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Startups: 4 Things You Need To Start Your Business

I’m on the phone a lot – daily (so glad the days of “minute limits” on cell phones are gone now).  Over the last few weeks I’ve had conversations with a few individuals each beginning the route of the startup business.  After finishing these discussions, I realized there were only a handful of themes in all the conversations.

“What do you do for banking?  How do you manage the books?  Should this person be an employee versus a contractor?”

If you haven’t owned a company before (or in a high level of management) then you can easily get overwhelmed by the options you have actually running your business.  Here are the highlights so you can hit the ground running.

Accounting: QuickBooks

For keeping track of your income, expenses, reconciling your bank accounts, knowing what clients haven’t paid in over a month, creating 1099s and W2s for contractors/employees it is fantastic.  When it comes time to payroll and direct deposit your team members, it even does that.  It makes accounting super-simple and your accountant will be very happy you chose a product that he or she already knows how to use.  We use it to setup recurring invoices for clients, make sure our people get paid on time as well as generate reports on how well the company is doing from a profitability standpoint.

A quick note on QuickBooks and Banking

QuickBooks allows you to migrate all of your bank accounts and credit cards into their system so you can categorize everything that comes into (and out of) your business.  I have found that a lot of small, local banks do not have great QuickBooks connectivity and thus make accounting much more difficult.  Personally, I would suggest banking with a larger bank in your area so you can reap the benefits of “accounting made easy.”  If I had to manually reconcile all my expenses (and income) from our different accounts, it would take away from the time I have to give to our clients during the week – and that’s not time I can get back.

Employee or Contractor?

The IRS has a detailed set of rules that defines who is a contractor versus who is an employee.  The three basic rules are:

  • Behavioral: Are you controlling when and how this person is doing the job?
  • Financial: Are you reimbursing their expenses? Do you provide the tools necessary to complete the job?
  • Type: Does the work the person is doing perform a critical role in the business? Does the get benefits?

What it mainly boils down to is understanding and documenting the reasons for/against employee/contractor.  There isn’t a “certain number” of items you have to check off a list to make a person an employee (or a contractor).  Just make sure you take into account everything the IRS tells you to do and make your determination logically.

Critical Employee

During the beginning phases cash on hand is typically a bit tight.  However, there might be that one person who you just have to have on your team in order to make it a success.  You might not have the cash on hand to guarantee a market-rate salary, but if this person is in a position to effect your revenue stream, you might want to consider a simple bonus structure in connection with a lower-than-market salary offer.

First, find out where you want your business’s overall profitability percentage to be.  Let’s say that number is 35%.  If the work this employee touches over each 6 month period is at a 35% profit margin, give out a small bonus.  Do a tiered bonus structure (increasing bonuses for higher profit margins) so the person has the drive to help make the company as profitable as possible.

Simple Website

If you are going to run a business you have to have (at minimum) a simple but solid online presence.  People need to be able to verify you actually exist and the first way people typically do that is through a quick Google search.  If you can’t be found online, you may not actually exist; in the sense of Google-credibility.  If you don’t know where to even start with your website, make sure you budget out some money to get something online before you start passing out business cards.

I admit, I too have been caught in that “oh my gosh, what is going on” moment. When there are so many moving pieces and things … just feel too much. Stop yourself. Give yourself a minute. Boil things down to your basic priorities. These are the 4 things I’ve found (and discovered personally) are essential for getting the operations of your small business running. Whew… just breath. You got this.

Google’s G-Suite Makes Teamwork Easy

You’ve got a small business, now get the tools that will make collaboration a breeze between everyone at the office. G-Suite provides a large set of apps that makes working together easier than ever.

 File Sharing

Drive is the file storage service in Google’s G-Suite. Every file, including documents can easily be shared with others. It’s as easy as right clicking a file, and clicking on “Share”.

gsuite1

The best part is all you need to share the file is an email address. If a client is not part of your team, just type in their email address and they’ll be sent an invitation to view the file. A shared folder is perhaps the most useful feature in Drive. Clients don’t have to worry about email size restrictions which can lead to multiple emails or leaving them looking for some alternative way to get you large files.

