How to Utilize Instagram for the Holidays

Christmas and Hannukkah are almost here. Though the holiday season will be over before we know it, you still have time to do some significant promotion to give your business another boost during the busiest shopping period of the year.

But you’re not the only business pushing last-minute deals, so it’s essential to be strategic and thoughtful in your advertising. Placing Google and Facebook ads might help but, you need to engage your audience to stand out from the rest of your competition.

If you’re on Instagram, you can use this social media platform to your advantage by utilizing its heavy focus on photos and videos, which is perfect for catching the eyes of your target audience.

62% of folks on Instagram have become more interested in a brand or product after having seen it on its story feature. With more than 1 billion active users a month, it’s time to kick into high gear and use Instagram in these fun and exciting ways:

1. Holiday-themed “this or that” posts

To start a great conversation among your audience, and generate some brand awareness, use Layout from Instagram to post a “this or that” photo and ask your followers which one they prefer. For the best engagement, make sure the topic is relevant. In this case, make it holiday-themed. Examples are:

    • Fake tree or real tree
    • Wrapped present or gift card
    • Eggnog or hot chocolate
    • Shopping online or in-store

Don’t be afraid to plug some of your products in there. If you sell makeup, post a photo featuring two of your most popular lipsticks and ask your audience which one they prefer. This or that posts will get them thinking about your products and might even inspire them to buy one, or both!

2. Encourage customers to share your products

Another way to get your audience involved in your holiday-themed campaign is to ask your existing customers to share Instagram photos and videos using your products for the holidays. If you sell clothing, you can ask your customers to post videos or pictures of them wearing your products to holiday parties. Or if you sell cookware, they can post themselves using your bowls, pans, or other kitchen tools while cooking or baking. Select a common hashtag and ask them to use it so everyone can see the posts. Don’t forget to ask them to tag you and your business in the post so potential customers can find your store.

3. Partner with a local charity

Giving back to the community is a great way to not only enhance your brand reputation, but it’s just plain good for the community. There are a number of ways you can give back to your favorite charity while at the same time, gain some positive brand recognition. You can:

    • Donate a % of every sale
    • Start an online fundraiser using the Instagram donate sticker
    • Create a donations Instagram campaign asking your followers to collect much-needed items for your charity

It’s essential to post ongoing photos or videos during these campaigns to generate engagement from your audience.

Why You Should Use Personalization and Segmentation in Your Marketing Strategy

The holidays are here. That means it’s time to ramp up your marketing efforts to take advantage of this time of year. 

Content creation is essential. But how you deliver that content ultimately will decide what kind you should create. 

Two types of marketing strategies come into play here: Personalization and Segmentation.

Though they may seem similar and often get confused by many marketers, personalization and segmentation are, in fact, very different. 

Here is the difference between the two and why you should use both of them in your marketing efforts this holiday season. 

Personalization is about individuality 

Making the shopping experience as personal as possible by marketing toward individual tastes and experiences is what personalization is all about. 

Imagine going into your favorite clothing store. If you’re a regular there, most likely, the sales clerk knows you by your first name, has learned your style, and works with you regularly to find the product you’re looking for. 

In digital marketing, the equivalent of this is customizing your messaging to individuals to reflect their likes and dislikes and recommend products or services based on past purchases. 

Segmentation is about dividing and conquering

While personalization is about marketing toward the individual, segmentation is about dividing your audience into groups according to attributes such as age, geography, gender, and more, and sending ads and messaging that reflect those shared characteristics.

For example, we’ll stick with your favorite brick-and-mortar store. When you walk in, you don’t see the men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing all piled together in the same section. The store categorizes each section according to gender and children. And within those sections, it’s further segmented by size. This is what segmentation is all about. 

While both are useful tools on their own, using them together will most certainly boost your holiday sales. 

Here’s how to do it.

Segment your customers to see which ones are driving the most growth

As we stated earlier, segmentation is about grouping your customers with common characteristics. 

