What’s the best day to post a blog entry? Sunday, says a new blogging report released Oct. 27, 2016.
The “How to Build a Better Blog Than Your Competitors: 2017 Blogging Report” by integrated marketing analytics software company TrackMaven has also found that 3 p.m. EST is the best time to publish blog articles.
The report shows businesses are blogging more, but with less impact.
Over the last five years, the average number of blog posts published per brand per month has increased by 800 percent. Across the same period, the average number of social shares per post (from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest) has dropped by 89 percent.
What’s surprising is the study finds longer posts are more shareable. In fact, posts that are 1200 to 1400 words long perform best in terms of shareability, with an average of 428 social shares per post.
But what’s not surprising is that blogs that are standard to fairly easy to read get more shares. Unsurprisingly, posts with a readability rating of “very difficult” perform the worst, with an average of 64 social shares per post.
Data reveals businesses that actively blog have a clear advantage over those that don’t. To give an example, 81 percent of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from blogs.
What’s more, marketers that use blogs get 67 percent more leads than those who don’t.
For a savvy business owner, investing both time and money on blogs clearly makes sense. And a well-defined blogging strategy is a must to make the most of it.
For the survey, TrackMaven analyzed over 65,000 blog posts published on company websites from September 2015 to August 2016.
Sunday Photo via Shutterstock
This article, "Study Reveals Best Day to Post a Blog Entry" was first published on Small Business Trends]]>
A new deceptively simple device currently finishing up a successful crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter seeks to tackle one of the greatest challenges all small business owners and entrepreneurs face. That challenge is how to track the time they spend on projects more effectively. The ZEI is a toy-like connected time-tracking piece of hardware with a design that belies the sophisticated technology within.
Describing the ZEI as ingenious might not completely capture the overall effort that went into this device. It is practical, whimsical and engaging. According to the company, this is the first Internet of Things (IoT) time-tracking hardware on the market.
You can customize the blank surface of the ZEI by writing, sticking or drawing something on each of its eight sides.
These sides can be programmed for different tasks, and by simply flipping the corresponding label on top, the technology within begins tracking a different activity. To start timing another project, all that is required is to place one of the other seven faces on top, and ZEI will stop time tracking the current project and start a new one.
Do you want to add details to your project? Just shake the ZEI and a text field or the project’s to do list opens on your device. The mobile app extends the capabilities of the device by letting you switch, stop or edit a task on the go. In addition to the company’s app, the device can also be integrated into existing time tracking applications.
On its Kickstarter page, the company says its target customers are mostly creatives, engineers, developers, accountants, lawyers, assistants, freelancers and craftsmen. These are individuals who are working on up to 8 projects/activities/clients a week and their desk is a central hub.
The ZEI is designed and, for all practical purposes, seems to have achieved streamlined the task of filling out time sheets and forms in a very efficient — even enjoyable — way.
Retail price for the ZEI will be $139, after the Kickstarter campaign closes.
This article, "Wireless Eight Sided Device Tracks Your Time, Designers Say" was first published on Small Business Trends]]>
For many years, Excel spreadsheets have been a staple in both professional and personal circles for organizing, calculating and presenting data.
They have been a universally functional tool for a variety of applications, such as keeping tabs on company financials and managing inventory.
There hasn’t been a single technological development that’s been able to replace spreadsheets as an office fundamental (other than ongoing updates from Microsoft Office and similar competitors like Google Docs), so spreadsheets remain in active circulation.
For many uses, spreadsheets are still valuable, but there are a number of inefficiencies that prevent them from being the powerhouses they once were.
If you’re a die-hard spreadsheet fan, you’re probably shaking your head at the notion of abandoning them. However, there are some major reasons why you should reduce your reliance on spreadsheets overall:
1. Spreadsheets are vulnerable to errors. According to System ID, nearly 90 percent of all spreadsheets have errors. This may be an improper formula, a misreported number, or inefficient formatting that leads to misinterpretations. Of course, this isn’t the fault of spreadsheets inherently — it’s the fault of the humans who manage them. However, a number of spreadsheet features — such as their simplicity, malleability, lack of checks and balances, and lack of communication — make it easier for people to make those errors. Because spreadsheets are often used for valuable or sensitive information, even a single mistake can be costly here, so it’s not worth the risk.
