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What Small Business Owners Would like to see in 2015

The start of a new year always brings with it fresh hopes, and this is especially true for small business owners. 2015 seems to be no different. Small business owners are in a difficult position and are often hard pressed to find a balance between managing business and making a profit. They often look to Washington for new bills, laws and developments which can ease the load.

Recently, the Washington post published a rather interesting and insightful piece based on a survey conducted by On Small Business. On Small Business invited small business owners and entrepreneurs to submit the headlines which they’d most like to see coming out of the Capital in 2015, and below you’ll find a small selection of the one’s which should resonate with you if you’re in the SMB category.

JOBS Act Implementation

Jason Holstine, owner and chief executive at the home improvement store Amicus Green Building Center, said that the headline he’d most like to see in 2015 would be “SEC implements JOBS Act; businesses free to crowdfund”

Jason went on to explain that they regularly receive queries from customers about whether or not their business is interested in accepting investors. However, current regulations require these people to be accredited investors in order to be in a position to accept such offers. Jason indicated that he saw a huge opportunity to use crowdfunding as an avenue to leverage community support to fuel growth.

Immigration Reform

Mike Moloney, founder of FilterGrade, an image editing software start-up in Boston had a response which is sure to set the comments section alight. Mike indicated that the headline he’d most like to see in 2015 would be “Immigration reform finally announced for start-ups”

This reform would see an attempt to bring the best talent to the US by making it easier for foreign workers to obtain green cards and visas. Mike believes that the move would contribute positively to the growth of the U.S. economy by attracting top entrepreneurs, designers and engineers and in so help both small business and start-ups alike.

Obamacare Reforms

And of course Obamacare reform requests were also submitted. Tim Wulf, President of JJ or Reno wanted to see the headline “Affordable Care Act Defunded by Congress” as some economists anticipate the cost of implementation of Obamacare to be at least $1 per labour hour – which places a massive strain on small businesses already struggling to survive. Although many small businesses are positioning themselves to minimize the impact of this law, they remain hopeful that it will be defunded by the Supreme Court when the case comes up later this year.

Tax Reforms

Finally, tax reforms also seemed to be a popular topic. More than a couple of respondents wanted to see tax reform related headlines. One submission in particular, by Donna Partin, president of Merry Maids was probably one which many small business owners would like to see. Donna would like to see the headline where the Federal government cracks down on businesses cheating on their taxes.

Donna said that abiding by the tax laws is expensive, and that those who cheat on their taxes run up the federal deficit and ultimately place greater strain on the businesses playing by the rules. Donna asked people to consider the tax implications if the government would place a greater focus on aggressively pursuing tax dodgers, rather than harassing those small businesses that were playing by the rules and already paying their fair share.

Conclusion

What would you as a small business or entrepreneur like to see from Washington in 2015 Tax reforms? Improvements to Obamacare? The ability to crowdfund? All of the above? Let us know below in the comments.

While it seems like 2015 is already off to a busy start, we will see if congressional leaders and President Obama heed any of the voices from the small business community.

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This Week’s Top 5 New WordPress Plugins

WordPress is the CMS of choice for many web developers, web designers and businesses thanks mainly to its flexibility, extendibility and sheer ease-of use. One of the most powerful features is definitely the ability to extend the core functionality with plugins, which make just about anything possible. That said, it’s sometimes tough to keep up-to-date with cool, shiny new releases.

In this post, let’s have a look at five new WordPress plugins you should definitely consider checking out.

Flexible AB Results

It’s no secret that sites which make use of A/B testing enjoy better conversion rates, but sometimes, conducting these tests can be a little tricky. Fortunately, there’s the new Flexible AB Results plugin which is an easy to use plugin that will help you get underway with your own A/B Testing in a jiffy. It simplifies the task of creating tests within your WordPress site, using a campaign based approach.

Find out more here

Keep My Theme

If your blog has been running for some time, it’s quite possible that some of your posts were created to fit perfectly within your theme which was in use at the time. Problems arise when updating your site by modifying the theme and it can result in ‘display issues’ or changes in rankings within the Search Engines.

One way to avoid this is to make use of a plugin such as Keep MY Theme to ensure that older posts retain the theme used at the time of creation when your current theme changes. Keep My Theme detects theme changes and displays your WordPress single posts using the theme which was active at the time of writing, provided it’s still installed.