Some other customer segments are:

  • People who have purchased from you in the last 60 days
  • Subscribers to your email list who’ve never bought anything
  • Customers who have purchased an item from a particular collection in the previous year

There are a lot of possibilities when segmenting your audience. Keep in mind, though, that when creating them, the goal is to find out which ones will help drive more growth for your business. And, as the wise Jedi Master Yoda once said, “Size matters not.” Even if the segmented group is small, if it’s driving a significant part of your business, you’ll want to first focus your marketing efforts on that group rather than a larger group that is driving only a fraction of your sales. 

Google Search Tips to Attract Holiday Shoppers

You are no doubt preparing your business for the holiday season rush. For many businesses, this is the time of year that generates a large percentage of their annual profit. 

According to the National Retail Association, holiday sales represent an average of 20% of annual sales for most businesses. This year, sales for November and December are expected to rise between 3.8% and 4.2%, backing the association’s claim that holiday sales have been increasing an average of 3.7% over the past five years. 

Because Google plays such a large part in the way shoppers search for gifts online, here are four tips to help give you the edge this holiday shopping season. 

Use Google Trends

According to Google, traffic on the search engine is 22.11% higher on Thanksgiving, 23.11% higher on Black Friday, 26.11% on Cyber Monday, 25.12% on Christmas, and 31.12% on New Year’s Eve. So, how do you take advantage of this increase? 

Use Google Trends. 

One of Google’s many featured tools geared toward marketing, Google Trends can help you with content creation and SEO for the holiday season, as well as help you understand how your industry is doing overall. 

Here’s how it works. 

Google Trends lets you compare search volume patterns across regions, time frames, categories, and properties. Need to see which keywords are popular in a particular area? Google Trends can deliver. This tool provides you with compelling data so you can make sure the content you’re creating or the keyword you’re targeting is relevant in that region or for that particular type of business. 

It also shows you the rising search terms related to the keyword you’re researching. You can use this to write new blog articles, optimize your website, or make sure your keyword strategy is heading in the right direction.

Get more out of your ads

Get ready for the onslaught of holiday shoppers by preparing your ads so you can get more from Google Adsense. Use responsive ads so they look the same no matter what device your audience uses. eCommerce shopping on mobile devices, otherwise known as mCommerce, is expected to reach $203.94 billion this year, making up 34% of all U.S. eCommerce sales, according to eMarketer. While desktop purchases are still leading the charge, mobile shopping is quickly catching up. If you don’t have responsive ads, you risk long load times, which can lead to high abandonment rates. 

To get even more out of your ads, use Ad Balance. This tool will allow you to show only your best performing ads, which will create more space for your holiday content. 

Speaking of ads, make your ads more noticeable by placing them in multiple locations and sizes for your audience. 

Attract more users to your site

While this is one of the most challenging marketing aspects for small business owners due to the stiff competition from other small and large retailers, there are ways to drive traffic to your website. 

One of them is to figure out what stores are similar to your store or brand and include them in your keywords so your business will appear when searchers are looking for them. 

You can also increase your mobile presence by creating a mobile site or app just for the holidays. As we mentioned above, more folks are shopping on their mobile devices. A mobile app is a great way to get them to your online store. 

How to Create Your Own Benefits Package

While working for yourself has multiple perks like flexible hours, working from wherever you want, and not having to answer to a supervisor, it doesn’t offer the other kinds of essential benefits people need to stay healthy and economically viable in the long-term. Having life and health insurance, paid time off, and a retirement savings account is essential.

One of the most convenient ways to get the benefits you need as a self-employee is to join an association geared specifically toward independent contractors. Typically, for a small annual fee, these organizations will provide discounts on essentials like electronics, office supplies, and travel. Most importantly, they offer benefits such as health products and life insurance. Joining an association like the NFICA provides an excellent opportunity to find more affordable rates on health products and life insurance because associations can negotiate lower rates through group buying power.

Benefits are the main reason employees stay loyal to companies

While health, vacation, and retirement benefits help retain, motivate and inspire loyalty among employees working for established companies, the lack of benefits for those who choose to work for themselves hinders people’s decisions to start their own businesses. According to an Aflac Workforce Report, 60% of employees said having a benefits package adds to their employer loyalty.

So why should it be any different for you and your own business?

Allowing yourself to have the same benefits as employees who are part of a company is a great way to stay invested in your own business. While it does take time and money to establish health and life insurance, a retirement account, and other benefits, it’s well worth it because you’re not only investing in yourself and your family’s well-being, you’re showing that you’re serious about reaching your small business goals.

