Your dreams of opening your own storefront are likely illustrated with snappy brand logos and eye-catching displays. Choosing technology solutions for your business might seem far less glamorous. But the tech choices you make will play a major role in how smoothly your business runs, how many customers you attract and, ultimately, how much money you make.
Here is a guide for making sense of some of the main tech decisions you’ll face when setting up your small business.
First, figure out how much bandwidth your business requires. Consider how many people will be using the internet at the same time and what kind of work they’ll be doing. If you’re uploading and downloading large files and conducting video conferences, you need more bandwidth than someone primarily accessing email. Other things to consider: Will your internet support your phone service and point-of-sale software? Will you offer WiFi to customers?
Think about your needs at peak times. If you don’t purchase sufficient bandwidth, your systems could run slowly and bog down your business. Internet service providers offer tiered options for businesses, priced according to your needs.
Depending on your region, you might have several providers competing for your business. Compare customer service and contract terms, called service level agreements (SLAs). Some providers offer 24/7 support, which could be vital if your business runs beyond daytime hours. No matter the time of day, a business can’t afford downtime, so choose a company with solid ratings for helping business customers through a glitch. Some providers compensate businesses for downtime.
Speeds can vary by region as well. Most areas have access to high-speed business internet, but in some places, businesses can get additional speed (for additional costs) through fiber optic networks.
Primary business phone options are traditional wired phone lines or VoIP (voice over internet protocol). VoIP runs on your internet connection and offers flexibility that can be valuable to small businesses.
With VoIP, you can:
Just keep in mind that an advantage of landline phones is that you can still make calls when the power or internet is down, while VoIP requires internet connectivity.
Point-of-sale (POS) systems
You need to accept money from customers, and not just cash. To do that, you must have payment equipment and software, called point-of-sale systems. The good news for small businesses is that many of these systems can run on a tablet, desktop computer or mobile phone. Many also offer accounting and inventory-management features, helping you keep tabs on which items are selling well and when to reorder.
POS equipment includes payment-card readers, barcode scanners, receipt printers, cash drawers and mounts that turn tablets into terminals. Before buying equipment, though, choose the software you will use, as some programs recommend specific hardware. You can purchase POS software with a license up front, or you can opt for a cloud-based software-as-a-service with monthly fees.
Security systems are not essential, but they can reduce losses from theft by customers, employees and intruders. In addition, they could qualify you for a discount on your insurance. Surveillance cameras deter theft and aid investigations. Alarms can protect you during business hours and afterward. And something as simple as a bell on your door can boost security, alerting you when someone enters and leaves.
If you opt for cameras, today’s technology goes beyond on-site recordings. Cloud-based video monitoring systems allow you to check live cameras or recorded footage from mobile devices. They store recordings in the cloud, making footage recoverable even if your equipment is damaged. And beyond security, these systems can let you monitor the times of day that your store has the most customer activity, helping you staff accordingly.
In short, you need a website, and it should be mobile-friendly. Customers increasingly search for businesses online via mobile phones, and if they struggle to find your physical location or phone number or to understand what you do, odds are they’ll look elsewhere. Relying on social media alone is a poor strategy, because it gives you less control of your messaging. Instead, use a website and social media platforms together for a well-rounded approach.
Whether you launch your site via a do-it-yourself platform or hire a developer, invest in a design that is professional-looking and user-friendly. Even if it’s a simple interface, you should use it to provide the basics about your business and keep it updated. Then, you can leverage your website as an anchor for any marketing campaigns, including social media.
With today’s tech features like mobile connectivity and cloud-based computing, it’s never been easier to get your storefront up and running to serve your customers and grow your business.
Business office stock photo by g-stockstudio/Shutterstock
Source : SmallBizDaily
Every year, the holidays seem to arrive before business owners realize they are here. It’s hard to juggle everything and figuring out branding strategies for the holidays, too. Seasonal branding strategies are a mixed bag of challenges. Not only do you have to figure out how to market to your target audience for the holidays, but any campaigns need to tie into your overall branding goals so that customers come back once the holidays are past.
The winter holidays bring in an estimated $602 billion in revenue in the United States, making it the top season for sales out of all the other seasons. As the holidays approach, here are some branding strategies you should implement to drive traffic to your business and keep new customers coming back after the first of the year.
1. Prepare Now
Prepare for seasonal branding early. Around 21 percent of companies begin seasonal branding in September and most in the third quarter. Planning far in advance for seasonal marketing campaigns allows you to tweak ads and make sure your brand is represented in the way you want.
2. Differentiate Your Brand
Figure out the best way to make your brand stand out from all the other brands pushing their seasonal branding. What is unique about what you have to offer consumers?
Focus on the people in your company who make you who you are. Tell your backstory. Explain how your product makes people’s lives better, especially during the holidays. To differentiate your brand, you need to study your competitors. What makes them unique? Now, how are you different?
3. Use Seasonal Packaging
Celebrate the season with some special packaging that users only get during the holidays. Think about some brands that do this and how exciting it is to see what new packaging they’ll reveal each year. Starbucks reveals a holiday cup each year, for example.
Even if you don’t change the packaging on the actual product, you can add a seasonal twist to how you box up orders. For example, use a red or green box instead of a standard brown. These colors can still be utilized after the holidays pass if you wind up with more than you ship out.
4. Tap Into Hashtags
Social media is a great way to reach new users through seasonal branding without changing the heart and soul of your marketing program. Look for hashtags that tie into the season and tap into those. For example, if there is a hashtag on Twitter or Instagram of #SnowmenRule, then you should create an ad that ties into this and use the hashtag to promote your product.
Of course, there is a lot more to promoting on social media, so you should study the platform of your choice carefully and learn how to best engage with customers.
5. Find Your Seasonal Appeal
Every season has its familiar offerings. The fall brings pumpkin spice everything and winter brings hot cocoa and warm mittens. Think about the common factors for the season and how your brand ties into that seasonal appeal. Once you find a connection, it’s simply a matter of playing it up in your seasonal branding efforts.
If you sell data backup equipment for example, you might focus on cold weather and power outages and then tie into how your product prevents data loss when the power goes out. Or, you might focus on feeling safe and warm for the holidays and then segue into feeling safe that your data is protected.
6. Keep Your Logo Intact
While it is okay to add a seasonal twist to your logo, don’t go so far outside the norm that people can’t recognize your logo as yours. Long after the holidays are over, you still want customers to find your brand familiar. Think about the subtle changes Google makes to their logo from time to time. They use the same typeface, but they might add a small Santa hat to one corner of the logo or add a bit of background imagery.
7. Share Your Seasonal Values
What does the season mean to you personally? Take some time to share thoughts from your CEO and your employees. Around 64 percent of people say that shared values is the main reason they do business with a brand. If you can tap into your values and tie them into the season, you’ve tapped into a valuable component to your marketing efforts.
8. Check for Mobile Friendliness
Around one-third of all online sales are via mobile devices. If you want to be ready for the holidays, make sure your mobile responsiveness is up to par. If you have the most brilliant seasonal marketing campaign in history, but mobile users can’t access your site to place an order, then you’ve missed out on around 33 percent of your sales for the season. A loss of 33 percent could be catastrophic to a small business.
Take the time to thoroughly test any ad links and make sure they are easy to access and landing pages easy to view on smaller screens.
Seasonal BrandingThe best seasonal branding doesn’t focus on one specific holiday but is something that goes on year round. All branding needs to run through the filter of the overall image of your company. Take the time to check out what competitors do for their seasonal marketing, add in fresh ideas of your own and point the consumer back to a long-term relationship with your company.
Holiday stock photo by Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock