Cascade e-Commerce Solutions, Inc.

The Advantages of Social Media for Small Business

Since the early days of the 21st century, the use of social media for business has grown exceedingly, becoming an integral aspect of an overall marketing strategy. This is due to a growing awareness that cultivating relationships with potential customers is key to growth in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Using methods of social media marketing helps form relationships with potential consumers in ways previously unavailable to the business community.

Social Media Inclusion in Marketing Plans

Research confirms the necessity of incorporating social media into comprehensive marketing strategies. According to Jacques Bughlin’s July 2015 article, Getting a sharper picture of social media’s influence, “Consumers who use search engines to gain some initial knowledge of a product are also more likely to tune in to social media before a purchase.” * Although research shows that businesses that invest in SEO (search engine optimization) can increase conversions by incorporating social media in their marketing plans, this approach can be maximized further by also including email marketing, SEM (Search Engine Marketing), and Reputation Management into their marketing plan. Why? Because each of these channels cross-connect.

Social Media Activities that Influence Digital Shopping Behavior

As we have seen, consumers make connections with companies to obtain or deepen their knowledge of products prior to making a purchase. But, how are potential customers using social media to reach their decisions to buy or not? A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) survey conducted in September 2015** revealed the social media activities that influence digital shopping behavior. The report, based on a worldwide sampling of 22,618 digital buyers aged eighteen and above, shows that: 45% – Read reviews, comments and feedback 44% – Receiving promotional offerings 30% – View Ads 25% – Stay on top of current fashion and product trends 22% – Write reviews, comments and feedback 20% – Associate with particular brands or retailers 16% – Purchase products directly through a social media channel Businesses that understand and master the digital domain can use each type of contact in their social media marketing to guide consumers along the way, whether they arrive to the business’s website from an ad, a blog post, a review, a tweet, an image, etc. Each marketing channel can be an extension of the business through which the consumer gains knowledge, forms opinions, and develops impressions that will lead to making decisions.

Reputation Management through Social Engagement

An advantage of using social media is the ability to better track and respond to the information that is circulated on the internet. When a customer feels strong enough to leave a review or comment regarding a business, they will most likely go to that business’s website. Businesses who do not utilize social media in their marketing plan may not know the feedback they receive. However, customers pay close attention to such information and will use it to determine future actions. For small businesses, the opportunity for interaction and for conversions is great due to their ability to develop closer, more intimate relationships with their customers than larger businesses. Customers who frequent smaller, local businesses tend to spread the word online to friends, co-workers, and within community groups. Small businesses can use social media to: • Quickly release information about a service or a product going on sale • Post and discuss pictures of their products • Respond to customer service inquiries • Build e-mail lists for the purpose of alerting customers of specials, ads, community events or causes, contests or even personal announcements, such as births or weddings When a small business uses social media to interact with their customers, they make deep inroads into the community in which they serve. They get a better understanding of their customers’ wants, needs, and future desires which, when acted upon, may lead to greater success in the marketplace. Thinking of incorporating social media into your marketing strategy? Cascade e-Commerce Solutions supports small business with their SEO, SEM, Social Media, and Reputation Management needs. Contact us today at 206-244-9092 or [email protected] ________________________________________ * http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/getting-a-sharper-picture-of-social-medias-influence ** (February 2016 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report, “They Say They Want a Revolution: Total Retail 2016.

