Getting Your Knowledge On: 7 Blogs to Follow

As a small business owner, you probably never get tired of learning new things. This is a great quality to have – after all, the more you know, the better you are able to respond to new information as a business owner and entrepreneur.

Thankfully, today it is easy to find pretty much any information you are looking for online. There are hundreds of blogs dedicated to business operations, retail, marketing, technology, small business trends and more. If you are looking for a substantial reading list going into the new year, the content is out there.

We’ve narrowed these hundreds of blogs down to a list of just seven. These seven blogs cover a wide range of topics (though a healthy amount focus on e-commerce and marketing). Most of the blogs post every day, and you can spend hours going back to cover old posts and topics. Happy reading!

Retail Geek – Online or In-Store Retail Experiences

For brick and mortar retail small businesses, this blog is a goldmine of information. It covers everything from new tech in retail to healthy management practices. The author is Jason Goldberg, a customer service designer for some of the retail giants.

Smarter Finance USA – Financing Equipment for Your Small Business

Talk about a niche topic and niche blog. Smarter Finance USA focuses primarily on just one thing: how businesses can finance equipment. It may not be the most exciting topic in the world, but it is a must-know for small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Small Business Labs – Emergent Research on Small Business Trends

According to their About Us, Small Business Labs covers the most important social, technology and business trends that specifically impact both small businesses and freelancers. The articles cover everything from the cities with the most self-employed workers to the pros and cons of co-working spaces.

A Better Lemonade Stand – Resources for Young Small Businesses

With blog titles like “How to Start an Online Business When You’re Not Ready to Start an Online Business,” A Better Lemonade Stand is dedicated to making the process of starting and sustaining a small business easier.

Buffer Blog – A Marketing Blog Focused on Social Media

Social media is important for business marketing – even for small businesses. The Buffer blog dives deep into the topics and trends that are most important for their business leader audience. If you know nothing about social media marketing, this is a good place to start.

DIY Marketers – A Marketing Blog Focused on Small Businesses

Marketing doesn’t have to break the budget, and DIY Marketers shows you why. The marketing blog helps small business owners find both cost-effective and creative marketing ideas without breaking the bank. This is a good one to follow on a weekly basis, especially since marketing trends change so quickly.

Sleeknote – A Marketing Blog Focused on E-Commerce

So much of business is based online today that there are entire blogs dedicated to e-commerce. Sleeknote takes small business owners through all of the basic marketing strategies for an online business – from Facebook ads to email marketing. If your business is based online, this small business blog is sure to prove an invaluable resource.

Small Business Trends – A Focus on the Future

The small business sector has changed drastically from two or three decades ago. But these changes did not just happen over night. Small business trends slowly shifted year to year, creating the business environment that we have today.

It’s an environment marked by technology, engagement, new products, new marketing techniques and more.

We may not be in the business of making industry predictions. But we are interested in helping you and your small business succeed as we all move into 2018. With this in mind, we want to present some of the most valuable insights that we have found in research small business trends and predictions for next year.

Trend #1: The Focus Will Increasingly Be on Connection

With millennials on track to spend almost $1.5 trillion in 2020, small businesses will need to focus on how to connect with this large market share.

In a phrase, the glitzy advertising of the early part of this century will not work. Today, many potential customers are looking for a connection with the companies that they do business with. This is doubly true for small businesses.

Instead of making sales pitches, small businesses in 2018 will have to figure out how to start connecting with their potential customers. Whether that’s personalized newsletters, an engaging website, or targeted Facebook ads depends on who you are and what you do. Just make sure that it connects.

Trend #2: The Demand for Local Products and Services Will Grow

 Even in the face of increased globalization, there has been a recent pushback against outsourced services and imported products. This places small businesses at a great advantage in the market.

As a small business, your goods or services are almost certainly local. In 2018, you should take advantage of that by truly ‘going local’. With local produce and ‘farm to table’ becoming increasingly popular, small businesses in other industries can take a similar approach with their customers.

The key here is to show your local community that you both understand and care about their needs. Many small businesses are successful because they show their community that they want to be part of something outside of simply day-to-day business exchanges.

