Category Archives: Virtual Business Resources

mostly free technical and business resources

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

Increase Your Web Traffic in a Weekend

I’ve been reading the 6th edition of Increase Your Web Traffic in a Weekend and decided I had to write about it because it’s fabulous.

Much of the information in this book has been primarily valuable for me to reinforce and revisit many already well-known SEO and traffic directing practices. However, I was pleasantly surprised by some hot, relevant tips sprinkled throughout this book that I either never heard of or never thought of as a resource.

The book is literally sectioned off by what to do starting Friday evening and ending Sunday afternoon. I don’t want to give away too much information provided by this edition, but here’s a tiny preview of what I meant about some information reinforcing and making sense of what we already know.

    I came across a section about how search engines read your site information and why:

  • iframes
  • scripts thrown in with your HTML vs. residing in a separate file
  • tables
  • and graphics with obscure names like DSNC009.jpg
  • wreak havoc on your website’s indexing potential.

With iframes the search engine’s web spider sees virtually no information other than a reference to another page to index.

Scripts can simply limit your pages’ important data from being indexed since most search engines don’t crawl and cache the full length of all information on every page. So the book recommended simple alternatives to run your java scripts.

The info about how websites index tables also got my attention. It is very important that you know how search engines read them especially if you have tables of subjects with definitions or locations or other information that should be read from left to right.

Of course, the tip about renaming pictures with keywords or using alt tags was another good reminder.

It was published in February of 2011 which is important because I don’t read much of any ever-evolving material like social media or web development that hasn’t been published within the last 12 months. (This book covers both social media and best web development practices.)

I really liked this book. It offers helpful references to places to submit your website and dives head first into the newest rage that’s going to stick around for a while – SMO ( Social Media Optimization ).

Optimize Webpage Response Time

How fast does your website load? Here is a webpage load speed test from Pingdom Tools that you can use to see about where your site stands and get a good overview of all of the files that are actually being loaded by your visitor’s browser. Click the image on the right to view the screenshot of all the junk I have loading on my homepage.) Google also has a collection of page speed tools.

I am really noticing this more lately because I have been cleaning up darkbluesun.com and struggling with my page loading speeds. GoDaddy.com is a decent host at times. Yet, some days I have had nothing but problems due to how slowly WordPress runs (probably due to how long takes to connect to the Godaddy server “grid” and retrieve info from the MySQL database service needed to run WordPress).

Other than switching web hosting providers, here are 2 ways to test and 3 steps to speed up your web page load speed.

  1. Correct HTML or Other Code Errors

    I went to W3C’s Markup Validation tool online to test my website for errors and discovered I had 37 Errors, 3 warning(s) to sort out for my webpages.

    I fixed a few of these errors. I knocked the number down to 23 Errors, 2 warning(s). This really isn’t much except you can consider the fact that your browser is now going to throw 14 fewer errors when opening my page.

  2. Reorganize (Maybe Even *Gasp!* Delete) Content

    I am a strong believer in this rule: Never Delete Old Content. I always advise bloggers to update the information in a new post and then link to the updated version from the old post.

    Unfortunately there are some things that are simply necessary to get rid of. For example: it is perfectly okay to leave a few of those bells and whistles out of your site. If you never use the chat widgets or java-based plugins that wind up taking up space, bandwidth and precious time… then get rid of them immediately.

    Some of the WordPress plugins I am using for different functions on my website are causing the rest of those errors I was talking about earlier and I am not going to take the time to debug all of that before I post this. However, if I really needed to dramatically, instantly change the page speed of my site, I would uninstall the WP Cumulus and Sociable plugins on my site.

    Break up large posts into separate smaller posts.
    Yep, this tip is self explanatory. If you have lots and lots of data in one post, then that page will obviously take longer to load. If you divide the information into smaller amounts it will help both your readers if they are looking for a quick answer to their question and it will help the search engines index you more efficiently.