2. There are no clear formatting rules. Excel gives you tons of options when it comes to how to format cells, rows, columns and even how numbers and data are presented in the sheet. On the surface, this seems like a great feature — but that sheer number of options means there’s no clear rule for what’s “right” or “wrong” for specific applications. There are some templates available within Excel, but again, there’s no standard formatting that all your employees, partners and clients can follow. The formatting that makes sense to you may not make sense to others, leading to confusion and compatibility issues when you try to communicate data to another party.
3. It’s too generic to be relevant for most tasks. The power of spreadsheets is their versatility — but that can also be a weakness. Spreadsheets are a kind of “jack of all trades, master of none.” They’re decent at performing in a number of different applications, but they aren’t the ideal solution for any one particular function. Because of the diversity of technological tools that are specifically designed for individual functions, spreadsheets are outclassed in virtually every application you can think of. It’s like going to a specialty restaurant, rather than one that offers a bit of every cuisine — that specialization makes the finished product superior.
4. Only one person can use a spreadsheet at a time. This is a subtle, but strong weakness of spreadsheets. Only one person can work on a spreadsheet at a given time. Even in cloud-based spreadsheet options, generally, only one person can make active edits, while the others work with a view-only copy. This makes it exceedingly difficult for your team to stay in active, ongoing communication or collaborate on a single finished product. In our modern world, with remote workers and more sophisticated technology, you need more solutions for easy collaborative management.
5. Real-time updates are impossible. According to Forrester Research, real-time data streaming and updates are some of the most important up-and-coming technologies in retail (as well as a number of other industries). With the volume of information available and the escalation of user demands, things like inventory tracking and customer data are inching toward real-time streaming for faster, more accurate information provision. Spreadsheets aren’t conducive to real-time updates, they can’t be integrated into any other systems for automatic updating and as we’ve already seen, only one user can make changes at a time. Real-time updates are far more valuable.
So there are lots of good reasons to stop using spreadsheets, but that doesn’t make your needs go away. You still need to track inventory. You still need to report financials and chances are you need an easy way to transition your old materials into a new system. What could take the place of spreadsheets?
The simple answer is specialized software. There are thousands of types of tracking and management software out there, some of which cover many needs generally (like team collaboration software) and some of which narrow down into a focused niche (like accounting software). Your best bet is to choose a suite of software services, a la carte, that best cater to your company’s specific needs. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution out there (which is why spreadsheets are becoming obsolete), so shop around and consider your options carefully.
Spreadsheet Photo via Shutterstock
This article, "5 Good Reasons to Stop Using Spreadsheets" was first published on Small Business Trends]]>
Bill.com announced plans for a partnership with Intuit Inc. (NASDAQ: INTU), QuickBooks’ parent company, at the QuickBooks Connect Conference held this week in San Jose, Calif. The partnership will bring digital payments into QuickBooks Online and offer seamless online bill pay.
“By building Bill.com’s trusted bill pay network inside of QuickBooks Online, millions of small business owners can now manage bill pay from start to finish right within QuickBooks ,” said René Lacerte, CEO of Bill.com in a press release announcing the partnership.
With Bill.com’s support, Intuit will be able to offer a central home for small business accounting and bill pay needs to many of the software company’s 1.5 million QuickBook customers, including small businesses. This integration now means that businesses in the U.S. can pay bills to anyone (large or small suppliers), using the Bill.com payments network, and manage cash flow within QuickBooks, said the firms.
Specifically, the new integration will offer small businesses the opportunity to:
“Our integration with Bill.com is being created with this in mind — to give business owners an easy-to-use, centralized solution to better manage their cash flow,” added Vinay Pai, vice president and head of Intuit Developer Group, in the press release.
The move seems part of a trend to create more seemless transaction options within digital bookeeping and accounting software.
For example, last year, accounting software company Xero (NZE:XRO) announced expanding integration with PayPal, rival QuickBooks seems also to be pursuing integrated transaction options for users of its platform. Though in Xero’s case the integration was centered more around a “Express Checkout” service allowing users to more easily accept payments wiithin the software.
Image: Rene Lacerte/Twitter
This article, "Bill.com Introduces Digital Payments to QuickBooks" was first published on Small Business Trends]]>
The SendPro 300 Smart Sending Device from Pitney Bowes (NYSE:PBI) is an all-in-one shipping system designed specifically for small businesses. It brings together the hardware, software and service to simplify this essential business function using the latest technology.
