How To Fix Your Startup Cash Flow Problems

You already know that you’re going against the odds by running a startup; only 20 percent of new businesses survive past their first year of operation, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What you may not realize is that many of these businesses fail because of cash flow problems. Not failure to have a great product. Not staffing the right talent. Not the competition. Businesses fail because cash flow becomes a problem and that hinders a startup’s ability to grow, compete and take it to the next level.

So let’s talk about cash flow for a minute here. Whether your business is humming along or you’ve already got trouble with cash flow, it is important to stay on the right side of the cash flow issue at all times.

Here’s how you do it.

Get Payment Up Front

One mistake that startups often make in the rush to get clients and generate revenue is taking on work before payment comes in.

Even if you have committed clients or customers and a clear paper trail of products sold and services rendered, collecting payment after work has been performed creates an ongoing collections headache and often leads to a cash crunch. You may have revenue booked, but that doesn’t help you maintain the needed operating capital.

If you want to protect cash flow, make sure that your terms include payment prior to shipment or work from a retainer or pay-in-advance structure where customers hand you the money before your startup puts in the work. This turns a cash flow crunch into a cash flow surplus because you get paid prior to rendering your services.

Sync Your Credit Terms

A second way to keep your cash flow from becoming a problem is by making sure that your invoicing is in tune with your payments to suppliers and contractors.

For instance, you might give customers 30 days to pay for your services, but the contractors serving your business work from a retainer structure that requires payment a month in advance. With the typical startup having income cycling up and down over the course of several months, having credit terms out of sync can quickly create a cash flow issue.

“If the credit terms you have set your customers are out of sync with the credit terms set by your suppliers, negative cash flow can build up and worsen over time,” notes a recent Growth Capital Solutions blog post on the topic.

Talk with your suppliers and contractors about payment that is inline with your billing practices to avoid this crunch, or consider adjusting your payment terms to your expenses if that’s not possible.

Practice Better Invoicing

Equally or more important than syncing credit terms is actually issuing invoices reliably to customers. Booking revenue is great, but startups often get in trouble when they take this booked revenue for granted and don’t issue timely invoices for payment.

Make sure you have a system in place to automatically invoice and track payment, and make sure you add urgency to these invoices.

“When you delay invoicing, it’s easier for the client to also delay their payment,” notes a blog post by free invoicing solution, Invoice Ninja.

“This is not necessarily malicious on their part,” notes the company. “It’s just that business owners and employees are busy and might see your late invoice as something to complete later rather than sooner, due to your own lack of urgency.”

Watch Your Gross Margins

Your sales might be solid, but you still can have cash flow issues if you don’t have large enough gross margins around your product or service. Are your margins really enough to support the operating capital to run your business?

“Small businesses sometimes sell their products and services for such low prices that they have low, or negative, gross margins,” notes a recent blog post by Commercial Capital. “This scenario often happens in highly competitive environments with constant pricing pressure. It usually affects small business owners who do not have a clear understanding of their costs.”

What you need to watch is calculate the all-inclusive cost of your product or service to make sure that you actually have healthy enough margins to keep the business running. Many startups set a price and get surprised when they discover that their back-of-envelope calculation on margins is not actually correct in practice.

If this is the case for your startup, reevaluate your proposal pricing or consider cost-cutting or raising prices to avoid a cash flow issue.

Cut Down on Overhead Expenses

Finally, mind your operating expenses.

As a startup, you undoubtedly are already familiar with the growth strategy for making a business profitable. Don’t forget the other side of the coin, however: you can make a business successful not only by expansion of market share but also by cutting costs. Efficiency with overhead expenses is a dark art that not only helps with profits, but also with cash flow.

Learn this art of cost-cutting when it comes to overhead. If costs are low, your business can maintain a positive cash flow even when sales are down.

The trick is separating expenses that are absolutely necessary for your product or service from those that are theoretically necessary for your company but might not actually be that important. This includes online services that aren’t strictly necessary, communications platforms that overkill, and things like travel expenses that aren’t strictly necessary.

Until your business has truly made it off the ground and cash flow is healthy, get stingy with these overhead expenses that may be nice but not strictly necessary. They can sap your cash flow quietly if not watched closely.

Don’t let your startup be part of the business failure statistics. Mind your cash flow.

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Preparing Your Startup for Growth

So your once-small startup has found a viable market niche, and you’re beginning to see an increase in demand as well as opportunities to expand. That’s a good thing, right?

It is if your startup’s foundation is solid, and the company has been configured for scalability. If it’s not, growth will be painful and may require you to reinvent your business, which costs time and money. Doing it right the first time can prevent headaches.

Following are some tips for building a truly scalable startup that will be poised to grow when opportunities arise.

Don’t Skip the Mission Statement

The earliest efforts of the first employees of a startup may shape the future of the company, so it’s critical that everyone is pulling in the same direction. Many companies skip a formal mission statement–considering it time-wasting fluff–or they ignore the one they do have.

By creating a mission statement that outlines your company’s short- and long-term goals, you can help everyone remain focused on the important hurdles. A well-crafted mission statement also is an important tool for attracting high-quality employees, according to HR consultant Daryoosh Dehestani writing for TechRasa.

