First, I will admit I might be a bit biased here, I know the core developer of ZenMagick personally, and have been using ZM on many of our recent projects (we no longer use ZenCart to build a new sites for our clients anymore). But I have also used ZenCart long enough to have a few opinions on it.
Ecommerce and the New Wave of Business
The Internet is a sweet resource for those looking to expand their businesses overseas, out of state, or just into a mass market. But the limitless boundaries of this phenomenon can be confusing, all-encompassing, and spell death for many a business venture. How many times have you seen a hapless webmaster attempting to scrounge a profit online, and giving up before they even really get started?
This is rarely lack of dedication on their part. More often, it is the problem of never-ending possibilities that the web represents, which turns it into a kind of elephant graveyard for half-formed money-making strategies. In addition to this, you have the wide range of scams that have made the average consumer online cynical to the ads and campaigns of most businesses. It has also managed to give small companies that are purely focused online a bad name, as they assume they are another cheat-venture trying to get something for nothing.
With this becoming such a problem with the World Wide Web, why is ecommerce still such a popular option in so many industries? The answer is simple: For all the negative possibilities, there are just as many positives. You can really work your way up as long as you follow by the same basic principles that attract customers to face-to-face businesses.
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U.S. Promising Small Loans For Gulf Oil Disaster Victims
The BP oil spill has been named the worst environmental crisis in the history of the United States. Over the course of the last several weeks, the waters of the Gulf Coast have been coated in crude oil, which has leeched onto the land and caused a major economic emergency. With the problem no closer to being solved, and BP only just starting to make tiny steps of progress in stemming the flow and cleaning the damage, this is a strike against the environment and local commerce that will have an effect for years to come.
The United States Small Business Administration has, therefore, come up with a contingency plan that they hope will be launched in the coming months. They are offering low-interest emergency loans to businesses (non-farm) that are suffering due to this disaster. This is specifically to those organizations struggling specifically because of the oil spill.
Those eligible are mostly fishing units, such as those that catch crabs and oysters in waters tainted by the oil. Water closures have pushed many of these fishing businesses away from the usual fishing areas, and forced them to seek out smaller regions with less to catch. Because of this, some businesses that were thriving are now facing bankruptcy.
But it isn’t just for the fishing businesses. It is also applicable for anyone who relied on the sell, transport, or equipping of fishing ships; such as retailers and wholesalers, dockers, ship equipment providers, tackle and bait stores, ect.
Small business also have the option of requesting a deferral on existing SBA loans under their names. This is part of the $2 million capital offer through SBA, with a 4% interest rate on a 30 year term. This is a great chance for small businesses to both protect themselves from the economic strike caused by this crisis, and possibly increase the reach and revenue of their firm. It can also be applied to payroll, suppliers, or any bills that have been left unpaid.
The deadline to request a loan or deferral is February 14, 2011. They have promised to be there, offering Mississippi residents help for as long as they are needed, and possible further aid may be coming in the months ahead.
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New Tax Credit Official for Small Businesses
A rather good news for small businesses! The Obama Administration has officially enacted a tax credit to help offset the cost of medical benefits for small businesses all over the country. This is all a part of the recent health care reform, and it is hoped that it will encourage more of these small companies to offer insurance to their employees, a move that will soon be mandatory under threat of expensive penalties of $2,000 per uncovered employee per year.
So, what are these tax credits, exactly? Basically, you will be given a federal credit of up to 35% of all costs for providing coverage. This is meant for companies of 25 or less employees, of which the average salary for those employees is less than $50,000 per year. This will cover a large number of businesses in the United States.
The amount paid in the credit will phase out depending on the exact number of employees versus average gross annual salary. That means the full 35% will be applied only to companies of fewer than 10 employees making less than $25,000 per year. But the sliding scale still offers significant cuts for those that apply under the maximum.
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Firing your customers
Not all customers are pleasant. In fact, chances are you have had at least one – and probably many more – that have been so difficult that you have had to fight not to grind your teeth into dust. Sometimes, irritating clients just have to be dealt with, and with the same courtesy as anyone else. But how do you know when it is time to say ‘enough’ and cut your losses?
The first way of knowing is deciding whether or not it really is a loss. A customer who takes up a great deal of time and energy might be costing you more than they are making you. If you find yourself dealing with constant late payments, low fees, or just a great deal of stress in yourself and your employees, there is a good chance they aren’t making you enough to justify keeping them around.
Another is just the irritation factor. You really don’t have to put up with a customer that is out of hand. If they persistently rub you the wrong way, mistreat you or staff, or are late on payments or constantly retract bids and promises, it is alright to tell them to take their business elsewhere. There is no rule saying you have to sacrifice your sanity for a couple of bucks you can likely make up with another client. And letting them go will give you the ability to search for one.
But there is a right way and a wrong way of conducting this sort of situation. The relationship between a company and a customer is a delicate one, much more than you might think. When you let a client go you are risking word getting out to other potential customers. Which is why you have to handle it with professionalism, grace, and courtesy.
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Hosting for Small Business
We have compiled a list of the better hosting providers on the web for you, some of these are from our own opinion, some are recommended by our clients.
- JaguarPC: a Texas based hosting company, this is the one we are using for our websites. Their shared hosting starts at 4.97usd/month as of the time this post is written. We have no experience with their shared hosting packages, but they have one of the best 24h support service for the VPS and dedicated packages we are using, all emails are usually answered within 15-30mins. We had some problems with the stability and speed in the past on their VPS servers, but they have been helpful in trying to help us sort out the issues.
