Category Archives: Startup Business

Shopping Cart Solutions for Online Business

Free and Low Cost Online Shopping Cart Services

Q: Who are these services actually solutions for?
A: Brand new online businesses or very small businesses (solo-entrepreneurs) that make fewer but larger transactions.

Free Online Shopping Cart Services

I have worked with those “free” or should I say the services that initially charge no monthly fees like the beloved (<-I'm sort of rolling my eyes as I'm typing that) PayPal or Google Checkout. The catch is that their processing fees are really quite outrageous!

  • Pros
  • Low Initial Investment
  • A Bit Lower Transaction Rates for Larger Transactions
  • They can process credit cards without your having to sign a contract with a cc processor.
  • Doesn’t require an extremely high technical skill set, but a fair amount of HTML and the ability to add a little JavaScript code to your website or blog site is required
  • Cons
  • Outrageously High Per-Transaction Fees

Once your company gets established you should begin looking up your own checkout solutions.

More Costly, Yet Quite Commonly Used Shopping Cart Services

Lots of small and startup businesses use shopping cart services like 1ShoppingCart.com or eCommerce solutions like the ones available from Yahoo! Small Business for there online order needs.

  • Pros
  • Doesn’t require an extremely high technical skill set, but a fair amount of HTML and the ability to add a little JavaScript code to your website or blog site is required
  • Cons
  • Very Limited Customization
  • Requirements
  • You must additionally purchase your own credit card processing service.

Money Saver?
If you already have a self-hosted website, it might be a waste to spend $30+ dollars a month on highly proprietary solutions with such limited customizations like the ones these companies offer.

Free Self-hosted Shopping Cart Solutions

Q: Who are these services actually solutions for?
A: Small to Large Corporate Size Businesses

Two that I have worked with are Zen Cart and OpenCart <- this new one that I have found very robust as well.

  • Pros
  • Nearly Endless Customization Abilities <3 <- Developers love this pro.
  • Possibly Low Initial Investment – if you are developing your own website that is…
  • They can process credit cards without your having to sign a contract with a cc processor.
  • Cons
  • You must additionally purchase your own credit card processing service. (Shop around for this, I think even places like Sam’s Club and Costco have very very low cost merchant services for cc processing.)
  • These services require advanced experience with HTML, PHP, and managing MySQL databases. (Pretty much anyone who works professionally developing WordPress can use these right out of the box so to speak.)
  • Requirements
  • Like all opensource systems, you must be ready and able to keep your systems up to date
  • More Self-hosted Security like SSL certificates for transactions made directly on your website.
  • You must additionally purchase your own credit card processing service and possibly purchase additional extensions to connect with your cc processor. This is a one time probably around $25 to $50 fee verses monthly fees for 1shoppingcart

If I have forgotten anything, or mixed up any points here do let me know and I’ll give you a shout out. <3

3 Virtues That Entrepreneurs Can’t Succeed Without

(Number three is the only one that is not debatable.)

1. Acceptance

First we must fully accept two very important things with real confidence: ourselves and the inevitability of change.

Confidence begins with self-acceptance… Make a decision that you will never again compare yourself with someone else. Appreciate others for what they are and enjoy the wonderful person you are.”

- Quoted from Joyce Meyer’s The Confident Woman

Standardization is a beautiful thing, but a real entrepreneur is never satisfied with the ‘status quo’. In order to face change, you must first embrace the fact that it will come.

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.”

- Gail Sheehy

2. Diligence

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

- Thomas Edison

“Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.

- Sir Winston Churchill

And last but not least:

3. A Sense of Humor

If you can’t find the humor in those “there is no freaking way that just happened” situations, you might as well quit now because your health or your sanity will seriously begin deteriorating within a year.

“Every survival kit should include a sense of humor.”

- Author Unknown

Remember this? -> 5 Silly Things Most Virtual Assistants Will Go Through.

Ok, there are many more virtues like honesty and integrity and creativity and maybe luck (Is luck a “virtue”?) and the beat goes on… :)

Learn Anything You Want Online

Isn’t it powerful to know that you can learn pretty much anything online? Perhaps that’s a great overstatement.

