, Uses, and Resources appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How To Design a Website Layout w/ Best Practices & Examples

Website Layout

So you’re designing a website layout, either for yourself or for a client, and you’re looking for some best practices and examples to follow. 

Maybe you’ve even spent some time digging through templates for inspiration, because hey… it can’t hurt, right? 

Wrong!

Website templates are great… but they can be drastically affected by stock photos, brand assets, colors, fonts, etc.

Before you start browsing templates, you first need to understand what your site needs to do, what content you’ll have, and how you need to lay it all out for an optimal user experience.

So how do you do that? Great question! Here’s my step-by-step process to designing a website layout with best practices:

Step One: Set Your Goals 

A website is more than just a collection of pages. Really, it’s a roadmap for your audience. It helps them find what they’re looking for when they’re looking for it.

Which means before you start looking at templates and designs, you have to first understand what your audience needs from your site to begin with. 

What’s the goal of your site? Is it educational? Is it selling products? Is it a resume site to help you get hired? 

Before you can start navigating somewhere, you have to know the end destination. The same applies to your website. Before you even start planning the website layout, define the overall goal of the site. 

What to Consider:

  • Your website today doesn’t have to be your website tomorrow. Set your goals for what you want to accomplish right now.
  • Your overall website will have a goal, and each page will have a goal. Separating the two can help you get clear on the overall flow.
  • Your site is all about the user. What are THEY trying to accomplish?

What to Avoid:

  • Biting off more than you can chew. If you’re trying to do too much at first, you’re either going to end up with a messy site or no site at all.
  • Getting caught up in the nitty gritty. We’re not talking functionality, yet.

What to Learn:

  • How to create a minimally viable website

Examples to Copy:

Sean Halpin

Sean Halpin Portfolio

Sandy Springs Artsapalooza

Sandy Springs Artsapalooza

Step Two: Map Out Your Main Content 

Once you have the main goal of the website, you can start to think about what content you need. 

What types of information is your audience searching for? How should that information be grouped?  

This will become the overall architecture of your site (and the navigation). Remember, your site is all about your audience’s journey.

The end goal is to get them to the information they need in the fewest steps possible. It doesn’t matter how beautifully designed your website is if no one can find what they’re looking for! 

The key here is clarity. The navigation should be intuitive — your people shouldn’t have to dig for information. 

Define your site’s primary navigation and content groupings before moving into design, so you can choose or design a template that supports an intuitive architecture.

What to Consider:

  • Think about how a user who lands directly on a given page would feel (without having navigated from your homepage).
  • Think about someone how has accessibility needs, or is simply in a hurry would feel.
  • Again, less is more. If you don’t need multiple pages to say it, don’t use multiple pages to say it!

What to Avoid:

  • Burying important pages in a deep hierarchy. Prioritize key information
  • Death by content. Your website doesn’t have to be the final destination.

What to Learn:

  • How to use keywords on your website
  • Smashing Magazine resource on content planning

Examples to Copy:

Au Lit Fine Linens

au lit fine linens

Lesley M.M. Blume

lesley blume

Step Three: Get your page layout down 

I know, I know… it sounds counterintuitive to think about a layout before you start searching for a template. But again, this is all about organizing your information. 

If you have an idea of the type of layout you need for each page, you’ll narrow down template options a lot sooner (and will be less distracted by frills that you probably don’t need anyway). 

Again, the goal is to get people the information they need in the quickest way possible. Think about your own browsing behavior. You’re likely not reading each and every word on the site, right? 

What to Consider:

  • Use size to distinguish between important info / details that may not be as crucial — the most important information should be the biggest on the page
  • Use headers and subheads to help scanners find key sections + information
  • Bold important phrases and key information
  • Use bullets / icons to break up text-heavy sections (see what I did here?) 

What to Avoid:

  • Don’t sacrifice clarity for creativity
  • Don’t bury key information “below the fold” (AKA don’t make people dig and scroll endlessly for it).

What to Learn:

If you want a page-by-page breakdown, check out our guides on…

  • Homepage best practices
  • About Us page best practices
  • FAQ page best practices
  • Contact Us page best practices
  • Product page best practices

Examples to Copy:

Trello

Grovemade

Step Four: Lock in functionality

After you have a general layout in mind for your pages, it’s time to think about functionality on each page. 

When we’re dealing with website design, remember that sometimes less is more, especially if you’re just trying to get your site up and running.

Having a minimally viable website can be more effective than having some juggernaut with bells and whistles that confuses people or costs you a fortune to get up and running. 

Think through the minimum functionality each page needs.

For example, your services page probably doesn’t need social media icons / social sharing. However, you may want to include links to your social channels on your Contact Page, or bring in your Instagram feed on your About page if it’s applicable to your overall site goals. 

A well-designed website isn’t about how advanced the functionality is. It’s about how quickly and easily can you give people the key information they need to accomplish their goals on a certain page.

What to Consider:

  • Think about the functions that would actually enhance your users’ experience.
  • What functionality is a must-have right now, and what’s a nice-to-have down the line?
  • Functionality isn’t built in a template — it’s supported by your software (AKA your website builder).

What to Avoid:

  • Functionality for the sake of functionality. You don’t want to overload your site or confuse your users.
  • Biting off more than you can chew. Having the ability to upload your latest YouTube episode is great, until you have to keep up with it.

What to Learn:

  • Which website builder will fit your functionality needs
  • WordPress plugins

Examples to Copy:

Dave Horak

Cumberland Community Church

Cumberland Community Church Spanish Version

Step Five: Pick Your Template 

So you’ve done the planning, you’ve sketched out your site, and you even know how the site needs to function. It’s time to finally, FINALLY start looking for a template (or creating your own)!

What to Consider:

  • Templates are really just HTML and CSS… which means they can be recreated almost anywhere. If you see a Wix template you love but want to use WordPress, you can easily recreate it.
  • Keep your layout needs in mind that you defined earlier, and remember that most templates are fairly customizable.
  • Look beyond the homepage. Look at how the subpages and unique pages are presented.

What to Avoid:

  • Again, functionality is NOT something that comes with a template.
  • Don’t judge a template based on the photography and logo designs. Often, a template will only look a certain way due to the mock-up creative assets.

What to Learn:

  • How to create your web design color palette
  • How to write effective website copy

Examples to Copy:

Inherit Clothing

Beautiful Destinations

Beautiful Destinations

Next Steps

You’re all set! Just follow the step-by-step process outline above to design a website layout that’s clear, easy to navigate, and gets your users the right information at the right time!

The post How To Design a Website Layout w/ Best Practices & Examples appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency with No Experience

How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency with No Experience

So you’ve got some marketing skills, and you’re wondering how to start a digital marketing agency. 

But there’s just one problem…

How do you start a digital marketing agency with no experience?

There have never been more opportunities to strike off on your own in the digital marketing space than there today. But how do you actually do it? Where do you start, and how do you scale?

The secret to starting a digital marketing agency with no experience is to have an actual strategy, grow organically as you learn, and deliberately build word of mouth with a specific type of client. It’s about taking aim vs. shooting randomly and hoping something lands.

There’s also a major misconception that starting a digital marketing agency has to mean a HUGE process that requires building a massive company and doing “all the things” and taking all the clients.

In reality, a digital marketing agency can be just…you. It’s not about the pricey software or offices or employees. It’s about determining who you help, how you help them, and then actually doing the work.

The business model of an agency is fairly straightforward. Sure, you can tinker around the edges about whether to bill by hour, by week, by task, or by project. But at its core, you are providing specialized knowledge for a fee. An agency of one and an agency of 10,000 work in basically the same way.

With that concept in mind, here’s how to start a digital marketing agency with no experience. 

1. Set Your Business Goals

Before you decide to do anything, you’ve got to do some planning. What do you want the business to actually look like? What’s the end goal? The vision? 

Starting your digital marketing agency without some sort of direction in mind is like trying to get to a new restaurant with no address and no navigation. You end up lost, taking wrong turns, and probably not having much success.

If you’ve observed the industry for any length of time, you’ll notice that agencies with conflicting goals run into trouble often. But the ones that stick to their vision do well.

Some agencies want to maximize prestige. They focus on recognizable clients who are willing to do interesting work. Some agencies want to maximize profits. They focus on boring but high growth, high opportunity clients. Some agencies want to maximize freedom / autonomy. They focus on low maintenance, consistent clients. And some agencies want to maximize business value. They focus on internal operations, cash flow, and strong branding.

There is no correct goal – except to choose a specific goal and stick to it no matter what.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to starting a digital marketing agency. There are big agencies, small agencies, agencies that focus on just one part of digital marketing (like search engine optimization) and full-service agencies who do everything from design and development to paid media, local marketing, and SEO. 

