Bring out the noisemakers (and a lot of beverages) — you finally made it to the end of another year! 2020, eh? It’s been … well, woof. We know you’re excited to enter a new year, fresh with opportunity and possibility.
We also know this year has been a tough one, especially for your small business. Quarantine and social distancing guidelines have largely moved the business world entirely online, and pivots have been necessary to navigate unprecedented circumstances. Likely, your business started and ended the year with very different sets of goals, challenges, and experiences.
So, as you look forward to a “new normal,” first, pat yourself on the back — you made it this far. While running a business during a pandemic (and through the resulting economic and societal challenges) has not been ideal, you’ve endured to the end of the year. You’ve likely come away with several business survival skills that have made your business stronger.
But now, letting bygones be bygones (and yes, please let 2020 be a distant bygone), we’re ready to ring in 2021 with a bang, starting with some smart business goals. What are you resolving to do in the new year?
Here are 21 ways you can resolve to build a stronger, more prosperous business in 2021:
- Build a website
- Be social
- Write a blog
- Crisis-proof your online presence
- Rank higher through SEO
- Go mobile-friendly
- Find your target audience
- Improve your email marketing
- Fine tune your customer service
- Build your brand
- Run A/B tests
- Talk to real customers
- Get involved in your community
- Research web design trends
- Create a staging site
- Stay up to date on marketing innovations
- Use PPC advertising
- Try out some new tools
- Give back
- Subscribe to the DreamHost blog
- Focus on you
Yes, it’s possible — even in our “new normal.”
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The fact of the matter is, if you’re running a business in the 21st century, you need an online presence. Even if you have endless tasks on your small business to-do list, prioritizing the presence of your own web content is critical. Web users need to be able to find and connect with you virtually — that fact is elementary, Watson.
But building a website to showcase your business doesn’t have to be a complicated or an expert-level-only endeavor. And the how-to aspects of creating a website don’t have to keep you up at night!
Any small business can — and should — have a website. Start with a game plan and determine your goals, then dig into the necessary technical tasks, based on your needs.
The best part? You can usually get a great-looking, functional website in less time than it takes to finish a Netflix episode. Boo-yah.
With a website, you’re reaching people even when you’re asleep — meaning, your business isn’t limited to a brick-and-mortar location. Your site will help you to build your brand and connect with audiences.
Meeting IRL is overrated. OK, not really, but right now, social distancing is a business imperative. Luckily, the kind of social we’re talking about is the type you’ve been mastering all year: virtual connectivity.
Engaging with audiences on social media is essential to getting your business seen, building your brand, and developing a loyal following. Plus, plugging into social platforms gives you new ways to connect and promote your website. This year has likely had you pivoting to incorporate more significant ways of engaging with your audiences online. Keep perfecting that digital engagement.
Not yet fluent in the social jargon of snaps, double-taps, tweets, and apps? We’ve got a few social tips and tricks for your hard-working small business, like advice on writing killer captions, curating content, monitoring competitors, harnessing hashtags, marketing with micro-influencers, and showcasing your brand’s voice. Plus, we’ll ease your mind about biting off more social than you can chew (hint: you don’t have to use all the platforms).
Believe us, blogging is not a thing of the past. Creating your own content on a personal or business blog is still a powerful means of engaging with your audience and providing value to consumers, sharing your expertise, building your brand, and growing your business. Remember the oft-quoted adage: content is king? Well, we’d go so far as to say that content is the Beyonce of the internet. The Queen, capital Q. That fact hasn’t changed, no matter the landscape of the internet.
Even if you’re accustomed to running an in-person service business, 2020 has necessitated major pivots. But it’s not impossible! And likely, moving your in-person biz online can open up more opportunities for the growth of your business! Adapting offered services and incorporating virtual elements can help you continue to improve how you engage and reach out to new audiences. A predominantly digital landscape is far from a death sentence for your biz, so chin up and get creative.