Trend #3: Remote Work Will Become More of an Option – Even for Small Businesses

It’s hard to imagine a business world that is completely free of front offices – especially for small businesses. But there is no question that remote work is becoming increasingly common for enterprises of all sizes.

In fact, 4 out of 10 American workers do at least some portion of their work from home. This opens up an opportunity for small business owners and managers.

Depending on the focus of your company, you can make it more efficient and your employees happier by employing some kind of remote option. The idea is to give more trust and responsibility to your employees. In turn, this should make them more productive.

This also holds a benefit for you as the small business owner. Remote work allows you to broaden your potential talent pool. This opens up the opportunity to outsource anything from accounting to web design.

Infographics: The New Wave of Website Optimization

There is no question about it: over the past several years, infographics have become part of the new wave of website optimization. If you are looking to drive more potential customers to your website – and let’s face it, who isn’t – then infographics can help you do exactly that.

Sure, infographics look fancy – but that’s what makes them so compelling and effective in a marketing arena. But more than that, getting a compelling infographic made for your small business is not that difficult to do. There are thousands of writers and graphic artists on the online marketplace with a focus on infographic writing and design.

If that doesn’t convince you, take a look at the basics of infographics and – more importantly – how an infographic can help your small business website. It really is simple, and can go a long way toward building your business.

Understanding the Basics of Infographics 

The idea behind an infographic is to present the same information that you would with a webpage or a blog post, but in a very visual format.

With this in mind, an infographic is most commonly styled like a simplified paragraph or blog post. You still have your brief introduction, a few main points, and specific key points or statistics thrown in for support.

However, an infographic is ultimately more engaging because it presents the most crucial information in a very shortened format. A concise infographic may only have 250-300 words. More than that, an infographic is created with images or graphics related to the topic. Since two thirds of people prefer to process information visually, this goes a long way toward engagement and conversion.

Interested in talking with a small business website specialist?

How Infographics Help Your Website

As we mentioned above, the main benefit to including infographics on your website is that it increases both engagement and conversion. For instance, if you have a social media presence for your small business, an infographic is much more likely to engage your followers than a text post discussing the same exact topic. This means more people will like, comment and even share your post. It also means an infographic post will lead more people to your website.

An infographic can also help you with your marketing strategy. After creating engaging content within your niche or your industry, you can reach out to other websites to share the content. Writing a microblog as a ‘guest writer’ (i.e. sharing your infographic) gives you a fantastic opportunity to build links to your website. This is the core of search engine optimization, and infographics give you an easy opportunity for back linking.

 The Key to an Effective Infographic

There are many different approaches and styles for infographics. Making an effective one will depend on the focus of your small business and what you are discussing. But every infographic has at least a few elements in common:

  • A Clear Purpose: Determine what you are trying to convey to your target audience and what this means for your business.
  • Keep it Simple: Narrow what you want to convey into a few key points. Anything beyond that makes it too complicated.
  • Make it Visual: Don’t just use pictures around your text – make the images tell the story.

Creating an infographic is an easy and effective way to drive more people to your website, and turn those visitors into customers!

Learn more about small business website services @

The Magic of a Call to Action Button

Today we want to discuss something that often goes overlooked, especially by small businesses: including an effective Call to Action button on your business website.

Simply put, having a call to action on your website is a crucial element of marketing your small business. Even if word of mouth remains the most effective approach to marketing for small businesses, a call to action in your web presence will go a long way toward bringing in new customers.

People respond to a clear and accessible call to action. It really is that simple. Instead of making people go through the steps of emailing you directly or filling out a ‘Contact Us’ page, a call to action button allows you to hone in on why a visitor is really on your website.

There is a great deal of information on what an effective call to action looks like, as well as what a well-designed call to action button should include. To cover the basics, we address the three following questions:

  • What is a call to action button?
  • Why is a call to action button so important?
  • What should a call to action button look like?

What is a Call to Action Button?

In marketing, a call to action is a specific instruction to the target audience in an effort to provoke an immediate positive response. Translation: a call to action asks visitors to become customers.

“There’s no such thing as a successful marketing campaign unless there is a successful CTA. Conversions, revenue, business and profit – they all depend on the mighty call to action.”

