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Category — Small Business Advice

Small Business Website on a Shoe String Budget

More people every day are turning to the web for shopping. Sooner or later every small business entrepreneur will hear the question: “Do you have a website?” and a yes answer is becoming a real necessity. This situation has a variety of problems.

  1. Mom and Pop have always done business by word of mouth, have no idea how to get started on the web, and aren’t even sure it’s necessary.
  2. All the jargon is complicated and can be really scary for the novice.
  3. Traditional do-it-yourself websites require computer skills and expensive software.
  4. The alternative of hiring a professional designer is even more expensive.

For Joe’s Shoe Repair, the situation can be overwhelming. He doesn’t want to promote his service on the global market. He doesn’t intend to sell online at all. His only requirement is to extend his word of mouth advertising onto the web for his town. Joe’s Shoe Repair just needs a web presence, so that when people in his local community search online for a place to get a heel repaired, they will find him.

If you fall into Joe’s category, there are solutions to the problems. There are many reasonably priced hosting companies that provide online software for building a website yourself as part of the package. Companies such as GoDaddy have packages starting at less than $5 per month. Most of them also have customer support teams to help with setup.

However, the quickest, most straight forward way to get a website is to register with a blogging service. You don’t have to have any software except your browser. Several organizations provide free space if you are willing to include their name in your web address. There is a slight learning curve to get things operational, but anyone who is capable of running a business can learn to use a blogging dashboard.

Take your time, no one but you has to know it is there until you have it fixed the way you want. The software for most blogs is very user friendly and they all have good help pages. WordPress, the most widely used blogging tool, even lets you set up a static homepage and turn off comments so that you can leave it alone until you need to let your customers know about new developments. Then you simply sign in to access the dashboard and make changes.

<b>Do you have a website? Where do you host it? Who built it?</b>

May 31, 2010   No Comments

10 Tips for Buying Business Cards Cost Effectively

  • Stick to simple business card designs – they usually cost less than premium designs.
  • Use a smaller format, plain rectangular card if you can. Often a card that is smaller will remain in a wallet for longer anyway, so are less likely to be discarded.
  • Consider using recycled card stock. It can have triple benefits! It can often save business owners money, help save the planet, and customers may get an improved perception of one’s business, as it shows care and attention to the environment. Some businesses have won new business or received sales leads, simply because they made an ecologically friendly choice.
  • Don’t buy into “bundled” solutions – these are often top-heavy, in both price and unwanted extras. If one has the type of business that does not led well to being openly promoted by the consumer (such as a sanitary product), those extra refrigerator door business card holders will likely end up in the trash can!
  • Order embossed print on plain cardstock. This is just as eye-catching as a gloss finish card, which is, in fact, harder to read. Embossed print against plain white or colored cardstock lends a classy look, and can save considerable printing costs.
  • Make sure that any information one intends to print on the card is going to stay valid for an extended period of time. Changing a cell phone number the month after cards have been printed is going to be either require a costly re-print, or the business owner will suffer the indignity of correcting them all by hand!
  • Choose a business card supplier carefully. High volume printers charge a lot for small runs. Match the printing batch size to a mid-range card supplier/printer.
  • Order in sensible batches. Having 1000 unused business cards in a desk drawer is the same as putting un-spendable dollar bills there. Figure out roughly what might be used in a six to twelve month period and order accordingly.
  • Shop around on the internet – as usual, a little time spent studying the market can pay dividends in real savings!
  • Check out promotional freebies at sites such as Vistaprint.com. They offer 250 free cards and a host of ready-made designs. Other, similar competitors can easily be found through Google by typing in the following search phrase, “cheap business cards”. The ad sponsors found at the top and the right of the search results page should provide numerous leads for low-priced business cards.

Where do you get your business cards? And if you’ve got a picture of what they look like, post a link.