Having benefits means you’re more likely to stay loyal to yourself and your business!

You can’t work if you’re sick

Health insurance is arguably one of the most important benefits you should have regardless if you’re self-employed or working for someone else. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most expensive.

By not having health insurance, you’re running the risk of spending more money than you would if you were paying for coverage. Over the past few decades, medical costs have risen dramatically. According to the Peter J Peterson Foundation, healthcare spending in 2017 was $3.5 trillion, or about $11,000 per person, and by 2027, these costs will rise to $6 trillion, or around $17,000 per person.

Can you afford to pay that out of pocket? While health insurance may be expensive, not having it is even more so, in more ways than one. Because if you get sick or are in a medical emergency, recovery will take longer without seeing a doctor. And you can’t work when you’re sick, which means you’re losing more revenue the longer you’re out of commission.

The good news is, there are opportunities for independent contractors to find affordable health insurance. The Healthcare Marketplace is a great place to start your search. You can learn more about healthcare reform here. Remember, if you had access to a health plan from a previous employer, parent, or spouse, you could continue that coverage with Cobra for up to an additional 36 months, depending on the circumstances.

Because medical insurance doesn’t always cover every aspect of your health-related costs, protecting yourself and your family by adding supplemental health products can make your coverage even more comprehensive while saving money. Purchasing individual health products can also be a good alternative if you can’t afford major medical insurance. Here are some examples of what is considered a health care product. NFICA offers a new telemedicine program, Healthiestyou by Teledoc, for only $9 a month, and will soon be offering a limited-benefit medical plan, an accident medical expense plan, critical illness, and more, all at competitive rates!

What to Consider Before Choosing a Direct Sales Brand to Represent

In our last blog post, we talked about what you need to know before becoming an entrepreneur. If you’ve decided to start your own business within direct sales, you need to consider the type of products or services you will be selling.

As you can see from The Mega-List of Direct Sales Companies and What Should I Sell, direct sales offer a lot more than just beauty products, cookware, and clothing. You can sell everything from children’s books to beef jerky to fire safety equipment. You can also sell all sorts of services, like flower arranging, for instance.

Before you decide, allow us to help you think through your decision on which brand, product, or service you’re going to sell to make sure you find the right fit for you and your lifestyle.

Ask yourself some critical questions.

Direct sales can be a rewarding business, but it’s a lot of work. If you don’t do your research, you could get stuck selling something you’ll regret. The first and most crucial step is to make sure whatever you’re selling is something you believe in. Authenticity is everything in sales. If you’ve never used the product, at least make sure you’re selling a brand you can vouch for. Some questions to ask yourself:

Is this a brand you trust?

Do you currently use it?

Are the company and product reliable?

What do the online reviews say?

Are you able to attend a product demonstration?

Does the company offer a generous compensation plan?

Should you sell consumable or durable goods?

Another factor to consider is the differences between selling a consumable product, like makeup, lotions, and vitamins, versus durable goods like cookware, home decor, and clothing. Does it matter, you might ask? It sure does. While durable goods are typically made to last, they are usually a more expensive product to sell. However, consumable items have a shelf life but are often a good way to get repeat business from your customers.

Something else to consider is the price point of your product or service. If times get tough, and your customers have to cut back on expenses, they’re more likely to cut out durable products like clothing, home decor, and jewelry, since typically these are considered luxury items. While deciding between selling consumable or durable goods, make a list of the pros and cons of selling each, attributing these aspects:

  • Will the product produce repeat business?
  • Is the product a necessity or a luxury item?
  • Is the product something that appeals to a broad demographic?

Back-to-Basics Tips in a Digital World

With the rise of smartphones, social media, and Google, the world is overrun with digital marketing. For your small business, it’ll be tough not to get lost in the shuffle when it comes to your online advertising efforts.

In a 2016 Econsultancy survey, just 22% of businesses saw decent conversion rates in their digital marketing campaigns. That was three years ago. Think of how much more crowded the digital space is now. While we’re not saying it’s impossible to get your business noticed in the digital world, we are saying it’ll be a lot of work.