~ Jeremy Smith, MarketingLand

A successful call to action looks different for every business and every industry. For a catering company, it could be as simple as downloading a sample menu. For online sales, the call to action can be to create an online account. The beauty of a call to action is that you can tailor it to your small business.

Why is a Call to Action Button Important?

Without a call to action, visitors to your business or to your website have no reason to follow up with the information that you present them. You can give potential customers all of the benefits of your business, but unless you ask them to take action then they are much more likely to just walk away.

A call to action button on your business website acts as a digital means of ‘closing’ the deal.

Ultimately, a call to action button is an important element of any small business website because it improves conversion rates. This brings in more customers or clients to your business.

What Should a Call to Action Button Look Like?

There are many different examples of what an effective call to action looks like. The copy included in your business’ call to action depends entirely on what you are trying to get your target audience to do. However, all effective call to action buttons have at least the following elements in common:

  • CTAs are simple and concise – one phrase to include on the button.
  • CTAs include action words – ‘get’, ‘download’, ‘sign up’, ‘open’, ‘try’, etc.
  • CTAs use urgent words – ‘now’, ‘limited’, ‘today’, etc.
  • CTAs speak in the first person – “Start my free trial” instead of “Start your free trial”
  • CTAs are hard to miss – the most effective buttons are the center of attention, using bright colors and bold themes to draw a visitor’s attention

Five Blogs All Small Business Owners Should Follow

As a small business owner, it is important to stay up to date with the best available knowledge in everything from sales to marketing. Thankfully, the Internet makes learning anything – about anything – a relatively straightforward exercise.

There are hundreds – if not thousands – of small business blogs. These focus on everything from sales techniques to taxes and everything in between. Not all business blogs are helpful or even relevant. However, there are a few specific blogs aimed at small businesses and equipping them to run a better enterprise from top to bottom.

You should probably avoid becoming overly consumed in some of this content, especially considering how much time running a small business takes. However, taking an hour or two each week to peruse some of the insight that professional marketers and salespeople put out on the Internet is well worth your time. Consider this list of blogs your starting point.

#1: Harvard Business Review

This is the big picture stuff. HBR covers entrepreneurship, innovation and the best leadership practices for the modern day business owner. With guest experts and regular writers, the Harvard Business Review has a large – and well-organized – catalog of everything related to driving growth in your business.

If you have questions about team management, organizational culture, or even human resource management, this is the place to start. You may even find a few pieces on finding a work-life balance.

#2: Small Business Trends

This extensive small business blog can sometimes look like a topical magazine. The site covers gives equal space to both how-to tips in managing your time and the newest developments in the small business industry.

While some blogs may focus in on a specific facet of a business, Small Biz Trends covers marketing just as much as it covers finance. Not only that, but it can make for an interesting Monday morning read, as you drink your coffee and get caught up on industry news.

#3: Hubspot

Hubspot is easily one of the most recognized authorities in marketing around the world. Their blog is ripe with new insight, data and detailed research – especially related to the marketing world. If you want to know what the best practices in marketing for small businesses look like, the Hubspot Marketing blog is the place to start.

Hubspot also runs a sales blog, so if you are looking for more of a person-to-person perspective, the blog has that insight as well.

#4: Marketing Profs

As the name implies, Marketing Profs focuses in on one element of running a small business: marketing. For the cash-strapped small business owner, this topic may be a little overwhelming. But the blog has a wealth of information on low-cost or free marketing strategies. Social media and pay-per-click ads, for instance, are a great place for small businesses to start growth.

To avoid falling down the rabbit hole, pick just one topic that you want to learn more about and start there.

#5: Copyblogger

Again, the name gives it away: this blog focuses in on just one element of running a small business. Content marketing has been shown to be a cost-effective marketing approach for small businesses with small budgets. Copyblogger walks managers and owners through the basics of copywriting, as well as consistently provides content that improve writing over the long-term.

Digital Disruption is the New Expectation

Digital disruption – it sounds a little scary, doesn’t it? With technology changing the way businesses do everything from finance to inventory, it is important to stay up with the times. Thankfully, engaging in the digital disruption that is ever present in today’s economy does not have to be overwhelming for small business owners. In fact, digital disruption – and transformation – is the new expectation for businesses of all sizes.