“Nowadays, employees prefer to work for the best companies that let them thrive both professionally and personally,” he wrote. “With an effective mission, startups could define a competitive vision to provide a mutual understanding with their employees.”

Get Your Hiring Goals in Order

While it may be tempting to use your hiring budget on people with brilliant technical minds, remember that you will need leaders to grow. This means you’ll need employees with people skills and practical experience, and not just tech wizards.

Rely on any relationships you have with industry influencers for staff recommendations, and give some thought to what kind of leadership style you want.

“There are many leadership styles out there that may have worked well in the past, including authoritarian and paternalistic,” wrote startup mentor Marty Zwilling for Huffington Post. “But in this new age of relationships, these often work against your business. There is more and more evidence that a more ‘human-centered’ or ‘heart-centered leadership’ yields the best results with your team and with customers in the long run.”

Look for Software That Grows with You

While there are a lot of free business solutions and apps out there, not all of them are going to be able to grow with a company. You don’t want to become reliant on a solution that you’ll need to abandon when you hire your eleventh employee.

This is particularly important when it comes to sales and marketing. There are many low-cost solutions that can help you build the foundation of your customer relationship management (CRM) correctly so you’re well-poised to grow when your business takes off.

“Today your business may be small,” wrote Maya Pillai of Apptivo, a marketing and sales automation solution provider. “But tomorrow it may grow to become a large entity. The desirable CRM should be scalable. Buying another CRM tool later will require extra investment in terms of time, training employees and money.”

Don’t Skimp on Marketing

In addition to the core production of your product or service offering, all you need are salespeople, right? This is a common mistake made by many startups. In truth, marketing should be “baked in” to a company’s operations from the beginning, and it’s about more than just a Twitter account.

Content marketing in the form of blogs, white papers and videos is one of the most scalable marketing vehicles when it comes to growing startups. It can be tailored precisely to support your brand, your company’s message and your distribution channels. It’s also the kind of thing that can be easily outsourced, with companies such as EdChief.com offering turnkey content creation at prices that startups and SMBs can afford.

“Every business is in the media business now,” says EdChief.com founder and former journalist, Peter Kowalke. “Thought leadership is crucial for standing out and driving the conversation.”

Automate What You Can

It may see unnecessary in the beginning when your customer roster is small and your marketing efforts rudimentary, but using automation software for sales and marketing can reap big rewards down the road.

If you do it right from the beginning, your CRM ecosystem could become your most valuable asset.

Solutions such as Apptivo, in conjunction with a CRM database, can capture leads automatically off your web site and eliminate the need for redundant data entry. They can also automate sales and marketing processes so you can keep up with your business’ growing needs.

Information entered once (or even gathered automatically) such as leads can be easily converted into email marketing campaigns, RFPs, project directives, invoices and automated follow-ups.

Automation solutions provide startups with the opportunity to easily gather, manage and analyze data on their interactions with customers, according to social media and marketing guru Lilach Bullock.

“Using this information, these businesses are then able to improve their relationships with customers, increase acquisition, and improve retention,” she wrote in a blog post for Agora Pulse. “Zoho CRM, Nutshell, and Apptivo are some of the leaders in this sub-market.”

Outsource Your Non-Core Functions

Content marketing isn’t the only function to outsource. During the early years, it’s wise to outsource all non-essential roles, including payroll, public relations and customer service. While your resources are limited, you’ll want to muster them all for activities that lead to growth.

Nobody has time to learn public relations from the ground up, and bungling the management of your IT or finances could interfere with future growth.

“It’s important to figure out which activities would bring most benefit to the company when outsourced. ‘Core’ activities are generally defined as strategic tasks that improve customer value and drive profits,” blogged Alex Yuruts of software development company Intetics. “’Non-core’ activities are generally defined as day-to-day routine tasks that add little value and are not a profit center.”

Many startups stumble or even fail because their creators rely on early success and build the foundation downward, often making it too weak to support a growing business. By building scalability into the base from the bottom up, companies will have the tools they need to enjoy their success in the future.

 








Utilizing Marketing Automation For Your Startup

These days, it’s rare to find a startup that have not at least considered implementing a marketing automation solution to drive increased revenue, and for good reason.

According to Circle Research, after 6 months of using a marketing automation solution, 8% of businesses report an increase in revenue. That number rises to 32% after one year of use, and to 40% after two years.

The longer you leverage marketing automation, the more efficient and effective your team becomes in using it, and the larger the return on your investment.

But what exactly is marketing automation? Simply put, a marketing automation solution automates a wide variety of daily marketing tasks that previously had to be done manually. It saves significant time and resources for your company, while simultaneously boosting your ability to find and convert new leads into customers.

A strong solution lets you automate the sending of emails, execution of short or long term marketing campaigns, dissemination of content based on a lead’s stage in the sales funnel, scoring and ranking of leads based on behaviors, and analysis of your efforts so you can continually improve your results.

Agile CRM, for example, is considered a leading automation solution used by small businesses to streamline their sales, marketing, and support teams. They conducted a survey amongst their customers to determine the best and most effective practices when it came to marketing automation in order to better understand the state of their customer’s marketing efforts. What they found may help calibrate your own marketing efforts.

