Why Outsource the Fraud Protection in Your Growing Online Business

If you are doing any kind of business online these days, then fraud protection has to be one of your top concerns. It’s no secret that incidents of online fraud and significant, high profile breaches in data security have been on the rise over the past decade. In fact, ecommerce fraud rose a whopping 30 percent in 2016, and according to a recent survey of executives, over 80 percent reported that their companies were the targets of cyber attacks, originating both from within the company and from the outside. That’s up from 75 percent in 2015, and 70 percent in 2013.

As more and more financial and commerce-based transactions move online and on mobile devices, cyber criminals are setting their sights on these channels. Many of these individuals are armed with a sophisticated toolbox of bots and stolen consumer data that includes credit card numbers and other identifying information, which they can use to hijack or create customer accounts in order to make purchases.

Online fraud can not only lead to lost revenue, but it can compromise sensitive customer or business data, lead to expensive charge-back fees, the loss of merchant accounts, and put a big dent in a business’ reputation. The bottom line is succumbing to a cyber attack is not a pretty picture.

Why Outsourcing Fraud Protection is a Smart Move

In an effort to save money, many smaller online companies typically try to manage their fraud prevention in-house. But more often than not the numbers don’t support this approach. The reality is that fraud protection can get very expensive. For example, recent research suggests that fraud and charge-back management can consume between 13 to 20 percent of a business’ operational budget. There are also numerous significant limitations inherent to many in-house fraud prevention programs and systems, such as being able to keep up with the constantly changing tactics, tools, and platforms being employed by cyber criminals. For businesses that operate world-wide, in-house systems must also be able to keep up with a large-scale set of transactions that may vary by region. Without this ability, many legitimate orders may be rejected, leading to a significant loss in current and future sales.

While letting go of in-house systems may be hard to do for something as sensitive and as important as fraud prevention, they are many benefits to outsourcing this function. Here is a rundown of the three biggest pluses:

  1. They use the latest technology. By outsourcing fraud prevention to an outside company, the business will gain access to the latest technology and screening techniques, as well as up-to-date industry knowledge. So, as the world of cyber crime evolves or consumer behavior changes, the business will still enjoy protection.
  1. Sales are processed more efficiently and accurately. Today, online consumers have come to expect instant results. Whenever an order is flagged for further verification, a dedicated, outside service can quickly move to confirm customer details. Furthermore, a good fraud protection provider will use more accurate screening tools for global and regional sales so that fewer legitimate orders require verification in the first place. This can lead to a better customer experience and the ability to enter more markets.
  1. Businesses can free up precious resources. When a growing online business diverts significant resources to in-house fraud prevention that means fewer resources are available for things like product research and development and strategic management. By passing this responsibility off to a qualified fraud prevention service, business owners and their staff are then free to focus growing and developing the business.

Now, it almost goes without saying that the quality, level, and extensiveness of service among fraud screening providers will vary, so business owners and their management teams need to be exercising their full due diligence before agreeing to work with a particular company. But, once an appropriate fraud screening provider has been found, relying on their services can bring a dramatic, positive change for online sales and business growth in general, and that’s something any business would want.

Is Your Small Business Benefiting from the Sharing Economy?

Over the past few years, the term “sharing economy” has been increasingly grabbing the spotlight. It’s not just the breadth of available products and services that are drawing attention, it’s the fact that these emerging markets, which allow people to share resources with one another, are disrupting the status quo of some of the world’s oldest, most enduring industries.

The question now arises: how much will the sharing economy shape the future of business- especially the smaller, more agile entities?

What is the Sharing Economy?

The sharing economy refers to an evolving web of markets and communities (most of which are based online) that allows people to share resources, such as equipment, services, and skills- often at a significantly lower cost than traditional retail or employment arrangements. These exchanges tend to benefit both sides of the transaction. It allows people and entities to use valuable resources, such as cars, office or residential space, and credit, without having to own these resources or go through an extended process to access them. At the same time, it creates opportunities for others to get additional value from their possessions, talents, or efforts.

For smaller companies the sharing economy means that they can now get a loan directly from peers or small lenders, get professional services, such as copy writing, app development, and graphic design, share office space, hire someone to drive them to their destination, and stay at someone’s house instead of a hotel when on business travel. And, the best part of it all is that it costs them a fraction of the price and requires significantly less time to conduct the transaction.