Accidental Entrepreneur | A Review of “Good to Great” by Jim Collins

Accidental Entrepreneur | CeSI’s Review of “Good to Great” by Jim Collins

I am one of those somewhat accidental entrepreneurs.  I never wanted to own a business.  Owning a business was my husband’s idea and even that was not something I knew about until after we had been married for seven years. When we started the business we were intentional about following advice from our business’ attorney and accountant.  We found a business niche that we were passionate about and paid for consultants who helped us build skills aimed at delivering effective and affordable services to small businesses.  From the start, we knew we wanted to build a business that would last beyond us. And yet I knew that my path to entrepreneur-ism was not typical. My double major in Early Childhood Education and Music had not included courses in business management, accounting or finance.  So sometimes I refer to my path to business ownership as a backwards approach. Now some 18 plus years into business ownership and leadership, I am doing the things that many people do before they form a business.  My husband and I have entered the “empty nest” phase of life and so I have simply begun asking what comes next. I am finding that I don’t want to radically change my life, I just want to continue to get better at what I am already doing. Recently one of our clients, a second generation business leader, encouraged me to read “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.  Once I had finished reading the book, my husband and co-executive asked “What have you learned from reading it?” I answered him that I have learned that:
  • I may not be the leader our company needs to get from good to great.  It’s not that I don’t want to be or won’t strive to be, it’s just that I don’t see myself as a Level 5 Executive Leader at this time.  However, I will continue to work towards becoming that type of leader and/or preparing for the right person to take my place.
  • We need to continue to build a superior executive team by getting the right people in the right positions as we continue to grow.
  • We need to continue to “Confront the brutal facts and yet never lose faith.”  I am hyper-analytical and yet still very much an optimist, so this one doesn’t feel heavy or hard. Except that it’s not always easy for a teacher personality like me to state the facts to others plainly.
  • We need to continue to develop a group of people who periodically question, engage in dialogue and debate regarding where our A. unique, core competency, B. economic drivers and C. passions meet, make executive decisions, and analyze the impact of decisions made.  This group looks very different for us than for a large public organization.  Because we are very small, we include input from one or more clients in this group as part of our advisory team.
  • We need to be disciplined people in thought and action.  This will entail making a “stop doing list” in order to focus on the services and tools that are most beneficial, and budgeting to the intersection of a, b and c stated above.
While it is not our current goal to become a large, great public organization like those described in “Good to Great”, it is our goal to become increasingly better.  Our goal is to help our clients, our staff, our community and our families can continue to prosper. I will start by getting back to the client who encouraged me to read this book to learn what he learned from the book and how it is impacting his business leadership.  Next, I will share what I have described above and key points from our client’s feedback with our staff to engage them in the questioning, dialogue, debate, and analyses of the work that lies ahead. I will also continue to read books that are recommended by clients and colleagues.  Next on my list of reading is “Book Yourself Solid” by Michael Port, which was recommended to me by a fellow consultant who is growing his own business.  After that will be “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business” by Gino Wickman, which was recommended by a colleague who comes alongside owners to help them use a simple system to improve their businesses. I’m looking forward to this period of discovery as I more and more embrace my role as a business owner who is also enjoying life as a grandma.  You can expect more business book reviews in the future and feel free to recommend your favorites to me.

Is My Business Healthy? | What We Learned from Peter Busacca of Washington BBI

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Chesire cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” she asked. “Where do you want to go?” was his response. “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.

–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

This quote may seem random or odd when discussing the health of a business, but it couldn’t be more fitting. Many businesses are struggling or even dying because they have no vision, no plan…no idea where they want to go. These same businesses wonder why they’re not meeting their full potential. They may ask what they should do, where they should go or what road they should take, but the truth is none of that matters when you don’t know where you’re going. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do.

Planning can be stressful and difficult for all of us, but it must be done and it’s easier than most of us think. Following through is the hard part. A new friend of ours is incredibly helpful in this process though. We met Peter through the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce. He owns Washington BBI which is a business brokerage firm serving business owners in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. They are business brokers with an end-to-end solution.

One of the best things we have learned from Peter is the important role that a work-life balance plays in a healthy business and therefore an important factor in making your business appealing to potential buyers. When you plan better and execute more effectively, YOU SLEEP BETTER AT NIGHT. I’m sure we can all agree that this is extremely important. If you’re someone who thinks that working hard all of the time and never sleeping is the best way to run a successful business, I get the logic, but hear me out. While working insanely hard may produce amazing results for a short while, can you sustain that level of energy and effort for 6 months? 1 year? 3 years?? It simply can’t be sustained for an extended period of time while producing the same results. Your business is better off if you delegate tasks to capable staff or teams. Your life is better off if you keep things more balanced. YOU are better off if you rest, maybe take a vacation once in a while. It may sound impossible, but with a good plan and the right team you can have a healthy business while also having a healthy life.

Along with this work-life balance is the balance between qualitative and quantitative factors that help determine the health of your business. You may think the health of your business is solely based on your financial growth or that is all about the values of your business. It is not one or the other. A truly healthy business has a good balance of both. You should run your business with values always in mind while still keeping the bottom line in the picture. A high quality business can only help the community if it keeps its doors open.

The great thing about a business like Washington BBI is that whether you’re just about ready to sell or you have no idea where to start, they either have ways to help or ideas to get you going in the right direction. Regardless of whether you decide to work with this business or another, the goal is that you’ll find what ways your business could be healthier, set attainable goals to get there and work hard with a dedicated team to achieve those goals. A healthy business is a growing business.