But there are other—shall we say—old-school ways to promote your business that might prove more effective than running the risk of blending in with thousands of different brands and companies. They all involve the physical world and more face-to-face social interaction. You know, the way we did it before the rise of the internet.

Ready to get back to basics? Let’s go!

People love to save with coupons

Remember the days of getting the Sunday newspaper and spending hours clipping coupons for the week’s shopping? Or getting an unexpected coupon to save 20% on your next purchase at your favorite store? There’s a lot of power that comes from that little slip of paper. Though you can get digital coupons online all of the time, there’s a sense of accomplishment when we hand over a paper coupon, see the cashier acknowledge it and then deduct the discount in front of us. Let’s look at some statistics:

  • According to RetailMeNot, 81% of Americans say finding a great deal or offer is on their mind during their shopping process.
  • 92% of shoppers are always looking for deals, according to Hawk Incentives.
  • Coupons and discounts are the top-ranking tactics for customer loyalty with 61% of shoppers claiming they use them, says Expedia Affiliate Network.

While you may be tempted to give shoppers (or loyal customers) a digital coupon, you run into the additional step of requiring customers to download and print them, decreasing the chance it will get used. By handing out paper coupons to folks on the street or at events, it makes the process easier for them to use because it’s right there in their pocket or purse. Need a way to create and print coupons? Canva offers a great coupon-design tool. Here’s another terrific resource for creating and printing your coupons.

Hand out flyers

Flyers are one of the oldest ways to market and advertise your business. The trick is to approach it with a strategy. You’ll want to populate your flyer with eye-catching design and tight, professionally-written copy that gives the reader info about your products and company. You’ll also want to include a call-to-action, something for the reader to do before he or she crumples your flyer up and throws it away. Maybe add a limited-time promotion or a discount if they sign up for your newsletter or connect with you on social media.

If you’re feeling inspired, make your flyer stand out by making it something the reader will want to keep. Remember, this is a way people may initially learn about your business, so first impressions count. Make your flyer reflective of your company. If you sell art-related products, then make your flyer something they’ll want to hang up and keep. If you are selling beauty products, spray your flyer with a lightly-scented perfume you sell or attach a makeup sample to it. Get creative! Be bold! Just because it’s an old-school technique doesn’t mean you can’t be innovative.

When you’re ready to print, research local printers and price compare. Or use an online company like Vistaprint, which typically offers specials and has great printing tips. Finally, when you’re ready to hand them out, think about where your intended audience will be. Maybe at a local business event, a neighborhood party, or even outside of your favorite store.

What You Need to Know Before Becoming an Entrepreneur

By next year, it’s estimated that more than 27 million Americans will leave the traditional workplace to start their own businesses. And according to Forbes, half of the American workforce will consist of freelancers by 2027.

What does that mean for you?

If you’re thinking about becoming an independent contractor or starting your own business, you’re in for some stiff competition. Besides having a great product or service there are other aspects of working for yourself that you may not realize. With so many others taking the plunge into self-employment, you’re not going to make it on a niche product and your sparkling personality alone. Starting your own business is tough. Whether you’re planning a startup, going into direct sales or becoming a full-time freelancer or independent contractor, there’s a lot of research and planning you must do to make sure the odds of your success are high. Not only that, but you also have to think about the effects it will have on you and your family from a time and money standpoint.

Here are some aspects to think about as you decide whether starting your own business or going freelance is the right choice for you.

1. Create a business plan.

Seriously, this is one of the first steps you need to implement if you’re remotely serious about starting your own business. A business plan serves as a guide to how you’re going to approach your new endeavor. Though it’s not meant to be the end-all-be-all document for how you run your business, it is a roadmap to help keep you on track as you set your business goals and to brainstorm ideas for how you want to run your business. If you’re starting your own company or business and will be applying for loans, a solid business plan is required. Even if you’re simply thinking about freelancing or getting into direct sales, a business plan will help you realistically plan for what to expect.

Aspects you should include in your business plan are:

  • Your company overview
  • Your business structure
  • Goals and objectives
  • Available and potential business resources
  • A marketing overview
  • Your target audience

Other things you should think about when developing your business plan should include your mission statement and values, your business, an overview of the industry you’re thinking of entering and your relevant experience. The Balance Careers has a more in-depth guide on starting a business plan.

