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9 pros and cons of being an online business owner

Most people know that being an online business owner can be lucrative, but few actually grasp just how much money is being made out there in the e-commerce world. According to a top investment firm, e-commerce in 2022 is worth a staggering $3.3 trillion worldwide, and is projected to rise to $5.4 trillion over the next four years. While that’s a stunning growth rate, what’s more amazing is how easy it is to get into the game. 

In some cases, you can launch an online business in a single day using only your laptop. Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re destined to start the next Amazon. It’s extremely competitive out there, and if your business fails, it can take the rest of your financial security down with it, especially if you rack up a lot of debt.

The bottom line is that there are pros and cons to being an online business owner, and whether it’s the career path for you is going to depend on your goals, your talents, and, let’s face it, a lot of luck. Let’s look at some of the positive and negative aspects of being an online business owner!

Pros

Mobility

One of the most extraordinary quality-of-life benefits of being an online business owner is that you aren’t chained to a desk in an office — you can work from anywhere in the world. And with amazing countries such as Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Croatia, and many others offering “digital nomad” visas to international remote workers, you can easily run your dream business from a dream location. 

Low startup costs

Before the internet, starting a business meant leasing a storefront and commercial space, outfitting the space, hiring employees, and a lot of other expensive “behind the scenes” work. Today, starting an online business can be done for as little as registering a website and paying a freelancer to whip up some copy. Using Shopify to manage your online storefront is affordable, and if you use dropshipping or a fulfillment service, you won’t need to lease expensive warehouse space to store your inventory. 

The fact that you don’t have to lay out a lot of cash on a physical space can have a multiplying effect on your prospects for success. After all, brick-and-mortar businesses have to factor all those overhead costs into their prices. Since you don’t have the same expenses, you can beat them on price!

Global reach

When you have a brick-and-mortar business, the conventional wisdom is that you’ll pull in customers from within a 25-mile radius. In some businesses, or in super dense areas, you may pull customers from an even smaller area.

With an online business, you can potentially win any customer who sees your ads or marketing — which, in the social media era, means you can pull in business from nearly anywhere in the world.

Optimization through tech

In the pre-internet days, it was tough to find out what customers wanted. You either had to convene a focus group or physically survey customers. Both methods were expensive, time-consuming, and unreliable since there’s a disconnect between what people will tell you they want and what they actually want.

Today, it’s much easier to learn about customer behavior. Data collection and analytics can reveal actual customer preferences and map out their behavior in real-time, while new online management tools can help you mobilize efficiently. This is all incredibly useful when it comes to helping you optimize the customer experience, and customize your ads and marketing material.

Cons

A slow launch

Opening a brick-and-mortar store can be slow in the beginning, but most businesses can still get business just from foot traffic. In the beginning of your online business venture — before your website is fully indexed and ranked by Google — it’s going to be very difficult for you to drum up any business. Typically, Google takes 6 to 12 months to index a new website, so you should plan on the first year being pretty slow — and make plans to earn money on the side.

Extremely competitive

We just touched on how easy it is to start an online business. Well, the downside of that accessibility is that a lot of other people have started online businesses — and you’re competing with all of them. There are so many other online businesses right now that your chief concern shouldn’t be competing with them on quality — but just figuring out how to stand out from the huge crowd. That’s why many experts suggest building your business up a little before you take the plunge and abandon your day job.

You need some tech skills

If you open a brick-and-mortar business, you’ll have to either build the space out yourself or pay someone else to do it. The same applies to an online business. 

You’ll need to build an attractive, functional website where your customers can see your product and communicate with you. This website is likely going to be how you make your initial impression on customers, so it has to look legitimate, and convey your values and aesthetic. 

You need to be nimble and responsive

If you’re active on social media, you probably know that everything moves faster in the internet age. Trends that used to last years may only last for a single season now, and customer behavior can change, en masse, in the blink of an eye. For example, if a real estate startup begins offering home buyer rebates, all of its competitors have to adapt, or they’ll rapidly start losing business.