The data from those conversations has been organized into following categories:

  • Number of emails and campaigns per week
  • What does a good email campaign look like?
  • How do most marketers track, nurture and convert leads?
  • What do most marketers present to visitors on their company’s website? 
  • What strategy do effective marketers use to keep prospects engaged while exiting the company website?
  • What are some best practices for mobile marketing?
  • How are most marketers dealing with social media?

Number of emails and campaigns per week

Most marketers Agile talked to are starting 1 or 2 new campaigns per week. On average, each campaign is sending 6 or 7 emails over the course of 3 or 4 weeks. Therefore, a total of 4 to 6 campaigns may be running in parallel at any one time. The number of contacts in each campaign varies from just a few hundred, to tens of thousands.

What does a good email campaign look like?

There are two broad KPIs most marketers measure themselves on:

  • Open Rates = Total number of emails opened, divided by total number of emails delivered
  • CTR = Total number of unique individuals who clicked on a link in the email, divided by the total number of emails delivered

Open rates of 20% or higher are considered pretty good by most marketers. Although, it really depends on the recipient list you use. If the list is well qualified (e.g. your existing users), then you should expect to see open rates at or above 20%. However, if your list is not very qualified, seeing a 20% open rate is good, though 10% is more likely.

Most marketers always place a call to action in their emails—such as a link to featured content, a link to a form, or a link back to the company website or a landing page. CTRs for well-qualified lists should be above 10%, while for unqualified lists, this number may drop to 2%.

If your open rates are lower than those mentioned above, it is time to employ A/B testing on the subject line of your emails. However, if the problem lies in a lower CTR, it is time to consider revising the body of your emails.

How do most marketers track, nurture and convert leads?

Most effective marketers have figured out how to automate and create multiple cadences for email marketing. They can score leads automatically based on user engagement, something that is easily done in Agile CRM. Therefore, good marketing teams can identify the right contacts as qualified leads who are ready to be handed over to the company’s sales team.

What do most marketers present to visitors on their company’s website?

Most of the answers to the question varied, and included the following:

  • Web forms to capture leads [the most common answer]
  • Popups, coupons, and discounts to engage anonymous visitors
  • More targeted/personalized messages to known contacts

What strategy do effective marketers use to keep prospects engaged while exiting the company website? Most marketers seem to have adopted one or both of the following strategies for prospects existing their website. They either offer smart exit intent messages to keep visitors interacting or they offer coupons or discounts where applicable, to tempt customers to at least keep looking and consider purchasing something.

What are some best practices for mobile marketing?

First and foremost, every website needs to be mobile friendly. It is easy to preview mobile views of your website on a desktop by shrinking the browser window or tab to 3.5 inches and seeing how it looks.

Second, most forward-thinking marketers are not simply using SMS, but rather have actually integrated SMS into their CRM to automate SMS campaigning. SMS campaigning produces much higher open and engagement rates than email marketing, but you must first check on the legal restrictions around the use of SMS marketing in your country.

How are most marketers leveraging social media?

Most effective marketers have decided to build their presence on 2 or 3 social networks – focusing energy and resources where their prospects hang out, rather than going after every network.

Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are the most commonly mentioned networks by Agile users, although Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat are also mentioned from time to time.

Most effective marketers have integrated their social engagement with their CRM, so that they can track and manage all customer interactions regardless of the channel.

Hopefully, your marketing efforts weigh in at the top 10% of your competitors. If not, it might be time to reevaluate whether you have the right tools to drive results—such as a new CRM, that can help your business align and automate your sales, marketing and support functions from a single platform.

Are you keeping up with your competition and automated your marketing efforts yet?








How to Embrace and Nurture the Oncoming Freelancing Economy

The marketplace has gone global. As a business, you need the ability to sell to everyone – from those in high rises in New York City to folks in towns in Missouri or the outskirts of Bangladesh.

The same goes for your workforce. The men and women on your payroll come from all walks of life, and any corner of the map.

Freelancers, once seen as as-needed employees used to buttress full-time staffers, are not only more common these days, but they make up a significant population of many business’ workers. Current estimates posit that voluntary freelancers make up 34 percent of all employees right now.

That number is going to grow. A lot.

In fact, by 2020, it’s possible that upwards of 50 percent of the world’s workforce will be comprised of freelancers.

That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Working with freelancers does present its own set of challenges, though.

“There’s a sea of uncertainty felt by a lot of managers, and business owners, because a freelancer can seem like the unknown factor on a team,” said Tony Zhao, CEO of real-time communications firm, Agora.io. “But freelance workers and remote employees are something we need to embrace, because that’s part of the next phase – the next step – as far as directing a workforce goes. It’s wildly detrimental to limit your employee pool to those who are local.”

Here’s how to navigate those waters.

  1. Focus on Productivity

As Agora’s Tony Zhao said, there are skilled workers all around the world. You can’t discount a worker who’s effective because they aren’t local. Inherent competition between companies and employees makes this doubly so – everyone is looking for stalwart workers, and workers want jobs.

That said, managing remote employees does present unique challenges. It’s not akin to anything else an office manager has dealt with. Which means your managers will need to do things a bit differently to ensure that freelancer is game.

The most critical aspect of that is communication, which itself breeds productivity.

You need to have a rapport with every member of your team. A disconnected teammate is a bored – or worse – employee. Your managers need to connect with remote workers. They need to make time for them.