  3. Know How to Insert Images

    • Get in the habit of using relative links to your img src’s than absolute links. E.G.:
      instead of:  img src=”http://www.darkbluesun.com/logoDBS.png
      use this:   img src=”/logoDBS.png
      Relative URLs are obviously shorter than absolute URLs, as a result the file size of the web page would be a bit smaller as well.
    • Give images height and width attributes. This way, browsers can load the page completely giving a space for the image without having to wait for the images to load first.
    • Resize larger images to “web-friendly” sizes. Microsoft Office Picture Manager uses 2 defaults for standard website image sizes:
      large: 640 x 480 px
      small: 448 x 336 px
      With modern digital cameras and larger megapixel abled phone cams, the resolution of the pictures you are posting could be huge! Even if you give a large photo a smaller height and width attributes the browser still has to load the entire picture.

Please Note: Some of these changes will only help your pages load a few seconds earlier.

Every little bit counts when according to the September 14, 2009 press release, published by Akamai: users will only wait 2 seconds for a page to load before clicking (or pressing that dreadful back button) out of your webpage… never to return again?

Reveals 2 Seconds as the New Threshold of Acceptability for eCommerce Web Page Response Times
September 14, 2009 – Akamai Reveals 2 Seconds as the New Threshold of Acceptability for eCommerce Web Page Response Times

Virtual Business: Take It Like a Man

Confident Business WomanExperience is a wonderful thing. Even a bad one will prepare you for the “next time” some situation or other arises. I have learned so much this year just by hearing about all of your experiences. It’s nice to have other strong business women to share with and relate to. I love girl talk, but we haven’t even once really talked about men! Sure, a husband or son gets mentioned every once in a while, but what can we learn from these seemingly simple creatures about business? ;)

Why is it that so many brilliantly capable women I love and work with seem to be living the same experiences over and over? We go through phases of racing into stress, and then crashing into the inevitable phase of fatigue. The longer the periods of stress equal the intensity of fatigue. Does this sound familiar? I can’t complain because this year has been wildly successful in so many ways, yet continues to be intensely stressful in others. I don’t think stress is so much different for men, but it seems like more of my girl friends are complaining of burn out on a regular basis. So we should talk about it.

Tasks men often seem do “better” than women:

  • Switch gears
  • (Don’t give me that “women are better multi-taskers than men”.) Your mind has probably gone 3 different directions just since starting this article. You’ve probably had to write down a reminder, refilled your cup, and looked at the clock twice. Right?  A guy would start delegating before he even tried to handle as many thoughts that are going on in your head right now. So, let’s face it, we need to try to learn how to separate some of our complex thoughts. That way, when one thing gives way, the rest doesn’t follow.

  • Toot their own horn
  • Maybe back in high school you weren’t supposed to brag on yourself because you’d be seen as conceited. “She’s so stuck on herself!” Right? In business, humility has a place. Save it for your anonymous charitable donations. It’s a bad idea to post somewhere that you didn’t love your latest press release or can’t believe how stupid you feel not knowing something. Enough with the personal put downs!

Self sabotaging tasks women seem to do more than men:

  • Apologize constantly
  • Whether it’s for inadequacies or absences, for some reason, we feel guilty about being less than Wonder Woman; and must make a mense with “I’m sorry” and over-compensation. I once worked with a girl who’d type up a page and a half (slight exaggeration… very slight) about why she was going to be gone and she was sorry about not being there for you in her auto response email. She was the sweetest girl you could meet, but seriously she made herself look bad because she did it. In fact it turned into an intra-office joke.

  • Take on everyone else’s problems
  • The truth is we could probably do so much more if we didn’t get offended by something someone said (that probably had nothing to do with us anyway), or if we weren’t concerned about our friend’s neighbor’s sister who just found out she has a tumor that might be cancerous. It’s true that there are disasters and bad memories that are going to invade our thoughts, but they are our thoughts and if we are going to get anything done we need to be in control of them. It’s ok to be sympathetic, but don’t live through the tragedies with everyone.

  • Over share
  • Some things are better left unsaid. It very well might be because some guys still live in the Stone Age and think “I can’t talk about my feelings. Men don’t do that.” I don’t know to many of my guy friends who are posting messages about how they “can’t take it anymore!” or “I can’t believe that %$!# just said blah blah blah to me, but…” on Facebook (Yeah, you know what I am talking about.) The people who share every stick and stone life throws at them? Sorry, but most of the time, it isn’t the men doing that. Think of it this way. You are giving the whole world info that could be used against you.