Business Success on the Web

Business owners often ask me, “How can my business be successful on the web?” My response is, “Your business will be successful on the web when:
  1. People can find your business’ website easily,
  2. The text on the website is persuasive and easily understood,
  3. The design of the website is attractive and professional looking,
  4. The website loads quickly and is easy to get around and easy to use on a handheld as well as on a PC,
  5. The intent of the website is clear,
  6. The website offers something that the visitor wants or needs and
  7. The action you are seeking from the visitor is clear and easy to take.
The next question invariably is, “How do you make a website do all those things?” I tell them: research and proper coding. It is necessary to understand what the business wants the website to accomplish whether that be get more customers, sell more products, educate existing customers, and/or support customers. Understanding what the business makes or does and how these products or services differ from those of competitors is also an important element. Keyword research is the next step in making a website successful. The actual words and phrases that people enter into the search engines when they are searching for the products or services offered by the company must be found. It’s best to identify two sets of phrases (those used by the business and those used by prospective customers) and then test these phrases to identify the text that will best represent the business on the web. Studying the competition – what are they selling and how are they marketing their products and services – to see how a client can best represent themselves on the web is a necessary step as well. Visiting competing websites shows how they are doing their marketing. It’s important to report findings to the business owner/executive. I like to include good news, opportunities to improve, statistics regarding keyword phrases and a web plan that details the names of the web pages I would build and the metatags and text content for each page. Based on a discussion with the owner or executive about what is learned through research, it is then possible to proceed with drafting the website design, securing approval of the draft design and building the site to incorporate all of the above. This process is known as web development and search engine optimization. The job doesn’t stop there. It’s necessary to set up traffic tracking for the site. Monthly reports of search engine rankings and traffic to the site show where updates need to be made and points to possible recommendations for further improvements to the website. Sometimes I am asked “Once the website does all these things will my staff be able to update and maintain the website in-house?” “Absolutely,” I respond, “at any point in the process, I can and will train internal staff to make, maintain and improve the website. My philosophy is that the website is a dynamic tool that belongs to the business. As a teacher-type personality I take as much enjoyment out of training in-house staff to successfully maintain and improve a website as I do in doing this work myself.” Helping businesses find success on the web is a passion for me. It is work. There is no magic involved, but when all goes as hoped the happy result feels like magic.

Website Redesign Challenge: Spacewall West

CeSI’s (Cascade e-Commerce Solutions, Inc.) latest redesign challenge came from Spacewall West. The company, which manufactures and sells slatwall and accessories, was looking to simplify and enhance the ordering process for both current and prospective customers of their West Coast manufacturing plants. Spacewall West also wanted to improve their product display layout to better show all options, including product color, orientation and groove spacing.  Finally, they desired a modern, updated site, with a fresh color scheme and a navigation structure that assisted customers in quickly finding products by plant location.

WHERE TO BEGIN?

As a starting point, CeSI reviewed the existing Spacewall West websites to determine aspects that worked well, such as a prominent, good-sized header image of an installation of some of their products, an easy to find Resources list, Testimonials, and a Photo gallery. CeSI also looked at a number of the company’s competitors’ websites to identify best practices for serving customers’ needs and facilitating action. This research led CeSI to design navigational aids to help customers quickly find products, place orders and easily locate contact information. A blog or “In the News” section was added so that Spacewall West could connect directly to their customers to respond to service needs and questions and to share the latest news about the company, as well as showcase new products and options. Furthermore, a shopping cart was implemented so as to significantly optimize/streamline the ordering process and assist the customer in organizing product selections (with price review) prior to placing an order. Apparel Store Wall Next, CeSI’s comprehensive keyword research methods revealed a need to not only retain, but to enrich Spacewall West’s resource listings. This information was very popular among customers attempting to learn more about products and materials in order to apply that knowledge to a purchase. CeSI’s customer-focused design and development protocol called for attention to making a website easier to access and utilize for both Spacewall West AND their customers.  This objective was achieved through building the new website in Silverstripe – a powerful software, combining “an intuitive Content Management System (CMS) with an extensible framework”. This allows Spacewall West to update the website’s content with little or no knowledge of HTML, the basic language of the web. It also means the website can accommodate Spacewall West’s entire inventory in both West Coast locations (Seattle and Los Angeles).  In addition, CeSI used Silverstripe to implement a design that adapts the layout according to the device being used to view the page – known as Responsive Design. So, whether Spacewall West’s customers view the website on a desktop computer, a tablet or a mobile phone, they can have a more pleasant viewing experience and quickly navigate the website, selecting products and placing orders.

CONCLUSION

As a result of CeSI’s redesign implementation, Spacewall West received a new customer-focused website with a modernized color scheme and navigation system, an updated product layout structure and enhanced ways for their customers to place orders or to otherwise interact with the company. These changes will improve the experience for their current and prospective customers, a key aspect of website revenue generation. Along with these improvements, Spacewall West will be able to easily update their website without having to know complex programming languages.

BEFORE

Old Website

AFTER

New Website

What the Client Has to Say

“I could not be happier and more satisfied with Elizabeth Paulsen and her crew at Cascade E Commerce. From the beginning of the bidding process, she was very thorough and clearly wanted to gain the best understanding of our products, services and client base. Once we started actual work on our website, I was amazed at how quickly she and her staff came to understand our product line. She has been able to explain to me, a non-techie, exactly what she has done and why. As we got closer to completion of the site, we were both so excited about the look and feel of the website. I know she really cares about our success. I would highly recommend Cascade Ecommerce Solutions for website development.”

Sue Waller, Sales and Marketing Manager, Spacewall West