- Bluehost: since January this hosting company has managed to claw their way to the top of most lists for the best in professional website hosting. Their price is a big part of it, with packages starting as low as $3.95 per month for professional hosting. They also offer unlimited disk space, hosting for unlimited domains, 24 hour phone support, and an easy setup for those with existing domains. They also offer $25 free Yahoo credits, and $50 free Google credits. We have used this hosting provider in the past, the shared hosting we used had pretty good speed, and we didn’t have any issue during the 6months we used it so we don’t know how their customer service is.
- Host Monster: usually $6.95 per month, they have a special running now that allows new users to sign up for half the price. They are all unlimited (space, bandwidth and hosting), which is perfect for a professional site that can’t always control the flow of traffic and wants to avoid sudden downtime. They also have no cancellation fees and immediate start-up and termination. We also used this one for a short amount of time, but that has been a long time ago, this hosting is used by several of our clients.
- GoDaddy: very good place to get your SSL certs and domains, we do feel a bit guilty recommending it as a hosting provider, however, we have heard some not so good things about its hosting support services. Some of our friends say that it gets a bit better recently, we honestly don’t know. But if you bought SSL certs and domains from them, and you like them, perhaps you can try their hosting services as well. More per month than the two above websites, but offering some of the best customer service and perks in the business. GoDaddy has plans starting at $4.27 and ending in $14.99. They also offer domains for as low as $1.99, and a ton of additional applications from big names like Google.
- HostGator: plans start at $4.95 with a plan to meet just about any need, and a great ad policy. But what makes them unique is their reseller program, which allows you to open up your own hosting company for a pretty low price. They also have a great dedicated server for $174 per month.
- WebServe.me: if you are uncomfortable going to one of the big guys as a small business yourself, why not support another one of the little guys? WebServe.me is a hosting group run by IT know-it-all’s who are great at keeping their servers up and running. They are small and dedicated, and can provide you with a great hosting service for as little as $3.45 a month. You will be giving up some features that the bigger hosts provide, but you will make up for it in customer service and good karma.
If you have good/bad experiences with the above hosting providers or any other provider, please feel free to share here. If you are looking for a new hosting, we do have a warning for you: don’t rely too much on the reviews out there. Some people just have bad lucks, some others like to complain a lot, and as a rule of thumb 90% people post a review only when they have a real bad experience.
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Increase sales by tracking site search
Google Analytics (GA) is a popular service for many small – medium ecommerce businesses because it can provide almost all the features that other commercial (paid) services can provide while staying FREE.
Many people, however, don’t know how to take full advantage of the power that GA offers them. Last week I was chatting with a client and turned out she did not know that she could track what the customers search on her site with GA. Just imagine how surprised and happy she was. Knowing what your customers searching on your site along with other factors (how many times they have to refine their search, how deep did they have to dig down, … to find what they are looking for) can help you to stock your store with the products that are on demand, or to re-work your internal search engine to give better search result.
Setting up site search tracking is very easy:
For Zencart, you should use keyword for “Query Parameter” and categories_id for “Category Parameter”
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What the New Small Business Plans Mean for You, the Business Owner
As the economy slowly begins to bottom out, opening the way for improvement, there is one major point that seems to be being proven again and again: small businesses will be a major part of that recovery. Without an emphasis being placed on the smaller businesses that have suffered for years under the dominance of large (and often corrupt) banks and businesses, the job market will continue to slow, and the annual revenue will once again decline on a country-wide basis.
Because of this fact, those who watched President Obama’s address may have noticed that small businesses were a main focus of the direction of the way forward. Several plans have been put into play that will help small businesses once again prosper and become more focused in a new era of the job and business market. However, the opinions of how much these plans will help are mixed, with some feeling as though it will not be enough, and others saying that something is better than nothing. But what will it mean for you, the small business owner?
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Business Basics: Going Green
Going green. It is a term that has become increasingly popular since 2006, when Al Gore released his award winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”. Since then, a craze has taken off that is dedicated to creating a cleaner, more energy efficient world, and battling the phenomenon of global warming. There are still skeptics out there, and those that have believed from the beginning. Whichever category you fall into hardly matters; the benefits of going green as a small business speak for themselves.
The truth is, there a number of pros to becoming more environmentally conscious, both in terms of saving and making money. Companies that cater to a growing client base that is dedicated to frequenting eco-friendly businesses are becoming more popular than ever, and for the first time a large number of people will choose a business based partially on this ideal.
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Business Basics: Is My Business Going to Work?
Alright, so you have your business ideas, your business plans, your target audience, your niche, advertising campaigns worked out…it is all coming together. But before you invest your money and launch into a new business venture, there is one thing you may want to know for sure: does it have a chance of succeeding.
There is a common misconception – albeit an optimistic one – that if you have a good idea and a willingness to work hard your business will be a hit. This is the American way, combining innovation with good old fashion sweat. This may have been the case fifty years ago, but today’s market is very different, and there will be plenty of failed businesses to tally as 2009 comes to a close, with may more to follow in the years to come.
Luckily, there is a way around this. As long as you analyze your business idea in a structured and honest way, you will be able to avoid a pitfall that could be potentially hazardous. But you should take this a step even further and analyze yourself. If you are not the kind of person who can effectively run a small business you shouldn’t be attempting it. There are many check lists that can offer you assistance in this regard, and there are even consultant you can hire that will speak to you in depth about yourself, and your idea. But some questions are more common than others, and completely necessary to answer.
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