Within your own team, you can easily share that folder with everyone. You won’t have to worry about getting the client’s files to the right computer or fussing about downloading the files from an email and moving them elsewhere to the right person — they’re all in the cloud!

Collaborate in Real Time

Docs, Sheets, and Slides (the office suite)  allow you to collaborate in real time with others. You’ll see edits each user makes as they type! Each editor is given a unique colorful caret with their name attached to easily identify which people are working on which sections of a document.

gsuite2-crop

You don’t have to worry about sending an email about what party supplies everyone at the office needs. Send a shared document, and have everyone throw in their ideas. The possible uses are endless.

The real time collaboration works just as easy in Slides and Sheets too. Throw the whole team to work on a sales presentation without worrying about merging changes into one presentation file after everyone finishes their work. Get it all done, simultaneously in one document.

gsuite3

Cost

You can try out Drive and the office apps and other Google apps and services free with any Google account. If you would like business features like domain email, user management, and more storage you can get G-Suite for businesses.

G-Suite is $5 per user per month. Each user gets access to the full suite of Google apps which includes email, an office suite, video conferencing, and more. If you want more storage or a few extra administrative features, you can upgrade to a $10 per user per month plan which is still easily affordable.

Google Crackdown on Popups

Google loves making changes. It is constantly updating and re-inventing its services. The newest change? How their algorithm pulls the precise content you want from your search. When you do a search for almost anything, you get the result you’re looking for within the first 10 results Google retrieves.  The last major change Google made was giving result-boosts to company websites that were mobile friendly (or, to put it differently, discredited sites that were only optimized for desktop views).  Through that change, Google set a new precedent and now 85% of all pages in the mobile search results now meet this criteria and show the mobile-friendly label.  Starting on January 10th, 2017, Google released another new rule that effects companies who rely on advertising money for a bulk of their revenue or trying to expand their email list.

Interstitial Pop Ups

Interstitial Pop Up from GoogleWhat in the world is an interstitial?  You are at your computer/phone and start searching.  You finally find that article you’re looking for and click on the link to the website.  However, you are rudely disrupted from your article browsing after only reading the first two words of because a pop up! You know, the ones with the teeny-tiny close button hiding in the obnoxious graphics.  That is what Google is cracking down on.  The goal is to give you, the consumer, the best experience possible – and those types of interruptions don’t allow for a smooth user experience.

These types of pop-ups are most commonly used for two main reasons:

1) Collecting email addresses for your a mailing list

In order to grow the company mailing list, we all know that site that blocks the content we’re searching for with a pop-up connected with their email provider to blast out new blog articles. There is now a need to be more careful – especially with readership on mobile devices. These types of pop-ups are going to reduce site priority in search results. Currently, this algorithm update does not affect desktop experiences. There hasn’t been any discussion around desktop yet, but we plan on keeping our ears open.

2) Advertising Revenue

This is the business area that will be hit the hardest by this change.  A lot of companies rely on advertising revenue because of these pop ups.  Now, those companies are going to have to start weighing the pros and cons of keeping the ad slot revenue at a loss of Google Page Rank.

So What Do I Do?

Google Interstitial Banner AdFirstly, if you don’t have a developer on staff to dynamically change your interstitials to only pop-up on desktop, I highly recommend removing all together for the time being.  As a business owner, I’d rather lose out on a handful of email list sign ups than risk having my website moved down in Google’s Page Rank.  Secondly, start thinking outside the box.  Google will still allow ads to pop up, but that have to use an appropriate amount of screen real estate on mobile.  To the right you’ll see an ad that does pop over the content, but utilizes an appropriate amount of space (it doesn’t block anything).  Start consolidating the information on your pop-up so it can fit into a smaller space so you can both: A) appease Google and B) still collect the information you need.  Perhaps being more concise with your ad content / email sign up form might actually prompt more people to click/sign up.  Nowadays, consumers are so used to having full-screen pop up ads, that their muscle memory automatically closes those out without even having to think about it.