Which means making time for little chats. It may seem inconsequential, but basic chatter helps remote workers feel like they’re part of the bigger picture.

It also means using video to chat. Texting is out the window. It’s not personal and it doesn’t show workers what they want: The human being to whom they’re reporting.

Skype and Google Hangouts won’t cut the mustard either – workers who are possibly too remote or on shaky networks are going to have a bad experience, which frustrates everyone involved. Focus instead on platforms such as Agora.io that deliver guaranteed quality of service.

It also means taking the time for one-on-ones. All of your workers matter, not just those in the office. A remote employee who feels like they’re part of the team – because you treat them that way – is going to do wonders for your business.

  1. Check in regularly

Have you ever felt lost and marooned, without even a basic compass, when it comes to your work day? Freelancers feel this all the time, because there’s a lack of real-time contact.

Don’t let this happen.

It might mean managers need to schedule more one-on-one sessions. It might also mean that those sessions take a considerable amount of time. That’s all right. Managers need to be dedicated to dealing with all employees, not just those in the office.

One thing is for sure, though: Never cancel on a remote employee. They’ll say it’s fine – even when it isn’t – but they miss out on a lot from the simple fact that they’re not in the office.

Don’t leave them hanging.

  1. Build trust

Freelancers need to be treated with the same caring gloves you use for in-office employees. As noted above, they inherently miss things that happen casually in the office. As well as basic conversation. But they still rely on their managers to know what’s going on.

That means you need your freelancer to trust you as much as you trust them.

The best way to deal with this is, again, showing your face and being a part of their work day, which means video contact.

As we’ve said, apps like Skype and Google Hangouts just don’t work remotely. Or, at best, they give users a disjointed experience.

  1. Balancing schedules

Remote workers work in different time zones. That’s just a fact. New York and Barcelona have employees with different hours than those in London. That might make scheduling meetings tough. That doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t. You have to find a compromise: one of you may have to get up a little earlier, or put in a little time in an evening.

Yes, it can be frustrating, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Creative thinking and give-and-take will help ease any time-zone conflicts.

  1. Fostering company culture

One of the most unique things a company can offer its employees is the fun, friendly culture of the company. People want to feel connected. That’s an issue when your workers are operating remotely.

To fix that, one largely just needs to follow the rules outlined above. It’s about mindfulness, as well as communication. When your freelancers feels like a part of the team, they will be part of the team, and they’ll do amazing things for you.

It sounds obvious, but these are all parts of a larger puzzle that managers might miss. Freelancers need to be considered part of the crew; part of the in-house workforce. Utilizing video and connective apps, it’s wholly possible to ensure that your contract or freelance workers feel like they’re in the building – and you want that.

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Four Startup Technology Trends To Look Out For in 2017

Startups often rise to greatness by taking trends and new technology and running with it in a new direction. They make the latest trends the center of their startup, or they leverage trends in combination for new products and services.

Either way, trends are important for the startup. This is especially true when it comes to tech trends.

With that in mind, and with 2017 now before us, here are four of the most important tech trends that entrepreneurs and startups should be thinking about today.

Startups Increase Their Livestreaming Endeavors

Periscope and Facebook Live are just the start. While livestreaming video apps have existed for several years now, and social media platforms are just now carrying the torch, most people have yet to  grasp the huge market opportunity and societal change that is coming as a result of livestreaming video, also known as interactive broadcasting.

For a glimpse into the future, take a peek at what is going on in China today.

As of June, roughly 46 percent of China’s internet population used a livestreaming app, and Credit Suisse projects that the personal livestreaming market in China will reach $5 billion in 2017, only $2 billion less than the market for movies in China and half the size of China’s lucrative mobile gaming market.

Livestreaming enables businesses to create content by just showing up with a performer and letting viewers guide the interaction. The technology can be used for brand promotion, content creation, community, and many other ways that are just now being invented.

In China, for instance, businesses have figured out how to monetize livestreaming by enabling viewers to get attention from performers by purchasing stickers they then give to the performer as a cash reward.

New technology and infrastructure provided by interactive broadcasting firms like Agora.io help startups add livestreaming to their app or web site easily and cost-effectively.

Startups Exploit the IoT for a Better Customer Experience

Customers are getting picky. They now come armed with more research than consumers in generations past, and they know that there usually are several options for any given product or service after a quick Google search. This means that customer experience is an increasingly important way to capture consumers.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is one way that businesses can drive heightened customer experience, and 2017 should be the year that we start seeing IoT mixed with customer service in new ways to up the game of savvy firms.

Statista predicts that there will be more than 50 billion connected devices by 2020, and $6 trillion will be invested in IoT over the next five years.

The connected car is one example of IoT used for better customer experience. Car companies can now proactively monitor almost every facet of the driving experience, including engine performance, lights, tire pressure, etc. With this IoT data, they then can send warnings and notifications to customers for maintenance or opportunities such as filling up the gas tank when passing a fueling station with cheap gas.

Even The Smallest Startups Finally Take Advantage of Big Data

Big data is the next big thing. We all know that. Currently only Fortune 500 firms usually harness big data effectively, though, since a lot of the promise of big data has traditionally required data scientists, complex Hadoop instances and fancy analytics platforms. The average business is not using big data today.