It’s up to you to decide who you want to serve and how you want to serve them. 

What To Consider

  • Do you want to serve local clients, or go outside of your local sphere?
  • Are you focusing on a specific industry? 
  • Do you want to offer a specific digital marketing service, or a variety of services? 
  • Do your clients need to be within a certain budget? 
  • Are there services you don’t want to offer? Niches you don’t want to serve? 

What To Avoid

  • Avoid trying to have something for everyone. You know what they say about a jack of all trades… you’re a master of none. 
  • Avoid direction hoping. Pick a direction and see it through until you have enough data and experience to make a decision on changing directions. 

2. Define Your Target Audience 

The irony of all ironies is that usually, marketers are horrible at marketing themselves, mainly because they don’t go through their own steps. 

If you’ve done any marketing before, then you know one of the first things you do as you develop your marketing strategy is get clear on your target audience. The same applies for starting your digital marketing agency. 

Once you’ve decided on who you want to serve, it’s time to dive a bit deeper. What are they struggling with? How do you help them with that problem? 

Outline the wants, needs, likes, dislikes, habits, and information of someone you think would definitely be an ideal client for your agency. Outline what their marketing needs are, what their goals are, and how you can help achieve those goals through the service(s) you’ve decided to offer. 

Don’t just armchair imagine this. Ask potential customers what they struggle with when it comes to getting the word out about their business. What do they wish they could get some help with? What do they look for in a digital marketing agency? 

Make 2 to 4 very specific personas. Remember that your initial market is not your total market. Even if you start out by targeting a very specific geographic area or a very specific customer doesn’t mean that you can’t expand. It’ll just give you more focus.

What To Consider

  • Get specific. It’s better to start small and scale (i.e. being a digital marketing agency that helps local dentists get more clients through organic search) than try to help everyone and get lost in the noise (i.e. being a general marketer who can do anything for any business). 
  • Remember that your initial market is not your total market. It just gives you focus. 

What To Avoid

  • Avoid businesses that don’t align with your overall business strategy. Sure, it’s great to get work in the beginning, but remember… pick a direction and stick to it. If you don’t offer a service, don’t offer it – even if it means turning down a little bit of money at the beginning. 
  • Personas aren’t just for marketing strategies. Have 2-4 for your own business direction so you know who to say yes to and who to say no to. 

3. Build an Online Presence

Once you have an idea of what type of agency you are, who you serve, and how you serve them, it’s time to think about how you’re going to present this information.

This means building your online presence through your website and social channels.

Setting Up Your Website

You don’t need to have a full-blown website to have a digital marketing agency. But given you’re helping people get seen online, you should have some sort of online presence.

If you are going super-lean, you can use a Facebook page, Yelp profile, or a few focus (aka “landing”) pages (more on that in a minute). But going without a decent looking website will put you behind the curve and place limitations on what you can do with your brand & marketing.

I recommend setting your own website up with a common, well known software like WordPress and hosting it on your own hosting account**. I have a simple guide to doing that from scratch here.

That route will give you a good technical foundation with fast, simple setup and access to other business tools like email and digital storage. It will also allow you to implement a customized off the shelf design – “themes.” Themes allow you to have a website that looks good enough to make a sale without spending months and lots of money on a 100% custom design. Creating a website on something like WordPress also allows you to implement a 100% custom design when that time comes.

**Note – self-hosting WordPress does have a learning curve. For a long-term website with a business that has resources, it’s worthwhile. But – there is absolutely a role for a hosted website builder for many businesses – especially if your business will focus on clients who use a specific platform (like Wix or Squarespace or Shopify). I have a guide to selecting a good website builder here.

Setting Up Focused (aka “Landing”) Pages

As I mentioned above, a few high-quality focused pages on your website can get you a long way. In addition to your Home page, About page, and Privacy page, you need landing pages to address specific needs.

When I say “landing pages” – don’t think of anything too complex or anything that you would need to A/B test. I’m simply referring to pages that visitors can land on from a search engine or an ad and find exactly what they are looking for. I like to call them Focused Pages rather than Landing pages.

Why? Here’s pro tip that few website owners will admit to: nobody cares about or even sees your homepage.

Your homepage is for people who already know you who are. For businesses in a single specific service, you can use it to “rank” for your main industry term.

Landing pages go beyond your homepage.

Landing pages are for new (or returning) visitors to land on and convert. Before you build out all your website pages, you should develop focused landing pages that sell to one or all of these buckets:

Service specific – These pages should promote your services. But, they shouldn’t be generic. You should make them either focused on the problem that your service solves (ie, no website traffic) or focused on the application of your service. For example, it’s one thing to offer “SEO” – it’s another to make websites more crawlable, more relevant, and more visible in search.

Geography / Demography specific – These pages are all about the location service & logistics of obtaining your agency’s services. Even though your work might be global, your clients’ are likely not global. They will pay for someone who understands their local market. Additionally, if you have a keen understanding of a demographic (ie, college students), then you can focus on that as well.

Industry Specific – These pages should promote your expertise within specific industries. Even though marketing principles do not differ much across industries, clients want someone who can understand their perspective. If you know more than someone else about [X] industry, you should promote that. And if you can go deeper within a niche, then do that.

Now – the magic here is combining buckets & going deeper within each bucket. Until you are big & growing, going niche is your friend. Create combinations to make extremely focused pages.

“Digital Marketing for the Travel Industry” will not bring in your first clients.

“Facebook Marketing for AirBNB Hosts in Atlanta, Georgia” absolutely will.

The goal here is to sell to people at the very bottom of the marketing funnel – the customers most likely to convert and most likely to succeed. These pages will both rank organically – and you can use them for paid ads.

What To Consider

  • Detailed content content (like a blog) can take your presence a long way. Think about future functionality you may want to have on your site so you can choose a platform that supports it and don’t have to create something from scratch once you’re ready to implement it.
  • Practice what you preach. If you’re a copywriting agency, make sure your copy is up to par. If you’re a design agency, make sure your site looks like you can actually design something.
  • You don’t have to be everywhere (i.e. Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, WordPress, Facebook, YouTube). Pick your starting channels and expand later if need be.

What To Avoid

  • Avoid perfection. The goal is to have a online presence that shows you’re legit, but being an agency is about billable hours. Don’t spend more time working on your own presence than your clients’.

4. Get Visible (AKA Getting Leads and Clients)

Once you have a place to send people, it’s time to get some leads and clients.

Again, marketers are notoriously bad at marketing themselves. But the days of “build it and they will come” are long gone. You actually have to do something to get clients and start building your portfolio, especially if you’re starting a digital marketing agency with no experience.

Here are a few key steps to follow to get the word out about your digital marketing agency.

Word of Mouth / Referrals

Above all other marketing techniques, agencies thrive on word of mouth and referrals. In fact, many top agencies are past the point of direct response marketing. They grow exclusively on word of mouth. They know how to appeal to certain markets and what kind of performance it takes to get further referrals.

The focus of your landing pages will help word of mouth since you’ll develop a simple, straightforward reputation.

In order to get referrals, you’ve got to get clients to back up your reputation. Which brings me to…

Direct Outreach

Also known as hustlin’. This consists of all the tedious and tough pitching that you know you need to do… but don’t want to do.

Now, it doesn’t mean spamming. It means going directly to your market and doing appropriate outreach.

It means emailing and Facebook messaging people that you know might be interested in your marketing services (or know others who might be). And sending them to your landing pages to learn more about your agency or hopping on a call with them to talk about how you can help them. And again, the focus of your landing pages will help make word of mouth simpler. You’ll stand out when people remember you as “the [X] marketer for [Y] industry in [Z] city.

It means helping within industry forums. I got my first handful of web design clients after helping people on the WordPress.org support forums. I got my first ecommerce client after helping in the Shopify forums. I never pitched anyone directly, but this type of manual, hand-on work counts as direct outreach.

When you’re just starting out with no experience, direct outreach is one of the most effective ways to get clients quickly (which you can then turn into referrals).

Tap into your existing network, look for projects that you can knock out of the park, and continue to get your name out there without having to spend money on ads or wait for your inbound strategy to grow (more on that in a minute).

Check out this case study or this post for even more detail on how to use direct outreach.

Paid Traffic

Yes, it’s true — Google Ads and Facebook can be expensive for a good return on investment, especially for the close to converting keywords that you should try to buy.

But if your serious about building a long-term marketing strategy for your digital marketing agency, then your goal is a bit different when using paid traffic.

You are buying data. Lots of data.

You should be doing a few things with your new traffic.