You’ll have the data to track these shifts, but you’ll also need the confidence and decisiveness to change course when you think you see the winds shifting. Hesitate, and you could lose your entire market to your competitors.

Customers appreciate solidity

It’s not that online businesses lack credibility — it’s more like brick-and-mortar businesses benefit from having a tangible, physical presence. The fact that a customer of a brick-and-mortar establishment can go to the store, browse and handle the merchandise, and talk to an employee (or a manager) can give them a peace of mind that might be lacking when they deal with an online-only business. 

There’s also the credibility issue. A physical business represents a history and a real investment, while an online business, especially if it’s new (and most are), could just be a slick website with nothing behind it. This is why online reviews are so important — they’re the closest thing an online business can get to proof of legitimacy.

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12 Marketing Tips for Businesses with a Niche Audience

The riches are in the niches, as the saying goes, and there’s a lot of truth in that. For example, a conventional real estate agent may have a huge potential client base, but they also face a ton of competition. On the other hand, a flat fee MLS service may only appeal to a narrow demographic, but it can absolutely dominate that niche market, since there’s little competition.

Businesses catering to a niche audience have unique challenges and advantages that set them apart from businesses targeting a broader market. Niche audiences are more discerning, more fickle, and more sensitive to things like authenticity, small shifts in brand identity, and product quality. So how do you put together an effective market strategy to help you corner a niche market? Here are our 12 best tips.

Know Your Market

It may sound like stating the obvious, but you should learn as much about your market as possible. Analyze your niche market going back five to 10 years, paying particular attention to trends, which are the best natural mechanism for spreading product awareness. If you can get a grasp on trends and where they’re going, that will give you a leg up in terms of growth and scalability.

Know Yourself

Equally as important as knowing your market is knowing who you are, as a brand. Defining your brand is always important, but it’s exponentially more important in a niche market. You’ll want to have a unified brand vision and strategy that encompasses everything from your messaging to your visual aesthetic. After all, you can’t sell your product to the market until you define what that product is.

Follow Your Intuition

That being said, don’t let trends completely determine your marketing strategy. As we will touch on later, authenticity is of paramount importance in a niche market, so you’ll want to rely on your instincts here. Don’t betray your authentic creative vision just for a passing buzz!

Follow the Data

There’s so much valuable consumer data available today, and you’d be remiss if you didn’t take full advantage. If there’s a downside to the data revolution, it’s that there’s almost too much consumer data out there now — to the point that you may have to consult with an expert just to contextualize and decipher it all. 

Make sure you conduct copious market research, sales prospecting, and that you comb through all the relevant consumer data and trends to figure out how, exactly, you’re going to target your niche audience. 

Don’t Overlook the Competition

Your competitors are, yes, the competition — but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot to teach you. Analyzing how your competitors engage the market can tell you a lot about what does — and could — work in terms of marketing strategy. Don’t waste time reinventing the wheel when you can glean valuable intelligence from your rivals!

Don’t Launch With a Product That’s Still in Beta

You’ve probably heard the saying, “you only get one chance to make a first impression,” and that’s especially true when it comes to a niche market. In a comparatively smaller market, launching a buggy, unrefined product can permanently sour your image with your entire target audience. It can be tempting to rush to market when the clock is ticking and you’re running on small business loans, but this early refinement pays off down the line. Take the time to really drill down into what makes your product special, and make sure it’s polished and presented in as user-friendly a manner as possible — before you launch. 

Always Be Fine-Tuning

Continually evaluate your marketing strategy and business plan. If your latest attempts aren’t landing properly, tweak them immediately. Always monitor your metrics, and don’t be afraid to make necessary changes, even if they’re small. Entire multimillion-dollar companies have been built on offering slightly lower-than-average real estate commissions. 