Find out more here

TT Social Icons

Almost every site owner likes to display a list of links to their social networks, but sometimes coding it by hand is a pain in the neck. Stop wasting time and simplify the job with the new TT social Media Icons plugin. TT Social Media Icons plugin makes it easy to display a neat grid of small, medium, or large linked social media icons in the WordPress sidebar. This plugin supports the 17 major social networks and makes use of elegant color coded social icons.

Find out more here

WPX Maintenance Pro Light

When performing maintenance on your WordPress site, it’s always a good idea to let your visitors know so that they can come back at a later time. An easy way to display a ‘maintenance message’ is to make use of a plugin such as WPX Maintenance Pro Light. One of the great features of this new plugin is that it allows admins to schedule maintenance starting and ending times, while allowing access to the site to certain users or IP addresses during this time. WPX Maintenance Pro also allows site administrators to quickly and easily customize the look and feel of the maintenance page.

Find out more here

Skype Status Multisite Widget

If you display a link to your Skype ID as a way for people to get in touch with you on your website, you need to take a look at the new Skype Status Multisite Widget. This plugin allows admins to select one of many Skype button themes which will display your online status in any widget, post or page, and make it easy for users to know if you’re available.

Find out more here

Conclusion

New plugins are added on a daily basis, and there’s no shortage of additional functionalities which are available to developers and site administrators. Hopefully you’ll find some of these new plugins useful and put them to work for you in the future.

If you’d like to stay up to date on plugins to extend the functionality of your WordPress site, stay tuned for more future posts which will highlight cool, new WordPress plugins and help you make your website more functional, user friendly and profitable.

Are there any others released recently that people need to know about? Tell us in the comments below!

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Checklist to Ensure Your Website Stays Up-To-Date

Building a web site is only the beginning of creating an online presence. Once it is built, the website requires maintenance in order to stay relevant with search engines and the competition. The aim of any website owner should be to keep the site comprehensive, up-to-date and user friendly.  As with many things, having a checklist to work from is often the best way to simplify the task and cover all your bases.

With that in mind, here’s a simple checklist for webmasters and site owners to refer to in order to adopt a structured approach to website management.

Check Internal Links

Maintaining a site’s links is probably the most important technical aspect of website maintenance. Fortunately, there are tools such as WebXM and Xenu’s LinkSleuth which can simplify the task of tracking, identifying and reporting on the links which are broken and need to be fixed.

Page Formatting

Although resources, such as Google’s Webmaster Tools, can track the health of your website and identify issues which need to be reviewed, they’re not perfect. For this reason it’s important to include a periodic manual review of website content to find and fix grammatical, spelling and formatting glitches. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to get a second pair of eyes.

Blog Content

Posting regular updates to your blog should also be considered a part of your weekly maintenance activity. By adding new and interesting content regularly, you’re expanding your website and creating opportunities to generate more search engine traffic, thus engaging new users. This will also help provide content to share on social sites to bring in more viewers.

Perform Regular Updates

If your website or blog is built using a CMS (like WordPress), it’s important to keep it up to date. By doing so, you’re improving your security to prevent hacking attempts and ensuring efficient operation. This also applies to plugin updates which should be applied regularly to make sure that they’re compatible with your CMS and working efficiently.

Web Page Content

Take a look at your analytics data and take note of the pages which have the highest bounce rates, as those are most likely the pages which require some tweaking. Step into the shoes of your users when reviewing those pages, and try to make the page more useful by improving the imagery, messaging and content.

Change Imagery

A quick way to update your website, and roll out a fresh look, is to update the images you’re using. Check webmaster tools, or use one of the link checker tools mentioned above to find and fix the broken images. Additionally, regularly check through the website and update any old or outdated product images you may be using.

Monitor Analytics

From time to time you should be reviewing your analytics data to identify problems, especially with regards to finding pages with high bounce rates, or pages generating 404 errors. Add those to the bug list for resolution. When making changes and testing new designs, your server logs are the best place to see how users are reacting to your changes, allowing you to adjust accordingly.

Conduct Usability Testing

By conducting a usability test once or twice a year, you’re able to get genuine feedback from users and identify opportunities to improve the usability of your website. This can ultimately provide a better user experience for them based on their feedback.