  • Look at what keywords are driving the best leads. Google Ads & Facebook give you this information. Try using modified broad match for your keywords. Many times customers are using a wider variety of keywords than you’d guess.
  • Run your ads very focused on geography, especially if you’re a local agency. If you have a landing page for a neighborhood, set up a campaign for that area.
  • Look at what landing pages are driving sales & calls.
  • Look at what areas are driving sales.
  • Test ad copy and figure out the right messaging. You can use this data to inform any print or display campaigns..
  • On Facebook, you can get *really* specific with your audiences. Do that. Create an audience of 100 who you *know* would be perfect. Make sure they know about you. Use the campaign to warm up any direct pitch.

Organic Search (SEO) Traffic

Organic traffic (SEO) still might not be the best next channel to pursue after paid traffic. There’s a great big wide world of paid and organic traffic sources, and if you’re working on building a portfolio and just get some experience, this is going to take awhile.

And yet, if you’re playing the long game, setting up your SEO strategy now can have huge payoffs in the end.

Google processes more than 3.5 billion queries per day. And for most queries, most of the clicks go to an organic result. And you’ll know from your Ads campaigns that clicks for competitive keywords can be quite expensive. That’s a cost you don’t have to pay if you rank in the organic results.

So I won’t hide my enthusiasm for SEO. It’s my specialty and is the giant battleship that will keep on going once it’s headed in the right direction.

When you are setting your marketing strategy for your digital marketing agency, you just have to know what it takes to get organic traffic and what it will take on your part to get it done.

Often you’ll just need a handful of really useful posts to prove your expertise. Don’t go after generic topics. Show off your specialty. Do a tutorial on tools that you know your audience is trying to use. Write about an issue that you know everyone is dealing with.

What To Consider

  • Your first goal when you’re starting an agency is to get clients. Billable hours drive everything (and is what will enable you to invest in other marketing efforts).
  • Some of your best leads can be in your own circle. Don’t discount the network you already have.
  • No one will know about your business if you don’t tell anyone about your business. You don’t need fancy business cards, a beautiful website, or even some elaborate marketing funnel. You DO need to tell people what you do.
  • You do have to walk the walk, but you don’t have to rely on your own area to build your business. If you do SEO and you choose not to use SEO to generate leads, that’s fine — but be prepared to speak to that with potential clients.

What To Avoid

  • Avoid being a generalist. Yes you need clients, yes you need revenue — but remember the business strategy you set upfront.
  • Avoid adding additional work without increasing the scope to “win” a client. If clients want additional services and you offer them, great! Let them know how that changes your fees. Earn respect with results, not with price or perceived responsiveness.

5. Define Your Growth Plan

Building a digital marketing agency doesn’t mean you have to become the next big company doing Super Bowl commercials. As I mentioned before, a digital marketing agency can be an agency of one.

You should however, have an idea of how you’d like to grow. Being a one-person company still doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. ShivarWeb is made up of exactly 1 person, Nate Shivar, but several amazing contractors help shoulder specific responsibilities. Employees are great once you have a solid book of recurring contracts, but contractors can help you bridge any gap.

As you start to grow, think about the teams, systems, and deliverables you want to have in place to help support your clients.

For your team, would bringing on a full-time copywriter help you sign two more clients? Could you outsource design work or administrative tasks that take up your time?

For your systems, do you have a written system for new clients? Even if you are solo, you need to have a written system that clients pass through. It should be something that you can set out in a contract. You can (and should) find examples for Master Service Agreements (MSAs) & Statements of Work (SoW’s) to build of of. Make sure you have an internal project management system – even if it just lives in a Google Sheet.

For your deliverables, do you have a way to show value to your clients? Do you have a way to gather feedback from them. If you are an SEO, then written audits, keyword maps, and written outreach & content strategies will help make the “magic” of SEO real for your clients. It goes the same for every type of marketing. What format will you use? Who can you talk to within the industry to get a base understanding?

To be honest, this section is the biggest reason to do some short stint with an already established agency. I worked for Nebo Agency for a little over 2 years, and learned more than I could have learned on my own in 10. But working for an agency is not required. You just need to do a bit more thinking & planning.

Doing some advanced planning here will help you scale faster and easier than waiting to figure it out when the workload becomes too much.

What To Consider

  • There are certain tasks only you can do. What are those? Keep your focus there.
  • A bigger team doesn’t necessarily mean a better agency. Some of the best marketers I know run with a very lean crew.
  • Think back to your business vision. Do you have services you want to provide but YOU can’t do? Are there people you can hire that can cover a few different areas (i.e. a writer with graphic design experience)

What To Avoid

  • Avoid getting caught in the weeds. You can’t make any money if you’re sitting in your inbox for five hours a day.
  • Avoid thinking of outsourcing as an expense. Crunch your numbers and think value and reinvestment.
  • Avoid going the “cheap” route when hiring help. You get what you pay for.
  • Charge what you are worth. If you are making your clients money, then charge what you are worth…and make them even more money!

Conclusion & Next Steps

Starting a digital marketing agency with no experience doesn’t have to be a daunting process full of questions, unknowns, and hurdles.

It does require that you clearly understand what you want out of your agency, who you’re going to help, and how you’re going to help them.

If you are trying to start a digital marketing agency, follow the process and you’ll be all set!

The post How to Start a Digital Marketing Agency with No Experience appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How To Sell On Instagram With Shoppable Posts

The post How To Sell On Instagram With Shoppable Posts appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start A Side Hustle: A 7-Step Guide

The post How To Start A Side Hustle: A 7-Step Guide appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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What Is An SMS Payment And How Does It Work?

We all know and love our Short Messaging Service (SMS) — better known simply as the text message. But did you know that you can start taking SMS payments for your business? And that it is relatively easy to get started?

In the United States, we are just now warming up to the idea of sending and receiving payments by text, but businesses throughout the world have already adopted SMS payments for everything from mass transit tickets to lattes.

While Americans are less likely to pay by text for everyday purchases, text payments are still an undeniably growing trend. You may already be familiar with payments by text when it comes to charitable donations, but home service providers (e.g., AT&T) are starting to offer SMS payments for their customers as well.

Text payments offer potential growth for many other types of businesses, too. Pizza shops, salons, or any business that has ‘regulars’ could benefit from text payments. SMS payment services are probably not for everyone, however, so let’s take a look at how text-to-pay works and if it’s right for your business.

How Do SMS Payments Work?

SMS Ordering

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of how SMS payments work, it’s pretty simple, really. While there may be some variations with each company that offers text messaging payment services, generally you can expect the following elements when it comes time to pay:

  1. A business sends a text to their customer’s phone number or the customer texts a shortcode number to the business to initiate the sale.
  2. After communicating what product or service the customer wishes to purchase, the business sends the customer a link to a secure, mobile-friendly payment form.
  3. The customer enters their payment information and can typically approve saving the card on file for recurring payments or a future purchase.
  4. The customer may get a unique code to complete the purchase.

The customer may also get another verification text from the payment processing company to confirm their intent to buy. As stated above, the exact process may vary by company, but you can expect a similar procedure to complete the sale.

Mobile Carriers Vs. Payment Processors for Text Payments

Many people associate text message payments with charity donations (often the amount is added to their phone bill). What is lesser known is that phone carriers generally only allow organizations to accept donated amounts in $5 or $10 increments. By setting up these limits, phone carriers reduce their own risk from non-paying customers. While the phone carrier setup can work great for flash-giving campaigns and allow an organization to avoid paying some payment processing fees, it isn’t a viable solution for businesses.

Enter companies like Relay, Pagato, and Sonar. These companies, and those like them, support SMS payments by integrating their messaging services with secure, PCI-compliant payment processing.

What Do You Need to Accept SMS Payments?

To get started accepting SMS payments, you’ll need to choose the company with the services that fit your needs best. There are some differences between the ways companies like Relay, Pagato, and Sonar price their services. Let’s briefly take a look at each of these three examples.

Relay (formerly Rhombus):

Relay charges $50/month for 250 “tickets” which refers to completed conversations. With that, you also get 1000 free SMS texts. All plans include automated responses, unlimited contacts, customer segmentation, and other engagement tools. Don’t forget about the actual credit card processing fees, however! Relay integrates with Stripe, and you pay 2.9% + $0.30 per successful transaction. You can accept every major card at the same rate with Stripe processing. (If you aren’t familiar with Stripe, check out our Stripe Payments Review.)

SMS Payments Relay

Pagato:

Pagato integrates with Stripe, Braintree (read our review), and Quickbooks Payments (read our review). In addition to the payment processing fees of your merchant account, you’ll pay 1% per transaction with a minimum of $0.20 per transaction. With Pagato, you can accept payments through SMS and social media channels like Instagram and Facebook, too. You won’t have additional setup, monthly, or hidden fees.