How about this: Isn’t it amazing that you can grasp a basic understanding of almost any concept you could want to master online?

All we really need is a place to start and we can master anything… right?

Here are six of my favorite educational sites I’ve found quite useful for important subjects.

Foreign Languages

★★★★✩ Get started learning any language for free with BYKI. It’s similar to Rosetta Stone.

Free E-books, Audiobooks, and Reference Books

★★★★★ Public Libraries

General Studies

★★★✩✩ Self Made Scholar has some decent links that are nicely categorized. Just click on the Free Classes button.

Graphic Design Education

★★★✩✩ You the Designer is a Graphic Design Blog Featuring Graphic Design Jobs, Tips, Tutorials, Resources, Freebies and Much More.

Healthy Diet and Nutrition Education

★★★✩✩ SPARKPEOPLE is the largest online diet and healthy living community with over 8 million registered members. Create a free account today to get the tools, support, and motivation you need to lose weight and keep it off, the healthy way!

Online Marketing

★★★★★ Inbound Marketing University | Free Internet Marketing Training and Certification

The Very Novice Guide to Creating Video Content

A couple of weeks ago I was talking about content for landing pages, and video content is still a gray area for a lot of small businesses and solo-entrepreneurs.

For landing pages, you don’t necessarily need a big commercial presentation video for a new web service roll out.

In fact, sometimes just a quick snippet of visual aid to show your prospective customer what they will find there on your website.

Animoto

For small businesses, I found this nifty website a while back called animoto. One of my friends on YouTube, who happens to be an independent virtual assistant, used the holiday greeting card to offer a special on one of her services.

I went to check it out and find out how user friendly it was to create your video content. And this is what the screen looks like when you go to create a demo video. I concluded that it is very simple and even a beginner could probably use this service.

Simple but effective.

They also make it very easy to share or embed video into your landing page.

BSR Screen Recorder

The second video option that you may want to consider if you have software or an internet product/service is creating a screen walk-through (or demo) of your product. I found a great program to record your demo called BSR Screen Recorder.

You have the option to record audio from your playback devices (meaning just recording with background music or other audio files) or record information via microphone.

However, there is a (very small) downside to using this freebie program. The file it creates by default is a .avi video, but you can change that when you finish your video and click on the green “lab” button you see shown in the screenshot below.

This will open the BSR Movie Lab. When you go to file, go down to “Produce Video”. There you will see the following format options.

Landing Page (Sales Page) Checklist

Is anyone else noticing recent flux of businesses seeking contractors to build landing pages?

Here are the 2 most common questions I get asked about landing/splash/sales pages:

1. When is a landing (aka sales page) more appropriate than a full blown website?
and
2. What should go on a landing page?

I have the answers to these questions and more!

Landing pages are most appropriate when you offer a specifically clear purpose and call to action.

Q. When is a landing page or sales page the preferable option to a full website?

A. Landing pages are best for specialized or “featured” business content. They are often a perfect solution for introducing products and services, not as a replacement for a full business website developed for established businesses.

  • Events: Seminars, Webinars, Outings, Trade Shows, Specialty Events
  • Brand New Products
  • Brand New Services
  • Turn-Key Offers
  • New Book or E-book Releases

Q. What should you include on your sales page?

A. First, you must make sure your page will be attractive to your specific target market.

What do you want from your visitor? Do you want them to sign up? visit another page? purchase a product? call you for a free 15 minute consultation? Whatever it is you want from them, you only get one chance to make it very clear.

Utilize these ABC’s of Landing Pages:

  • Atmosphere – Mood, Keywords, Timing
  • Bells and Whistles – Audio, Video, Bonus Material, Product Demos, Free Offers (Even though Google and Bing! pretty much )
  • Credit – Testimonials, Samples of Your Work, Linking Back to Your Main Business Site for More Info

Do NOT forget to take care of these vital, “behind the scenes” tasks:

  • Respond to Any Responses (Thank you Mr. Obvious… right?)
    • Only those who are truly interested will be filling out forms or signing up for reserved spots at your events… own up and deliver efficient communication whenever necessary.
  • Measure Success and Failures – the number of visitors vs. the number of responses you are getting
  • Analyze Traffic Patterns to Your Page – location of visitors, bounce rates, which links are being clicked once they arrive, etc.
    • Don’t be afraid to make changes where necessary!

