Getting Started with A/B Testing

AB TestingA/B testing created quite a stir when it was first introduced as a viable testing method for optimizing websites or email copy. There is actually a lot to be excited about when it comes to A/B testing because it can get you actual results, even if you don’t have extensive experience in computer programming.

You might not be aware of it, but you’ve probably already visited sites that use A/B testing. You might have even participated in an A/B test already. A lot of big sites are already using this method to optimize their web pages and optimize conversion rates, such as Amazon, eBay, Google, Microsoft, and the BBC.

What A/B Testing Is

So what is A/B testing (also known as multivariate testing)? Basically, it’s a method where you present two versions of one element to your site visitors. For email marketers, it involves the variation of one element in the email copies that you send out to the subscribers in your list.

Generally, A/B testing only calls for the variation of only one element at a time. This is so that the results obtained can be directly and clearly attributed to the modification of that single element.

Variations of A/B Testing

Some people have come up with variations to A/B testing over the years. Instead of testing just one element at a time, several are modified per test. This way, a better design can be implemented by conducting fewer tests and within a shorter amount of time. The downside is that the reason for the results cannot be determined clearly, since it would be difficult to conclude which element caused the resulting success or failure of the design.

How to Conduct A/B Tests

  1. Make a list of possible test elements. In this stage of the process, it would be helpful to have the team work on putting together a list of elements that can be tweaked and modified. For websites, this could include the header, banner images, text formatting, font face and type, image placement, color theme, site logo, and navigation bar location.
  2. Select your test elements. You can simplify the process by ranking the elements you listed down in the first step according to urgency or priority. Once you’ve decided what element to test, you should move on to the next step.
  3. Set up your test. Create two versions of the element that you want to test out. For example, if you’ve chosen to test out banner images, you should create two versions of banners that are distinct and different from the other. Having too similar variations will not get you very good results.
  4. Conduct your test. For websites, you can install a script on your web server so that it will display the two versions of your website simultaneously and randomly to your site visitors. You can also use online tools like Google Webmaster Tools or hire providers to take care of conducting your A/B tests for you.
  5. Interpret the results. Which of the versions showed the best results? Which variation got more clicks, made more sales, or produced better results for you, based on your own metrics? Once you’ve determined which version performed better, it’s time to implement it on your actual website.
  6. Conduct more tests. Move on to the other elements that you’ve listed down in the previous steps. Website design optimization is an ongoing process, so conduct as many tests as it takes to come up with the best version of your website.

In conclusion, A/B testing is imperative from a business perspective. It allows you to determine the best setup for your website. As all successful businessmen know, it is important to test a hypothesis before implementing it. Using the proper steps greatly increases your chances of success. For an entrepreneur, A/B testing is that preparation for success.

How to Miss the Boat on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a rapidly evolving social media platform that appeals more directly to business people than do Facebook and Twitter; specifically, business-to-business (B2B) possibilities. You undoubtedly know that. Most of those folks want to be successful with LinkedIn promotion and generate new leads, business, or career opportunities. What you might not know is how exceptionally you can fail on LinkedIn as a busy entrepreneur or small business owner. It’s easy! Just follow these 10 easy steps.

