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How Small, Local Businesses Can Expand Online

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How Small, Local Businesses Can Expand Online

If you run a small, local business, chances are you’ve got some sort of a website. You may even be set up to sell a few products online, here and there. But you may not have tapped the massive potential of building out a real e-commerce arm for your business. And you might not realize just how easy — or how lucrative — it’s become for small, local businesses to move online.

If you’re still mostly bound to brick-and-mortar, it’s time to consider a change. Here are some low-risk, high-reward ways to successfully scale into the digital world.

1. Do a Digital Reboot

As noted, you may already have a great website or even a decent online store. But it’s likely you could be doing much more to make it competitive with other e-commerce sites in your niche.

If it isn’t already, your site should be hosted on—or at least integrated with—a platform that’s designed for e-commerce, like Shopify, Squarespace or BigCommerce. Make sure it’s easy to use, intuitive to navigate and has a clean, simple design. It might be worth having a specialist conduct a user experience audit.

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Perhaps most importantly, ensure your site is optimized for mobile users. Remember that 91% of Americans ages 18 to 49—likely the bulk of your target customers—shop on their smartphones. Most web design platforms let you convert your desktop designs to mobile layouts almost automatically. But you still need to make sure the mobile version is attractive and usable.

2. Leverage the Power of Online Testimonials

Getting good product reviews on your site and on other platforms can do wonders for your business. Consumers don’t trust brands, but they trust other people’s experience of a brand or product. Positive reviews can be just as effective as hearing directly from people they know in real life.

Smallbiz Technology recommends that businesses feature reviews and testimonials directly on their website and social media channels, natch. But they also note that positive reviews on third-party sites like Google, Yelp, and Trustpilot can generate tons of traffic.

To encourage customers to write reviews, they suggest offering customers free products or discounts as incentives. But note that if you sell products through a marketplace like Amazon, exchanging gifts for reviews could violate their policies. Alternatively, you can reach out and simply ask customers who like your product to take a moment to do a short write-up.

3. Offer Convenient Payment and Shipping Options

Your customer won’t buy from you online if you don’t make it as easy for them as shopping on Amazon. It’s imperative to offer fast, free or cheap shipping and eliminate any trace of friction from the shopping experience. The smallest details can send a customer packing even when they were already pretty serious about making a purchase.

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Whatever you do, don’t force your customers to create an account before checkout. That’s one of the fastest ways to turn a ready-to-buy customer into one who’s just closed your site’s browser tab. It’s also vital to offer a number of convenient payment options, including PayPal, Apple Pay and Google Pay in addition to the standard credit cards.

Packing and shipping your own orders in-house may save you money when you’re just starting out. But as a small business, you don’t have the infrastructure to keep doing that at scale. Eventually, you’ll need to contract with a third-party fulfillment service. Shopify offers its own in-house option and maintains a list of other recommended fulfillment services you can try.

4. Be Smart About Email Marketing and Social Media

One advantage you have as a small local business owner is that you already have a devoted following. You’ve got people in your corner who support your business and want to see it flourish. If you create content that speaks to your biggest champions, they’ll be excited to share it with others.

Email marketing remains one of the best ways to drive engagement and sales for your brand. After all, it’s one of the few forms of brand communication that customers actually enjoy receiving. Still, carefully consider your content—you don’t want to irritate your loyal fans with ads for the same old products. Use email to make announcements, share informative blog posts or offer valuable discounts. That’s the kind of content your devotees will be happy to pass along to their friends.

Social media is likewise a powerful tool for bonding with current customers and reaching new ones. This is especially true if you actively engage with users, such as responding to Instagram comments or stitching videos on TikTok. Partnering with influencers through a platform like Grin or Afluencer could also help drive engagement.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

As recently as five or 10 years ago, small businesses had to transition to e-commerce on their own. They needed their own systems for everything from packing and shipping to handling customer service to accepting credit card payments.

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All that has changed. Now, there’s an easy, affordable third-party solution for just about any e-commerce problem you can think of. You’ve already got a small, likely overworked staff. Don’t make them—or yourself—create systems from scratch when there’s probably a ready-made solution a short Google search away.

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Snapchat Explores New Messaging Retention Feature: A Game-Changer or Risky Move?

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Snapchat Explores New Messaging Retention Feature: A Game-Changer or Risky Move?