You’ll also want to make sure your website can handle the technical tasks of operating online. Make sure your .COM or .SHOP is equipped to handle curbside delivery (for product-based businesses) and positioned to showcase current info and updates.
We know it’s a challenge to get your technical ducks in a row. We’re doing it too — and we’re here to help.
Obviously, one of your main goals as a small business is to grow your business. That means you need to start attracting audiences — and online engagement is more important than ever. Promoting your blog on social media and producing great content aren’t the only tactics you need to get found by your target audiences — you must also prime your site to rank highly on search engines.
To grow your business, you need to start implementing strategies to drive traffic to your site — SEO is one of the most effective ways to rank higher in search engines and increase visibility. Learning and implementing successful SEO strategies will help your business get found more easily online — and that’s essential for businesses navigating the increase in e-commerce.
Mobile matters. OK, so maybe we’re a broken record on this topic. But seriously, if you aren’t optimizing your site for use on mobile devices, you’re harming your business.
Sixty-one percent of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing, and 40% will jump ship and visit a competitor’s site instead. Ouch. What’s more, Google rewards mobile-friendly sites with better rankings. That’s a lot — sales, conversions, traffic, search engine placement, UX, responsiveness — riding on your bottom line.
Mobile rules e-commerce: 66% of online shopping time is being consumed on smartphones, and that number seems only to be increasing with each year. Not only are consumers using smartphones to search (more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in 10 countries, including the U.S.) and make purchases (70% of all mobile searches result in action within one hour), but they’re not letting mobile devices out of their sight: 91% of American adults have their smartphone within arms reach 24/7.
Taking these numbers into account, you can see that mobile optimization affects nearly every aspect of your business, from brand building to traffic generating, to customer service, to establishing relationships. Plus, Google will not be friendly in its rankings to sites that aren’t optimized for mobile, which harms your SEO, and therefore, your traffic-building efforts. You don’t want that.
Having a website optimized for small screens is a thou-shalt that simply has to be a part of your small biz commandments this year if you want a more successful business.
Start thinking mobile by taking a responsiveness test drive, working on improving your site’s load times, redesigning your site pop-ups, enabling AMPs, and making an app — if that works for your business.
Have you ever taken the time to think about who you’re actually trying to reach with your business?
Instead of broadly and ineffectively casting a wide net, take the time to define your target audiences so that your marketing and other efforts are focused enough to have a real, meaningful effect on your business. Determining exactly who your target markets are — starting with the who, when, how, and why — gives your business the benefit of being able to appeal to those most likely to engage with you. Your business can’t be everything for everyone, so don’t try.
Do the research, identify your niche, and run your business with its target audiences in mind. This focus will give purpose and meaning to every business decision you make — from the design of your site to the kind of content you produce to the way you market that content — and yourself.
Then, once you’ve zeroed in on your target audiences, ask them to do something with your winningest CTAs.
FYI: Even with a target audience bullseye in mind, it’s necessary to make your website accessible for all users, including people with different abilities, LGBTQ+ groups, and those who speak languages other than English. Inclusivity is just good business (and good citizenship).
Sure, it’s often overlooked if you’re not in a ‘90s Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks rom-com, but truth be told, email can be very powerful. How powerful?
Well, a whopping 89% of marketers say that email is their primary channel for lead generation — and they consistently rank email as the single-most-effective tactic for meeting their awareness, acquisition, conversion, and retention goals. They’ve branded it, fittingly, “the workhorse” and prove your marketing budget should include more money allotted for an invested email strategy. This seemingly-archaic medium (which was predicted to decline, btw) is increasingly relevant — unlike screen names or Myspace pages — for site owners looking to build customer relationships and augment sales.
And marketers aren’t the only ones cheering on Team Email: 72% of consumers say email is their favorite method of communication with companies they do business with, and 61% say they like to receive promotional emails every week from businesses. And now that consumers have less $$$ to spend, they’re going to be picky about the types of businesses they let into their inbox. So make your email marketing count.