Small business owners know there is no one shipping company that delivers on everything. Logistics and capability have made it almost impossible. Pitney Bowes claims to have overcome this challenge by bringing together the biggest companies in the segment as part of its SendPro 300 platform.
This is an integrated shipping and mailing system that brings together different carriers with one platform along with the Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud. At only 16 pounds and with dimensions of 19.5” in length x 15.4” in depth x 13” in height, it doesn’t take much space.
For businesses that have to send letters, the device can process 45 letters per minute. And if you need to send packages, the device comes with a standard 10 lb. capacity scale to weigh and print the label with the multi-carrier shipping printer. You can control these and other functions with the seven inch color touch screen display.
The company insists a major feature of the SendPro 300 is integration with the Pitney Bowes Commerce Cloud. Using the cloud, the company has managed to connect businesses and shipping vendors with analytics and APIs to unlock innovative features. It keeps you up to date with automatic postal updates, low ink alerts with AutoInk, service warnings and diagnostic notifications, the company says.
The applications gets rid of shipping complexities with a single user interface that supports compliant label printing. There’s also tracking of deliveries with a consolidated report of all users and carriers. This lets you make informed decisions so you can better control your shipping and mailing costs, the company says.
As a small business, you sometimes can’t compete with the shipping offers that Amazon and others provide. But if you research your shipping options carefully, you can keep costs down and give your customers personalized services a multinational can’t.
For example, with the SendPro application, you can manage shipping with USPS, FedEX and UPS on your device by comparing options. There is a built-in discount with USPS or use negotiated rates with FedEX and UPS. This includes saving 25 percent on a 5 lb. package sent locally via USPS Priority Mail, and a minimum of 10 percent on every USPS Priority Mail Express shipment. As for UPS, you can get 18 percent discount of UPS Next Day Air and nine percent of UPS Ground Commercial and Residential.
Small business owners now have access to a global customer base, and in most cases getting to them entails shipping. The SendPro 300 Smart Sending Device might be one option businesses could consider to get a better handle on what it will cost them to ship anywhere.
Images: Pitney Bowes
This article, "SendPro 300 All In One Smart Sending Device Addresses Shipping Woes for Small Business" was first published on Small Business Trends]]>
After three years of development, x.ai just launched the Professional Edition of its AI personal assistant. By focusing on scheduling meetings, the x.ai platform might have found itself a great niche.
Unlike Alexa, Cortana, Siri and others that help with queries right away, x.ai completes a task from start to finish. Amy and Andrew are the AI assistants that schedule meetings, reply to schedule-related emails and remind you of your meetings.
With x.ai the process begins when you receive a request for a meeting. If you don’t want to deal with it, all you have to do is hand it over to Amy or Andrew. (By the way, they are twins.) You cc the email to Amy or Andrew and he or she corresponds with the other party to find the best time and location based on your schedule and preference. Once the meeting is confirmed, it arrives in your inbox with all the details.
According to the company, Amy and Andrew use everyday English so no one is the wiser an AI is communicating with them.
The company has three tiers, but the Professional Edition is the only one available so far. At $39 per month, the edition gives you unlimited meetings and the ability to add up to 10 VIP contacts — contacts who can set up meetings with you simply by emailing your virtual assistant. The Business Edition, which will be coming soon, will run you $59 per month. In addition to the features on the Professional Edition, you can add your assistant to your email domain making it appear he or she is part of your team.
There is also a free version, called Personal, that is somewhat stripped down by comparison to the others. But it does lets you schedule up to five meeting every month using the service. However, you need to get on a waiting list for the service and there isn’t an exact timetable for roll out on the website.
The back and forth of scheduling a meeting is time consuming, a luxury small business owners can’t afford. If x.ai delivers as promised, the cost will be more than worth it.
AI virtual assitant image via Shutterstock
This article, "X.ai Professional Edition Offers Premium Virtual Assistant Service" was first published on Small Business Trends]]>
As a small business owner, solopreneur or freelancer, competitors abound as many businesses and individuals offer the same services or products you are offering. Providing value added services or products is not enough to stand out and get people connected to you. It takes a powerful personal and business brand to provide the proof of your character and competence. When this is evident, people will even lend their credibility to you so their circle of influence will refer others to using your services. You need to show sincere care and value towards others for them to sincerely care and value you.
Caring for and having a sincere interest in your current customer base gives you an edge over the competitors within your niche. This just makes good business sense. These customers trusted you or your company enough to already do business with you.
