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Getting Paid the Cool Kids’ Way: Venmo and Apple Pay

In today’s environment of instant gratification and demand for convenience, small businesses must make it as convenient and safe as possible for people to pay for products and services. As new platforms emerge, businesses that target millennials and Generation Zers (known for being early adopters of technology) need to stay in the know about the cutting edge options out there.

Two innovative payment methods that have been getting a lot of press include Venmo and Apple Pay.

Venmo

What Is Venmo?

Venmo, a mobile-only app owned by PayPal, is part social network/part digital wallet. After a user sets up a Venmo account and links it to their bank account or debit card, they can transfer money to and accept money from other Venmo users.

Available on Android and iOS devices, the Venmo app is also used to pay for purchases made through mobile browsers or mobile apps—and to split the cost of expenses such as rideshares, pizza delivery, and movie tickets via mobile apps (e.g., Uber, Papa John’s, Fandango).

With a growing user base (PayPal recently reported the app has over 40 million users) and the social aspect of the app, Venmo has the potential to generate exposure and a steady dose of word of mouth for businesses that sell products and services online.

How Can Your Business Accept Venmo Payments?

If your business accepts payments via your mobile website or app, you may want to explore adding Venmo to your list of payment options. You can connect with the payment gateway Braintree to accept Venmo at checkout on your mobile site or mobile app. Or you can add Venmo as a payment option at PayPal checkout.

How Much Does It Cost To Receive Payments Through Venmo?

When customers pay through Venmo, the merchant is charged 2.9 percent of the purchase price plus a transaction fee of $.30.

Is Venmo Secure?

Venmo uses encryption to help protect users’ account information, and they store account data on servers at secure locations. Users may set up multifactor authentication and add a PIN code in the app for additional peace of mind. Also, Venmo monitors activity to help detect unauthorized transactions. Visit the Venmo website for more information about the protections they have in place.

 

Apple Pay

What is Apple Pay?

Apple’s payment platform, Apple Pay, gives iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch users a convenient way to make secure purchases in stores, online, and in apps. Apple Pay accounts can be connected to most credit and debit cards from most U.S. banks. Apple has announced it will introduce Apple Card later this summer as a new way to pay with Apple Pay. Many major retailers, restaurants, and service providers—brick and mortar, online, and in-app—accept Apple Pay at checkout.

Apple Pay also has a peer-to-peer component, allowing users to send money to (or receive money from) other Apple Pay users through Apple Messages or by asking Siri.

How Can You Accept Payments Through Apple Pay?

Unlike Venmo, Apple encourages brick-and-mortar stores to accept Apple Pay. Merchants must have a contactless payment–capable point-of-sale terminal to do so. If you have one but haven’t yet been accepting contactless payments, ask your payment provider to enable that capability. The Apple website shares additional information that stores need to know about Apple Pay. It also provides details about implementing Apple Pay in your app or website.

How Much Does It Cost To Receive Payments Through Apple Pay?

According to Apple Pay’s info for merchants, “Apple doesn’t charge any additional fees” to accept Apple Pay. Merchants will pay the same fees as usual to banks and credit cards (those that customers access through their Apple Pay accounts) for transactions.

Is Apple Pay Secure?

In addition to the security features built into the hardware and software of Apple devices, Apple Pay requires users to have a passcode on their device. Further security options include facial recognition and fingerprint identification.

Apple does not store the numbers of the credit, debit, or prepaid cards that people use with Apple Pay, nor does it retain any transaction information.

For more details about Apple Pay’s security and privacy protections, visit the overview on the Apple website.

How Can a SCORE Mentor Help?

As you consider which payment methods will benefit your customers and your business, remember that SCORE mentors can offer valuable input and feedback to help you make an informed decision. Contact us today!

Get To Know Your Customers Day!

 

It seems there’s a special day to honor just about everything from National Grilled Cheese Day to National Hug a Drummer Day. It’s impossible to keep up with them  all, but there is a particular day that small business owners should observe every day:

Get To Know Your Customers Day

Recognized on the third Thursday of each quarter (January, April, July, and October), Get to Know Your Customers Day is a day to make an effort to learn more about your customers.

In the last half of 2017, it falls on July 20 and October 19 (past dates in 2017 include January 19 and April 20).

But why only strive to get to know your customers once per quarter? Having a pulse on what your customers need, want, and will pay for is something entrepreneurs should strive for every day. Knowing your customers is critical to your business success because without doing so you cannot be sure you’re meeting your target market’s needs.