Social Media and Influencers Are Key

One advantage of catering to a niche audience is that it’s small and easily definable. That means that the niche market’s influencers will have an outsized, well, influence in that market. A key early endorsement could make or break your business. A huge plank of your marketing strategy, then, is going to be determining who the major, authentic influencers are in that niche market, and partnering with them

Quality Beats Quantity in a Niche Market

Resist the temptation to scale up as quickly as possible. In a niche market, consumers are extremely sensitive to quality, and any quality sacrifices you make in order to ramp up growth will be felt by your target market. 

Focus on refining your product to relentlessly meet the needs and preferences of your target consumer, and when you do embark on a growth phase, never endanger your reputation with a dropoff in quality.

Know Your Market Intimately

A niche market is small, so it can be tough to figure out, at first, how exactly you want to differentiate yourself from the competition. The good news, however, is that your target market will tell you what they need. You just have to know how to listen. 

Spend quality time in the niche market and its communities (online and in real life), and listen to what they want. Sometimes, the biggest innovations are built on the most basic ideas: For example, multibillion-dollar online brokerage Redfin was built on the very simple insight that people want to pay less in closing costs — something that anyone could have learned if they’d just listened to home buyers.

Don’t Lose Your Authenticity

Businesses that appeal to a broad, general audience can afford to have a more bland presence, but a niche brand has to be memorable, well-defined and, above all, authentic. Your brand’s authenticity might be the biggest single factor in its eventual success or failure. Instead of envisioning your brand’s interaction with your niche audience as a two-way exchange, think of your brand as a part of the culture that your niche audience identifies with. When you think of it that way, the importance of authenticity becomes clear. 

Take Big Swings

Once you’ve done your market research, spent time in your niche communities, talked to your target market about what they want and need, and put together a rock-solid business plan and market strategy, it’s time to make big, bold moves. If you’ve put in the work, don’t be afraid to take big swings, and unleash your passion — you may turn a profit a lot faster than you projected.

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8 Quick Ways to Update an Outdated Website

Entrepreneurship demands substantial time and focus. There are so many responsibilities to take care of that it’s easy to fall into a “set it and forget it” mindset when it comes to your website. Unfortunately, this is a quick way to lose the attention of potential clients and customers. 

Think of your website as a digital business card. This is the first stop for someone interested in the services or products you offer. Additionally, search engines favor websites that are well maintained and up to date. That means you’re likely to appear higher in search results for keywords that pertain to your business.

If you’re in a highly competitive industry (think real estate or sales), it’s essential to put your best foot forward. The more clicks you get, the more likely you are to drum up new business. Ready to get to work? Here are eight quick ways to improve your website today. 

1. Update Your Design to Reflect Current Trends

Like anything else, web trends come and go as technology improves. The design of your website should reflect today’s style. 

This should include a user-friendly navigation bar and several different pages or sections that explain who you are, the services you provide, and the best way to get in touch. A digital portfolio that demonstrates your expertise is also helpful to have. 

While an eye-catching color palette or custom graphics are beneficial, the most important part of website design is having clean and concise formatting. 

2. Start a Blog

Blogging is no longer considered a diary for YouTubers and other online personalities. Maintaining a high-quality blog with relevant industry information is one of the best forms of digital marketing. 

According to search engine data, having a blog on your website increases your chances of ranking higher by a staggering 434%.

While it may feel like a daunting task, use your expert knowledge to produce content that will inform. Average blog posts fall somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 words, but there are many ways to simplify the process. Posts in the form of lists perform well, making it easy to provide results-driven content. 

3. Take Advantage of SEO Practices

SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” Although the term focuses on website traffic, SEO is customer-centric. It enables us to better understand what people are searching for and the types of content they prefer to engage with. 

Although you can hire an SEO professional to assist with keyword research and analytics, there are several free and low-cost tools available. Keywords are phrases that people search for if they’re browsing businesses like yours. Using the right keywords thoughtfully will help your website rank higher in a search. 

Be sure to end each blog post with a powerful CTA (call-to-action). This is a short phrase that encourages your audience to take a certain step. Whether this is making an appointment or a purchase, it typically includes a clickable link. Most marketing professionals also encourage making your CTA easy to find with bold fonts, contrast colors, or a button. 