There’s an adage that says — people will quit businesses before they quit friendships. The truth of this adage is even more evident in the small business world; customers feel close to those who address them personally and actively work to nurture a relationship with them. Connect and communicate with your customers using their names and know their preferences and what matters to them.
Factually, this is the first way to show you really care to your clients as offering them good and satisfying products or services shows you really care about giving them the best products available. Keeping people not only satisfied but wowed by the services and products you provide is the first challenge that must be mastered before people will connect you with their circle of influence.
Business owners must learn to listen to what their customers have got to say — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Whether through comments, polls or suggestions, listen and respond to your customers.
It is part of human psychology to feel valued whenever you are appreciated. Therefore, you must never hesitate to appreciate your customers and connections. Personalized introductory or ‘Thank you’ notes can go a long way in making your customers feel loved and appreciated.
If you truly care about someone, helping that individual whenever you have the power to do so will never be something hard for you. From useful tips to foolproof advice, there are many simple ways you can employ to provide help to your customers and make them feel they are important to you.
Giving tangible rewards to customers has always proven to be one of the most effective ways to make them connected to you. It will also make them delight in referring others to you. Gifts, promos, discounts and coupons are some of the things you can use to reward your customers.
Let your customers know you care, and that will provide volumes in strengthening your relationship with them and getting connected or referred to others.
Republished by permission. Original here.
Networking Photo via Shutterstock
This article, "6 Killer Tips for Building Strong Customer Relationships" was first published on Small Business Trends]]>
If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, it’s not enough to simply brand your business. You also need to consider your own personal branding. You can learn a bit about personal branding from the experts included in this post by Dipti Parmar on Preceptist .
Want to get more done in less time? There are plenty of different productivity tools out there that entrepreneurs can benefit from. Some small business experts shared their favorites in this post on Tina’s Blog. We were thrilled to have Small Business Trends’ publisher and CEO Anita Campbell included.
When attending conferences for your business, networking is a must. And if you really want to help your business, you need to learn how to network like a Jedi, which you can do with the tips in this Content Marketing Institute post by Aaron Orendorff. You can also see discussion surrounding the post over on BizSugar.
Phishing scams can really harm small businesses. But if you know how to protect your business and data, you can really decrease your chances of seeing any negative impact. This post by Ramon Ray of SmallBizTechnology includes some tips to help your small business avoid phishing scams.
Blogging isn’t as simple as just jotting down a few thoughts and hitting publish. You need a strategy and a lot of help if you want your blog to be effective. Luckily, there are plenty of blogging tools available to help you create your own blogging process, as Neil Patel shares in this post.
Keeping an eye on the competition is essential if you want your business to be competitive. And there are some simple ways you can do just that, as outlined in this Small Business Marketing Tools post by Kevin Bartley. The BizSugar community also shares thoughts on the post.
Your idea of the perfect web content strategy isn’t likely to look the same as anyone else’s. And no other strategy is likely to work perfectly for your business. But you can develop your own philosophy and use it to make the best web content possible, as Neletha Skelton details in this Media Shower post.
If you don’t already have a website that is responsive, you should probably consider the potential benefits of doing so. In this post, Steven Werley explains some of the key reasons small businesses should have responsive websites.
Since there are so many different business tools out there, choosing tools that can easily integrate with other tools can greatly increase your productivity. In this Duct Tape Marketing post and podcast, John Jantsch discusses integrations with Wade Foster. And BizSugar members talk about the post further too.
If you want your business to be successful, you need to hire the best people. And that means you need to develop an interview process that is most likely to bring you those perfect candidates. This CorpNet post by Jeanne Grunert goes over some key parts of the hiring and interview process.
If you’d like to suggest your favorite small business content to be considered for an upcoming community roundup, please send your news tips to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Productivity photo via shutterstock
This article, "10 Tips for Increasing Small Business Efficiency" was first published on Small Business Trends]]>
There was a time when there were only about three ways a customer could connect with your small business.
These were simpler times. They had to visit your shop. Or they could phone you but if it was long-distance, it would have been a big deal. And then there was the mail.
Those options still exist, for better or worse, but customers now have scads more ways of engaging your company and they take advantage of them all. Some communication channels get more use than others and those are the ones small businesses need to keep an eye on. If you don’t monitor them, you risk driving your customer experience into the ground. That’s why this week, we want to know …
The old-school methods of communication are options, here. So, too, are newer means of communication. These are the ones that connect you with your customers at all hours of the day and night.