Insight #1: Digital Disruption is Here to Stay, for Both Small and Large Businesses

The ship has sailed when it comes to the integration of business and technology. Even if word of mouth remains the best marketing method for small businesses, there are some aspects of technology that simply must be integrated – no matter the size of the enterprise.

“Software-led advances in technology are digitally transforming industries and enterprises. Digital transformation tends to be a catch-all phrase these days, but one that nicely encapsulates everything from increased efficiency, lower costs, accelerated innovation, easier and newer forms of interaction with partners, higher employee productivity and enhanced customer experience and satisfaction.”

~ Report from PwC, a global professional services network and consulting firm

While small businesses may not necessarily need the large networks and ironclad security measures of large firms, they do need to participate in the technology available to them. This includes having an active social media presence, using low-cost marketing tools, and maintaining an engaging website for their customers.

Insight #2: Engaging in Digital Transformation Takes Work

It can be a little daunting to jump into digital transformation – particularly if your small business’ industry has nothing to do with tech.

 “What holds business leaders back from plunging full-throttle into digital transformation? It’s fear – fear of the unknown, especially since everyone is learning their way around this new world as they go along.”

~ Joe McKendrick, Forbes Magazine

The key is to take the transformation process for your small business step by step. Start with a high quality website. This will allow both current and potential customers to find all of the information that they need on the web – saving both you and them time and money. From there you can start to branch out to social media, direct marketing campaigns, and maybe even an app.

Insight #3: Digital Disruption is an Opportunity for Small Businesses

Even if transforming your business to fit modern Internet technology takes work, it also represents a huge opportunity for growth. Having a user-friendly website can set you apart from your competition by leaps and bounds.

“As new markets emerge, profit pools shift, and digital technologies pervade more of everyday life, it’s easy to assume that the economy’s digitization is already far advanced. According to our latest research, however, the forces of digital have yet to become fully mainstream. On average, industries are less than 40 percent digitized, despite the relatively deep penetration of these technologies in media, retail, and high tech.”

~ McKinsey & Company

As a small business owner, there are a few advantages to engaging in digital transformation for your company:

  • You can use new payment technologies (known as fintech) to streamline payments for your customers.
  • You can take advantage of low-cost, high-impact technology (i.e. WordPress websites, MailChimp newsletters, social media advertising, and more).
  • The social nature of modern technology means that you can keep the personal touch of a small business while also keeping costs low.

If you still aren’t sure where to start in this process, feel free to contact us today. We are here to help!

Weedeating, Supply Side Prioritization, and the WTF Experience

Weedeating is art, and as any great artist should, I have a vision, a theory, an artist statement that guides my weedeating: controlled chaos. I like my yard to walk the fine line between expertly manicured perfection and uncontrollably overgrown wilderness. Regardless, there’s something magical about weedeating while listening to a good album or podcast – or, in this case, listening to a YouTube video.

Supply Side Prioritization

This past Sunday, instead of listening to Workingman’s Dead or Red Headed Stranger again while sculpting my front yard’s blades and weeds, I enjoyed a great presentation by Ann Miura-Ko (of Floodgate) and her subsequent conversation with John Lilly (Greylock Partners). You can find the video here (don’t worry, I just listened – I wasn’t watching a video while weedeating).

I particularly enjoyed their discussion about marketplaces that starts around 44m 50s.

Ann’s comments about marketplaces are awesome. She discusses how, when analyzing a marketplace in its earliest stages, the most important piece is not demand, it’s supply. From the trenches of building a marketplace, I will confirm this is counterintuitive but true. Ann wants to determine how effective a company is at convincing supply to come on board, how loyal the service providers are to the marketplace as a platform (rather than getting a customer and then trying to circumvent the marketplace), and how much longevity the company is seeing with the supply side (i.e., does it look like the service providers are going to keep using the marketplace).

She discusses the importance of focusing on supply, because having supply will lead to demand. It’s important to show the supply dynamic early on, because it’s the leading indicator to liquidity. In short, you must prove there are a lot of people who want to work in your marketplace.