SMS Payments Pagato

Sonar:

Sonar offers packages starting at $24.67/month and $0.025 per SMS message. You can send automated messages, track customer data, set up campaigns and even A/B test them as well. Sonar integrates with Stripe, and your payment processing fees are 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.

SMS Sonar

These are examples of some lesser-known companies, but the more prominent players like Square and PayPal allow you to send a text with a link to pay individual customers, too. The Square Cash App and PayPal don’t have the muscle to do much beyond sending a link to pay, however. You can’t A/B test marketing campaigns for an offer that you send out with Square or PayPal, for instance.

Keep in mind that most of the SMS messaging platforms mentioned above offer a free trial period and a demo to learn more about the exact features. So don’t hesitate to ask a lot of questions to get the information you need. It’s also a good idea to meet with your team and discuss the benefits of each platform, and of course, determine if your sales team has the bandwidth to have multiple open text conversations with customers. Text can be a powerful way to connect to your customers, but it is definitely not suited for every business model.

Which Types of Businesses Benefit Most From SMS Payments?

mobile-card-payment-app-service

Without a doubt, there is value in using SMS messaging to build a marketing campaign and nurture those ongoing relationships with your customers. When you consider that the global average open rate on a text is more than 90%, it makes sense to start building your phone list and reaching out that way.

As far as what businesses benefit from adding SMS payments to the mix, consider this:

If your business model provides delivery, your revenue depends on recurring payments, or you target a “repeat” customer base, SMS payments can make a lot of business sense. However, you need to have the staff and time to support the nurturing of customers via text. Text conversations can be a bit longer than a phone call if there is a specific issue, so training your team on escalation procedures can help you both save time and money with SMS texts.

All this connection can be great, but not all customers are going to love texting or getting “salesy” texts from you. While SMS texting and payments can help your sales team if you use it the right way, some may find automated sales messages impersonal. Keep in mind who your customers are and what supports their journey with you when you set up your SMS services.

Another significant benefit to SMS payments is the secure and compliant payment processing services that you can integrate with, such as Stripe. Because you don’t transmit the credit card data or store it on your servers, you can significantly reduce your liability when it comes to fraud risks. Not to mention that your customer has a fast and easy way to pay you, and all of it happens from their phone!

Are SMS Payments Right For You?

Being able to take payments by text offers potential — as long as the benefits outweigh the costs. Features vary by company, so do compare service packages before making a decision. One company may find a lot of value in the extra capabilities to target and segment lists, while another may be more focused on cutting down telephone orders. What services you choose mainly depends on your business model. Because text messaging offers a clear path to your customers’ hands, it may be worth finding the right balance to connect, engage, and encourage your customers to pay by text, too.

If you are discovering what else is out there in payment processing, be sure to check out our resources here at Merchant Maverick. Our Merchant Account Comparison Chart is a great starting point for payment providers! 

Paymentcloud Durango Soar Payments Host Merchant Services

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Specialities

General Purpose High-Risk, eCommerce, CBD Oil, Firearms & Ammunition, Adult, Credit Repair, Bad Credit, Vape/E-cigarettes, Airlines

International, Offshore, Credit Repair, Bad Credit, Vape/E-cigarettes, Fantasy Sports, Forex Credit Repair, E-cig/vape, Moving/Storage, Web Design, Antiques & Collectibles, Debt Consolidation, Precious Metals Debt Collection, Life Coaching, Airlines, Loan Modification, SEO Services

The post What Is An SMS Payment And How Does It Work? appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start And Fund A T-Shirt Business

In the world of fashion, trends come and go, but a few select pieces stand the test of time. One piece of clothing that’s found in almost any wardrobe is the t-shirt. From comfy shirts made for the gym to shirts with trendy designs worn for a night out with friends, t-shirts are a staple for men, women, and children.

T-shirts are here to stay, so why not capitalize on this fashion staple? Whether you have a degree in fashion design or you just want to become an entrepreneur, starting your own t-shirt business could be the opportunity you’ve been looking for.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at what it takes to get your own t-shirt business off the ground. We’ll start with basics such as designing and printing your shirts. We’ll discuss the importance of registering your business. Then, we’ll look at startup costs, as well as how you can get the capital you need to start your business and keep it operating. Finally, we’ll look at ways you can advertise your business to bring in customers and revenue.

Ready to take the leap into entrepreneurship? Read on to find more.

Design Your Shirts

Before you begin selling t-shirts to the masses, you have to create designs that people want to buy. The first step is identifying your target market. Are you going to sell t-shirts to men, women, children, or a combination of the three? Are your t-shirts going to be more fashionable, or are they better suited for lounging around the house or hitting up the gym?

Once you’ve identified your target market, it’s time to think about the designs you’ll use. Let’s say that your t-shirts are aimed at the active man or woman. Your designs should incorporate fitness or motivational graphics. You can also determine other features of your shirts based on your target audience, such as the type of material used. If your shirts are designed for the fitness-minded consumer, for example, select a moisture-wicking fabric.

Your t-shirt designs don’t have to be overcomplicated as long as they appeal to your target audience. The key, though, is to make sure your designs are completely original. Not only does ripping off other designs make you look like a copycat, but you could face some serious legal issues if you use the artwork or designs of others without permission.

It’s also important to remember that sometimes a design may be a complete flop. Even the most well-known fashion designers in the world have released items that weren’t a hit with their devoted fans. If one design isn’t doing the job, try something else until you find what works best for your target audience.

Also, it doesn’t matter whether or not you have any design experience. As long as you have some ideas, you can hire a designer to bring your visions to life.

Decide How To Print Your Shirts

Once you have your designs, it’s time to think about how you’re going to bring the design from your computer or tablet screen to the front of a t-shirt. In other words, you need to decide how to print your shirts.

First, you’ll need to determine the method you’ll use to print your shirts. Screen printing is one option; it is a tried-and-true method that allows you to add long-lasting graphics to t-shirts. Screen printing is best for creating large batches of shirts since the initial setup is so time-consuming. Printing smaller batches is not cost-efficient with this method.

Another thing to note is that screen printing is best for very simple designs. Complex designs or multiple colors in one design can be problematic. If you have a more complicated design or pattern, consider direct-to-garment printing.

Direct-to-garment printing works similar to your color printer at home or at the office. The DTG printer prints directly on the t-shirt. With this method, you can use multiple colors and print complicated designs and patterns. Shirts printed with a DTG printer can be extremely detailed.

Setting up a DTG printer isn’t difficult or time-consuming. However, the actual printing process does take some time, so this method is best for smaller batches of t-shirts.

Another option to consider for printing your t-shirts is using a heat transfer machine. These machines transfer designs from heat transfer paper to the t-shirt. Full-color images can be printed using the heat transfer method, and you can easily print shirts on-demand. However, the quality is often lower and the design far less durable than using the other printing methods.

Regardless of which method you choose, there are two ways you can go about printing your shirts. You can use a third-party printing service or you can purchase the equipment and do it yourself. Let’s review the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Hiring A Third-Party Printer

Many t-shirt businesses do not do the printing themselves. Instead, these businesses hire a third-party service to handle the printing for them. There are a few benefits to hiring a third party to print your shirts. The first is that you won’t have to make an upfront investment in expensive printing equipment. You also won’t have to learn how to use the equipment or spend time running it.

However, there are some drawbacks to using a third party. You’ll have to shop around to find a printing company that provides high-quality workmanship. You don’t want your customers receiving t-shirts with graphics that fade or crack or that fall apart after the first wash. Many companies offer low-cost samples so you can check the quality before placing a larger order.

You also need to shop around and compare the pricing of different t-shirt printing companies. Some companies only fill bulk orders, which could put you at a disadvantage if you want smaller batches.

If you plan to only sell your designs online, you can work with an on-demand dropshipper. Once an order is placed on your website, the dropshipper will print and ship out the order to your customer. Before choosing a dropshipper, it’s necessary to place your own order to check out the quality of the shirts. You also need to evaluate pricing to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. The major disadvantage to using a dropshipper is that if an order is wrong, slow to ship, or not printed correctly, the blame will fall on your shoulders, even if you don’t have control over any of these issues.

Purchasing Your Own Equipment

The alternative is to purchase equipment and print your own t-shirts. The advantage of this is that you have total control over both the quality and the number of shirts that are printed.

The major drawback, of course, is that t-shirt printing equipment is very expensive. Expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars for a heat transfer machine. If you want a DTG printer, expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars. You will have to pay for ink and maintenance of your machine. In some instances, you may be able to lease equipment to save on upfront costs.

You also have to take the time to learn how to properly use the equipment or train someone else to take on the job.

Decide How To Sell Your Shirts

Now that you’re closer to getting your shirts designed and printed, it’s time to decide how you plan to sell your items. You can set up an online shop, open your own brick-and-mortar store, or bring your designs to local stores in your area. You may also maximize profits by combining these selling tactics.