  1. Leave Your Profile Summary Blank
    This is crucial to failing on LinkedIn. Lots of people want to turn up in People searches, but not a radical like you. Leave that Summary section blank since it is the key area that the LinkedIn search, and Google for that matter, index to learn about your worth. Who wants it? Invisibility rules!
  2. Restrict who can contact you
    People can be completely bothersome, so keep your configurations such that you’ll decrease contact with them. Go to your privacy controls on the Settings tab and pick the most reducing restrictions, like switching off your activity broadcasts (you’re not doing them anyway!), making certain only you can see your activity and networks, and ensuring that you view other profiles anonymously. Victory is yours.
  3. Ignore past work experience
    Fact says that no one is bothered about your past work history anyway, so only write about your ongoing work. Remember the KISS principle, so keep it short and sweet and avoid using unnecessary phrases that these SEO types call ‘keywords’. By uploading just one job, you won’t have to worry about having to both with the monotonous writing of keywords in your former roles either.
  4. Don’t post a photo
    Photos are for models. As an engineer, consultant or other business expert your work speaks for itself and your face ain’t your money-maker, so screw the personal comfort level that people since birth seem to feel when they see a real person’s face behind the computer terminology. This is work, not just socialization!
  5. Ignore References
    These are forged and everyone knows it, so why bother. Who cares if LinkedIn references really link back to the referrer for effortless proof of who’s doing the talking? If I ask other business schmos for references, they’ll just want something back from me, and who has that kind of time?
  6. Be Picky About Connections
    Hold your contacts close to your heart and only have that few of network associations that you currently do business with, that way you can contact any of them with a request and not feel guilty about it. What good can a large number of connections do for you anyway, they’ll just bother you for their little pet projects you have no interest in whatsoever. It’s not as if LinkedIn operates like Google and those connections are like backlinks that enhance your search relevance to get on page 1 when your keywords are– Ouch! No keywords written into our profiles in an user-friendly way.
  7. Don’t show your work
    LinkedIn provides Applications for you to post more info about you, theoretically to differentiate you from other experts. The “idea” is that when people reach your profile, you stand apart by already showing what you flourish at via slide presentations, case studies, video (ah-hem!) et cetera. Poppycock! Just something else to maintain. Why put something up that only 10 or 20 people may read or look at.
  8. Don’t join groups
    Subject matter interest groups abound on LinkedIn, from job search groups to industry verticals. Who has the time to pay attention to a few “professionals” spout off about one theme or another and post links to their websites to develop dialogues. Besides, why should I share my useful knowledge about my market for FREE? I’m not crazy! I get paid to offer expert discourse. Damn straight!
  9. Fill it out and quit it
    The charm of a LinkedIn profile or any site is that once you get it ‘live’, you are done with it for good. The more you change it the more you can upset your search engine ranks, no? That is the perfect slogan for LinkedIn implosion. Don’t you wish you came up with it? Changing things around requires a lot of work on top of it all. Post the dang thing and be finished with it.
  10. SPAM your contacts
    If you’ve got a few contacts, you can make it even less by making regular inquiry or pitches to sell your product or service or go to your website. Connections will leave you faster than if you attempted to eliminate them, because they’ll do it in bulk, so send out a few extremely smarmy emails every week and your LinkedIn demise will be complete.

The reality is, you aren’t striving to fail on LinkedIn. You desire to succeed as well and develop more LinkedIn business leads and use LinkedIn as an authentic advertising tool for your website, but possibly you just don’t know how. If you’re like a lot of business owners, however, and can look at yourself under the microscope and see any of the Top 10 LinkedIn Failure Techniques listed above in your talk or actions, perhaps it’s time to question assumptions and alter your approach. It’s opposite day and this ain’t Seinfeld, so have a look at what NOT to do, and do something else and then notice your LinkedIn stats soar and your phone start to ring.

Customer Profiling and CRM

Do you know who your customers are? What do they like? How much do they spend with your business? How often do they use your services? What do they buy? These are all important questions, the answers to which can make a massive difference when it comes to maximizing the potential of your business.

Customer profiling is something that can help you with this and, when taken with robust CRM solutions, it could help you to boost your business.

What is customer profiling?

First of all, let us turn out attention to the question of what customer profiling actually is. The basics of it are all about building up a picture of who your customers are. For example, this could include data such as how they use your business and what they buy, as well as their demographic information (age, gender, education, occupation, income and so on) and geographic details (region, city).

You can use this data to build up information about the people who use your business, in order to get a better understanding of your customer base. CRM software can be used in order to keep track of all these details and make sure you have all the information you need to hand.

What should you consider?

When you are developing a strategy for customer profiling, there are a few things you should consider. For instance, what details are you going to focus on? As an example, you could choose to focus on customers who are good revenue generators for your business, either because they make occasional large purchases or because they buy from you regularly. You might decide to categorize people according to the types of products they have bought before – for example, which is your most popular product category? What sorts of people tend to buy from that range?