May 17, 2010   2 Comments

Charity and Press

Owning a small business and trying to grow and maintain your business can often be a daunting task. You have just a certain amount of dollars each month that you are able to spend on marketing and advertising. The key to successful small business ownership is keeping your business in the forefront of everyone’s minds.

There are several easy win-win suggestions to help you maintain profitability and contribute to the welfare of your community in the interim.

What are the not-for-profits in your area of influence could use a helping hand? Is there a food pantry that serves your local community? Contact them and offer to be a collection point for a particular month. Oftentimes, the local community newspapers will write editorials for the non-profit organizations, even full-length features, and this translates into free media exposure for your small business. This is an endeavor that could save you hundreds of dollars in advertising fees in exchange for your time and talents to benefit the needy in your midst.

This works extremely well for almost any small business type in just about any community. Whether you act on behalf of the local ASPCA to collect blankets, food, toys or dollars for the rescued animals or just collect clothing for the local chapter of the American Red Cross – most of these organizations will even recognize your small business on their own websites as well as the local media attention you will receive.

You can even sponsor a teddy bear drive for the local police force. Collect teddy bears from your customers to give to police officers to place in the trunk of their vehicles. The bears can be given to children who are involved in motor vehicle accidents to help lift their spirits during a traumatic event in their young lives until the situation is resolved. The police will be forever grateful for your contribution and again, another media event as you present the police force with your loving gifts.

Another small business consideration would be to adopt a local school team event or sport. For the investment of a small donation to purchase uniforms or t-shirts, your small business will benefit from the team’s exposure at school events and your business name will be reflected in the school’s programs. A very worthy and smart business investment with a return on investment that is priceless.

Aside from the free media exposure, your small business will be making a huge impact on the community and the community will respond to your business. This is called “Good Will” and it is invaluable to any business to continually provide good will through community efforts. The value-add to your business can never be measured in terms of building relationships and driving the integrity and values of your small business name.

Think outside the box, but give within the community and you will see your business benefit from it.

May 10, 2010   No Comments

DollarDays Banner Ads Featured on Retargeter

A few days ago DollarDays was featured on Retargeter blog for our stellar banner ads. Maybe you’ve seen them. They liked our ads’ clean look and use of white space, our concise messaging, and clear call to action.
Banner ad
For big and small businesses alike, these banner ads can be hugely effective. So, we thought it would be a good idea to hand off a few tips on how to put together a successful ad campaign.

  1. Clear, short messaging Writing ad copy is a bit like writing headlines. For the intelligent, creative writer, there is oftentimes the desire to put way more information in an ad than they should. For whatever reason, it might be better to say “Wholesale Pricing” than it is to say “Wholesale Pricing on more than 20,000 items”. But it also might not be. Which brings me to my second point…
  2. Test…test…test… Sometimes you’d be surprised what works and what doesn’t. Pretty banners can sometimes reduce clicks. Sometimes pretty banners increase clicks. Either way, you won’t know until you test your creative.
  3. Include a Call to Action For savvy marketers, this is obvious. But most of us are not savvy marketers. You might be surprised how much better an ad performs when you write the words “Save Today” or “Start Saving” or “Call xxx-xxxx for more information”. Make sure to include some sort of descriptive action in your ads.

May 5, 2010   No Comments

Jody Reese Interview: Publisher of the Hippo Press

1. Tell us about your company and why you started it.
The Hippo Free Press is an unnewspaper. We publish weekly and are a more news magazine format with a large calendar and food section. We answer the vexing question of what to do and where to go in southern New Hampshire as well as address quality of life issues in the region, from traffic to the environment in an accessible fun way. From a very basic P&L standpoint, Hippo was started to provide advertising options for small businesses in the southern New Hampshire market. Looking over the market in 2000 we saw daily newspapers catering to national advertisers and large retail and auto customers. Similarly radio too focused on the national market. Many of the independent restaurants, retail and service businesses either didn’t advertise or felt their advertising was ineffective and expensive.