One of the easiest sales methods is to open an online shop. Customers can browse your designs and make their purchases directly online. You can ship out the orders yourself, or you can work with a dropshipper to make t-shirts on-demand when an order is placed. This option has low startup and overhead costs.

You can also open your own brick-and-mortar store. While you’ll be able to reach customers in your local area, this option has much higher startup and operating costs. Expenses may include rent for your commercial property, utilities, fees for business licenses and permits, and equipment. You’ll also have to purchase inventory to keep in stock. If you go this route, make sure to consider your local area. For example, if you live in a remote area, you may not have a large customer base. However, if you live in a thriving city or popular tourist destination, opening your own brick-and-mortar store may be a profitable venture.

The third option is to print out smaller batches of your t-shirts and network with local boutique and business owners in your area. With this method, you won’t have to pay for your own commercial space, but you will have to give the business owner a cut of your profits.

To determine what is right for your business, keep a few things in mind. Is this going to be your full-time job, or are you just trying to make a little extra money on the side? If you don’t plan on devoting yourself full time to your t-shirt business, stick to an online shop or sell your t-shirts through other businesses and boutiques.

Calculate Startup Costs

Once you have an idea of the direction you want your t-shirt business to take, you can start thinking about startup costs. The route you’ve chosen with your business will determine how much your startup costs will be.

If you plan to open a brick-and-mortar business, you’ll have expenses including a rent or lease payment, equipment and furnishings, utilities, a point-of-sale system, and inventory. Unless you plan to do all of the work yourself, you also have to hire employees. If your business will be based solely online, your costs will be much lower — think shipping costs, plus the price of a website, software, and ecommerce platform subscription fees.

Startup costs vary significantly based on the goals of your business. You can start big with a brick-and-mortar shop and may pay tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars to launch your business. Start a smaller online shop, and you can get started for as little as a few hundred dollars to launch your website and register your business.

Register Your Business

You’ve started laying the groundwork for your t-shirt business, and now it’s time to make everything legal. The first step is to determine what type of business structure you will form. The business structure you select will determine how much you pay in taxes, as well as whether or not you will be personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.

Sole Proprietorship

Sole proprietorships have one owner. These are the fastest and most inexpensive business entities to form and do not require registering with the state. The drawback is that sole proprietorships are not separate legal entities, so you will be personally responsible for the liabilities of the business. It may also be difficult to obtain a loan or raise capital as a sole proprietor.

Partnership

A partnership has two or more owners. A general partnership is the simplest form and does not require registration. General partners will be held liable for the debts, obligations, and liabilities of the business.

You may also consider starting a limited partnership, which has a general partner and limited partners. Limited partners are not responsible for the liabilities of the business.

Finally, you may choose a limited liability partnership, where all partners are limited partners and are not responsible for the liabilities of the business.

Corporation

A corporation is the most complex business structure. As a corporation, you will pay taxes at the corporate rate. Shareholders also pay taxes on dividends, resulting in double taxation. Corporations have ongoing requirements, such as electing a board of directors and holding annual meetings.

While a corporation is more expensive and complicated to form, this is the best structure if you see a large expansion in your future. As a corporation, you can sell stock to shareholders to raise large amounts of capital.

Limited Liability Company

A limited liability company, or LLC, combines benefits of different business entities. Like a corporation, business owners in an LLC are not personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business. However, LLCs do not have to pay corporate tax rates or face double taxation. LLCs also do not have ongoing requirements like corporations.

The type of business structure you select ultimately depends on the needs of your business and your future plans for growth. If you want to build a clothing brand that’s known around the world, choose a corporation or LLC structure. If you just want a smaller online shop that helps pay your bills, a sole proprietorship may be the way to go.

Once you’ve determined your business structure, you may be required to register with your state. Sole proprietorships and partnerships may file for a DBA (“doing business as”) under a fictitious name known as a trade name.

Depending on the type of t-shirt business you plan to operate, you may be required to obtain business licenses and/or permits from state and local agencies. Fees and requirements vary by state. You can contact local agencies including your City Clerk, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and state Department of Revenue to learn more about the business licenses and permits required for your business.

Finally, you also need to register for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service. This is required if you plan to hire employees now or in the future. Many business lenders may also require an EIN when you apply for funding. If you’re a sole proprietor, you may opt to use your Social Security Number in lieu of an EIN.

Seek Business Funding

“It takes money to make money,” as the old saying goes. As the owner of a t-shirt business, the amount of money you need to start and operate your business will vary according to your business model. If you have a small online shop, for example, your funding needs won’t be as great as if you’re operating a brick-and-mortar store.

Even if you have startup costs covered, there may come a time when you need additional capital for emergencies or operating expenses. If you can’t fund these costs out-of-pocket, it’s time to apply for small business funding. Whether you turn to someone you know or apply with an online lender, there are several financing options available for your business.

Friends & Family

Know a friend, family member, or colleague looking to invest in a new business? Pitch them your business idea. Prepare your presentation carefully to let them know why your idea is a winner. In general, you have two options for getting funded by someone you know. The first is to take out a loan. Your friend or family member provides you with a set sum of money that is repaid over a period of time — along with interest. This is known as debt financing.

The next option is a strategy known as equity financing. With equity financing, an investor provides you with the capital you need to cover startup costs or operational expenses. In exchange, the investor receives ownership in your business. While you may not be required to immediately pay back the investor’s capital, they will be able to take a portion of the profits over time. They may also have some level of control when it comes to important business decisions.

No matter which route you take, always make sure everything is in writing and signed by all parties. Then, uphold your end of the bargain. Nothing can make a good relationship go south faster than a business deal gone wrong.

Small Business Loans

With a small business loan, you can receive a lump sum of money that you repay over time. In addition to repaying your principal loan balance, you’ll also pay the lender interest and/or fees. You’ll make regular payments to the lender, which may be daily, weekly, monthly, or on another schedule.

Small business loans can be used for any business purpose, including funding an expansion, purchasing equipment for your business, or for use as working capital.

Recommended Option: LoanBuilder

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You can fully customize your small business loan when you work with LoanBuilder. The LoanBuilder Configurator allows you to adjust your repayment terms and borrowing amount to create the right loan for your business.

Through LoanBuilder, you may be eligible to borrow up to $500,000. All loans come with one single fixed fee of 2.9% to 18.72% of the borrowing amount. Your fee is determined by the performance of your business and your credit history. Loans are repaid weekly over terms of 13 to 52 weeks.

To qualify for a LoanBuilder loan, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Time in business of at least 9 months
  • At least $42,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 550 or above

Vendor Financing

As you build your t-shirt business, you’ll establish relationships with vendors and suppliers. In an ideal world, you’d always have money in your bank account to cover the costs of your inventory and supplies. However, this isn’t always the case. An emergency expense that depleted your account, a seasonal uptick in sales, or some other challenge may leave you struggling to pay your vendors upfront.

Many vendors do not offer their own credit programs, but there are lenders that offer vendor financing. With vendor financing, your vendors will be paid the full amount for their products or services while you’re able to pay off the expense over time. This prevents you from having to pay the full cost out-of-pocket for the inventory, supplies, and services you need to keep your business running smoothly.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf provides vendor financing of up to $50,000 to qualified borrowers. You can repay your loan on a weekly or monthly schedule for up to 6 months.

Behalf charges a monthly fee for its service. Fees start at 1% and are based on the creditworthiness of the borrower. There are no additional fees to receive financing through Behalf.

There are no minimum credit scores, annual revenues, or time in business requirements, although a soft inquiry will be performed when you apply. You must have a U.S.-based business and a U.S. business bank account to qualify. Funds from Behalf can’t be used to fund existing debt, such as credit card bills or payroll.

Lines Of Credit

A line of credit is a flexible financing option that allows you to access capital on demand. Instead of receiving one lump sum, a lender sets a credit limit. You can initiate multiple draws up to and including this credit limit. Once a draw is initiated, the lender will transfer the funds to your business bank account. Then, you will repay the money over time, along with any fees and/or interest charged by the lender.

Since a line of credit is a revolving form of credit, funds will be replenished as you pay off your balance. This allows you to have continuous access to capital when it’s needed. A line of credit can be used for any business purpose, including funding emergency expenses, purchasing inventory, or using as working capital.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio is a loan aggregator that gives you access to over 75 small business lenders with just one application. One of the financing options available through Lendio is a business line of credit.

Through Lendio, you may qualify for a line of credit from $1,000 to $500,000. Rates range from 8% to 24%. You could receive funds in as little as one week after you submit your application.