Google is a constantly evolving monster. Often, adapting in response to its users behaviors. Not only are content blocking pop-ups annoying and obtrusive to user experience – now there is an actual penalty for heckling users. In a moment of confession; I can’t say I’m not unhappy about the change. Even if it means I need to make a few more changes to my own data-collecting approaches.


Source: Google Webmaster Central Blog

Optimizing Photos for the Web

Optimizing the images on your website can be one of the most noticeable improvements in its speed you can make. If your page takes more than half a second to load, your number of users will decline as they leave your site before it ever finished loading.

Size Appropriately

Did you know many popular tools such as WordPress may not resize your images automatically? If you insert a 3000 pixel wide image in a container 1000 pixels wide, the browser will still download the large image. The browser will then scale that image down to fit into the allotted space. Resizing your image is an absolute must for best optimization.

Let’s take a look at an example JPEG that is 4608×3456 pixels and 4.71 megabytes. Consider a mobile user who is using 3G data (which has a top speed of around 750 kilobytes per second, but often less) This image would take them 6.3 seconds to download!

Just by resizing this image down to a good size for a blog post (500×375) can bring this image’s file size to 97.6 kilobytes, which would only take our same 3G user 130 milliseconds (about a tenth of a second) to download.

Change the Image’s Quality Settings

The most common format for photos, JPEG, is extremely flexible. It has the possibility to encode the same image many different ways. Your goal is to find the happy medium of acceptable image quality to file size.

How It’s Done – Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop isn’t free, but it is by far the most popular software out there for the job.

The easy way to optimize your images is to go to File -> Save for Web. A new dialog will pop up with many options you can choose from. The image file type (shown in blue in this image) is currently set to JPEG which is ideal for the photo we’re optimizing. Be sure this is selected. By default, another format such as GIF may be selected.

There are presets for quality options for your images you can choose here as well. Change the dropdown box next to “Preset” to select “JPEG High”, “JPEG Medium”, or “JPEG Low”. These will each sacrifice more quality for smaller file sizes.

Once you’re happy with the settings, hit the Save button.

Optimizing Photos with Photoshop

With our scaled photo, this brought the size from 97.6 kilobytes to 37 kilobytes!

 

How It’s Done – GIMP

There are plenty of free alternatives to Photoshop. One of those is GIMP, available from http://gimp.org/

With this tool, you have to set the options manually. Once your image is loaded and resized appropriately, go to File -> Export. From here choose a location and file name and click on Export.

Another window will pop up with the saving possibilities. To get similar results to Photoshop, change the Quality setting to 60. Under Advanced Options, uncheck the Progressive checkbox (unless you want that feature).

Finally, hit Export to save your changes to a file.

Optimizing photos with GIMP

With this scaled photo, this brought the size from 97.6 kilobytes to 29.7 kilobytes!!

Can You Tell the Difference?

There are two versions of the same photo below. One is saved at 97% quality, and is 97.6 kilobytes in size. The other is saved at 60% quality, and is 29.7 kilobytes.

Optimizing Images - 60% Quality

Optimizing Images - 97% Quality

They’re remarkably similar, and one is a third of the size. In this example, the quality difference is most noticeable on the white icicles at the bottom. The first photo has more JPEG artifacts around the edges, and it is indeed the lower quality of the two. They’re both still beautiful, and most people would be hard pressed to find anything wrong.

That’s It!

It can seem a little daunting when looking at optimizing your images for your website, but once you get the hang of it, you won’t spend more than 10 seconds on each image. And why wouldn’t you?

From the original full-size photo at 4.71 megabytes down to our scaled and optimized image at 29.7 kilobytes is over a 99.99% savings!

It’s DEFINITELY worth the 10 seconds of your life and saves your mobile users valuable loading time. So they spend more time engaging with your content, and less time looking at loading bars.