When you know your customers, you have the insight you need to:

  • Adapt your products and services to meet your customers’ changing wants and needs.
  • Deliver the value your customers expect.
  • Build customer loyalty.

 

How can you get to know your customers better?

Not all customers will freely tell you about themselves, their lifestyles, what they’re looking for, or how they feel about your products and services. Fortunately, with relatively minimal effort, you can gather that information.

  • Look at online customer reviews for information about their lifestyles and preferences. Besides sharing customers’ level of satisfaction, reviews can also educate you on how, where, and why customers are using your products and services. That can give you perspective on how you might improve or expand your offerings.

 

  • Email individual customers “just because” to see what’s new with them. It’s a no-pressure way to show customers you value and care about them and to discover opportunities to serve them.

 

  • Schedule one-on-one coffee dates or lunch meetings to catch up with them. If the nature of your business makes this feasible, consider setting aside some time to catch up face to face and learn what’s on your customers’ minds.

 

  • Hold a customer appreciation event. This type of gathering will enable you to mix and mingle and learn more about your customers in a laid-back, friendly setting.

 

  • Attend other organizations’ social events. Consider attending chamber of commerce mixers, non-profit golf outings, and other activities when you know your customers will be there. These occasions provide opportunities for casual conversation rather than just “talking shop.”

 

If you haven’t made getting to know your customers a priority in your small business, July’s Get To Know Your Customers Day is a perfect time to start.

For more ideas on ways to get to know your customers, talk with a SCORE mentor. With experience in all aspects of starting and running a business, SCORE volunteers can provide valuable guidance and feedback through every phase of your entrepreneurial journey.

Small Business Saturday: How To Generate Buzz and Attract Customers

 

Small Business Saturday, the Saturday that’s after Thanksgiving and on the heels of Black Friday, falls on November 26 this year. As one of the busiest shopping days of the year, it presents a wonderful opportunity to springboard your business into a successful holiday season.

 

Are you preparing to make the most of it?

 

If you haven’t given it much thought, there’s still time! The American Express Shop Small® website has numerous ideas and resources to help you make this Small Business Saturday the best ever.

 

Here are some additional tips to help you gear up for the day and build excitement that will last into the weeks that follow:

 

  • Craft a Small Business Saturday promotional offer to draw customers to your business that day. Shoppers are always looking for great deals around Black Friday, so make yourself stand out with an offer they can’t resist.

 

  • Create flyers to advertise your Small Business Saturday offerings and drop them into customers’ shopping bags in the weeks leading up to November 26.

 

  • Partner with other small businesses to promote each other’s products and services. Share each other’s marketing materials and talk up your fellow merchants to customers. Small business is all about mutual support. Everyone in the local business community wins when that happens!

 

  • Use social media aggressively to promote Small Business Saturday and your special offers. On Facebook, consider paying to boost posts so they’ll have greater exposure. On Twitter and Instagram, use the hashtags #SmallBizSat and #ShopSmall in your updates so people looking for participating businesses and special offers can find you.

 

  • Run an email marketing campaign to raise awareness of Small Business Saturday and the special deals you’re offering to customers that day.

 

The Shop Small website has free customizable Small Business Saturday marketing materials (for your website, social media, and your storefront) that you can download and print to help you in your efforts to promote the event and your business.

 

And don’t forget to tap the knowledge and experience of a SCORE mentor as you formulate a plan for driving sales this Small Business Saturday. SCORE volunteers offer expertise in all aspects of starting and running a small business. Who better to help you make this Small Business Saturday a success?

Five Tips to Improve Local Business Search Results

For businesses serving their local communities, ranking near the top of Google search results provides a key marketing edge. According to Google research into local search behavior, 4 in 5 consumers use search engines via mobile devices and computers to find local information such as store addresses, business hours, product availability, and directions. People choose from the first few search results rather than dig deeper in the search engine results page (SERP), so it is vital to get your business near the top of  the searches.