To qualify for a line of credit, you must meet these requirements:

  • Time in business of at least 6 months
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 560 or above

If a line of credit isn’t what you’re looking for, Lendio offers additional financing options, including:

  • Short-Term Loans
  • Equipment Financing
  • Business Credit Cards
  • Commercial Mortgages
  • Merchant Cash Advances
  • Startup Loans

Merchant Financing

If you need working capital and you use a service like PayPal to receive your payments, you may qualify for merchant financing.

Merchant financing is a short-term loan option for ecommerce businesses. Typically, qualifying is based on the performance of your business. The lender will provide you with a loan that is repaid over time with interest and/or fees.

Funds can be used for nearly any business purpose, from covering an emergency expense to buying more inventory or using as working capital.

Recommended Option: PayPal Working Capital

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If you accept payments through PayPal, you may qualify for the PayPal Working Capital program. Through this program, you can receive up to 35% of your annual PayPal sales as a loan. Your first loan can be up to $125,000.

PayPal Working Capital charges one set fee based on your sales history, the repayment percentage of your choice, and the loan amount. On days when no sales are made, no payments will be deducted. However, you must pay at least 5% to 10% of your total loan amount every 90 days.

To qualify for PayPal Working Capital, you must meet these requirements:

  • Have a PayPal Business or Premier account for at least 3 months
  • At least $20,000 in annual PayPal sales for Premier accounts or at least $15,000 in annual PayPal sales for Business accounts
  • No more than $20 million in annual PayPal sales

Business Credit Cards

Business credit cards work exactly like personal credit cards. The lender provides you with a set credit limit. You can use your card anywhere credit cards are accepted up to and including the credit limit.

The lender charges interest and fees on your balance until it is paid off. You do not have to pay off your balance in order to continue using the card provided you haven’t met your credit limit. A business credit card is a revolving form of credit, so as you pay down your balance, funds become available to use again.

Business credit cards give you on-demand access to capital whenever you need it. You can use business credit cards to pay for an emergency, purchase inventory, or buy equipment. You can also use your credit card to pay for recurring expenses, such as utility bills or software subscription fees.

Recommended Option: American Express SimplyCash Plus

SimplyCash Plus Business Credit Card from American Express



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


14.49% – 21.49%, Variable

The American Express SimplyCash Plus card puts a new spin on credit cards. This is because this card allows you to spend over your credit limit without any fees. You can also receive cash back on all purchases – even if you’re over your limit.

The amount you can spend over your credit limit is based on your usage of the card, payment history, credit profile, and other factors. If you go over your limit, you simply need to pay the amount over the credit limit each month as part of your minimum payment. There are no fees for exceeding your credit limit.

With the SimplyCash Plus card, you can receive up to 5% cash back on your purchases. Wireless phone services and office supply store purchases yield 5% cash back on the first $50,000 spent each calendar year. You can also choose one category to receive 3% cash back on, such as advertising, shipping, hardware, or software purchases for the first $50,000 spent each calendar year. All other purchases receive 1% cash back.

There is no annual fee associated with this card. You’ll also receive a 0% introductory rate for the first 9 months. After that, variable APRs range from 14.49% to 24.19% and are based on creditworthiness.

To qualify for the American Express SimplyCash Plus card, you must have excellent credit.

Recommended Option: Spark Classic For Business

Spark Classic From Capital One


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


25.24%, Variable

Don’t have perfect credit? Consider applying for Capital One’s Spark Classic for Business credit card. This rewards card gives you unlimited 1% cash back on all of your business purchases. There is no annual fee, and the card has a variable APR of 25.24%.

Additional benefits of Spark Classic for Business include free employee cards, fraud coverage, and extended warranty protection. This card also allows you to build your business credit so you can qualify for additional financing options in the future.

Applicants must have a fair credit score to qualify for the Spark Classic for Business card.

Choose Business Software

You’re one step closer to launching your business. Now, it’s time to choose the software you need to run your business effectively and efficiently. Some of the business software programs you may need for your t-shirt business include:

Bookkeeping Software

Bookkeeping software allows you to keep an eye on the financials of your business. With this software, you can easily track your business expenses, accounts receivable, and payroll. Many bookkeeping programs also allow you to track other aspects of your business, such as inventory.

With bookkeeping software, you’ll always know where your business stands financially. You’ll be able to run and print reports as needed, which may be required when you apply for business financing. Having all transactions reported in bookkeeping software can also help you prevent headaches when tax time rolls around.

No accounting experience? No problem! Check out The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting.

Payment Processing Software

If you plan to accept credit cards or other methods of payment, you will need payment processing software. Your payment processor will act as the communicator between your bank and the bank of your customers, allowing you to process credit cards, debit cards, and other forms of payment.

Point-Of-Sale System

If you want a more sophisticated way to manage your sales, you’ll need a point-of-sale (POS) system. A POS system not only includes credit card processing, but it also offers additional features including barcode scanning, inventory tracking, printing receipts, and reports and analytics.

Mobile POS systems allow you to use your app or smartphone to accept payments and keep your business running efficiently. There are also more advanced systems that include hardware such as monitors, keyboards, printers, cash drawers, and scanners.

Advertise Your Business

You’re almost to the finish line and ready to open your doors … or your online business. Before you launch, though, it’s time to think about advertising. After all, if no one knows about your t-shirt business, how are you going to make any sales? Don’t wait until after you launch to spread the word about your business — start right now with these advertising tactics.

Social Media

From middle schoolers to your own grandparents, it seems like everyone is on social media these days. Use this to your advantage to let potential customers know about your t-shirt business.

The great thing about social media is that setting up your profiles is absolutely free. You can also get started in just minutes. Set up pages for your business on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest. Include critical information about your business on each profile including your contact information, website and/or online shop link, and photos of your t-shirts. Later, you can use your profile to share news about your business and new products, advertise sales, or host giveaways.

You can also look into advertising on social media. You can purchase ads for any budget and customize your target audience to get your name out to potential customers.

Another option to consider is talking to social media influencers. Social media influencers recommend products to thousands of followers, helping companies drum up new business. If an influencer wears your shirt and links to your website, you could see an influx of customers.

Some businesses will send a free sample of their products to social media influencers. While this does mean some out-of-pocket costs for you, the exposure you could receive could be well worth the small expense.

Want to learn how to take your social media marketing to the next level? Learn more in our Guide to Social Media Marketing.

Build Your Website

In addition to your social media profiles, you also need a website to build your web presence. Website builders make it easier than ever for you to create your own professional website. You can also easily build an online shop with today’s modern ecommerce platforms.

When you build your website, make sure that it is designed to appeal to your target audience. Don’t forget to include information on your website such as contact info, details on your products, and clear photos of what your business offers. As you build up your website, you can include additional information and features such as online chat options, FAQs, news and updates, and reviews and testimonials.

Word Of Mouth

Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth advertising. The trick to this one is simple: provide high-quality products and exceptional customer service. If someone buys one of your t-shirts and is pleased with the quality, they’ll be proud to wear it and tell others about your business. If the shirt was poorly made or customer service was lacking, they’ll also tell others.

Word of mouth advertising is an easy and free way to get the word out about your new business. And don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. If someone gave a great review, share it on social media and your website. Don’t be afraid to ask customers to give their feedback, but don’t be pushy. Also, learn to accept criticism. Not all of your reviews and feedback will be glowing. Instead of taking offense, learn from it. Where is your business lacking? How can you make sure that each customer that purchases your t-shirts is fully satisfied? Never stop trying to improve your business, and always provide the best products and customer service to keep your customers coming back for more.

Final Thoughts

Owning and operating your own t-shirt business can be fun, exciting, and lucrative, but don’t be fooled … a lot of hard work is necessary to make your business a success. Don’t rush the process. Instead, take the time to plan out your business, create unique designs, and provide high-quality products and service that will draw customers to your business.

Want to learn more about starting your own business? Download our small business guides for the information and tips you need to launch your business venture.

The post How To Start And Fund A T-Shirt Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start And Fund A Coffee Shop


opening a coffee shop

Coffee shops are vital places. Not only do they sell brewed happiness, without which I could not function, but they are important for communities as well. A coffee shop is where people meet up, whether to catch up with friends, go on a first date, or conduct a casual business interview. Thanks to the WiFi revolution, coffee houses have also become destinations where remote workers and freelancers can connect from their laptops and students can study for exams.

Coffee shops these days even have significance in the culinary world. Ten or fifteen years ago, you could go to a coffee shop to get a coffee and a muffin. No one had heard of third-wave coffee, latte art, single-origin pour-overs, acai bowls, or even avocado toast, but today, these are probably standard fare at the most happening coffee shop near you.