Five Areas Where the Sharing Economy is Helping Smaller Businesses

Let’s take a closer at each of the five areas mentioned above and how small businesses are benefiting from them:

1. Business financing. In some respects, after the Great Recession the traditional financial world has been upended. In order to fill a small business funding gap left by many mainstream banks, an assortment of platforms and products, often backed by powerful proprietary technology, having been cropping up in recent years. These products and platforms include: business cash advances, short-term microloans, peer-to-peer lending, crowd-funding, and peer-to-peer banking, to name a few. Collectively, these products are known as alternative financing, and their streamlined approach to getting money to the businesses, organizations, and individuals that need it are starting to turn heads even among the traditional financial institutions.

2. Professional services. Freelance market-places, such as Fiverr, Odesk, Guru.com, and assortment of alternatives, have been a game changer when it comes to connecting businesses to freelance workers offering affordable professional services, in areas such as writing and translation, graphic design, app development and web development. These platforms all help to match buyers with the sellers of desired services. Service providers generally are asked to create a profile where they include a description of the services which they offer, examples of their work and in some cases information about their rates. Buyers register with the platform and then post projects outlining their requirements or search through seller profiles before settling on a particular service provider.

3. Co-working.  One of the biggest expenses new small businesses have is maintaining a physical presence once they get too big to run out of a home office. Trying to rent office space can get very expensive, quickly eating up their profit margins. Enter co-working. Co-working allows freelancers and micro businesses to work in a dynamic office environment at relatively low cost by spreading overhead expenses, such as rent, utilities, storage, mail, and office supplies, as well as sharing some equipment and other resources. Businesses typically pay a weekly or monthly fee that’s based on space requirements as well as the amount of time spent onsite.

4. Business Travel. Ridesharing and carsharing has forced traditional taxi services and rental car companies to adopt to technology, such as the ubiquity of smartphone apps, and may actually lead to lower industry-wide prices over time. With apps like Uber and Lyft, you can hail a ride from drivers in their personal vehicles. With services like Car2Go and Zipcar, you can rent a shared vehicle and only pay for the time you drive it. Depending on the time and location, rides with ridesharing companies can cost half the amount of an identical trip made by a taxi, and since carsharing companies mostly charge for the actual time and distance you drive, they are much cheaper than rental car companies, which typically charge by the day.

5. Business Accommodations. The online home-sharing network Airbnb has given the hotel industry a run for it’s money by allowing private home owners to open up their properties to paying guests. While business travelers by and large may still prefer a stay at a hotel as opposed to overnight accommodations at a private residence, there seems to be increased interest in using the service for business trips, particularly since prices tend to be more affordable.

In short, the sharing economy has been a boon for small businesses, and all indications suggest that its influence is set to grow in the coming years.

Planning for Retirement as a Small Business Owner

When you own a small business, you are taking your retirement planning into your own hands. Retirement planing as a business owner is very different from that of an employee, and many owners are caught off guard. Not only is the process more complicated, with fewer safety nets, but you will also need to establish a well thought out business succession plan that details how you will sell your business or pass it on to a new generation of family members.

So, how can you successfully juggle these two big goals simultaneously? The very first step is to get in touch with the real challenges that you may be facing. Many small business owners don’t have enough retirement savings. On the other hand, not every small business will find a buyer. A study by the Exit Planning Institute found that while some 4.5 million firms could be up for sale in the next decade because their owners are reaching retirement age, only 20 percent to 30 percent of these businesses will end up selling.

Once you have a realistic understanding of the challenges, you can begin to plan for both retirement savings and your business’ succession.

Tips to Plan for Retirement as a Small Business Owner

When it comes to your retirement planning, here are a few points to consider:

Figure out how much you need for retirement. This step requires you to think about where and how you will live once you are no longer running your business. Some people will eagerly move from a high-cost location to someplace that’s easier on the wallet, but not every retiree wants to do that. If your succession plan (see step 3) calls for you to stay on as a consultant to your business after you sell or transition, you may not be able to. There are free retirement living cost calculators on just about every personal finance website, as well as on the websites of retirement savings companies like Fidelity, Rowe Price, TIAA and Vanguard. Pick one, and run your numbers.