2. Be Mindful of unforeseen expenses.

Starting your own company can be expensive. If you’re going the startup route or opening your own storefront, you’ll most likely apply for a bank loan. But even if you’re freelancing or going into direct sales it’s essential to have a strategic financial plan outside of the obvious aspects such as renting or leasing space, supplies, and salaries. For example, if you’re striking out on your own with your freelance services, it’s best to establish a savings account—a nest egg, if you will—beforehand just in case business isn’t as profitable as you expected it to be. That way, you are still able to pay all of your bills when money isn’t coming in from your business.

Other expenses to keep in mind include money for:

  • Social media, TV, and online marketing
  • Website fees and maintenance
  • Catalogs and brochures
  • Business cards
  • Direct sales starter kits
  • Cost of expired products
  • Membership fees

Having a thorough accounting system covering every foreseeable and unforeseeable financial aspect of your business is absolutely essential to the health of your business and the wellbeing of your family.

How to Convert Followers to Customers Through your Facebook and Instagram Shops

Last week, we wrote about how to drive traffic to your website’s online store. But many of you may not have your own eCommerce website. For a lot of independent contractors, building and maintaining your own website can be time-consuming and expensive. And if you’re not particularly tech-savvy, there can be a huge learning curve to it as well. Of course, you could hire someone to do it for you but that’s even more costly.

Have no fear! There are other ways to sell your products online. That’s right, we’re talking about social media. If you already use Facebook and Instagram to promote your business, you’ll be happy to know you can use both platforms to sell your goods and services by adding an online shop directly to your already-existing business account. If you are in direct sales and don’t use social media, you need to rethink your business strategy because, in this day and age, it’s a must if you want your business to be prosperous. Essential reading: 3 Surefire Ways to Gain More Customers.

In this post, we’ll not only guide you in the process of setting up your Facebook or Instagram store but we’ll offer you tips on how to drive traffic to them as well.

Set up your store.

Assuming you already have business accounts for Facebook and/or Instagram, the steps for setting up your store on each platform is relatively simple.

For Facebook users, follow these steps:

  • Go to your business account page on a desktop or laptop computer.
  • Go to the left hand column underneath your profile picture that lists the different features offered, and scroll down.
  • Click on Shop.
  • A banner will appear in the middle of your screen that says, “Set Up Shop.”
  • From there, Facebook will guide you through the process.

You can, of course, find more details on Facebook.

For Instagram, before you do anything, make sure your account is approved for shopping. Be aware that it could take a few days to get approved. Once that’s done follow these steps:

  • On your profile page, tap the menu icon (three short, horizontal lines going down)
  • Tap the settings icon.
  • Then tap Business.
  • Tap Shopping (this will appear only if you’ve been approved for Instagram shopping).
  • Tap Continue.
  • Select a product catalog to connect to your business profile (if you’ve already got a Facebook shop, then you can connect to that one, or create a new one).
  • Finally, tap Done.

There is more to do but for brevity’s sake, we’ll direct you to this page. As you do this, you’ll notice Facebook’s branding is combined with Instagram’s. That’s because Facebook bought the photo-centric social media brand in 2012. This is important to know going forward, as some info we provide you for both Facebook and Instagram will be found in Facebook Business pages.

Target your audience.

Now that you’re all set up to sell merchandise and services on Facebook and Instagram, you need to know who is using both of these platforms so you can target your audience accordingly. Sprout Social has a great breakdown of both Facebook and Instagram demographics in 2019. Facebook Business also provides tools for both platforms to determine and target the audience demographics you’re trying to reach. This will come in handy later when we talk about buying ads.

Post professional-quality images.

In social media, first impressions are everything. According to a 2015 Time article, humans have an attention span of eight seconds. But as we know in social media, that time is often less. That means you need to capture your audience’s attention as quickly as possible with eye-catching, professional-quality images. However, this doesn’t mean your photos need to be pulled from a random stock photo archive online. People crave authenticity so it’s important to make your photos natural at the same time, with a bit of your own personality. After all, every photo you post is an extension of your brand. Here’s a great tutorial to guide you in the art of taking social-media-worthy photos.