That’s set to start changing in 2017, however. A lot of startups are making big data more approachable by scaling it a little smaller and removing the complexity behind their cloud platform. This makes it more accessible for smaller firms and those without deep pockets for technology spend.

Firms such as ClearStory Data are making big data easier to use, and startups like Agile CRM are helping even one-man businesses harness their customer data for better insights.

The result is that business is going to start getting more data-focused, and all this talk of big data is going to translate into real business intelligence that businesses will use.

Startups Capitalize on Augmented Reality; Over VR…For Now

All those virtual reality goggles aside, virtual reality isn’t exactly getting the traction people predicted. As VentureBeat noted recently, virtual reality sales are not exactly hot.

What’s doing better is augmented reality, as shown by the Pokemon Go craze last summer. Goldman Sachs predicts the augmented reality market will be $80 billion market in 2025, which makes sense since the technology captures the mixture of digital with real life but without the need for the extra kit.

One area where augmented reality should be particularly hot in 2017 is the business-to-business space. Roughly 67 percent of businesses are considering augmented reality use in their enterprise, according to Tech Pro Research, with 20 percent of businesses planning to use it in 2017.

As a recent Ziff Davis article noted, “The question isn’t if there’s potential for growth, but more about how much it will grow and if there will be any limits.”

There are many trends to watch in 2017, but these four are some of the largest—and some of the trends that are most ripe for helping entrepreneurs come up with new ways to disrupt the market.

Co-Authored By:

Peter Scott is a journalist and editor who has been covering business, technology and lifestyle trends for more than 20 years. You can contact him at PeterEditorial@gmail.com. And, JT Ripton is a freelance business and technology writer out of Tampa. He loves to write to inform, educate and provoke minds. Follow him on twitter @JTRipton








4 Ways To Integrate Mobile Technology Into Your Startup

In a world filled with growing technologies and big data, companies need to adapt to consumer expectations. No longer is mobile technology only a cool trend for big companies—users everywhere are expecting it from the companies they trust with their business. Startups need to enter the game considering the role mobile technology will play in their own strategies.

Build Apps Natively

Cross-platform apps may seem easy, but they can come with a dramatic downsides. Look what happened to Facebook when they fell for the initial idea that an app could be pushed out to anyone with any device; Mark Zuckerberg called it his company’s biggest mistake. In the case of Southwest Airlines, they used a cross-platform toolkit to code and distribute their app—and it was later used as an example of the worst program in the App Store. It created a poor user experience, from functionality to navigation.

Whether you have thought about HTML5, hybrid apps or cross-platform toolkits, stop right now and think again. You need apps that are developed for each platform in a different way, like creating one designed for android tablet users who get to experience enhanced visuals on a large mobile device screen.

Rebuild Your Backend

Don’t assume that your current backend is ready to support mobile apps. You may need to completely change or upgrade it in order to give your users a top-notch experience with your app. While you might have a great infrastructure supporting your website, you may find huge snags in the change to mobile support.

One example might be a website server that tries to send 1.5MB of data per request, clogging the navigation with too much data exchange. In this case, the original structure should be set up with a maximum payload size to cap the amount of data sent (closer to 4KB).

Additionally, you will want to have a backend structure that stops mass data return (pagination), retries API calls for mobile users who may have a poor network connection, lowers latency levels for a snappier app, uses a single API call per screen through a tight server-client coupling, and has specific API version numbers to help support experiences for clients with old versions of your app.

Outsource the Design Process

You might be thinking about building your app internally, but sometimes this is not the most cost-effective way to go. There are companies that are specifically focused on building apps and websites that work with both desktop and mobile devices. From time invested to user experience satisfaction, there are many reasons to consider outsourcing the process. One way to get the kind of mobile technology your user base actually wants is to work with a proven outside company to create your apps, website technology, and programs.

Create a Mobile-Optimized Website

Many users today aren’t interested in visiting a site that has a poor mobile design. By offering responsive design or by creating a mobile-optimized site, you open your doors to a whole section of your user base which would otherwise avoid your site while browsing on their phones. As early as 2012, 72% of smartphone users told Google they wanted mobile-friendly sites, and 79% said they would go back to their search results to find another site if their first choice wasn’t set up well for their device.

Be careful not to limit your mobile site too much when you slim down the information, and always allow users to get into the full site with a back door in case they want to find something using your standard layout. IKEA, for example, formerly only offered a single bed in their mobile list of bedroom-furniture items, but now they and other sites are starting to understand that mobile users do not want to be arbitrarily restricted.

There are many other mobile technologies that can be used to help boost your business growth, including texting opportunities, social media updating, and easy payment options. As your company grows and trends develop, you will see an increased focus on the importance of mobile technology.

 








Internet Marketing & Analytics from Start to Finish – An Interview with Dunrie Greiling

After contacting the writers of the best analytics books to read next year, I was lucky enough to get a response from Dunrie Greiling, one of the authors of Internet Marketing: Start to Finish, a book about how to drive measurable, repeatable online sales with search marketing, usability, CRM and analytics.

Greiling is the owner of Scientific Ink & Consulting, and currently the Executive Director of Marketing & Web Services at Washtenaw Community College. Internet Marketing guru, Dunrie Greiling works with analysts to derive actionable meaning and recommendations from complex web data, developing strategic internet marketing plans for customers. I interviewed her on internet marketing, business and of course analytics and got her advice for wannabe analytics experts, insider business and marketing tips and how to develop successful internet marketing strategies for customers.