Here’s a riddle: for an entrepreneur building a marketplace, what’s more satisfying than seeing a user request come into the marketplace, get claimed by a service provider, fulfilled, rated 5 stars, and billed. Answer: Nothing.

The WTF Experience

Since my Sunday was shaping up so nicely, I stayed on the Floodgate train and moved to the living room for some iced tea to watch Ann’s partner Mike Maples present to some Stanford students. Find that video here.

In particular, I liked Mike’s comments at ~32m about delighting your users/customers. He dubs moments of complete delighted astonishment the “WTF Experience.” At this point, he’s just finished discussing the analogy between tango dancing and the process of finding product/market fit, an “intimate back and forth.” So true. Using Lyft and Tesla as examples, Mike makes the excellent point that, “A lot of people think their product is good, and that rational customers ought to like it and buy it, but customers…need to say ‘WTF, I didn’t know that was even possible, are you kidding me?'” He calls this “actualizing your advantage in the product experience.” He adds,

“The best places to delight the customer are in the areas where you’re fundamental advantage just sings, and if you stick the landing on that, not only do you delight the customer, but it’s really hard for other people to do what you just did.”

Other gems from his presentation:

  • Read the chapter about “mastering emergent strategies” from The Innovators Guide to Growth
  • Be clear on price. It’s better to have clear high prices than unclear low prices
  • Read up on “category design” using as a reference
  • The purpose of a seed round is to marry Proprietary Power and Product Power
  • If you can use a seed round to create something people love that’s defensible, that was a good seed round

Find any other relevant articles, videos, interviews or otherwise? Let us know in the comments!

Feedback Mechanisms for Entrepreneurs

I’ve been finding a lot of great information on feedback mechanisms lately, so I compiled it here. Seems to work out as four rough categories.

User Feedback

Talking to users (or customers) is incredibly helpful and informative. We’re finding value on the product side, proactively asking users for their opinions of our UI, features, notification and overall experience. At this stage, pretty much every piece of user feedback helps us improve our product.

But, we’re also finding value on the messaging side. For example, we found a thread of comments on Facebook about HubRunner, where WordPress experts communicated about our marketplace. They specifically pointed out their dislike of some of our marketing messaging, and we completely agreed with them. So, we improved it.

Another example involves working to engage a specific type of HubRunner user: the marketing consultant or firm. In this case, we are reaching out to individual marketing consultants and larger firms to discuss our marketplace, to give them access and see how they engage. These conversations are helping us shape the product use case for this class of user and, tangentially, the value proposition we can transform into marketing messaging.

Partner Feedback

We’re testing our hypothesis that partnerships will be an important part of HubRunner’s growth. The trick? We don’t know how partners will want to use HubRunner – we don’t know where they’ll find value. Of course, we have assumptions about how they’ll use it, but to test those assumptions we’re engaging in conversations with potential partners. The trick? We don’t tell them how they should use HubRunner. Instead, we ask them what sort of problems they need to solve, and then we’re exploring whether or not HubRunner can solve one … or two 🙂

Advisor Feedback

It’s been really exciting to get positive feedback from our advisors – gratifying, and certainly emotionally helpful. But, we need some bad news, too. Michael Dearing has some great advice on this:

“Every big, good idea is going to be subjected to a devil’s advocate, who should be the smartest person you can find, whose job is to try to destroy the idea.”

(Note: I suggest checking out Michael Dearing’s presentation and discussion with Reid Hoffman from this past Fall – Also, you can find the notes from the session here)

(Another side note: in the video linked above, check out his comments on competition at 36m 31s)

Team Feedback

Regarding team feedback, the video linked above includes a discussion of the marketplace approach to sourcing ideas internally, which seems to work well when blended with a “benevolent dictator” in the early days. One suggestion that pops up now and again (including in the video) is to pretend your company has failed, to discuss the reasons why it failed, and then address those issues preemptively, i.e., now.

Founder Feedback

My co-founder and I have been working together for nearly a decade, meaning we’ve been together longer than I’ve been with my wife. While we’ve certainly had our disagreements, how have we managed to work together for so long? In the same video, at 47m 07s, he discusses the critical phases of iterating and building business, and also check out this video about the “cognitive distortions of founders.”