5 Skills Designers Should Have

So you want to be a designer? It’s an exciting and creative job that gives you a step up into the profitable and ever-changing world of website technology. And let’s be honest for a moment: people and businesses will always need websites designed. This allows for a considerable amount of job security. So what skills should you know before jumping into the deep end? Here are five key skills to have under your belt in order to become a stellar website designer:

1. Understand the Basics

Perhaps the most important skill for budding designers is the ability to understand basic HTML and CSS, the coding languages for the vast majority of websites today. Yes, there are tools that designers can use, such as Macaw and Webflow, that can create beautiful websites using only drag and drop principles. No coding required. The drawback is that you can only rely on these website builders for so long. As you grow as a designer, a client will eventually come up with something too large or complex for a drag-&-drop platform. Then you will want to NEED the knowledge of HTML and CSS.

Knowing the basics of HTML and CSS should be important to designers because it allows you to see the works of your hands come to life. This knowledge will allow you to come to a better grip of what your limitations and expectations as a designer are. HTML and CSS will tell you how different web aspects will appear, such as where images will be placed, how text will look, among other things. Would you build a house without a foundation? No? Then why would you choose to ignore the cornerstones of many websites?

2. Marketing is Key

Your website will unfortunately not draw people to it on its own. The budding designer must be knowledgeable about the advantages of marketing. With the rise of social media, it has become easier than ever to get your name out to the public. However, many designers see this as the job of someone else or not important at all. In order for anyone to acknowledge your brand, they must be informed about it. Becoming fluent if not knowledgeable on major social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) will allow you to get your name into public awareness.

Another important thing to understand is the idea of actual marketing. There has been a rising trend of utilizing advertising campaigns. Websites can use paid marketing schemes such as Google AdWords to place ads in places where specific and targeted people will see them. Know the ins and outs of these marketing campaigns and they will help your clients get business!

3. A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

After spending so much time on a design, make sure you follow through completely. It’s important to put effort into all aspects of your design. One of the highest priorities visually is the quality of the images on your site. Yes, designers can create engaging designs but should the images have poor quality then your whole site can be easily disfigured. Knowing the quality of good photography or graphics is vital to the overall look of your website. Spending the extra money and time on the quality of these things will not only improve your site but also improve your own image as a designer.

4. Print is important too

As a designer, you need to be well rounded. Not only will this open more doors, but it will also help to expand your skill set and make you more marketable. So learn how to design print materials for any websites you may create. Anybody can slap a logo on a template and call it a business card, but having quality print materials is a vital part to any business. That’s where you can come in.

Knowing how to translate a company’s website and logo into print is an excellent skill to have. Many industries still rely heavily on business cards, brochures, yard signs, and printed material. Having this skill will give you the edge when clients go looking for a designer.

5. Be Creative

In today’s ever expanding society of the newest and trendiest websites, you have to stay on the cutting edge of things. Being creative is an imperative part to any good designer’s tool kit. A computer will never be able to create beauty and that’s why you are so essential. Let your creative juices flow and create a masterpiece on the Internet. Keep an eye on those popular websites around you and learn from them. Note what looks amazing and what just doesn’t work. Be your own designer and create something unique and beautiful.

There are so many valuable skills a website designer should possess. The ones listed above are just a sampling of those considered most important. If you truly want to be a designer, start with creativity and go from there. Drive and desire will follow if you’re passionate and inspired. Best of luck!

Updating Your Website Design

Your website is arguably the most important piece of your business. You want to make sure you not only have one that functions, but that it’s also up to date, and easy to navigate. Here are five warnings signs that reveal if your website needs an expert redesign:

1. No traffic, no business

If you notice that the traffic to your site has decreased, this might signify a larger problem. The main goal of your website is to bring in as many visitors as possible and to have them make their visit worthwhile, buying your product, signing up for a service, or even just leaving a name and email. If people aren’t visiting, they certainly aren’t buying, and you are losing money.

In order to combat this, you have several options. Try integrating your social media with your website, and pushing your business on those outlets. You may want to invest in an advertising campaign. Try talking with a professional about search engine optimization (SEO) and how they can help you drive traffic to your site through ad-words and other means of advertising.

2. Not viewable on mobile devices

The technology market has steadily been moving towards the rise of mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets. If your website is unable to be viewed properly on these devices, you will lose visitors and potential customers. With a redesign plan, be sure to talk with a designer who has experience in this flexible design (also called responsive design.) This will ensure that your website will be able to be viewed across all devices and all browsers.