Here’s a checklist of simple steps to help ensure your company doesn’t get lost in the local search shuffle:

    1. Make sure your business information is accurate and complete—everywhere that it appears online. If you haven’t already, make a list of all the places your company is listed online and verify you’ve provided up-to-date and consistent information across all channels. Google My Business, industry directories, social media channels, Yellowpages.com, etc.—your name, address, phone number, website URL, and other information should be uniform and relevant.
    2. Focus on delivering ease-of-use to your website visitors—and avoid applications like Flash media. Usability of your website can play a role in how long website visitors stay on your site, which in turn plays a role in the online authority Google attributes to your company. Flash media may create some fancy visuals, but it can slow the load time of your pages and detract from the user experience.
    3. Optimize your website for search. Aside from consulting an SEO (search engine optimization) specialist to help you with this, you can take some measures on your own. Pay attention to the page title tags on your site so they provide not only your company name, but also give a brief description of your business (just be sure to stay within 50–60 characters so your title isn’t cut off in the results). Your meta descriptions, the 150–160-character long snippet that displays with your title in search results, should provide searchers with information that captures their attention. And on your website, make sure you include contact info on every page.
    4. Blog consistently, so you’re regularly adding fresh content to your website. A website that updates its content often will stand a far better chance of ranking higher in local search than one that is stagnant. Your blog posts will enable you to provide fresh content targeting local keywords and search terms related to your business. Not only does blogging provide SEO benefits, but it also gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and build trust with your audience. And don’t forget to share your blog posts via your social media channels to generate more traffic to your website. Engagement on social media in combination with blogging works well in boosting your local search mojo.
    5. Make sure your website is mobile friendly. Google’s research revealed that 88 percent of local searches are done via smartphones. And those local searchers tend to take action quickly when they find what they’re looking for. According to their study, 50 percent of consumers who performed a local search on their smartphone proceeded to visit a store within one day. Those statistics say it all for stressing the importance of having a mobile-friendly website!

When you sell your products and services to a customer base that’s primarily local, these small efforts can make a big difference in your success in securing business through online searches. If you need guidance in getting on the right path with your online and other marketing efforts, remember that our SCORE mentors bring a broad spectrum of expertise and experience to small business owners in all industries. Contact us about our free mentoring services.

 

Is Email Marketing Worth the Investment?

With social media, texting, and other instantaneous ways of marketing your products and services, you might be wondering if anyone really pays attention to emails anymore.

Statistics say they do.

  • According to eMarketer, 69.7 percent of internet users say email is their preferred method of communicating with businesses.
  • And Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s 2015 State of Marketing report shows…
    • Seventy-four percent of marketers believe email produces (or will produce) ROI.
    • Seventy-three percent of marketers agree that email marketing is core to their business

How Could Email Marketing Help Your Small Business?

You can use email marketing to fulfill a number of objectives. For example you can…

  • Introduce new products and services.
  • Announce special offers, promotions, and contests.
  • Provide tips to help customers use your products and services more effectively.
  • Share industry news that will affect your customers.
  • Share event highlights.
  • Introduce new team members.
  • Highlight recent awards or press coverage your business has received.

You can get the most from your email marketing efforts when you integrate them with your other online marketing strategies. For instance, you can share links to your blog posts and other pages of your website in your email marketing messages, share your email marketing message links on social media, and incorporate links to your social media accounts in your email marketing messages. All of those things will boost the visibility of each platform you’re using.

Small Business Email Marketing Platforms

Several small business email marketing solutions exist. Some are free, and some have fees (which typically start out small and increase as you increase the size of your mailing list).

As you explore the options, consider these things:

  • Your budget
  • The frequency at which you’ll be sending email marketing messages
  • Your level of comfort in using technology tools (some platforms are more user-friendly than others)

Most importantly, know the rules and regulations set forth by the Federal Trade Commission for email marketing. There are laws in place to protect people from unwanted solicitation emails. Fail to comply with them and you could find yourself paying a hefty fine. No small business owner needs that!

If you’re considering making email marketing part of your business marketing strategy but don’t know where to begin, talk with a SCORE mentor. At SCORE, we have a team of dedicated volunteers who can help guide you in your marketing efforts and help you with all other aspects of growing your business.

Respect Your Competition

You launch your business in a growing niche market. Out of the blue, a friend tells you about a new similar product or service. After your initial shock, do you obsess about losing your edge or embrace the opportunity? At SCORE, we say “FEAR not your competition!” The right move is to transition into discovery mode. Knowledge about similar businesses may add a creative spark to your thinking or confirm that you’re bringing an authentic solution to a customer want or need at precisely the right time.  Read more

Build Your Brand through Face-to-Face and Online Networking

Networking – face-to-face and online – is essential for not only building awareness of and trust in your brand, but also in you as a small business owner. According to a survey referenced on the Business Networking by Dr. Ivan Misner blog, professionals who said they spend a little over six hours a week networking gained nearly 47 percent of their business via networking activities and referrals. Wow!

The not-so-secret benefits of what networking can do for you:

• Raise awareness of your business and what you do.