4. Include Visual Multimedia and Tools

Gone are the days of long blocks of text and a simple stock photo. Websites have come a long way, and today, they’re interactive and highly dependent on multimedia. 

Whether your industry lends itself to video or other forms of imagery, look for opportunities to create an engaging experience for your website visitors. 

For example, a real estate agent may choose to incorporate a user-friendly commission calculator. A retailer may use interactive shopping cart buttons to engage with customers browsing for items.

5. Check for Responsiveness and Speed 

Slow websites can instantly distract from even the greatest content. If users find it difficult to move across the various sections of your website, they’re more likely to close the browser. Click through your pages and ensure they’re responsive and loading in a timely manner.

In addition to engaging people instantly, a faster website will appear higher in search engines. Again, modern technology makes it imperative to keep up with trends and usefulness.

6. Make It Mobile Friendly

We all spend more time on our phones than ever before. When people visit your website from a mobile device, can they navigate with ease? If not, you risk losing their attention before they even find the information they need. 

A professional web designer can work with you to create a website that has the right formatting across the board, regardless of device type. If you’re looking to do it on your own, there are templates available through providers such as WordPress, Weebly, and Wix. 

7. Capture Visitor Information 

Who are your visitors? What are they looking for? How can you help them? 

These are important questions to answer because it will impact your business, let alone the content you provide.

Give your website visitors a way to stay in touch. For example, request an email address with the promise of special offers or business updates. This can be in the form of a pop-up or a designated box at the bottom of the page. 

Don’t forget to also include links to your various social media pages. This is another great way to stay in touch with your customers or clients. 

8. Monitor Your Competitors 

Keep an eye on the competition to ensure you’re offering the ideal experience for your customers (both on and off your website). 

Identify which companies are like yours and visit their websites from time to time to uncover any new tactics or features. Although you want to stand out, it’s important to know that you’re keeping up with other businesses in your industry. 

Put Your Best Foot Forward

After you’ve revamped your website, it’s important to maintain it. Set a date to review it once per month. This can be a simple run-through to ensure all of your links are working and loading times are optimal. In addition, set an annual review date to freshen your content and build a plan for blog posts and other additions to your website.

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10 Ways to Improve Your Office’s Work Environment

The world works much different than it did a few years ago. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many options for making employment more flexible. 

Whether your employees are remote or in the office five days a week, fostering a positive environment is critical. In fact, statistics show that happy employees are 12% more productive than the average worker. 

Everyone reaps the benefits of a great work environment, and the good news is, it’s possible to create regardless of the format. Here are tips for every employment setup.

The In-Office Experience

Relaxation may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about work, but it should be. It’s important for workers to feel comfortable in the workplace, especially when it comes to highly creative employees. These are ideas you can adopt right away.

Establish Social Zones

Most people are naturally social creatures, even in the workplace. After all, many employees spend more time with their co-workers than they do with their own family members. It helps to create special areas to foster camaraderie and connection. 

Perhaps your office has a deck or patio where you can place tables and chairs for people to enjoy lunch together. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. A pingpong table in the break room? Corn hole in a low-traffic hallway? Nothing is off limits. 

Just be sure to keep socialization in an area that won’t disturb other workers when they’re busy. 

Provide a Variety of Workspace Options

Give your employees the choice between a cubicle or an open format. You may even want to consider standing desks for those who prefer to stretch their legs while completing their tasks. 

Employees love to customize their personal workspace, so encourage them to decorate their desk in a way that helps them express their personality. From family photos to artwork and mementos, it will help them feel more at home at the office. 

Plus, the decor could serve as a great conversation starter among teammates.  

Embrace Natural Lighting 

There’s nothing like vitamin D when it comes to boosting positivity and employee well-being. If you have the option, rely on windows for natural sunlight and fresh air, when weather permits. This is one of the best ways to avoid an office that feels dark or depressing. 