This is all information that you can feed into your CRM system when it comes to implementing other business strategies and maximizing your resources. We’ll find out more about this in the next section.

Implementing your strategy

Now we come to the issue of implementing your strategies: once you have organized all of your customer data and have built up profiles on the people who use your company, it’s time to make use of the information.

For instance, most CRM systems will come with good marketing tools that can help you design and implement campaigns. One option would be to decide to target a marketing campaign at a particular group of customers that you have put together based on your profiles. This could include promoting items to people who have bought similar things before, or promoting products to your ‘top end’ customers. You can use the marketing templates that are typically included in CRM software to help you manage this.

Overall, customer profiling is a useful way of gaining greater insight into your business. It can help you build more robust CRM practices and enable you to identify sources of potential development within your business, and so is definitely an avenue worth exploring.

Private Consulting: Find Your Niche

What is the quickest growing business in America today? Consulting. Not only are there more small businesses than ever in American history forming, but an ever increasing number of those businesses are that of private consultants. Why is this? Is it the Obama economic plan? Has government developed these “new” jobs as is so often the claim? I think I speak for most of you when I say the response is, “Obviously not.” The new consulting businesses popping up around the country are a direct outcome of corporate downsizing and the difficulty in securing professional employment. As major corporations are downsizing on technocrats including engineers, human resource professionals, and MBAs, Vistage-style consulting firms are bred from the suffocating corporate carcasses like a Phoenix rising up from the ashes.

There are three explanations why these professionals, all of a sudden unemployed, become consultants:

  1. They’re experts with technical skills and talents. They’re too proud to work at McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, or collect food stamps from Mother Government. The case for motion for starting their own business hit like a sludge hammer on a rusty nail when they were laid off.
  2. Other big corporations, long the symbol of corporate standing and security, are downsizing too. There just aren’t as many professional jobs in corporations. But the work still needs to be done, so the big boys are outsourcing. This shift in the technical marketplace has lit up light bulbs over the heads of thousands in the recent 5 years.
  3. They aren’t good enough to make a living playing pro golf.

Are all these companies going to obtain success in lobbying for the seeds spread by Microsoft, Facebook, and General Electric? Well … No. There are still critical business success factors which need to be demonstrated by these new S-corps. As I own and run my own small business growth consulting firm, here are some of my own poignant reflections and tips for getting started in this hot industry.

But Why?

If you wish to make a living as a business advisor, you first must find a more enabling “Why?” than the 3 reasons I just offered. Being driven into a career switch is generally not the ideal way to assure lasting success. But don’t lose heart, even if that’s how you began, you can rapidly come to realize other, more powerful reasons for being your own employer, like:

  1. Self-Employment. Set your own hours and take vacations when YOU want to.
  2. Freedom to plunge into any niche market that intrigues YOU. Your interest and passion are key motivators when times are tough.
  3. Retire when YOU want to. This isn’t dictated by a corporate scheme.
  4. Establish your own salary. You never again have to grumble that you’re worth more than you earn. As a consultant, you’re worth exactly what you make!
  5. Your job is as safe as you make it.
  6. You do business where you want. Home, office, or villa in the south of France.

As soon as a consulting business is underway, these justifications must be convincing enough to push the directors through the hard times, documentation, and trivialities that your own business will surely bring.

The next thing that prospective consultants have to do to accomplish professional success is to define the span of the business. The means to do this is to first take stock of yourself and any workers that you may have. What are your technical strong points? Weak points? Interests? The parameters of the services that are provided should play on the technical strengths and hobbies of the consultants and steer clear of the weak spots like the plague. You may ask, “Why is that necessary?” to which the answer is, the best way to use a life preserver is to never get in water over your head. Sticking with your strengths prevents drowning. Clients and Competition You’re excited about starting this company! You know what you want to consult on! What next? Before making the leap, it’s a great idea to know and be able to define 3 things:

  1. Is there a niche for my services? Who will my clients be?
  2. Who else does what I do? In other words, who is the competition?
  3. Why am I superior to those folks in number 2?