3. Slow… loading…

Does your website take forever to load? In today’s busy and stressful society, this could mean the downfall of your business. Overdramatic it may seem, but many people will not wait around for a site to load. They will simply move on to another, faster loading site to do their business. In order to make your site load faster, an update is highly recommended. Many older websites are very image and link heavy, making the site slower. Any designer worth anything will be able to change this, among other things, and will allow your site to run smoother and faster.

4. Outdated and antiquated

Sometimes the popularity of your website will have nothing to do with the product or service you’re selling. There is constant competition between rival businesses about which site looks better, runs faster, and is considered “trendier.” You might be surprised at how much appearance counts for in the website business. Try visiting a competing website and going through the process to buy something. See if there is anything you might be able to improve on your own website.

5. No change, no gain

Have you updated your website since it’s launch? If the answer to that question is “no”, then you may need to evaluate your design. Even if your site has only been around for a year or two, trends in the industry seem to change every day. Paying attention to these shifting trends, can ensure that your website is up to date and utilizing all possible advantages technology has to offer. Be willing to make these changes and you’ll be rewarded with an increase in traffic and more business.

As is evidenced above, a possible update and redesign for your website can be quite important. If your website does not take full advantage of every person that visits, then it’s wasting precious potential. Guarantee your website is up to date, and you will see your business increase.

5 of the Best Startup Practices

In many ways, operating a startup business is a lot like running a marathon. Both require lots of time, training, and planning, as well as self-discipline and flexibility. Like anyone training for a race there are just best practices to efficiently run your startup.

Timing is everything

During a marathon, you rarely see people take off at a flat out sprint in the very beginning. Instead, professional runners set a pace and know when to start pushing themselves. This is critical to a startup company. You must know the market and know when to start pushing your product. If the market is flooded with similar items, you may need to wait in order for your business to take off.

Another important key to the timing of your startup is to make sure you are moving quickly and decisively. Once you start making moves towards your business plan, act with a purpose! These are some of the most important steps in the life of your business. Too many startups have gotten bogged down at the very beginning because they simply dragged their feet getting off the ground.

Surround yourself with supporters

Most marathon athletes have a network of support. This support group is usually made up of friends, family, and other marathon runners who constantly strive to improve and encourage the athlete. In business, this is also important. Make sure you have people in place in your business who will be with you for the long haul. Most startups won’t get off the ground in six months, some not even in a year, so make sure you hire people who are committed and who desire to improve your business. These people will be the cornerstones of your startup.

On a more personal note; try to involve your friends and family in this process. Not only will they be there to help you through the tough times, but they will also be there to celebrate with you in your triumphs. We all need a little encouragement – or a call from a friend reminding us to get some sleep.

Stick to the plan

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of any undertaking is self-discipline. In reference to running a marathon, serious runners have the self-discipline of a monk. They adhere to rigid training regimes, nutrition plans, and practice schedules. In order to have a successful startup, you must adopt this attitude as well. That means setting forth a budget and then sticking to it – not a single penny over. Perhaps you can afford to go over your budget, but in the end, it’s the principle of the matter. If you go over your first budget, what will keep you from going over it for the rest of the life of your business?

In addition, it is recommended that you set forth a schedule for yourself concerning when you want to get certain things done. That way you can see your schedule days, weeks, and even months in advance, and know what you need to get done. It should be well known to anyone reading this article that startups require more time and nurturing than an established business. You should be prepared to spend as much time as needed on your project.

Bend but don’t break

A flexible runner is a good runner. If you run while you’re stiff, you will inevitably injure yourself. Any runner, marathon or not, knows stretching before a race is invaluable. You loosen up your muscles and give your body a chance to enjoy a wider range of motion and to recover faster after the race. Being flexible with your startup is equally important. Things can change in almost any aspect of your business and they might require tweaking. Sure, your company might be your baby and you might have everything perfectly in order.  However, what if things change and initial testing of your product shows you need to alter your course?  Given that your product has never been tested in the marketplace until your first round of testing, you do not know whether or not your idea is one that will stick. Therefore, it is vital to have the flexibility to adapt and change as new factors arise.