Commit yourself to start saving for retirement right away. This is regardless of your age and regardless of how much you can afford to sock away. One way to ensure that money is going into your retirement account, is to set up automatic deductions.

Research your options. If you own a small business or are self-employed in one, then there are actually several retirement account options to choose from. The most common small business retirement plans include:

The IRS has up-to-date information on all of these plans; just follow the links provided.

At the end of the day, you need to pick the plan that’s best for you and your business with an eye towards where the business is now and where you hope to take it in the future. Many of the above accounts can be professionally managed. Here it pays to do a little shopping around since financial management can vary significantly in terms of service and administration costs among providers.

Write a succession plan. Finally, you need to have a solid plan in place for the transition of your business to another party once you retire. Your small business can actually turn out to be one of your largest assets- but only if you divest yourself from it in the right way. A survey conducted by CNBC in 2015, found that 78% of small business owners intended to sell their businesses to fund their retirement, yet less 30% of these owners had a succession plan in place. Of course, every situation is unique, so you will need to speak to a qualified professional to hash out the details of your succession plan. But, here are a few points to consider:

  • If your plan includes turning the business over to your children and they are not buying the business outright, you’ll need to think about how you will draw your equity out during retirement.
  • If plan on selling the business to one of your business partners or one of your other employees for leadership, you have to decide if you want to still retain ownership while allowing this person to run the business.
  • If you plan on selling the business outright, then you need to have a realistic sense of the true value of the business as well as how the sale may be structured. For example, if the business is worth a significant amount of money, you may agree to a lease to own or other financing arrangement. This means, however, that you will not get the full amount right away.

Bottom line: retirement planning as a small business owner may take a bit of work to figure out and set up. But, you’ll generally be rewarded with a lot of flexibility and control over how you plan for your golden years.

How to Offer Employee Stock Options in Your Company

The owners of smaller, high growth potential startups often want to compensate their employees with options to acquire stock in the company. Not only is this a potentially lucrative reward for your hardworking team who has stuck it out through the ups and downs, it can help to significantly enhance employee motivation, engagement and loyalty.

But, like most other things in business (and in life), it has to be approached in the right way. If you would like to create a stock option program in your company, there here are a few things to consider:

First Off, What Are Stock Options?

Options give your employees the right to acquire stock in your company at a future time, at a set exercise or “strike” price. The price your company sets on the stock is typically discounted. Often, companies rely on the market price of the stock at the time the employee is granted the options. In other words, the exercise price cannot be lower than your company’s market value per share at the time of grant. The number of shares available and the time during which employees can exercise their option to buy would also be set by your company from the start of the option. Until your employee exercises the options to purchase actual shares, the employee has none of the rights of a shareholder.

Since the options cannot be exercised right away, if the price of the shares increase over time, then selling them later at a higher market price would yield a profit.

The Benefits of Offering Stock Options to Your Employees

There are several real benefits to having a stock option program in your company:

  • It will help you to attract and retain valuable employees
  • It will help to foster a sense of ownership among your team
  • It can also help to improve motivation since the better your company does, the higher your stock value will be.
  • Finally, this gives you a form of compensation that does not involve cash- which could be helpful if your company is new and needs to preserve as much capital as possible.

What to Consider When Offering a Stock Option Program

Aside from a number of legal issues that are beyond the scope of the article (they will need to be discussed with your lawyer, instead), there are several things to consider before implementing an employee stock option program in your business:

To whom will you offer these options? Stock options are not cheap candy. They need to be given out thoughtfully. Keep in mind, when your employees exercise their option to buy, they are becoming real shareholders in your company. You should primarily be investing in the people that count, the key employees that are indispensable to your business, and then work out from there.

How many shares will you offer? You need to determine each year how much stock you are willing to make available to your employees. This includes factoring in how much you expect your employment to grow in the next few years. If you offer too many options too soon, you may end up with little room for additional options to future employees later on.

Will these options have a vesting period? Depending on your answers to the first two questions above, you may want to factor a vesting period into your stock options. A vesting period is designed to spread out the total number of shares an employee can buy over a specified number of years. So for example, an employee with stock options to buy 200 shares with a five year vesting schedule, would be allowed to buy up to 40 shares a year till the fifth year.