If you are offering spectacular vistas of the sunset from your eastern facing terrace, you’ve got a problem! If there is no market for your services, quit for now, flip some burgers to pay the bills, and re-think it. If there is, you’re not out of the woods yet. Someone else may do what you do. In fact, maybe a lot of people do what you want to do. If that’s the case, you’re going to have to permeate their market, because unless you get exceptionally lucky and catch a consumer on a good day, you’ll probably have to take somebody else’s business, which means you better have a powerful good response for number 3 … Why you’re company is unique and more importantly, offers more worth to your client!

My wife sold long distance for about a year and got out of the business. She told me that it is one of the most competitive industries to be in. Why? Because everybody has a telephone, and 99.9 % of those people have long distance service. It takes one hell of a sales pitch to make someone want to swap something that most of them are at ease with, especially in the 30 seconds you’ll probably have before they hang up! Think Energy Choice for another illustration. Telling them why you’re better necessitates creating recognition of a problem that the prospective client may not even know they have. This is the most crucial factor in making a living consulting! You can be the finest engineer, accountant, or paralegal that there is, but if you can’t plainly explain what sets you apart from all the rest, then practice this, “Hello. Welcome to Wal-Mart. Have a good day!”

The Many Hats You’ll Wear

Without covering the entire field of “Consulting for Beginners”, the final thing a determined young, or old for that matter, consultant needs to be is fashion aware. Unless you happen to have bankrolled six figures of seed money for your business, you are going to have to wear a lot of hats, and if some of them happen to mismatch with the rest of the outfit, it will be the ultimate business faux paus. For example, as an engineer at IBM, my typical day may have revolved around the marching orders of running printed circuit peel tests, resolving a processing problem on line number 3, and going to a status meeting to present to my management when I’m going to finish the new inspection machine. Intriguing stuff, I know, but as complicated or not as this may sound, these duties are fairly restricted in scope if not technical complexity. They’re all engineering duties!

For my consulting business, I have to juggle a lot more eggs, and if one hits the ground, “Splat!” A partial list of some of the “hats” that I, and most start up consultants, must wear are those of the…

  • tax accountant,
  • salesperson,
  • receptionist,
  • trash collector,
  • shipping and receiving agent,
  • personnel manager,
  • purchasing representative,
  • accounts payable and receivable clerk,
  • travel agent,
  • customer service agent

Eventually, many of these functions can be passed on or farmed out, but until the company has a full plate of clients to feast on, these tasks normally fall on YOU.

There are many other avenues of expert consulting that I could explore with you, but that would take multiple days and I’d have to charge you ten thousand dollars for my time. Suffice it to say that if you believe you might want to join the ranks of us consultants, make sure you want it for the correct reasons, that you know exactly what it is you want to consult on, you know your niche and your market knows you, and do your calisthenics, because you will need to have Gumby-like versatility to do it.

How to Avoid Common Startup Mistakes with Your Business

So you’ve got an idea that you think could make a lot of money and you’ve decided to start a business. Maybe it’s even a great idea. Perhaps it’s so good that despite your lack of experience you’ve managed to interest some investors and possibly even line up a loan. Now what? If you went to business school or you’ve got a good head on your shoulders you probably realize that there are a lot of variables involved in starting and running a business, and not all of them are within your control. Add to that the fact that you’re virtually learning as you go and the situation is rife with occasions for you to drop the ball. But you can avoid some of the most common mistakes if you have an idea of what to expect. So here are just a few ways to steer clear of the snafus that sink other startups.

    1. Specialize. Finding your niche can be hard, but all you’re doing by jumping aboard a popular bandwagon is ensuring that your company gets lost in all the white noise. You don’t want your business to blend in; you want to grab attention and shoot past your competitors! Having a specialty is essential to piquing the interest of customers, but it’s important to make sure that your product or service is both innovative and in demand. It’s a tall order, but without a niche you may not survive.
    2. Plan for every possibility. A lot more work goes into planning a startup than actually getting the operation up and running. And while you have probably done some market research and come up with a solid business plan to proceed (or at least to secure funding), you really need to map out a comprehensive strategy that details anything and everything that could go wrong (or right, for that matter) and how you will proceed should certain situations arise.
    3. DIY online.When it comes to creating and expanding your online presence, something that pretty much every new company should be doing these days, there’s no reason to spend beaucoup bucks on professional services. Take the time to learn the basics and do it yourself (from web design to SEO to online advertising).