Ladies, make sure you have these two very important traits in check and in balance to succeed as a virtual business owner.

1. Confidence

(Yeah, I said it!) Thanks to Cover girl, coffee, and Botox we can fake clear skin, energy, and even hang on to some version of youth a little bit longer; but the hottest asset any woman (especially running her own business) can posses is nearly impossible to fake or live without and that is confidence.

Let’s get a man’s opinion.
Because he’s had a lot of experience working with (sometimes putting up with) quite the wide variety of virtual business people at New Marketing Labs, and he’s a man, I decided to ask Chris Brogan of what he thought about my gender confidence theory.

So, I asked him point-blank: “On average, do you think that men are more confident than women in the virtual business world?”

Chris responds: “I think men are more confident, period, for an unfortunate reason. Men are willing to say they can do something when in actuality, it’s a stretch. Women most often only say that they can do what they KNOW they can do, and what they’ve had experience doing (on the average). Thus, men are much more likely to take wild swings for weird possible new futures, where women tend to think they have to show capability/experience first.”

Think about it. I do think he missed that men seem to worry less about what people when think if something doesn’t work out. Many also do better about not dwelling on the details that didn’t go perfectly. This leads me to trait number 2.

2. Perfectionism

I have learned more and more over the past few years that I am more willing to turn in a paper late or not accept a project at all if I don’t think I have the time or resources to do it the way that I know it should be done. This is truly a wonderful trait to have. Ask any of my professors or clients! I try to remind myself that no one is as big a critic of my work as I am, and I don’t need to get a hundred percent on everything do I? Well, yes I do and that’s my style, but it’s also a sort of curse because I wonder if I’ve have missed out on some things that I could have done great.

We even teach our kids that no one is perfect all the time.
It’s like I told my daughter this weekend, “No one can be good all the time.” She looked at me puzzled. “Why not?” (As if I’d just completely derailed what I’d been teaching her whole life. :{ Scary.)

“Well, because eventually that person would just snap and go bad or get sick.” I replied.

“Well, then can someone be bad all the time and then snap to good?” she reasoned. (LOL! Yeah, kids…)

“No, because you need a healthy balance.” I told her.

The moral of that story?
If you don’t allow yourself enough slack, your goals will always be out of reach, and if you give yourself too much slack, then there probably was never a concrete goal there to reach for anyway.

Social Media for Business

As a Social Media Virtual Assistant and a Marketing Manager, I’m constantly asked “Why use Social Media for my business?” and “Is it better than traditional marketing?” 

To answer those questions and many others, why not check out the statistics for yourself by watching this brilliantly put together video on statistics for B2B (business to business) Social Media. 

Social Media…could it be the biggest game changer for your business or company you have ever seen?

Website Backlink Popularity Tools

Backlinks are incoming links to a website, web page, or blog post.

Creating Backlinks

You create backlinks to your website or blog by:

  • commenting on other people’s blogs,
  • submitting your site to directories,
    • My favorite tool for creating and keeping track of directory submission is OneWayTextLink.com. If you are a seasoned directory submitter, you’ll like it too!
  • trade links with other webmasters with related content (be choosy, you want to add value to your website, try to find affiliates with similar or higher Google pageranks than yours),
  • creating sharable (possibly viral) content that others want to link to,
  • creating social network profiles and making sure you include your website address wherever it asks for it.

Measuring Backlinks

Mike’s Link Popularity Tool


Link Diagnosis

Previous Posts I Have Written About Backlinks and SEO

  1. FREE Inbound Link Check also mentioned Mike’s Marketing Tools and LinkDiagnosis but included a few other possible links of interest.
  2. SEO updates for Virtually Assisting You includes another website tool I like to use for measuring SEO. Website grader also likes to see backlinks to your site from social bookmarking services like delicious and Digg.
  3. G is for Google on ABC’s for Work at Home Parents Blog includes a list of all the search engine webmaster tools. Each one (Google webmaster tools, Bing webmaster tools, and Yahoo! site tools) offers a comprehensive view of indexed sites that are linked back to your website.