In your book, Internet Marketing: Start to Finish, you talk about search marketing, usability, CRM and analytics. In your experience what is the most important aspect of internet marketing?

All of them work together! If you make me pick one, I would say start with analytics.

There’s a business truism, attributed variously to Peter Drucker, Karl Pearson, and others, which is “that which is measured, improves.”

Get a baseline from which to measure progress, get your customers and site visitors informing decisions. It will drive the rest.

You’ve stated that internet marketing can be a “confusion of conflicting advice from specialists in each silo (SEO, UX, PPC, Social, brand marketing…)” in the Top 25 Analytics Books to Read in 2016. How can business owners quiet the noise and find the best mix and approach for their company?

When you’ve got conflicting advice, test alternatives “in the wild” (=on the site) when you can. Paid search landing pages are great experiment zones because they are so compartmental. Typically, these pages aren’t part of the website, so they can wander a bit from the rest of the site.  If the scale of the change/conflict is too large to experiment with online, test on paper with potential or current customers. Let customer responses guide you.

Our book includes a story about a client for whom brand was trumping SEO. This client provided child care and resisted using the word “day care” on their website. They felt that “day care” insufficiently described their service and were quite specific about disassociating themselves from that term. They let us try day care in paid search, and we were able to show them that visitors who arrived on their site using the term day care converted well, which opened the door for us to start using the word on the main site.

What happens sometimes in corporate offices is that the internal team keeps each other busy, has their own language, and quite accidentally insulates themselves from the customer. Real customer data quiets the noise and settles the arguments.

Your book also talks about ‘dangerous data’, what exactly is dangerous data and how can we avoid it?

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. As a person or a company starts digging deeper into their web data, it can be tempting to act on incomplete information or a faulty understanding.

The examples we use in the book are eliminating a campaign that was driving phone calls based on its online conversion rate and evaluating a campaign by lead quantity rather than lead quality. In both cases, the company interpreted one data point correctly (campaign A is not driving online leads, campaign B is driving lots of whitepaper downloads) but missed the context.

We’re lucky that the web is resilient and easy to change. Campaign A was unpaused when the phone calls stopped–fixing all but the missed opportunities during the test. In the case of Campaign B, looking at lead to sale metrics showed that it wasn’t resulting in useful leads, and funds for this campaign were redirected.

With your work at Pure Visibility, driving insights and actionable recommendations from complex web data, what’s the most important thing you can share with us about developing strategic internet marketing plans for customers?

I know you asked for one, but I’m going to give you two “most important” things.

  1. Measure First

At the start of a new engagement, I’m often raring to go, excited to make a difference. Yet for a new client, if their website was not properly tracked, sometimes the best thing to do is wait and collect a benchmark.

“Not properly tracked” can be subtler than no analytics installed. Sometimes it comes from a siloed analytics installation, where subdomains are tracked separately or where conversions happen on different domains altogether (when third party systems are insufficiently integrated into the site or analytics). Other times improper tracking comes when paid search or paid social campaigns are run without conversion tracking installed. Another problem is when data from customers or employees confound customer data in analytics (public entrance to a login screen, traffic from corporate offices not filtered out of the data). Sometimes the current state can be pieced together from other systems (logfiles, analytics) and sometimes you can get by through limiting how old data gets used (exclude the direct channel, for example). Sometimes you just have to wait.

If you have to wait, how long to wait is a puzzle – a month? a year? Even though it would be good to have a year of data, no one wants to wait a year. A month has been a compromise I’ve used in the past.

  1. Then Act Quickly

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just start somewhere, anywhere. Don’t wait until you have the perfect plan or the perfect website. That time and that site will never come. Messing around and getting feedback is more fun than planning for me ;). Let timeliness and the flexibility of the web work together – publish and collect data and improve and repeat.

As a self-confessed web analytics geek, what advice can you give to other web analytics geeks out there, trying to carve out a career for themselves?

My path has been an odd one: I have a doctorate in science, worked for a software company and then worked in web for the last decade. I’m not an SEO, nor a paid search expert, nor a social media aficionado, nor a designer, nor do I code regex…I appreciate all of the specialties.

I have made a profession integrating across disciplines within digital marketing. I don’t know that it is common, but I came to manage teams of marketers and web folks through project management–organizing and communicating the work of the team to clients. I started as a technical writer, and for me, the entry point to this career was a lingering feeling that projects I was on weren’t being managed well. When I spoke to one of my bosses about this, he agreed and asked me to take on the project management.

So, for advice, follow your intuition and speak up! Get yourself into trouble by taking on new responsibilities.








How WebRTC Can Help Your Startup

As a startup, there are a few assumptions we can make about you and your business.

First, we can assume that you’re so busy that your friends and romantic partner have probably cried foul. Second, your team is distributed across several geographical locations. Third, you’re innovating and redefining how a modern business runs. Fourth, money is tight (unless you’re rockin’ the venture capital, of course).

WebRTC makes sense for all of these factors, which is why startups of all stripes are adopting the real-time communications technology.