So educate yourself: Get the 411 on dodging the spam folder and providing valuable content that customers want to see in their inboxes. Learn about the types of emails you should be sending your followers (like the increasingly prevalent email newsletter), set goals, work on building your ever-important email list and start connecting with more of your customers in their inboxes.
You probably already know this, but excellent customer service doesn’t just take place behind a counter anymore — and this year, it’s big-time online. Like most things in the online age, customer service interactions are increasingly transparent and web-based, with virtual-word-of-mouth effects that have the power to make or break your business.
In fact, good customer service practices are essential to modern and future businesses. Soon, customer service is expected to become more significant than price or product when customers decide who gets their business. No pressure, right?
Let’s raise the stakes a little more. As it turns out, bad customer service does some serious damage to your business. Data evidence shows that 71% of consumers — yep, nearly three-quarters of ‘em — have terminated their relationship with a company due to poor customer service. Yikes.
That’s not all. You’re actually helping out your competitors when you don’t prioritize top-notch customer service experiences. Sixty-one percent of customers will take their business to a competitor after a negative customer service experience.
Building strong customer service principles — like professionalism, communication, and active listening — helps you to be more profitable, for one. It’s seven times more expensive to acquire new customers than to retain existing ones, and 58% of consumers are willing to spend more on those companies that provide excellent customer service. That makes more than dollars and sense.
What’s more, by providing customers — and those elusive potential buyers — with a killer customer service experience, you’re setting your business up for success: better sales, repeat customers, strong relationships, a distinguished brand reputation, and those coveted five-star reviews. So start putting your best (virtual) face forward by demanding gold-star customer service experiences from your business.
With the influx of social media and e-businesses, we see the word brand tossed around haphazardly. What really is a brand? Why is it so crucial to build one? How can you establish your business’ brand?
Inherent to branding is your business identity: getting seen — and becoming known — by your target audiences. With strong branding, you have the opportunity to become an authority in your field or industry and build loyal customer followings. Think of building your brand awareness as establishing your e-reputation.
Like we talked about with target audiences (see No. 7), your niche — and the brand you ultimately build — determine your business decisions; it impacts the voice, feel, style, and substance of your content and website, and on a more technical level, your operations, management, interactions, and marketing efforts.
Think about some of the most popular brands out there: Nike, Disney, Coca-Cola, for example. They all have recognizable and unique brands. You may not be setting your sights on global domination (yet), but these big-wigs prove that building your brand is a crucial to-do for excelling in business.
Talk to any experienced website owner, and they’ll likely let you in on a little small biz secret — no one gets it right the first time. This applies to multiple aspects of your business (hello, learning curve), but especially your website. A fine-tuned, well-performing site requires time and tweaking to perfect. And when everyone is shopping from the comfort of their couch, you need to put your best website face forward.
You’ll want to regularly run tests on your site to see what is — and what isn’t — working best for your visitors and your bottom line.
This important trial and error process doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly technical. Simple A/B testing (AKA the comparison of two variations of a single webpage, design, ad, or other marketing media to determine which version converts more successfully), when strategized, can give you valuable insight on performance to help you adjust and refine the various aspects your website — everything from CTAs to images to copy length.
What results is valuable insight that you can analyze to help your site — and ultimately, your business — improve. Three cheers for progress! That’s what resolutions are all about, right?
The day and age in which we do business are replete with 21st-century benefits: new and innovative technology, evolving e-commerce landscapes, and the unique opportunity of being able to connect with anyone, anywhere. And boy, have we needed that this year!
But even with all the technological latest-and-greatest and virtual advancements, the truth is, you need some quality, face-to-face time with your customers (even virtually). Make the effort to meaningfully interact with those supporting and championing your small biz, whether that means connecting from a safe six-foot distance or getting more intimate face time online.