The high customer demand for an enhanced coffee house experience means lucrative opportunities for local business owners who want to enter the coffee shop business. By opening a coffee shop, you have the potential to create a unique business that could become one of the hottest destinations in your city. But first, you’ll need to do your research on how to establish a successful coffee shop, and perhaps most importantly, figure out how you’ll fund your business venture.

In this post, I describe the main steps for opening a coffee shop. I also outline the best ways to finance a new coffee shop business, with suggestions for recommended lenders in each category.

Preparing To Start A New Coffee Shop Business

If you’ve decided you want to open your own coffee shop (or are at least pretty sure), here’s what you need to do to get started.

1. Decide Whether To Buy A Franchise

Becoming a franchisee isn’t for everyone, but it might be right for you. There are a lot of benefits to purchasing a turnkey business where most of the elements you need to run the business are already in place. You might want to at least consider which coffee shop franchises you could potentially open in your area, and the costs associated with franchise ownership vs. the costs of opening and operating an independent coffee shop.

2. Determine What You’ll Sell

What do you envision your coffee shop’s menu looking like? Do you want to sell only coffee/espresso drinks and pre-made pastries, or have a larger offering that would require a kitchen where food is prepared onsite? Will you serve lunch or just snacks? What about mugs, t-shirts, or other non-food merch? It’s important to have at least a general idea of what you’ll sell early on in the process because this will determine what type of business space you’ll need, as well as your overall vision for your business.

3. Choose A Name & Theme

Next to your menu, the overall vibe and branding of your coffee shop will play a huge part in determining your success. A lot of thought must go into your business’s name and logo, both of which should reflect your theme. If you want to set your business apart from other offerings in your area, it will need to have a unique appeal. In marketing, this is called your business’s “unique value proposition” or “unique selling proposition.” Determining your UVP now will also help you down the road when you’re applying for financing — and also when marketing your business with signage, on social media, etc.

4. Create A Business Plan

Your business plan is essential in guiding the development of your business. In fact, it’s a document that most lenders will require when you apply for financing. Your plan will describe your UVP, and will also have information about how you intend to run your coffee shop. The plan might include specific information about how much financing you need, projected profits, information about ownership and management, relevant market research, competitors in your area, and other details. You should be able to find some sample business plans for coffee shops online to help you get started.

Some more things to consider when creating your coffee shop business plan include:

  • Business hours
  • Floor plan, including the layout of outlets for laptops, whether you’ll have community tables, etc.
  • Decor—Will you go eclectic hodgepodge or streamlined/modern? Keep your theme in mind.
  • What type of music you’ll play
  • Whether you’ll appeal to kids with offerings such as board games and kids’ drinks
  • Community events you might host—For example, open mic night, family board game night, jazz night, etc.

5. Find A Location

An essential component of starting any business is finding a place to set up shop. Maybe there is a vacant business space in town that you’ve already been eyeing, or perhaps you aren’t sure where to look yet. The design of the space itself needs to meet your needs, while the location in relation to other places of interest is just as important. Foot traffic, proximity to competitors, and convenience for university students are all aspects to consider. You should also consider whether you want to have the sort of space where people can feel comfortable working all day, or if you’d rather have minimal seating so people will be on their way shortly after making their purchase. Depending on your budget and theme, you might consider choosing a former coffee shop or restaurant space so that you won’t have to do extensive remodeling.

Funding Your Coffee Shop

business line of credit loan

Assuming you don’t have personal savings to open your business, you’ll need to get creative in order to secure financing for your brand-new business—traditional lending institutions such as banks and credit unions will usually want to see that you have at least two years in business. However, once you have a solid business plan and prospective location for your coffee shop, it will be easier to find parties who are willing to lend to you. Prospective business owners with good credit and business experience will have the most options, but there are even options for startups with bad credit.

1. Family & Friends

While most of us aren’t blessed enough to have a wealthy aunt willing to fund our wildest dreams, if you do have such an aunt, now is the time to hit her up. You can even hire a lawyer to draw up a contract for a loan between you and your aunt (I’m starting to feel like I know her now—let’s call her Aunt Judy), or use a service like LoanBack that formalizes loan contracts between friends and family.

If you don’t have an Aunt Judy but have personal and/or business contacts that might be willing to invest smaller amounts in your business, you might consider using a platform like Kiva. Kiva lets you crowdfund a small business loan up to $10K, provided you meet their terms and have a certain number of friends/family members from your personal network willing to back your loan.

2. Short-Term Business Loan

Most traditional business loans, which are repaid in installments over a number of years, require you to have at least a couple of years in business. An alternative business lending option available to newer businesses (and sometimes even startups) is a short-term loan. These loans can potentially carry high interest rates and you could be required to repay your loan in a matter of months, or sometimes even weeks. However, STLs can be a viable lending option for businesses that don’t have much time in business or business revenue, and many such lenders don’t even require you to have good credit.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio is an online loan marketplace where you can apply for and compare multiple business loans at once — including short-term loans — potentially up to $500,000. Lendio offers terms as long as 1–3 years, which is a more comfortable repayment frequency compared to many of the predatory short-term lenders you’ll find online. If you don’t have much business experience and aren’t sure what business loans you might qualify for, Lendio is a good place to start. When you can compare multiple loan offers as you can with Lendio, it is much easier to choose the best loan you qualify for.

Lendio Borrower Requirements:

Lendio’s borrower requirements vary depending on which of their lender partners you’re applying with, but the majority of loans in Lendio’s marketplace have these minimum requirements:

  • Time In Business: 6 months
  • Credit Score: 550
  • Business Revenue: $10K/month

3. Personal Loan

A personal loan can be used to fund a business startup such as a coffee shop, as long as the terms of the lender allow you to do so. Personal loans typically have an upper borrowing limit of $30K–$50K and carry higher interest rates than a business loan. You also usually need to have good personal credit. You do not need to have good business credit or any particular business credentials.

Recommended Option: LendingPoint

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LendingPoint is a reputable online lender offering personal loans that can be used for business. These loans are quick and easy to apply for, and you can qualify even if you have a fair personal credit score in the 600s. These are smaller loans—the upper borrowing limit is $25K—but they are accessible to almost anyone with decent credit. You will have between 2–4 years to repay, which is pretty good for an online loan.

LendingPoint Borrower Qualifications:

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: 600
  • Business Revenue: N/A
  • Personal Income: At least $20K/year

4. Short-Term Line Of Credit

Like short-term loans, short-term lines of credit are also open to young businesses that are just getting started. With this type of business financing, you only have to repay what you borrow, similar to a credit card. The downsides are that you’ll have to pay back the principal pretty expediently, with potentially high interest rates and other fees. Nevertheless, a line of credit can be an important source of working capital or expansion funds for a new business. It’s also a smart choice if you don’t know exactly how much money you’ll need.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox is a short-term LOC you might want to consider once you’ve opened up shop and have at least a couple months of coffee-brewing under your belt.

Fundbox offers one of the quickest and easiest business lines of credit with Fundbox Direct Draw. The main requirement for this revolving line of credit is to have been using Fundbox-compatible accounting software for at least two months. Fundbox will use your software account information to evaluate the health of your business, but there are no time-in-business requirements or specific credit score requirements. They will want to see that you’re on course to make at least $50K/year, however. You can borrow up to $100K (depending on how much they approve you for) and will have 12–24 weeks to repay the principal.

Fundbox Direct Draw Borrower Qualifications: 

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: N/A
  • Business Revenue: $50K/year
  • Other: Use of compatible accounting software for 2+ months

5. Startup Loan

A startup loan is a loan specifically for startup businesses with 6 or fewer months in operation. Often, these loans do not have any time-in-business requirements. Similar to a personal loan, a startup lender will want to look at your personal track record as far as credit history, and may possibly even delve into your job history and education level. It is pretty difficult to get this type of loan from a bank, but there are several online lenders that cater to startups.

Recommended Option: Upstart

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Upstart is an online lender aimed at younger borrowers, though applicants of any age can apply. Upstart helps fund startup businesses, as well as personal expenses and debt refinancing. Through Upstart, you can borrow up to $50K to finance your coffee business, with up to 5 years to pay back the loan. The main criterion Upstart cares about is your personal credit score, but having a strong job history and/or a college degree will also help you secure a loan with a good interest rate.

Upstart Borrower Qualifications:

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: 620
  • Business Revenue: N/A

6. Vendor Financing

Some popular coffee shop POS systems offer vendor financing. That is, a POS vendor may offer users of their point of sale system or payment processing service a business loan. These financing products usually have a low barrier to entry and are suitable for coffee shops that have recently opened. Typically, the main requirement is that you are an active user of the vendor’s product.