First promoted by Google, WebRTC is an emerging standard for voice, video, and file sharing, providing capabilities much like over-the-top providers such as Skype and WhatsApp. Unlike these stand-alone proprietary solutions, however, WebRTC is open-source, embraced by a wide consortium of businesses and tech partners, and doesn’t require platform-specific software, plugins, or vendor lock-in. It enables video, audio, chat, and both screen and file sharing through any modern web browser or within mobile apps through SDKs.

IDG predicts that there will be 4.6 billion WebRTC-capable devices by the end of 2016, largely on the back of the technology’s ubiquity and ease of use. Open a browser, click a link, and you immediately have real-time communication. The technology also is easy to bake into apps and websites—it only takes a few lines of JavaScript to add WebRTC functionality.

But back to why your startup should consider WebRTC—here are five of the best reasons.

  1. Easy to Use and Deploy

Before WebRTC, there were three primary ways that businesses could get video chat and unified communications functionality. They could use an OTT solution like Skype, they could go with a proprietary cloud-based solution such as GoToMeeting, or they could pony up for a business unified communications solutions such as Microsoft Lync (now becoming Microsoft Skype for Business).

WebRTC is easier than all three of these solutions. OTT and the likes of GoToMeeting require bouncing between apps to get contact info, passwords, etc., and require everyone to use the same software. Unified communications solutions like Lync require integrators and specialized knowledge to deploy. WebRTC, on the other hand, just requires passing around a URL.

  1. Innovative Sales, Customer Service, and Collaboration

A second reason why WebRTC rocks the house is for what it can do for sales and customer service.

Since WebRTC is easy to integrate into websites and apps and doesn’t require a plugin unless the user is on IE or Safari (Apple is still not on board with the standard, but there are plugins that can automatically load for this situation), it enables forward-thinking customer service. When your customers have an issue with your product or service, they can just click a button and connect with your team via video, much like Amazon does with its much-heralded Mayday button on Kindle.

Sales also can benefit, as your staff can pass potential customers a link to initiate a video session. From this, they then can demonstrate product features, answer questions in live time, and share things like PowerPoint presentations. WebRTC helps the virtual meeting finally make sense.

Your distributed workforce and mobile employees can also use WebRTC for collaboration that is much more robust than many other email and collaboration platforms. At the same time, it is easier than standardizing on an OTT platform like Skype.

  1. Mobile First

As a forward-thinking startup, you surely know that mobile rules the web. A report by eMarketer showed that 51 percent of all digital media now goes through mobile, while only 41 percent is viewed by a laptop or desktop. Each year for the past eight years, the percentage taken by mobile has grown.

As a result, optimizing for mobile devices is key. WebRTC helps because it works across all devices just like adaptive web design. Further, through the use of a WebRTC network and mobile SDK provider such as Agora.io, businesses can ensure that their real-time communications with customers are stable and can survive the variable connectivity that comes with cellular networks and global connections between countries. Agora.io intelligently routes and re-routes real-time sessions around the Internet to avoid troubled routes, and its over 65 data centers around the world bring reliable quality of experience (QoE) to real-time voice and video communications.

  1. Better Security

Just this week one of my websites was hacked (an updated WordPress install, no less). Even if you’ve never faced a hack attempt, you’re well aware that we live in a world where security matters more than ever. Yet many real-time communications solutions are not actually as secure as we expect.

That’s because the Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP) used by many solutions is not secure, and the Secure RTP (SRTP) brings the goods but is fiddly to set up in many cases, so VoIP and unified communications sometimes settle for the less-secure RTP protocol instead. They think nobody really will notice or care.

But we care; and so does Google and the standards bodies. That’s why WebRTC uses secure SRTP by default for connections. This makes it both easier and more secure than many of the alternatives.

  1. Cost Savings

While not free if your business ponies up for quality of service assurance from providers such as Agora or buys other services around WebRTC, it still is going to be less expensive than almost every other unified communications solution. This comes from it being a peer-to-peer protocol that works natively between browsers and because it is not a proprietary solution.

WebRTC not only is attractive in comparison to the competition; its easy integration with websites and lack of required software helps it save your startup money elsewhere. For instance, you can use the technology instead of a toll-free number and prospect more effectively by adding click-to-call to your promotional material.

There are other ways that WebRTC can be used by your startup, too. Since the technology is so new, many of its uses are waiting to be discovered by creative businesses. Maybe one of those businesses is yours.








5 Common Financial Mistakes Startups Should Avoid

The startup phase is an exciting time for a new business. As an entrepreneur, you look forward to making your fascinating ideas become reality. But the discouraging news is that no matter how fantastic the business concept, most startups fail as a result of poor financial choices. Success means marrying a winning brand with smart business practices and applying the power of knowledge – with good financial insight and proper preparation, you can transcend the statistics. Here are five common financial mistakes your startup should avoid at all costs.

Not Understanding Your Market

Market research should be a solid part of any long-term business effort because it gives you a big picture view of your real business prospects. You’ll know how much of a demand exists for your product or service and have a clear idea about the standard prices in your industry. You can gain unique insights about your target customer and your competition, and learn what it will take to stand out. Without a good grasp of the market you plan to break into, you will likely make poor business projections. 