There are two very good reasons to choose this road even though it won’t be easy. First, it will save you a ton of money. Although you may have to hire out for some flashy extras, you will be surprised by just how much you can get done on your own for free. Second, you need to have a backup plan. Suppose your web designer decides to backpack around Europe for a month and your site goes down, or you need to push updates. If you have the knowledge and skills to handle it your business won’t suffer. And honestly, ANYONE can learn this stuff!

  1. Choose the right venue. This is true for both the location of your business and where you opt to advertise. If you’re not reaching the right people (or you’re not reaching anyone at all) there’s really no hope for you to be successful in your ventures.
  2. Engage in branding. What does your business sign say to people? How about your logo? Do the symbols of your business inspire interest, confidence, and a feeling of welcome? What about your employees, your products or services, your business practices, and your standing within the community? What does your business stand for and how can your branding efforts convey that? These are the questions that successful business owners ask themselves (and answer) in order to ensure that customers see them, and more importantly, see them in the right light.

Grow your small business with online appointment scheduling

There are more than 27 million small businesses in the U.S., and in this tough economy, the competition can be intense. As a result, online marketing is playing an increasingly crucial role for attracting and retaining customers.

The first step to marketing your business online, of course, is to create a website. But then what? Most local merchants don’t automatically think of online scheduling as the second step to growing their business. Perhaps they aren’t aware these solutions exist, or think they are too complicated or too expensive to implement. However, even a fully featured online scheduling solution like Genbook can be configured in under 30 minutes and cost (a lot) less than your mobile phone bill.

From salons and spas, to photographers, chiropractors and consultants – the demand for online appointment scheduling has grown exponentially over the last few years. The right solution can be leveraged to enhance customer service, attract and retain customers and provide an entrée to additional online marketing efforts:

Enhance your website to attract customers – Make sure you display a ‘Book Now’ button or ‘Schedule an Appointment’ link prominently on the homepage of your website. This button or link should easily draw attention to the fact that your services are bookable online. This creates an immediate call-to-action for customers to >book an appointment, and shows that your business is sophisticated and reputable.

Create or enhance your Facebook business page – Most customers expect service-based businesses to have a Facebook presence in addition to having a website. A Facebook business page provides an opportunity to connect and engage with customers across one of the Web’s most visited and popular social media platforms. (You’ve probably heard the stat: if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world.) A business page allows you to receive customer feedback, upload photos and offer incentives to your customers. To encourage bookings, add a ‘Book Now’ button to your Facebook page that links to your scheduling solution.

Start an email newsletter – This is another great way to reach existing customers and include your online scheduling button or link as the call-to-action. Topic ideas for the newsletter can be current specials and promotions, new services or locations, profiles of staff members and customer success stories. An online scheduling solution that automatically collects contact details can also help manage your customer database, making it easier to target your newsletters.

Encourage customers to post reviews about your business – Reviews are becoming increasingly important for service-based small businesses as more customers check a business’ reviews online before deciding to schedule an appointment. One of the easiest ways to procure reviews is through an online scheduling solution that automatically collects and publishes feedback from your customers after their most recent appointment. Reviews can be shared on Facebook and Twitter, creating social media buzz that widens your business’ reach even further.

Implementing online scheduling, enhancing your website and using social media marketing will also increase your website’s ranking on the major search engines. This is part of the ‘search engine optimization’ (SEO) process of creating quality content that links back to your website, which in turn increases your ranking. In addition to attracting new customers, your business will stay top-of-mind for existing customers.

These online marketing strategies will result in more appointments, especially among today’s increasingly tech-savvy, discerning consumers who expect a strong online presence and superior customer service from the businesses they frequent.