Recommended Option: Shopify Capital

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If you use Shopify Payments at your coffee shop, you may be eligible to get a short-term loan or merchant cash advance through Shopify Capital. You cannot apply for this loan; rather, Shopify will let you know if you are eligible. You can borrow a maximum of $500K, and Shopify will deduct a portion of your sales each day until the cash advance is fully remitted (paid off). With a STL from Shopify Capital, you have up to a year to pay it off. We like Shopify POS system a lot, but if you use another POS system, you will not be eligible for Shopify financing.

If you use Square as your coffee shop POS, Square Capital is a similar financing product you may be eligible for. Or, if you let customers pay with PayPal, PayPal Working Capital is an option.

Shopify Capital Borrower Requirements:

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: N/A
  • Business Revenue: N/A
  • Other: Have a US-based Shopify Payments account, with a low-risk profile, and process a certain amount per month

7. ROBS

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS) is a strategy to leverage your retirement account to start a new business. Because this method is technically a rollover, you won’t be penalized for removing funds from your 401(k), IRA, or another retirement account prematurely. Also, since you’re not borrowing money, there is nothing to pay back and no borrowing fees. The downside is that if your business fails, you could lose your investment, and potentially your chance to retire comfortably if you don’t have any other savings. A ROBS is a somewhat complicated transaction, but a ROBS provider will help you set up the new account to fund your business in exchange for a setup fee and a monthly service fee.

Recommended Option: Benetrends

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Benetrends’ financing options include ROBS as well as loans. Benetrends’ popular ROBS “Rainmaker” plan has financed more than 15,000 small business owners to date and is one of the top ROBS plans out there. Benetrends has clear, fair terms and excellent customer service. This ROBS provider charges a one-time $4,995 setup fee, and an ongoing monthly service fee of $130/month.

Benetrends Rainmaker Borrower Qualifications:

The only borrower requirement is that you have an eligible retirement account with at least $50,000. Eligible accounts include:

  • 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • Traditional IRA
  • Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)
  • Simplified Employee Pension (SEP)
  • Keogh

Ineligible plans include Roth IRAs, 457 Plans for non-governmental agencies,  and distribution of death benefits from an IRA other than to the spouse.

8. Purchase Financing

Similar to purchase order financing, purchase financing is an alternative lending product that allows you to repay your vendors for business purchases in installments. The purchase financing company pays your invoices upfront, and then you repay the financing company in installments. Purchase financing lets newer businesses, such as a coffee shop startup, acquire the materials and equipment needed to open up shop, without having to pay for their supplies all at once. You can think of purchase financing as somewhere between a line of credit and a credit card.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf is a purchase financing company that offers financing for business purchases, at interest rates of 1%–3% per month. Behalf pays your merchants, and then you repay Behalf in weekly or monthly installments over a period as long as 6 months. This service has a very simple application, with transparent terms and no hidden fees. You can borrow up to $50K, depending on how much you are approved for.

You can use Behalf to fund purchases for most inventory or services, such as coffee beans or business consultant fees, but you cannot use the service for things like paying off existing debt or covering payroll.

Behalf Borrower Requirements

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: N/A
  • Business Revenue: N/A

Note that even though there is no stated credit score minimum, Behalf does do a hard pull on your credit during the application score, and will evaluate your business finances as well.

9. Credit Card

A business or personal credit card has its limitations, as your credit limit probably won’t be high enough to pay for all your startup costs. However, a credit card is a lot easier to get than a business loan, and if you play your cards right (ha ha) you might not have to pay any financing fees at all. Credit cards offer more cash-back and other rewards than ever before, particularly for business cards, and many cards also offer a 0% introductory APR for the first year. Moreover, opening a business credit card will help your new businesses establish and build your business credit profile.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Unlimited

Chase Ink Business Unlimited


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

There’s a lot to like about Chase’s newest business card, Ink Business Unlimited℠. This card offers unlimited 1.5% cash-back on all purchases, combined with no annual fee, a $500 credit if you spend $3K in the first 3 months, and a 12-month 0% introductory APR. This card also carries other useful benefits such as purchase protection against damage and theft, and additional employee cards at no extra cost.

Ink Business Unlimited℠ Eligibility

To be eligible for this card, you need to have good to excellent credit.

If your credit score isn’t your strong suit, no worries. Check out this list of Business Credit Cards For People With Bad Credit.

Opening Your Cafe

Now that you have your business vision, location, and funding in place, it’s time to get ready to open to the public. If you take all of these steps, you should have everything you need to run a successful business, including a demand for your product.

1. Assemble Your Professional Team

Starting a business usually requires you to hire professionals such as accountants, attorneys, architects, and business consultants. At the very least, you will want to have an accountant you trust, as this person can also act as your business consultant in many ways. Professional fees can be high, but can save you a lot of money and headaches down the road.

2. Begin Remodeling

Unless you are building from scratch, you will most likely need to do at least some remodeling to your coffee shop business space to make it fit your needs and vision. At the very least, you’ll need to add signage and repaint. Be thoughtful when choosing the decor, from floor to ceiling. If you need to do extensive remodeling, an SBA 504 Commercial Construction loan might help you finance the renovations. Of course, if you are renting, there will likely be limitations on what changes you can make to your business space.

3. Acquire Equipment & Materials

Before you can start brewing, baking, and all that, you’ll need the proper equipment and raw ingredients. This will require careful consideration, particularly when choosing vendors for coffee beans and other food and drink materials. Make sure you do your research and do plenty of taste tests, because the worst thing a coffee shop can have is yucky-tasting coffee. When selecting vendors for your coffee beans and other raw ingredients, be sure to consider things that your customers might care about, such as whether the coffee comes from sustainable farms or is organic.

In terms of coffee shop equipment, you may have the option to lease or buy. Equipment financing is one way a lot of restauranteurs acquire kitchen equipment, and one you might consider also. Proceeds from SBA 504 loans can also be used to purchase kitchen equipment.

4. Create A Buzz With Marketing

There are so many innovative ways to start creating a buzz around town before your coffee shop even opens. Some of these include:

  • Giving out samples of your coffee at local events
  • Updating your building’s exterior with signage and other eye-catching improvements
  • Setting up a direct mail campaign in targeted regions
  • Alerting the media to your grand opening
  • Social media marketing (more on that in a minute)

Essentially, you want people to be excited about your coffee shop before it even opens. Fortunately, social media and the internet makes this easier than ever.

5. Bolster Your Web Presence

Your business website and social media profiles need to be in place before your coffee shop opens. If you don’t have the time or budget to hire a web designer, you can still create a functional and attractive website using a website builder such as Squarespace or Wix. Posting to Instagram and other social sites before the grand opening will also help you create a buzz and establish an online presence.

Here are a couple of resources that will help you build your online presence for your coffee shop:

  • Guide to creating/maintaining a web presence
  • Guide to social media marketing

6. Hire & Train Employees

Your employees and the level of customer service they provide will ultimately make or break your coffee shop. You will need to be smart and careful in your hiring process, and train the employees thoroughly so they know not only your processes but also the atmosphere you are trying to create. It’s important to value your employees and offer competitive wages and perks, even if that means cutting costs somewhere else; if you pay minimum wage, employees will ultimately be grumpy with one foot out the door. By establishing a positive corporate culture and showing employees you value them, you will create an awesome team that will take your business to the next level.

7. Choose A POS System

Your point of sale is where you make all your money, so it’s super important that you choose a good one! You do not want a system that is unreliable or only pairs with a crappy merchant service provider that charges exorbitant swipe fees. Thus, you will need to test out multiple systems and read reviews before selecting a system. You’ll also need to figure out which features you need and which you can live without. Many modern cloud-based POS systems are essentially complete business management software programs, with built-in inventory management, employee management, accounting integration, loyalty software, and even more functions. You also have the choice to go all out with POS hardware add-ons such as digital menu boards and self-order kiosks, or keep it simple with a single iPad register.

More important than having a POS with all the bells and whistles, it is essential that the POS system you select integrates with a high-quality merchant services provider (or choice of merchant service providers). Your merchant service provider will determine what percentage of your credit card sales you’ll hand over, how issues such as chargebacks are handled, and how much you’ll pay to exit the contract if you’re not happy with the level of service.

To start your POS research, I recommend reading our article on the best POS systems for coffee shops.

Final Thoughts

There are so many things to consider when starting any business, particularly a business in the restaurant industry. However, as long as you have a solid business plan and financing in place, the rest is really just details. Opening a coffee shop is a practical choice for a lot of prospective business owners, as there will always be demand for good coffee and a place to drink it. Not only that, but it’s also a choice that will allow you to express your individuality and become a vibrant part of the local community in a way that many business types aren’t suited for.

If all this sounds good to you, I encourage you to get started so you can open the go-to coffee shop in your city before someone else does.

Oh, and don’t forget the free WiFi!

The post How To Start And Fund A Coffee Shop appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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