Get creative and host online meetups, workshops, or even informal get-togethers, and spend time (safely from six feet away) on the ground floor of your brick-and-mortar (if you have one). Express genuine gratitude to customers for their patronage and support, and seek to get to know them.
Not only will this boost your customer service rep, but it will give you insight on how to better serve your audiences. In both respects, you’re building a better business. And that’s what 2021 is all about.
Trust in this knowledge: You have something of value to contribute to your community, even if right now, it’s just through your purely virtual e-communities. Get involved and lift your business — and the society you live in — together.
Another life- and business-altering effort? Support and champion those on whom the spotlight isn’t often shined — especially women and minorities — and help them to get involved in business and tech, and help your community diversify.
The effects of your efforts will be far-reaching both for your business and the communities you are a part of. We really are all in this together.
As a small business and website owner, you need to stay on top of the trends. No, we’re not talking about the in-season looks gracing the catwalks of NYFW. We mean web design trends.
Did you know? Design on the web goes through phases and fads, too. Keep tabs on what’s in style (minimalism and asymmetry, anyone?) and what is sooo 2020 to keep your site relevant, engaging, and looking fresh with a capital F.
Some website design fundamentals are basic, and some design to-dos never go out of style, while other design trends vary from year to year. Do your research to stay in the know; then consult your design checklist, channel your inner Chip and Joanna, and build a beautiful — and en vogue — website. Shiplap not required.
Like we talked about with goal No. 11, often the best websites take time — and testing — to really get right. Setting up a staging site is a great way to test your site and fix errors — without letting your live site miss a beat (or risking unnecessary or unanticipated downtime).
How does a staging site work? Well, it’s pretty simple.
Also known as a testing or development site, a staging site is a standalone copy of your website (whether that be a blank site or carbon copy of your existing one) that you can use to try out site fixes or changes — like new plugins or themes or bug fixes before implementing them on your live, or public, site. Your staging site is for your eyes and testing purposes only — it’s a private site that only you can access. Staging sites can be offline and stored on a local computer or hosted online but marked as private.
As you can guess, staging sites are beneficial for many reasons. First, it provides you with a safe environment to experiment with site changes before implementing them on your live website. Whether you’re a perfectionist or simply want to improve your website, a staging environment allows you to tweak until you get it just right.
Second, staging sites facilitate the learning process. You’re not going to know everything about WordPress (or whatever CMS you use) right away, so staging sites give you a way to learn as you experiment incorporating plugins, themes, or custom code on the platform. Think of it as your low-risk, no-pressure website playground.
Lastly, staging sites provide you with the perfect place to test solutions for bugs and fix any troublesome site errors. You can, of course, maintain and tweak your website on your public site. Still, live maintenance creates the risk of something on your site breaking, slowing loading times, or causing other interferences in your visitors’ experience on your website. Not ideal.
This year, resolve to simplify and streamline your live website maintenance. Create a staging site to make sure everything on your website is working correctly — and to your liking — before implementing changes to your live site and welcoming traffic to it. Having a well-working website is more important than ever.
Just like design trends (No. 14), marketing tactics are ever-evolving. The small business owners of yesteryear looking to get eyes on their goods weren’t pushing new podcast episodes, managing micro-influencers, or fishing for Facebook likes. Marketing really has come a long way since the early 2000s.
The way you build traffic and promote your content is likely to transform as industries and digital landscapes change, and as your business grows. Plus, things change as marketers are continually discovering new, innovative ways to connect with customers, giving you new opportunities to learn and engage with your audiences.
Sometimes these new strategies are merely building off of foundational tried-and-true tactics, like implementing seasonal or niche-related touches onto your current marketing efforts of developing a social media presence, growing and maintaining an email list, advertising, and running a company blog. And other times, they’re entirely new approaches to reaching customers — like the recent developments in virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and voice search.
Keeping up with current marketing innovations means doing your research and implementing the latest marketing tactics that make the most sense for your business. Guided by your overall business goals, you can develop an up-to-date marketing strategy that couples the best of old and new marketing innovations.