4 Ways to Increase Traffic to Your Website Store

Let’s just get this out of the way right now. Besides your family and close circle of friends, nobody is going to buy your products or services just because you tell them they should.

Now that you know this, let us amend that just a bit. Nobody is going to buy your products or services unless you’ve got a solid plan to get them to your online store.

We don’t need to tell you how difficult it can be to be an independent contractor. It involves a lot of hustling. But if you don’t have a strong, memorable online e-commerce presence that people are gravitating to, you’ve got a lot more hustling to do.

If you’re struggling with attracting customers other than friends and family to your online store, this blog post is for you. Don’t worry, for those of you who don’t have a website but instead rely on your social media stores for online purchasing, we’ll cover how to drive traffic to your Facebook and Instagram stores in our next blog post!

We’ve talked about the importance of keeping your audience engaged.  As the great poet, memoirist and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is true for life, and it’s true for marketing. It’s all about connecting with your audience.

Now, what are some more practical ways for potential customers to find all of that great content you’ve been producing on your website and social media feeds so that you can convert followers to paying customers?

Get Over Your Sales Call Fears with These Tips

Go ahead, you can admit it. You’re intimidated by cold calling potential customers. The idea of picking up that phone and trying to convince the person on the other end of the line they should buy your products or services scares the hell out of you. Email is a lot easier, you think to yourself, because you don’t have to actually talk to anyone. It’s much easier to get no response from an email you send out than to risk having someone reject you over the phone.

We get it. We’ve all been there before.

Though email is effective—and a lot of salespeople prefer it—there’s nothing like a phone call to give a potential customer the chance to get to know you on a more personal level. Though many people may feel that the traditional sales call is a dying tactic, according to sales expert Marc Wayshak, it’s still an effective sales tool.

Don’t feel discouraged, though. We’ve got some tips to better prepare you before, during and after the intimidating task of making a sales call.

1.   Come up with a strategy

Before you even think about picking up that phone, you need a strategy. Making sales calls without a plan will almost always ensure failure from the get go. Some things to think about:

  • Set daily phone call goals – Setting a reasonable goal for how many calls you’d like to make to new leads each day will help keep you accountable. You don’t have to make all of the calls at once. In fact, if you follow step 2 below, you won’t. Which brings us to…
  • Schedule your calls for the right time of day – Think about the person you’re going to call. Do they work full time in an office or do they work from home? Do they have kids? If so, are their kids in school? Do evenings work better? These are all things you should think about when it comes to the best time of day to call your prospect. Do some digging on social media to get a glimpse into their lives. Then schedule those calls in your calendar.
  • Use a script – Never go into a call without having a clear idea of what you’re going to say. Whether it’s short bullet points or a fully written script, you should have key talking points you want to cover in your call. Here’s a great article on how to write a simple sales call script. It even includes what to say if your call goes to voicemail.

2. Make the call

Now that you’ve got a solid plan, it’s time to execute it. During your call, you’ll want to:

  • Record your conversation – One of the most effective ways to improve your sales pitch is to record your call so you can learn what went right and what went wrong during the conversation. Listening back to the recording will tell you if your tone wasn’t friendly enough, if you talked too much, and when your prospect began to lose interest.
  • Tell stories to make connections – Emotion drives the way we buy. When you can, appeal to your potential customer’s emotion through nostalgia, brand loyalty or sentimental attachment. This requires good conversation and storytelling skills, engaging the person on the other end of the line by associating the product or service you’re selling with a mutual friend who uses it, a memory they may have of that same brand, or a personal story you have about using it. We recommend you read 9 Storytelling Techniques to Elevate Your Sales Pitch and Storytelling vs.Story Selling: May the (Sales) Force Be With You to help you develop your storytelling style.
  • Limit the Options – Avoid overwhelming your prospect with too many facts about why your products or services would benefit them. Gauge from your conversation what their needs and wants are and choose to focus on just a few of those benefits. Only when you feel like you’ve lost the person to disinterest should you mention possible other solutions you can bring to their lives as a last-ditch effort to try to save the sale.
  • If no one answers leave a message – If you’re sent to voicemail, always leave a short message. Include who you are, the reason for your call and ask them to please call you back. Be sure to keep it under 20 seconds.