If you don’t have the luxury of adding windows to your space, lighting technology has luckily come a long way. Invest in overhead lights or even desk lamps that use bulbs designed to mimic natural daylight.

Declutter to Promote Focus

The minimalist movement is all about a tidy and stress-free way of living. Less clutter naturally leads to more productivity because there’s less to clean up. What’s more, people can think more clearly when you remove distractions. 

Storage is key to cleaning and removing clutter. Provide plenty of file cabinets, drawers, and other spaces to store personal and work-related items.

If you want to take it a step further, look for cord organizers and charging stations to ensure a clean aesthetic. 

Create Special Moments

Certain occasions can bring people together. It can be as simple as bringing a cake to celebrate someone’s birthday or allowing employees to bring their pets to work. This allows everyone to get to know each other better and provides something to look forward to. 

The Remote Model

Many teams have transitioned to a fully remote model of work. Although this often presents challenges, many employees love the flexibility, as well as the comfort of working from home. Here are ways to embrace the work-from-home model and make it better.

Provide Opportunities to Connect

If your team works from home, but you all live in the same city that’s friendly to remote workers, try to plan events that provide time for everyone to connect. Whether it’s a happy hour or a team-building community service event, it can be helpful to get everyone together a few times a year. Besides helping newcomers put faces to names, it will also help your team feel more cohesive while collaborating.

Be Flexible 

One of the primary reasons people love remote work is because it provides flexibility. Busy parents can take their kids to school before logging on for the day. Avid runners can spend their lunch breaks jogging around the neighborhood. Many employees seek remote work to avoid losing minutes, or even hours, to a commute. 

Embrace this with your employees, and be respectful of nontraditional work hours and lifestyles. Employees think diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is important, and it helps strengthen the team as whole. 

Foster Mentorship

Encourage your teammates to act as mentors to each other, even outside of work. In other words, have co-workers help each other through major life events.

Whether they’re searching for their perfect first home with a stellar office area or they’re listing their home on the market so they can have more space, offer advice and recommendations when you can. This can help foster better connections and create a mutually beneficial personal and professional environment.

Focus on Communication

The effectiveness of remote work depends upon great communication skills. Your team should find various ways to stay in touch. 

For many companies, direct messaging apps are handy for facilitating quick questions or making small talk. This helps everyone maintain a clean and concise email inbox that isn’t bogged down with endless emails. Plus, it improves response time for brief reminders. 

Offer Praise and Encouragement 

When you’re working with people in person, it’s easy to pop into their office or cubicle and say thanks or give credit where it’s due. Unfortunately, this can fall by the wayside with remote work. 

Don’t forget to go out of your way to show appreciation for your colleagues. A simple thank you note can go a long way when someone has taken the time to help you. This promotes a healthy and positive work environment.

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Habits of Successful HR Departments

Great HR departments do a little of everything— they coordinate with the CEO on salaries and hiring, pick out the snacks in the break room, help the new hire who’s relocating find a house, and a lot more. They’re the architect of the company’s culture, a sympathetic ear for the kid in Marketing who’s having a bad week, and often the only thing protecting employees from their horrible bosses.

So how do they do it? Like any kind of success, HR success is built on habits. Let’s go over some of the habits that can make — or break — your HR department.

Culture is key

So much of an HR department’s work depends on company culture. A healthy, well-defined company culture only needs a light touch from HR, while an ambiguous or unhealthy one is going to generate friction, discontent, and inefficiency — making everyone’s job a lot tougher.

So how do you define and build a company culture? First, you have to understand the values, goals, and beliefs that define the company. If you’re a tech company, maybe you want to chase innovation and disruption; if you’re a real estate company, maybe you’re trying to save sellers and buyers money. This is where the company’s vision and mission statements come in. These documents are like a country’s constitution; they lay out the rules and structures. 

Once these are defined, HR’s job is to make sure these values are built-in to everything they do. For example, hiring impacts company culture — candidates should be evaluated on their ability to add to the company’s existing culture and share a similar vision.