To use a specific phrase of Micheal’s, as founders, we seem to “shock absorb each other.” Where one of us is thinking more conservatively, one of us may be thinking less conservatively. The balance can be insanely frustrating at times (which is where a longstanding working relationship built on trust comes in the handiest), but the balance between founders translates into a balanced product and a balanced organization.

The bottom line?

Being open to feedback isn’t enough. We have to aggressively seek it out, ask for it, and in some cases, specify the type of feedback we want.

Did we miss any critical feedback mechanisms? Please drop a comment to give us your…feedback.

Book Recommendation from Twitter’s Jack Dorsey: The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

Build what you want to see in the world: make a bet that it will resonate with other people.

Only occasionally do I plow through one of the many business books piled on my shelf. They so often come highly recommended by a colleague or mentor. They are so temptingly presented on Amazon.

“Without motive, you will wobble about.” You need a common sense of purpose. Without motive, you will not do anything that is timeless.

I’m always a one-tap-order away from business strategy enlightment. A single send-to-kindle dropdown selection away from never-before-revealed secrets. Free two-day prime shipping away from the breakthrough idea that will propel our company through the profitability stratosphere.

“We are not here to do what has already been done.” Find your own path.

So, it’s refreshing to see someone like Jack Dorsey recommend a book that, on its surface, is completely unrelated to business: The Art Spirit, by Robert Henri. The first sentences of the first chapter read, “Art when really understood is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing. When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it, shows there are still more pages possible.

Art is doing anything intensely. Art is doing anything well.

Henri wasn’t a business guru. He was an artist and teacher, and the book – published in 1923 – compiles an assortment of his ideas, philosophies and “practical musings.”

You “must pioneer beyond the mere matters of fact” – use fewer words, copy fewer things, but be longer in meaning.

On its own merits, the book is extremely interesting. But as Dorsey makes clear, it’s a very relevant and inspiring read if you keep business in the foreground as you move through the pages.

Create only what is important.

This book has helped me focus on the things that really matter. On a day-to-day basis, that means properly prioritizing my work so the right things are getting done. At the highest level, that means pursuing goals and working on projects that not only have a high likelihood of success, but that I believe will really make a difference.

Have you read The Art Spirit? Let us know what you thought in the comments below!

Why I Love

If you’re super-organized, have no problems with getting distracted, and find it easy to focus on exactly the right project at the right time, stop reading now. But, if you’re more like me (easily distracted, struggle to prioritize your day, etc.), keep reading.

I discovered a couple of months ago, signed up, and haven’t looked back. It’s very simple: you put on headphones and start a 30-minute session of strange ambient noises. The sounds quickly park themselves in the background of your brain while you focus on your work. I use it every day at the office. Here’s why.

I get more work done

Every person is different, so there’s no guarantee you’ll have the same experience as I do when you use When I use it, I definitely get more work done. I believe this is a combination of several factors:

  • It forces me to commit to a solid (30-minute) chunk of undistracted work
  • It blocks out noise from the rest of the office
  • The science behind their sound design is legitimate and helps me focus

It keeps me alert

When I finish a session, I usually realize there’s been no sound coming from my headphones for at least 20 minutes after the session has ended, but I’m still completely focused on my work. This happens regularly enough for me to assume it’s not a fluke, but an actual lingering effect from the sounds I heard during the session. The closest comparison I can make is to the peak alertness delivered by a strong cup of coffee – except delivers it via soundwaves into my ears. (!)

I’m in a better mood

I’m not sure sure this is an effect of the sounds I’m hearing from – instead, I believe my post-session mood improvement is a byproduct of being more productive. After cranking through a bunch of important work and checking a few items off my to-do list, I inevitably feel better. Then again, maybe it’s also those sound waves lingering somewhere in my brain. Who knows.

Yoga for work?

It sounds strange, but using kind of feels like yoga for work, in the sense that working during a session feels a little more like meditation than grinding out tasks. Granted, I’m usually ready for some real yoga after a day of sitting in a desk chair listening to sessions that sound like the inner rumblings of a spaceship combined with long-distance orca whale conversations.

Have you tried Have any other tips that help you focus and get more done during the day? Please leave your thoughts in the comments!