There really is a lot to small-biz advertising, and it can be overwhelming for newbies — and beginner budgets. But promoting your site and attracting audiences through advertising doesn’t have to be overly-complicated or pricey. This year, give PPC advertising a go. PPC, or pay-per-click, works like this:
A search engine query displays both organic results (the sites that come up because they are relevant based on their keywords, SEO strategy, fresh content, and responsive design) and paid search results. You’ve likely seen this second type of result identified with an “Ad” or “Sponsored” label.
Paid search — as the name suggests — involves dishing out dollars to have your website appear in the sponsored sections of search engine results and corresponding partner sites. Both organic and paid searches appear in search results, just in different locations.
PPC allows you to have your website appear in the sponsored/ad results, but the best part? You only pay for it when someone clicks on your ad. With PPC, your business can take advantage of the web’s virtual rush hour of clicks in a wallet-friendly and low-risk way.
A new year means new opportunities for trying things that are, well, new. The end of one 365 and the beginning of another can motivate you to run, skip, or hop out of your comfort zone and expand your range of skills and knowledge. Start by experimenting with some new tools that help you build your business — and successfully navigate crisis conditions.
Let’s get some ideas flowing:
It’s been a hard year for everyone in so many ways. Just because you’re a business looking to make $$$ doesn’t mean you can’t also give back to the communities and customers helping you grow — or to those causes that resonate with you personally. Seek out opportunities to flex your business’ philanthropic muscles and give back in meaningful ways — and not just during the holidays. With COVID-19 causing so many hardships, give back to help those experiencing tough times.
For our 20th birthday in 2017, we celebrated by gifting more clean water to the world — with your help! Our joint efforts to bankroll more community-owned clean water projects around the world resulted in a $9,500+ donation. And you know what? Giving back felt good. Really good.
Whether your giving efforts tie into tech or not, joining with your community and offering of your time or substance will not only result in a return of positive juju, but it will give more meaning to your day-to-day work.
In addition to being your hosting gurus, one of our goals (not just this year, but every year) is to provide you with relevant, useful content that helps you reach your small business and website goals. Follow along with us on our DreamHost blog for a continued stream of valuable articles designed to keep you learning and improving your business all year long.
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Running a business is no small feat — especially in 2020. We know you’ve faced challenges, instituted necessary adjustments, and had to rethink how your business operates in a big way. Before doing anything else, just take a deep breath. In, out. In, out. You made it to this point. We know it hasn’t been easy, but you’re here.
Moving forward, make sure to reestablish the caring of YOU. To give your best to your business, you need to resolve to achieve the proper work-life balance. It can’t be all work and no play — or you (or your employees) will burn out faster than those Christmas lights you still haven’t taken down.
When approaching the new year, set realistic goals, hustle hard to stretch yourself and make things happen, and then breathe. Taking care of yourself is crucial to the success of your business — as a small business owner, you are an irreplaceable part of what you’ve built. Don’t neglect your own nurturing.
Set boundaries for in- and out-of-office hours and honor them. Automate any tasks you can, delegate responsibilities, and then unplug. Resist the temptation to “just check” your inbox. Be intentional about stepping away from screens and/or your desk and engage in rejuvenating activities. Make face-to-face connections and prioritize your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Remember: It’s OK to take off your small-business-owner hat and just have a good time (even at home). And since your workspace and living space have likely been in a lot closer proximity to one another this year, those clear boundaries are more important than ever to preserve your health. Don’t let work bleed into every aspect of your life. A proper recalibration of your priorities and work-life habits will help you be a better business owner.
And that’s what we want for you!
At DreamHost, we love watching you succeed. In fact, we live for it. Whether your new year goals include boosting your bottom line, hiring a team, finding new customers or clients, or learning new entrepreneurial skills, we’re here to help you make them happen in 2021.
Here’s to a happy, healthy, and business-booming new year!