Finally, does your company have real potential growth? Before you create a stock option program in your company, you first have to objectively consider how much potential there is for real, profitable growth. If your company is not successful or growth is slow, then a cash compensation may be a better option for your employees. Since it may be hard for you to look at your business objectively, you should seek the counsel of an outside professional or even a professional mentor.

In short, stock options certainly have their benefits- especially for young, high growth-potential companies. But, you don’t want to just dive into it. The more thought and consideration you give this program, the greater the chances of it being a success.

SEO Trends in 2017 for Small Businesses

 

When it comes to staying on top of the latest SEO trends, it can often feel like you are trying to catch the wind. Just when you think you are finally caught up, everything changes. You could spend countless hours and dollars trying to figure out one platform or strategy, only to find out that it no longer produces the results you were expecting.

On the other hand, simply sitting idle won’t do, either, since your competition will be making its own efforts to stay ahead of the curve.

That said, here are three major SEO trends in 2017 that are likely to shape the way smaller companies in particular do business. Whether or not you like them, you will have much to gain by paying attention and doing what you can to ride the wave.

3 Big SEO Trends in 2017

Mobile First. Let me put it bluntly: mobile devices are overtaking those “clunky” desktop ones not just in terms of numbers, but more importantly, in terms of activity. Unfortunately for many of us, putting our phones and tablets down already is a real challenge. But, it’s also an opportunity for business owners online. So, if your business is not on mobile, then you better get there fast.

For the past couple of years, mobile searches have been dominating desktop searches, and the gap is only getting wider. Thus, it almost goes without saying that you need to be creating a good online experience across all types of devices. Google recently thickened the plot with its announced mobile first index. What this means is that now Google will crawl the mobile version of your site or responsive mobile version first before the desktop version and use that content in the search results.

Sophisticated Online Search. Long gone are the days when online users would type a few keywords into a search box and (hopefully) get a list of relevant sites. Over the past five years or so, online search has become much more personalized and much more sophisticated. There are two main areas that businesses need to be paying attention to:

  1. The first is in optimization for user intent. This area, like the one that follows below, has been significantly improving over the past three years. Search engines are now getting much better at identifying user intent whenever someone does an online search. Instead of typing a few keywords, users are now entering full queries or phrases in search engines which then try to figure out the motivation behind each particular search. There are generally three types of motivation that require very different search results: 1) navigational, where the user is trying to get to a particular destination; 2) informational, where the user is looking for information on a particular product, service, or topic; and finally, 3) transactional, where the user is ready to buy or take some other type of action.

  1. The second is voice search. As mobile online usage continues to increase and technology advances, voice search has been gaining momentum. According to a recent study conducted by Google, 55 percent of those under 18 years old use voice search daily. That number increases to 75 percent for young users who are on their phones 11 or more hours per day. Even older users are increasingly turning to voice search to ask for directions or to help them multi-task.

Consistent Structure. Structured data is basically information that is formatted in a standard, universal way that helps search engines better understand a website. The result is often a better search engine ranking. The source of this structured data can be found at Schema.org. It is a code that was developed by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Yandex that you can add to your website to help search engines crawl your site faster and more accurately. As the number and content of sites explodes, the use of structured data by search engines will only increase.

In short, while SEO may be in constant flux, these three trends promise to underlie all of the change. If you choose to ignore them, you may end up missing the boat in your marketing- both online and off.

How the PATH Act Affects Your Small Business

Federal taxes have for years been one of the top headaches for small businesses with seemingly no end in sight. Among countless shifting tax provisions, retroactive extensions, and a large helping of legalese involving even the simplest of tax rules, small business owners are now required to spend a tremendous amount of time each year complying with federal tax regulations and filing their returns.

Just how much time? Well, a recent Small business Taxation Survey, conducted by the National Small Business Association (NSBA) reported that 22 percent of small business owners devote as many as 120+ hours a year, or four full work weeks, to their taxes. This includes activities such as: completing forms, keeping up with changing regulations, as well as organizing receipts and paperwork. A full one third of the small businesses surveyed spend more than 80 hours per year on their federal taxes.