I will follow this with more information, ideas, and samples next week.

Mind Mapping: Draw Your Conclusion


Mind mapping is an activity that might be very familiar with those who understand that they are visual learners, though it could help many of us.Think about a story you read as a child.
Do you remember the words on the page?- or -
Do you remember the pictures that you were able to build in your mind with each of the author’s details?
Because most of us retain pictures, I am convinced that we are all “in-part” visual learners. Mind mapping could be a very effective way for us to develop a more efficient process to develop our ideas. Students, entrepreneurs, and group leaders can use this tool to learn, develop business plans, and even break down group projects visually.

An Example of a Mind Map

Figure 1: How students or professionals can use a mind map.

Figure 1 is a sample mind map that I put together as a visual aid to show (1.) who might use mind maps and (2.) what they might use them for. The stars represent a way that might be most obvious to start mind-mapping.

How to Start Using Mind Mapping

When you begin to work with mind maps, it is important to keep it as simple as possible, and build on the skills you develop. I used a free program called FreeMind. This is a program from SourceForge used to create, view, and save mind maps in XML and HTML. There are many programs available to draw maps like this. However, all you really need to start drawing a mind map is a piece of paper, a pencil, and a central idea.

Mind Mapping for Business

In our very complex business world, we are surrounded by graphical representations of all kinds of information. We like pie charts, interactive menus, and even things as simple as before and after photos to show off our work. How are we using visual aids to develop our business? Mind mapping could be a great tool to develop and break down plans pictorially.

For example, if you have a small project that you can divide into two parts, you could create a mind map for each part. You could visualize when certain events needed to occur, and build on specific details that you think of later or after speaking to a client.

There are two very important questions that still need to be asked before deciding if drawing a picture is even helpful.

1. Does it help us retain what we’ve learned?
2. Does it really help us develop our ideas?

Pictures Help Retain Information

This is an example of short term and long term retention; the two ways that visual aid can help us recall information. I watched a television series on HBO called “The Alzheimer’s Project” this last winter; and I remember a nurse was asking each of three elderly Alzheimer’s patients (on separate occasions) to remember three words that were unrelated. Then the nurse would ask them a couple of more questions, and finally ask each patient to repeat the three words that she had told them only a few minutes before. Only one lady remembered all three. “Do you wanna know how I remembered?” she asked the nurse. “I made a picture in my mind of a table, and then imagined someone put down a penny, and then someone put an apple on the penny.” She was right; the three words were apple, table, and penny.

As I was writing about this past memory, I did not have to watch the television show again to remember this part. In fact I even recalled the three objects without looking up the show. (Except I must confess, I remembered the items as apple, table, and quarter.) I recalled this situation that I saw once, months later because this little lady helped her audience by giving them a really great tip. In its most basic form, she shared the wisdom that a picture (mental or not) can help us recall information. She represented how it can help with short-term memorizing, and I am a real life example of how those pictures can become longer term memory retention.

Developing Ideas in Groups

Mind mapping can also be used in groups to start planning projects. In her book, “The Manager’s Guide to Effective Meetings Briefcase Book”, Barbara J. Streibel describes a term called “displayed thinking” which is mind mapping as a group. Its purpose is to represent analytical and creative ideas in picture form using symbols, colors, and arrows to represent related pieces of the plan. She states that it as an “exploratory tool, rather than analytical,” and “spatial rather than linear”; and continues to accurately describe it as similar to storyboarding. Storyboarding is also used by many web developers to plan visual layouts of graphics and websites.

Conclusion

There are lots of ways to learn and remember information. Mind mapping is another way to represent and develop your ideas. It will not work in every situation. However, there are many situations where drawing a picture can help us work out problems on paper. The trick is to start small and then develop this skill just as you would develop any other, with practice.

Mind mapping is more effective the more personal you make it. Use symbols that make sense to you and bold text that are the most important or plausible ideas. Next time, when your clients or teammates don’t understand your plan or explanation, try drawing them a picture!