• Build credibility.

• Let people get to know the face behind your brand. (Remember, people do business with people.)

• Extend your reach and can lead to referrals. (Expand the possibility of you knowing someone who knows someone who can use your services.)

Combining face-to-face and online networking optimizes business development efforts.
Your involvement in networking in person and your online networking support and reinforce each other. When your contacts cross over from one realm to the other, you build multidimensional relationships. That gives you more options for interacting – and it makes it easier to stay top of mind with prospective clients and existing customers.

Networking opportunities to consider as a small business owner:

Face-to-face networking groups
Availability of networking groups can vary depending on where you live and your specific industry. Here are a few types of networking groups to consider:

• Chambers of commerce
• Industry and trade associations
• Small local networking groups
• Community service organizations (like Rotary clubs, Lions Club, etc.)

Online networking opportunities

As you know, there’s no shortage of social media networks available to businesses. Which networks will give you the most return on your investments of time and effort depends on a number of factors, including your type of business. Most likely, you’re already using one or more of these platforms:

• LinkedIn (the one network we encourage every professional to consider)

• Facebook

• Twitter

• Pinterest

• Google Plus

• Instagram

• SnapChat

• YouTube

• Vine

• Foursquare

When networking inperson or online, you’ll want to get the most from the time and energy you spend. Here are a few tips for making the most of your networking efforts:

Think of networking as a process, not as an event.
Networking is about building relationships. You can’t do that by attending one or two meetings or mixers. Only through consistency of involvement will you reap the rewards that networking offers. This is true of both face-to-face and online networking.

Cross-connect when possible.
Whenever possible, connect with face-to-face networking connections via social media. Vice versa, if you have an opportunity to have coffee with a social media contact, take it! Cross-connecting will give you more opportunities to stay top of mind with contacts.

Choose platforms and organizations carefully.
Research which will provide the most opportunities for you to interact with your target market. Also, consider how much time you have available for networking and when you’re available to network. Not all online social networks demand the same amount of time and attention. Some networking groups require substantial time commitment and attendance at meetings. Before joining, find out if they hold their functions primarily during the work day or in the evenings. Which work best with your schedule?

Also, find out how much of a financial investment you’ll need to make. Some networking organizations require membership fees which then enable you to attend certain events “for free” as a member, but you might also have to pay for some events and activities. Make sure a group is within your budget so you can actively participate.

Be genuine – and genuinely interested.
People can detect a fake. Be real; be you when networking. Also, make your interactions about them not you in the beginning. Make it a point to ask questions and show an interest in other people before you jump in to share about yourself. It builds goodwill and makes a great first impression.

Follow up.
After meeting face to face, connect on social media (particularly LinkedIn) or send a friendly email. By doing so, you can build on that one-time meeting and open the door to communicating on an ongoing basis.

While successful networking comes easier to some business owners than others, it’s rare – if not impossible – to build a brand without it as part of a business’s strategy. If you’re not sure which networking groups, platforms, and activities might work best for your business, reach out to a SCORE mentor for guidance. We’re here to help!

Evaluate Your Competition

You are ready to launch your business in a growing niche market. Out of the blue a friend sends you a link to a similar new product or service.  After your initial shock, head over and evaluate the competition. Move into discovery mode and look under the hood of the competitor’s engine.  That knowledge may add a creative spark to your thinking.  Or it serves to confirm that you’re bringing an authentic solution for a customer want or need at precisely the right time.

Take a short drive  and see what makes them tick.  Scope out their website and metatags.  Appraise how they tell their story. Are they solving the pain point in a novel way?  If you compete in a new market segment with low barriers to entry, understand the incremental features and benefits promised.  How does that compare to the “must have” features you learned in your customer discovery?  Tap into their social networks and get a feel for their buzz.

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Develop a Successful Sales Plan

It is critical to plan for and adjust to your product or service sales cycles. Begin by reviewing the 10 steps to deliver a successful sales plan.  Each step will affect your resources, budget and cash flow. Properly executed, you will increase your sales and profits and delight your customers.

Understand your product life cycle.

Where is your product or service today?  Is it in an introductory phase, undergoing a growth spurt, delivering mature sales, or a slow decline? It is important to know where your products are in their  life cycle to properly assess current demand and projected sales revenues. Review the initial buying pattern and current purchase cycle for accuracy. Is your product a 1x purchase, or does it involve multiple and repeat purchase patterns?  Think toaster versus buying the bread for toast!

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