Even as the current administration in Washington considers a massive tax overhaul that will supposedly make complying with federal tax regulations a whole lot easier and cheaper, the has been at least one recent bright spot: the PATH Act enacted at the end of 2015.

The PATH Act makes more than 20 tax breaks permanent in addition to retroactively extending a slew of others for two or more years. In some cases, these include significant modifications. Some of the extensions, such as those involving equipment purchases and payroll, give small business owners some breathing room to plan for and thus maximize certain tax deductions.

Here are three main areas where the PATH Act may positively help your business:

1. Equipment Purchases. With the PATH Act, the price of big equipment purchases can be fully written off in the year they are put into service instead of taking small deductions over a period of five years. Under Section 179, business owners are allowed to deduct up to $500,000 for either new or used equipment purchases. The deduction limit starts to phase out when qualified property is more than $2 million. Both deduction amount and limit will be adjusted for inflation starting in 2016.

On top of this, the PATH act offers a second, “bonus depreciation” of 50% that can be used after the Section 179 deduction has been taken. This deduction dwindles, however, in coming years to 40% in 2018 and 30% in 2019. In 2020, the deduction will expire completely.

2. Payroll. Businesses that hire employees from certain categories, such as military veterans or those who qualified for long-term unemployment, may be eligible for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. The PATH Act extended the credit through 2019 and added a 40% credit up to the first $6,000 in wages for businesses who hire qualified long-term unemployed individuals who have been without work for 27+ weeks.

3. Research & Development. The PATH Act permanently extends the Research and Development Tax Credit. This credit helps small businesses recover some of the costs of R&D including the expenses of obtaining a patent. Beginning in 2016, eligible small business with $50 million or less in gross receipts can claim the credit against alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability.

On top of these incentives for small businesses, the PATH Act also offers numerous individual tax breaks that may indirectly help small businesses as well. For more information, consult the IRS’s online tax center.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act Makes Businesses Be Their Best

The House and the Senate recently passed the Consumer Review Fairness Act, a piece of legislation designed to protect the right of consumers to leave honest reviews of businesses online, even if that feedback is negative. While the legislation is designed to protect consumers, it is also a very strong testament to the power of a business’ online reputation.

Why Online Reviews Matter

Online reviews of local businesses and services are a powerful tool for consumers that have significant influence over their purchasing decisions. According to a survey conducted by Dimensional Research, 90 percent of consumers who read online reviews claimed that positive online reviews influenced buying decisions, while 86 percent said buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews. Other research suggests that as much as 90 percent of consumers read online reviews and 88 percent trust these reviews as much as personal recommendations. In other words, online reviews matter… a lot.

Keeping Businesses in Line

With the recognition that the online reviews and comments made by customers can significantly affect sales, some businesses have been trying to take matters into their own hands- by force. Some companies hide so-called non-disparagement clauses in the fine print of their Terms of Service and then go after consumers with lawsuits if they post negative feedback online. Other companies resort to threats. Consider the well-publicized example of the Union Street Guest House located in the Catskills that was called out for threatening guests with a $500 fee for every bad review that they left.

So, not only is maintaining the integrity of online reviews extremely important, but consumers need to be able to leave their feedback without fear of retribution. The Consumer Review and Fairness Act was created to address these issues.

What This All Means for Your Business

The new legislation not only protects consumers, but it gives them a great deal of power as well. It goes without saying that small business owners should be doing what they can to give their customers a positive experience. That’s the best method they can take to help ensure that their online reputation remains positive. But, when customer service or product quality issues do arise (which happens even to the best companies from time to time) making sincere efforts to smooth over the situation is now even more important than ever since the law is now on the side of the consumer.

All in all, while it was intended for consumers, the Consumer Review and Fairness Act can ultimately help motivate small businesses to be their best- both online and off.

4 Job Market Trends That Will Shape 2017

What does the future hold for the US labor market in 2017? If you are a small business considering hiring in the new year, here are some trends you need to pay attention to:

1. Filling the hiring gap. In 2016, the U.S. hit an all-time record of 5.8 million unfilled jobs. There are several potential reasons why businesses have been unwilling or unable to fill these empty positions. Some industry experts point to rising health care costs as well as the uncertainty surrounding the presidential election. Others reveal that there is growing concern among small business owners about finding the right people for skilled positions. More advanced skills and training are required for many of today’s jobs, such as a proficiency in math, problem solving, and interpersonal skills, as well as tech savvy and technical expertise.