In a recent announcement, Snapchat revealed a groundbreaking update that challenges its traditional design ethos. The platform is experimenting with an option that allows users to defy the 24-hour auto-delete rule, a feature synonymous with Snapchat’s ephemeral messaging model.

The proposed change aims to introduce a “Never delete” option in messaging retention settings, aligning Snapchat more closely with conventional messaging apps. While this move may blur Snapchat’s distinctive selling point, Snap appears convinced of its necessity.

According to Snap, the decision stems from user feedback and a commitment to innovation based on user needs. The company aims to provide greater flexibility and control over conversations, catering to the preferences of its community.

Currently undergoing trials in select markets, the new feature empowers users to adjust retention settings on a conversation-by-conversation basis. Flexibility remains paramount, with participants able to modify settings within chats and receive in-chat notifications to ensure transparency.

Snapchat underscores that the default auto-delete feature will persist, reinforcing its design philosophy centered on ephemerality. However, with the app gaining traction as a primary messaging platform, the option offers users a means to preserve longer chat histories.

The update marks a pivotal moment for Snapchat, renowned for its disappearing message premise, especially popular among younger demographics. Retaining this focus has been pivotal to Snapchat’s identity, but the shift suggests a broader strategy aimed at diversifying its user base.

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This strategy may appeal particularly to older demographics, potentially extending Snapchat’s relevance as users age. By emulating features of conventional messaging platforms, Snapchat seeks to enhance its appeal and broaden its reach.

Yet, the introduction of message retention poses questions about Snapchat’s uniqueness. While addressing user demands, the risk of diluting Snapchat’s distinctiveness looms large.

As Snapchat ventures into uncharted territory, the outcome of this experiment remains uncertain. Will message retention propel Snapchat to new heights, or will it compromise the platform’s uniqueness?

Only time will tell.

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Catering to specific audience boosts your business, says accountant turned coach

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Catering to specific audience boosts your business, says accountant turned coach

While it is tempting to try to appeal to a broad audience, the founder of alcohol-free coaching service Just the Tonic, Sandra Parker, believes the best thing you can do for your business is focus on your niche. Here’s how she did just that.

When running a business, reaching out to as many clients as possible can be tempting. But it also risks making your marketing “too generic,” warns Sandra Parker, the founder of Just The Tonic Coaching.

“From the very start of my business, I knew exactly who I could help and who I couldn’t,” Parker told My Biggest Lessons.

Parker struggled with alcohol dependence as a young professional. Today, her business targets high-achieving individuals who face challenges similar to those she had early in her career.

“I understand their frustrations, I understand their fears, and I understand their coping mechanisms and the stories they’re telling themselves,” Parker said. “Because of that, I’m able to market very effectively, to speak in a language that they understand, and am able to reach them.” 

“I believe that it’s really important that you know exactly who your customer or your client is, and you target them, and you resist the temptation to make your marketing too generic to try and reach everyone,” she explained.

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“If you speak specifically to your target clients, you will reach them, and I believe that’s the way that you’re going to be more successful.

Watch the video for more of Sandra Parker’s biggest lessons.

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Instagram Tests Live-Stream Games to Enhance Engagement

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Instagram Tests Live-Stream Games to Enhance Engagement

Instagram’s testing out some new options to help spice up your live-streams in the app, with some live broadcasters now able to select a game that they can play with viewers in-stream.

As you can see in these example screens, posted by Ahmed Ghanem, some creators now have the option to play either “This or That”, a question and answer prompt that you can share with your viewers, or “Trivia”, to generate more engagement within your IG live-streams.

That could be a simple way to spark more conversation and interaction, which could then lead into further engagement opportunities from your live audience.

Meta’s been exploring more ways to make live-streaming a bigger consideration for IG creators, with a view to live-streams potentially catching on with more users.

That includes the gradual expansion of its “Stars” live-stream donation program, giving more creators in more regions a means to accept donations from live-stream viewers, while back in December, Instagram also added some new options to make it easier to go live using third-party tools via desktop PCs.

Live streaming has been a major shift in China, where shopping live-streams, in particular, have led to massive opportunities for streaming platforms. They haven’t caught on in the same way in Western regions, but as TikTok and YouTube look to push live-stream adoption, there is still a chance that they will become a much bigger element in future.

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Which is why IG is also trying to stay in touch, and add more ways for its creators to engage via streams. Live-stream games is another element within this, which could make this a better community-building, and potentially sales-driving option.

We’ve asked Instagram for more information on this test, and we’ll update this post if/when we hear back.

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