Get leadership on board

It’s a lot easier to build a thriving company culture when you’ve got buy-in from the top. A savvy HR department works closely with upper management to coordinate on company policies that reflect company values, as well as peripheral issues like compliance. A supportive and unified front from management will make sure things run smoothly, and encourage buy-in at the employee level.

Listening solves a lot of problems

When employees come to you to complain, always listen to them — and listen well. Often, employees will tell you exactly where the friction points and problem areas are in your workplace, essentially helping you do your job. Whether it’s just one or several employees sharing a complaint, be mindful of the long-term ramifications of not taking action. It serves a company well to engage with employees’ pain points regularly to maintain employee wellness and prevent burnout.

On the other hand, sometimes employees just want to vent. In these cases, listen, sympathize, and acknowledge. You may not need to take any further action; often, the mere act of listening is enough to dissipate an employee’s discontent and prevent the situation from escalating. Be sure to ask employees what a solution looks like for them.

Remember that rules are made to be broken (occasionally)

Which philosopher said, “there can be no justice without exceptions”? Whoever he was, he must have worked in HR. While one of HR’s most important responsibilities is to enforce company policy, a smart HR executive knows when to bend the rules and make an exception. Employees don’t like to feel subject to arbitrary, inflexible authority, and in times of high stress, like product launches or right before big deadlines, a few small exceptions can cultivate a lot of goodwill.

That being said, every company has fundamental policies that, if broken, should always lead to consequences. A smart HR executive knows when to make an exception and when not to.

Keep an eye on the big picture

Successful HR departments don’t restrict themselves to reductive definitions of HR— the minutiae of hiring, payroll, culture, and training. While those are all vital to the smooth functioning of a company, a great HR department has the vision to match the company’s. 

That means you should have a general understanding of how each level of the company operates, who its most important clients and customers are, the various products and services offered, and even an idea of the market landscape. The better you know the company, the more effectively you can help achieve your collective goals. And exhibiting this kind of deep knowledge is one of the most effective ways of exhibiting your department’s value.

Don’t withhold praise

Company culture exists to produce positive outcomes — so when you see those positive outcomes happening, make sure you acknowledge them! Your top sales leaders may be raking in the commission, but a pat on the back from HR is arguably just as meaningful for their job satisfaction.

Praise makes employees feel good, drives their motivation and morale, and lets them know you notice their good work. It draws a straight line between company culture and its benefits — for everybody. Acknowledging employee accomplishments with praise is the secret to turning your company culture into an organic, self-sustaining organism.

Act as a role model

The best way to encourage positive employee behaviors is to demonstrate them yourselves. Employees look to HR for leadership, so HR professionals should make a conscious effort to embody the behaviors and values they’re trying to cultivate. 

On the other hand, if they fail to exhibit the behaviors they’re trying to encourage, they could seem hypocritical — and employee morale and buy-in will surely remain low.

Don’t overlook your fellow employees when hiring

When a position opens up, always begin your candidate search internally. This is important for two reasons.

One, your employees will notice if you begin your search externally. It will make them feel that you don’t value them and that you don’t have their interests in mind. This can hasten talent loss. On the other hand, if they feel appreciated and have a sense that there’s the possibility of upward mobility, you will retain that top-quality talent.

The second reason is that, unless you’re looking for a candidate with very specialized skills that can’t be found within the company, your best candidate is almost certainly in-house. If you’ve cultivated a strong company culture it’s extremely unlikely that anyone from outside the company will have a better appreciation for and understanding of that company culture than someone who’s already under the same roof. 

Hold everyone accountable

The other side of praise is accountability. Just as employees who exemplify or uphold company values deserve recognition, ones who undermine policies or break regulations should be held fully accountable for their actions. Your workforce will notice when you let a transgression slide, and if they sense you’re not committed to a rule or policy, it will be hard to make them respect it. 

Accountability especially applies to upper management. If employees sense there’s one standard for the employees, and another standard for management, morale will quickly decline.

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