2. Tech savvy required. Regardless of the industry, small business employers are looking for tech-savvy employees. This applies even to traditionally non-technical jobs, such as administrative assistants, customer service representatives, and marketers.

3. New emphasis on employee wellness. Given that finding and retaining talented employees has become a top priority and the cost of poor employee health has gone up, employers are looking for ways to reduce employee stress and encourage healthier habits among its workforce. Wellbeing programs are becoming more popular even among small businesses as a way to supplement their traditional health insurance benefits. According to a recent survey conducted by Virgin Pulse, more employers are turning to staff wellness initiatives in order to bolstering their bottom line and help their workers feel more happy and productive.

4. Preventing “insider threats.” After a rash of high-profile hacks over the past couple of years, cyber security has become a top business agenda. But, did you know that one of the biggest threats to your cyber security is your own employees? According to recent research conducted by network security company, Preempt, the security threats issuing from within a business are as big a concern as external threats. Some of the biggest issues include: Malware installed by careless employees as well as stolen or compromised credentials. In order to stop employees from putting business data security at risk, businesses need to focus more on employee training and good practices in conjunction with stronger cyber security systems.

All of these issues, while they are varied, are of extreme importance to smaller businesses in particular, since these businesses tend to have less resources to dedicate to their recruiting, hiring, and training processes. By being in touch with these trends now, and preparing your business for them, you’ll be more likely to start off the year on the right foot.

8 Social Media Selling Solutions & The New e-Commerce Frontier

Social media e-commerce is a marriage that was bound to happen. With social media attracting more and more of consumers’ time and attention, and mobile technology allowing people to instantly connect whenever and where ever they want, it’s a no-brainer that businesses would try to turn all of that activity into sales.

With social media e-commerce, you can turn your social media accounts into online stores and run a profitable e-commerce business. While it is still advisable to maintain an online store hosted on your own website, since social media and selling platforms tend to change their rules a lot, social media e-commerce nevertheless allows you to get your foot in the door with little to no initial investment.

If you are new to social media selling, then there are several solutions out there that can get you up and running in no time. Here is a list of some popular options to consider:

Shopial

Shopial allows you to instantly turn your online store into Facebook and Pinterest storefronts. You can also use the platform to create and activate Facebook ads in order to generate more targeted traffic and sales. The system works with all the major e-commerce platforms, such as eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Magento and Shopify.

Olapic

Throw those stock photos away! Olapic allows you to boost sales with user-generated images from social media. The platform aggregates images submitted by users on various social media channels such as Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. Then, using a curation algorithm and human editors, Olapic identifies which images are best suited to for use in your marketing campaigns.

Soldsie

If you are looking to monetize your Instagram feed, then Soldsie may be for you. Its selling solution, have2have.it, lets users shop your posts via a unique URL (have2have.it/yourstore). You just need to add the link to your profile, and customers will have easy access to a e-commerce version of your Instagram feed.

Soldie also supports an interesting Facebook app that turns the comments section into an e-commerce machine. Once customers leave a comment under a photo, Soldsie automatically adds the item to their shopping cart for quick and easy checkout.

Beetailer

Beetailer is another great social media selling platform for Facebook. The system quickly catalogs and imports all of your products on Facebook. The best part about Beetailer is that it is a set it and forget it system. Once the initial migration is complete, it requires no configuration or maintenance, and products are automatically updated as your website’s inventory changes. Beetailer also supports a wide range of marketing tools like campaigns and promotions, offers detailed analytics, and integrates with existing checkout systems.

Chirpify

Chirpify is an “engagement loyalty program” that integrates online and offline channels with social media. It works by using unique campaign hashtags to enable purchases across multiple social networks. The goal is to convert relevant social media activity into rewards for users while generating valuable data and sales for you the business owner. All users have to do is post the hashtag on their Twitter, Facebook or Instagram feeds to activate a purchase or take advantage of a promotional offer.