Have you used or considered using online appointment scheduling? What have your experiences been?

Small Business Resources and Tips For Veterans

As a veteran, you may have a hard time transitioning to an office environment and opt for starting a small business instead. The thought can be exhilarating and daunting at the same time. Fortunately, there are some organizations that will help you start and manage your veteran owned small business by providing initiatives to aid in your success.

Programs such as the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Patriot Express Loan Program or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) VetBiz program provide veteran owned businesses with the tools to successfully run their own business; however, it is up to the business owner on how they are seen by their customers, which stresses the importance of protecting their brand.

Veterans Resources for Small Business Start-up and Management

Patriot Express

The Patriot Express program is designed to reward our veterans through offering the lowest available interest rates for our service members. Rates can fall as low as 2.25 percent to 4.75 percent, depending on size and length of the loan, as well as credit history and business experience.

Some business owners are members of the National Guard and when called to service, they may consider shutting their doors or leaving their business in the hands of someone who may not be qualified to run the business. This is why the SBA gives veterans the option to use their Patriot Express funds towards finding management in the event of deployment.

Funds are also designed to go towards business purposes, such as funding for start-up costs, like real estate, equipment, and inventory purchases. However, veterans already running a business can use the funds for expansion and disaster recovery. Note that the loan use is restricted to business purposes only.

The SBA considers the following eligible:

  • Veterans
  • Reservists and National Guard members
  • Active duty service members eligible for the Transition Assistance Program
  • Spouses of the above
  • Spouses of service members who have died while serving or due to a service related injury

VetBiz

A longer-standing program through the VA, VetBiz, assists veterans in starting or expanding a small business. Veteran-owned businesses are encouraged to sign up and use VetBiz, due to the fact the government and other prospective clients can look at the business’ ability to meet the needs of certain projects all from the VetBiz site. Therefore, contract buyers have access to all of these veteran-run businesses, their products, and services.

VetBiz gives veteran owned companies priority on government contracts. Contracting officers can easily compare veteran owned businesses from the VetBiz site and narrow down the list of possible contractors. Such ease of access means more business and prime government contracts for veteran entrepreneurs.

Small Business Branding and Reputation for Veterans

Just as trust and reputation were important part of your military service, it is also important in your business. Without a good brand and reputation, your business won’t succeed.

Build Your Brand

After taking advantage of the great programs available to get your business started, be sure to immediately begin managing your brand from the first day your doors open. Building a strong brand takes time, but being proactive while your company is young can lead to much success.

Forums, discussion boards, and social networking sites can easily being a breeding ground for negative comments about your brand, and if a potential customer comes across one of these comments while researching your business, they will most likely go to a competitor with a better image. To protect your brand and image from any potential naysayers, online reputation management must continuously be on the front of your agenda. Businesses frequently perform keyword searches to determine what is being said about the company, while more advanced search engine optimization (SEO) techniques should be used to bump up sites with positive reviews.

Increased Brand Visibility

Achieving the top positions in the search engines has historically been a great way for businesses to achieve greater visibility; however, it is no longer enough. With social networks that carry millions of users, your companies must adapt to promote its brand on these channels as well. It is important to keep your social media sites frequently updated with relevant content because a neglected account is worse than no account at all. To determine post frequency, try experimenting with different numbers of posts and checking you feedback.

Brand Image

Complaints will happen, so be prepared in advance. Whether it is a complaint on your Facebook wall or on a third party reviews site, handle it with speed and care. Show good will to the customer and try to resolve the issue. Even if nothing can be done to please a specific customer, it is still in the best interest of your company and brand image to try and work things out. It shows other customers that you do care and are willing to resolve any problems. It is also a good practice to comment on positive reviews as well, thanking the customers for their patronage, which can build repeat customers and brand advocates.

As a member of the military, you may face many challenges when transitioning to a civilian role. Fortunately there are programs available to veterans to help you make the transition smooth and provide tools that will help you succeed. If you’re a service members interested in starting your own business, look into the available programs and keep in mind it is important to maintain your business’ reputation.

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