Conclusion

As a website owner or webmaster, you’ve no doubt have a lot on your agenda. This simple checklist for handling website maintenance can help ensure that you are providing a good user experience, growing your digital footprint and creating new engagement opportunities for your business.

Do you believe this list is all-inclusive or do you have more that you wish to add? Please let us know in the comments!

 

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Web Hosting 101

Web hosting. What is it? A lot of people ask this question when they are first creating a website or new to publishing online. Web hosting doesn’t have to be complex – here is some advice for folks just getting started online.

Use this Metaphor: Web Hosting Is Like A Storefront

Say you’re looking to start a new business down on Main Street. Whether you want to sell bikes, baked goods, or nuggets of information. To be able to do this, you will need to rent space from a landlord where you want to set up shop. Web Hosting provides you with that virtual space. Everything you put in it, be it products or information, are yours, and owned by you. We’ll keep the store up and running for you with utilities (like email, access to your account, and some signage), and even a cleaning crew, but you’re responsible  for what’s inside the space that we are renting to you.

Domains Are Your Signage

How do people find your store and know what it’s about? You’re going to need a sign out front and a name for your business that you can put on advertisements. The domain name is that signage for your store. It tells them what / who you are and where to find you online. So think asmallorange.com. This is our sign, our domain name. Need a new sign for your store? Let us help you with that here!

Still confused on what hosting is? Our friends at Websitesetup.org created this great infographic to help break it down.

Web Hosting 101 - What You Need To Know

What do you think? Has this helped clear up the confusion about what is web hosting? If not, please feel free to ask your questions in the comments or start a chat with us 24/7!

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How-To Convert Your Website’s Visitors into Customers

When it comes to doing business online, the most critical factor determining success or failure is not the amount of traffic you can generate. Rather, it is how you convert that traffic into paying customers. After all, all the traffic in world will be of little or no use unless you can convince those visitors to take the desired actions.

With that in mind, here are solid, actionable optimization tips which you can put into practice to improve your website’s conversion rates.

Make the Website Easy to Navigate

How your website is laid out will have a large impact on its ability to convert viewers into buyers. One of the key components which makes a critical difference between success and failure, is website navigation. Websites with simple, intuitive navigation, have been shown to exhibit a better ability to convert visitors by facilitating a positive user experience.  Websites with poor navigation on the other hand, will result in users quitting a page, rather than sticking around trying to figure it out.

Place Call to Actions above the Fold

When it comes to design best practices, almost all good marketers and designers agree that your calls to action should be front and center. This means that they should be present above the fold on any page. Although there’s a trend in design to use large sliders at the top of pages, these should either include your call to action, or span two thirds of the page width allowing room for incorporating your call to action alongside it.

Design Each Page with Key Information

Next, it’s essential to remove clutter to make the path to conversion as clear as possible. By removing superfluous information, graphics and links from your web pages, you allow a clearer, more concise message to be delivered to users. This effectively improves the user experience, while minimizing the chance of confusing users and detracting from your calls-to action. Focus on delivering only the key information required, and allow users to request more detailed information when required.

Use Responsive Design

As the number of people using smartphones and tablets continues to increase, a responsive design allows websites to automatically adjust to the various screen sizes. Those companies who do not recognize this trend, run the risk of losing potential customers to competitors who do.  Incorporating responsive design into your web pages also improves page quality and increases your chances of better SEO rankings by attracting more users via search engines.

Test, Test, Test

Lastly, it is imperative to run testing on your website. According to Mike Johnson, director of User Experience at The Nerdery, “Every design decision is just a hypothesis, and should be subject to continual testing and refinement.” By incorporating user testing, split testing and analytics, companies can base page refinements on hard data and track the changes of these effects. Failing to track and test is akin to firing blindly into the dark, you’re likely to miss your target.

Conclusion

Before you shell out a ton of cash on expensive advertising and customer acquisition initiatives, take some time to review your sales funnel and optimize your conversion rates. By improving your conversion, you’re in a better position to make the most of your existing traffic, as well as any generated in the future.  Not only does this mean that you can improve your customer value, but all campaigns experience an increase in ROI, which bodes well for the bottom line.

So what do you think? Do you have any conversion tips to add? Please let us know in the comments below!

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