Facebook for Business

If you want to sell your products or services on Facebook, you might as well go to the source. Facebook for Business is a robust platform that allows you to create Facebook business pages and purchase Facebook ads and then integrate your Facebook campaign into a business website or mobile app. The platform also provides extensive analytics and reporting that will give you key insights into your campaign performance.

Pinterest for Business

Pinterest for Business allows businesses create branded Pinterest accounts. There are two important features that are valuable to businesses when it comes to Pinterest. First, businesses can add the “Pin It” button to any images of their products found on the web. When Pinterest users click on the button, not only is the image is added to their boards so their followers can see it, these pins also include the seller’s shop name and pricing information. The second feature is Buyable Pins. This feature allows you to add a Buy button on every pin you place on Pinterest. All sales generated are free of charge.

Twitter Buy Now

Twitter currently offers “Buy Now” buttons that allow followers to make purchases from your Twitter feed in real time. This means customers don’t even have to go to your online store to buy your products.

With one or more off the platforms mentioned above, you can turn your business’ social media presence into some serious social sales.

10 Ways to Update Your Social Medial Profiles

Now that the new year is upon us, it’s time to start developing some new habits in the way you market your small business- especially online. If you have been procrastinating when it comes to updating your social media profiles or you have been filling those accounts with “fluff” content, now is the best time to change that. Social media offers endless opportunities for small businesses to connect with their customers. But, it can be a big black hole of time and money if you don’t approach it in the right way or you are inconsistent in your efforts.

Don’t let this scare you away. Keeping those social media accounts active and engaging doesn’t necessarily have to be a big drain on your precious time, energy, and money. You don’t have to bang your head against the wall trying to come up with update ideas, either.

Case in point, here are 10 different update ideas that you can use to generate content on social media that will inform, engage, and entertain your followers:

1. Helpful tips and tidbits. Social media is the perfect medium to dispense helpful nuggets of information. Your update doesn’t have to be long or drawn out; just a quick tip, hack, or how-to that you know will be valuable to your target audience.

2. Re-sharing product-related posts from your customers. If your customers post positive photos or comments about your products or services, you can re-share it on your own social media accounts (in some cases, though, make sure to ask their permission beforehand). This accomplishes several things at once: 1) by recognizing your customer’s post and re-sharing it, you can increase good feelings and engagement among your audience; 2) you create more instances of your brand being mentioned on the given platform(s), which will help your online exposure and reputation; and 3) it forces you to keep tabs on customer sentiment.

3. Conduct a short poll or survey. Not only may this give you valuable customer feedback, but if you act on it, then it will also help to build trust and engagement among your target audience. But note: these questionnaires don’t have to always be heavy or serious. You can do something as simple as asking your customers what their favorite product feature, color, or taste is, or creative uses for your product/service. To encourage engagement, offer a discount, free give away, or other small prize.

4. Behind-the-scenes posts. You can post some pictures or short videos of your team getting ready to open the business or during the production production process. These kinds of updates makes your account and your business a bit more personal.

5. “Customer source.” Ask your customers to help you come up with the next product feature, name, or even the next line of products or services. Your customers will feel more “invested” in your business- even if their suggestions weren’t accepted, and that will help to increase both engagement and sales.

6. Hold a live discussion, chat, or workshop. Many social media platforms allow for some real-time interaction among members. Twitter, offers for “chats,” while platforms, such as Periscope, Facebook Live, Snapchat, and Google Hangouts, support live video streaming with followers.

7. Share resources. Found a good resource that your target audience may find useful? Share it in an update. Perhaps you have some resources of your own, such as an ebook, webinar, app, or a free download. As you update these resources, you can re-promote them across your social media channels.

8. Updates for a cause. Is there a cause or a charity that you are passionate about? You can promote them on social media.

9. Case studies. Case studies are pieces of content that share specific information about how your business helped a particular client or customer. You don’t have to include the whole account on social media. Just write up a few teaser sentences, and then link the update to the full article or interview hosted on your website.

10. Company announcements. Whenever you have company news or updates to share, like new locations, new products or services, upcoming events, and new leadership, social media is a great way to get the word out.

So, there you have it, 10 ways to keep your social media accounts active without making it look like you are running it on autopilot. Have any ideas not mentioned on this list? Let us know in the comment section below.