Not Having Enough Startup Capital

Many new business owners start with too little capital. They unrealistically expect that their first profits will come quickly and additionally underestimate the operational expenses they must face in the meantime. They also may not budget for emergencies or an unexpected turn of events, such as malfunctioning office equipment or an urgent need for building repairs. It’s important to dream and be positive, but going in without enough money to cover planned startup expenses is like feeding yourself to crocodiles. Such a move can seriously cripple your business potential and can end up swallowing your personal assets. 

Failing to Record Cash Flow

Failing to record where and how your money comes and goes makes it hard to make realistic business forecasts. Your expenses can quickly get out of hand, and untracked sales and payments can create confusion. It’s imperative to find an accounting system that works. An inexpensive option like Sage accounting software can be a lifesaver in the long run by streamlining your accounting tasks. The quicker you can get a handle on your records, the more control you will have over your business’ financial future. 

Under-calculating the Hidden Costs of Operation

You may be a gifted entrepreneur, but when it comes to financial prudence, it can still be easy to miss the finer points. Business owners make the common mistake of projecting obvious operational costs without considering hidden and associated costs, such as accounting for the cost of a heavy-duty laser printer without budgeting possible printing expenses. Many of these undocumented figures quickly add up. Before you know it, you’re out of money before you’ve even made a sale. It’s good practice to overestimate your expenses to accommodate a sensible margin of error. 

Overspending

Entrepreneurs may be so taken with their business idea, that they end up overspending to meet a vision of perfection. They might invest in the high-end office space, instead of another more economical option. Or spend a lot on expensive design and decor, when there are thriftier high-quality alternatives. Still yet, they may make hefty, long-term contracts with service providers or hire too many employees. Overspending can quickly sink a new company. In the beginning, it’s more important to save. Once your business is stronger, you’ll have a lot more freedom to spread your wings.

Overall, you should match the higher ideals of your entrepreneurial vision with equal amounts of practicality. Your new enterprise has the potential to grow into a strong and fruitful success, but you can’t depend on a stroke of luck to get you there. You’ll need a good roadmap to track your way. Your financial decisions can mean the difference between swerving off the map and meeting realistic mile markers that ultimately allow you to excel. By doing your homework and learning how to avoid the above pitfalls, you will be well ahead of the game.








Why Your Start-Up Should Invest In a Mobile App Now

Mobile devices are one of the fastest growing consumer segments in the world right now; odds are not bad that you are reading this on a mobile device right now. Smart businesses try and keep up with changes, and the move to mobility is no exception. One of the ways in which mobile devices are changing the environment is with the introduction of mobile apps: quick little programs that sit on the phone itself and tie together a variety of internet resources and other functionalities. Here are some reasons why you should consider developing an app of your own.

It’s Where the Customers Are

One of the simplest reasons for using mobile apps as a business platform is that it is simply where the business environment is moving. Recent studies show that the smartphone and tablet platforms are booming, and more and more people are using these devices to access the Internet. These customers can be reached using mobile-optimized websites, but system-native apps work better, allowing a more nuanced customer experience. As customers learn to securely shop on their mobile devices, companies with apps will have significant advantages.

Showcase

Modern shoppers often use e-tailers and other online sources to get pricing and other information, and then go to physical storefronts, where they can see the product for themselves, to make the actual purchase. This doesn’t make an app less useful for such businesses; far from it. Instead, it means that the actual sales figures generated by a direct-sales app are only a fraction of their utility. The app may not always be the last step in the shopping chain, but sometimes, by functioning as the first stop instead, it can spur greater marketplace profile anyway.

Promotion

If your business has a physical storefront, an app provides a convenient low-cost way to engage in couponing. Offering customers good deals is a tried-and-true way to drive foot traffic to your location, and apps are capable of bringing your most loyal customers in on your bargain opportunities, as well as expanding your reach to a large customer base that has never heard of you before.

Engagement

In today’s heavily-branded environment, the business-customer relationship is more important than ever. Building a close association with the lives of those who patronize your business is key to standing out in a crowded field. Apps allow you to stay on top of your loyal repeat customers, communicating with them even in those times when they are not actually shopping with you or in your physical storefront. Blogs, notifications, and other integrated communication tools can help you relay vital information, and the location-sensitive nature of the app lets you fine-tune the targeting of your messaging to the recipients.

Customer Service

Customers like to know that they can provide feedback to the establishments they frequent, and an app consolidates those channels of communication into an easy-to-access form. A well-made mobile app includes options to contact representatives in multiple ways, from email to a direct link to the business’s phone number. These can mean more satisfied customers and, as a bonus, helps you to collect valuable information about what your consumers would like to see from your establishment, allowing you to improve your goods and services.

Scalable Costs

An app is generally cheaper to develop than a full-blown computer program, as it tends to be much smaller. Better still, businesses can venture lightly into the app field with a relatively feature-light initial offering and use the updating process to grow functionality over time if customers respond well. Savvy businesspeople know that low-risk ventures are the way to go; a mobile app, through scalability, allows you to avoid making heavy investments into a new method without first testing the waters.

Mobile computing is all the rage these days, but not every business is taking advantage. That is a shame because opportunities abound for the early adopters who use the march of technology to its fullest extent. If you own a business and are thinking of ways to up your online profile, consider a system-native mobile app to extend your reach.