Don’t forget to follow through

After all the training and all the preparation, don’t chicken out. Put your feet to the pavement and just go. All the tips and helpful hints are worth nothing if you don’t have the perseverance or knowledge to just get out and do it. This goes for marathons, startup businesses and anything else that might require any great effort. At the end of the day, make sure you know how to do what you need to do rather than what needs to be done. Don’t come to the end of things and be afraid of getting your hands dirty. You’ve come too far to quit now. Follow through.

SEO vs. SEM: What’s the Difference?

So everyone wants to drive more traffic to their websites, right? But the real question there is how should you go about that process? Of course, there are multiple options – integrating social media, inviting guest bloggers to write for you, among others. However, perhaps the most popular option is to start up an advertising campaign. This is an easy way to drive the most people to your website. Unfortunately this brings up another set of options concerning how to go about the ad campaign. In this post we will delve into two options: search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM).

What is SEO?

At its simplest, search engine optimization is the process of making your website more visible when people use a search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo). Website owners don’t have to pay anything to use it, and it involves using “organic” or “natural” keywords and links.

This begs another question: what do the terms “organic” and “natural” mean in this sense? In essence, it’s advertising you do yourself. In order to appear at the top of search results, you must utilize key words, titles of blog posts or articles, and take full advantage of back linking. Back linking is the act of using a hyperlink that connects back to your website. Many search engines consider websites with more back links to be more relevant and thus places them higher in search results.

What is SEM?

Search engine marketing is the paid, older brother of SEO. While SEM is the broader term, it mainly refers to paid ads that website owners purchase in order to position their website higher on search results. Through programs like Google AdWords, you can pay per click, and choose where your ad appears, as well as set a budget and track who is clicking on your ads. This allows you to create ads for select groups of people and only show the ads in certain places.

So which should you use?

There are many debates today about which of the above strategies is better in the long term for an ad campaign. Each has its own set of distinct advantages. SEO certainly takes a longer time to show any return on interest, however, if done right, you can reap the benefits. You just need patience, and somebody who knows the system. SEM, on the other hand, can be considered almost instant gratification. Anyone with a credit card can pay per click and then place their ads where they want them and see instant results.

You will need to sit down with your business plan and decide which of these options is for you. Many websites employ both of these, using SEO all of the time, and constantly improving on it, while they use SEM on a case-by-case basis. Any way you spin it, using SEO or SEM (or both!) will help to increase traffic to your site and improve visibility of it on search results.

Email Lists and Getting More Subscribers

A lot of companies collect email addresses on their site, but don’t know what to do with them once they have them. Sometimes the newly acquired address is sent to an admin of a company who keeps a long Excel document full of addresses from various subscribers. Other companies store them in the website itself (not a bad idea for safe keeping) but then they just sit there.

Rather than just having email addresses sit and not make you money, setup some automation that will automatically feed those email addresses into a mailing list. Our preferred provider is MailChimp, however there are plenty others out there (Constant Contact, AWeber and many more).

MailMuch allows you to setup a pop up box that allows people to type in their email address and then dynamically feed that address to a specified list in your MailChimp account.  You can specify what types of pages/posts the pop up shows on, the frequency in which it is shown as well as the content of the popup itself.

Ninja Forms and Gravity Forms have MailChimp and Constant Contact integrations that automatically pass through the person’s email address to a specified list in your email list provider’s account.  So setup a basic contact form and have the address be automatically submitted to a list if they “check off” a box that says they approve receiving blasts from your company.

Once you start putting your potential customer’s email addresses into systems that can actually utilize them, you now give your marketing team the ability to start getting in touch with these people much easier.  Now your lists can start making you money rather than collecting dust on a shelf.

Website Down! How To Check

60 second tip: There are many, many reasons as to why your website wouldn’t be pulling up for you on a given day. One quick tool we use at Classic City is DownForEveryoneOrJustMe.com. This free service gives you quick access to see if your website is down across the world or if it just happens to be your computer acting weird today. Next time you can’t get to your site, check this site out first, and if it is let us know here and we can assist you!

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