Pick one of the options below.Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.
Woman on Telephone Photo via Shutterstock
This article, "How Do Customers Prefer to Contact Your Business? [POLL]" was first published on Small Business Trends]]>
Since the rollout of state and federal “Obamacare” exchanges three years ago, health plan choices have dwindled in many areas. The Affordable Care Act marketplace was intended to provide a variety of options for those buying individual health plans. But in many states, choices for 2017 coverage will be drastically reduced.
Aetna recently announced plans to pull out of 11 of 15 states’ health insurance exchanges for 2017. UnitedHealthcare, Humana and others have already made similar exits, leaving just one or two insurers to choose from in many areas. Sixteen of 23 health insurance co-ops, which are nonprofit health plans meant to be an alternative to commercial insurers, have failed.
The state and federal exchanges play an important role for those who don’t get insurance elsewhere. Most people who shop on them qualify for tax subsidies to make premiums affordable — 85 percent of them, according to the Department of Health and Human Services — and using the exchanges is the only way to get that help. Open enrollment for 2017 plans starts on Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 31.
But if you’re among the 15 percent who make too much money to qualify for subsidies, there are some compelling reasons to explore your other options.
Off the exchanges, many shoppers will find more plan options at similar prices. “If you don’t qualify for subsidies, it really doesn’t make sense most of the time to even bother with the exchanges,” says Tim Tracy Jr., a Connecticut insurance broker. Tracy is licensed to sell both ACA plans and off-exchange plans.
In many states, the off-exchange market is much larger than what’s available on the exchanges. If exchange plans don’t have the benefits you need, or you’re willing to pay more for better benefits, you might find better options off your exchange.
Non-ACA health plans still have to use the “metal” tier system that defines a plan’s value — bronze, silver, gold or platinum — so you can compare both types. A silver plan, the most popular tier on exchanges, pays about 70 percent of costs for the benefits it covers.
But within those tiers, benefits can vary, and the only benefits that matter are those you’ll use.
For example, look at formularies, the lists of medications insurers will pay for. If you need a specialty drug and it’s not on an ACA plan’s formulary, you might find it on a non-ACA formulary with similar premiums. Or you may only find it on an expensive non-ACA plan’s formulary. If your drug is also expensive, you’ll likely find it’s worth a higher premium to have it covered.
Similarly, if you have a chronic condition, you could save a lot of money by choosing a health insurance plan with higher premiums because it will pay a larger portion of your medical bills. Higher premiums also typically translate to lower deductibles, so you’ll pay less upfront before your plan starts paying those bills.
When people shop on an exchange, premiums are the largest consideration, followed by out-of-pocket costs, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. People don’t often consider provider network a high priority, but ignoring the network can cost you.
“A lot of the exchange plans have limited networks, whereas off the exchange we’ve seen much better network access,” Tracy says. That’s because some doctors simply aren’t taking ACA plans from new patients or otherwise.
Networks also include labs, hospitals, urgent care and other facilities. In many health plans, you pay the entire charge or a majority of the bill if you go outside the network. These payments don’t count toward your plan’s deductible or the annual out-of-pocket limits: $7,150 for an individual or $14,300 for a family in 2017.
If going to your primary doctor for a checkup is the extent of your anticipated health care needs, that’s no big deal. But if you need a blood test and your doctor sends it to a non-network lab, or if you’re admitted to a hospital where some providers are out of network, your bills could skyrocket.
Simply put: The larger your provider network, the less you will have to worry about your network.
If you qualify for subsidies based on your income, the most cost-effective choice is likely to shop on the exchanges — either the federal exchange or your state exchange, if there is one.
You can find out whether your state has an exchange and whether you qualify for assistance by going to Healthcare.gov after Nov. 1, when open enrollment begins, and answering some questions.
If you don’t qualify for subsidies, you can find plans on insurers’ websites, or on independent plan-comparison sites. For personalized assistance, you can contact a broker, but make sure any broker you go to is licensed to sell both Obamacare plans and non-exchange plans.
“It’s important they can do both, because you want that unbiased guidance,” Tracy says.
Republished by permission. Original here.
Healthcare.gov Photo via Shutterstock
This article, "Obamacare Choices Drastically Declining in 2017 — How Does It Affect You?" was first published on Small Business Trends]]>