2. Describe the kinds of articles you publish, and who your target audiences are.
We tend toward quality of life type stories. We want readers to use our publication to get the most out of living in southern New Hampshire. We write about interesting political figures, new restaurant openings, and trends in live music. A recent issue explored the unusual life of birds in urban areas of southern New Hampshire. Our target audience is affluence, educated and active between the ages of 25 and 65. Most of our readers own homes and are married. This reflects the suburban nature of our market.

3. Describe the growth you’ve experienced over the years. Why do you think your publication caught on?
We started as a shoe-string operation with no employees, a few thousand weekly copies and 16 pages. Today we average 72 pages per week have the second largest circulation of any newspaper or magazine in the state and have 25 employees and 30 plus contributors. We have purchased a few other publications recently that are different from Hippo, but utilize our backend.

4. Most print newspapers that rely on paid subscriptions are dying out. What role is there for a free print newspaper in the digital age? What is your niche?
I’m not so sure I agree that paid papers are dying out. Clearly they face some daunting challenges in the classified arena, but many hold strong advertising positions in their areas of influence. And that I think is the key. It’s not as important what distribution model a paper uses, as finding a clearly defined advertising base. In the previous years daily newspapers tended to have a large base of classified advertising customers. Those customers have been moving toward more database driven models, such as craigslist or Monster. This has upended the paid daily business model. As for the role of free newspapers’ role in the digital age, I see free newspaper struggling with finding digital revenue streams just as much as the paid papers have struggled. The bottom line is you can’t earn enough revenue of a local audience online though banner ads. However, I do think that free and paid papers can use their digital platforms to create more value for current customers and maybe even use digital to break into new markets. Our niche from a customer perspective is small independently owned businesses with a touch of community banks and education.

5. In general, what are your thoughts on the death of the traditional news media? Why is it happening and how is this creating new opportunities for entrepreneurial journalists?
The term death is overused. People still watch the 6 o’clock news, they still listen to talk radio and, yes surprisingly, they even buy daily newspapers. True, some of the largest daily newspaper companies in the country have declared bankruptcy, but those bankruptcies are related to highly leveraged buyouts. In reality, large metropolitan dailies have created business models around a book of business that either doesn’t exist or that is moving to database driven avenues. If dailies are to survive they need to re-learn how to serve a local advertising base. That said, any business model upending creates plenty of business opportunities for entrepreneurs. People’s easy access to the Internet allows journalists to go after large affinity groups and create online communities that advertisers will pay to reach. I also see an opportunity for a one-person site to reach a large enough audience for that journalist to support themselves. The Internet lowers the cost of entering publishing but doesn’t mean it’s easier to be successful. Compelling content still needs to be created and an audience still needs to be reached. Both of these things are tough to do.

6. Who are your competitors and how have you succeeded where they failed?
We complete against several paid dailies, a few radio stations, cable, google and some glossy magazines. We’ve been able to pull a substantial number of advertisers out of the dailies’ weekly entertainment tabs. Most of those tabs offer very limited local content. We’ve also been successful against radio, which has seen a dramatic loss of audience and advertisers. Overall, on the business conversion side, we’ve been successful because we focus on small local businesses. More than 400 local businesses place display ads with us each month more than any of our competitors. On the audience side of the business we’ve been successful because we create compelling local content that isn’t available anywhere else. We keep standards high and keep advertising and editorial completely separate.

7. Do you have plans to expand?
We do, but not in a geographic sense. Last year we expanded our offerings to included commercial printing. We now sell most of our customers business cards, post cards and brochures. We can design, print and deliver those products very inexpensively with our current infrastructure. We also started a fan club to identify our most ardent readers.

8. How are you different than or similar to other free papers in other cities?
We’re not as youth oriented. Our market is more mature so we are too. We offer a large children calendar section and events for kids. We don’t have personals and don’t permit sex ads.

9. How has the recession affected your company and your competitors?
In some ways, the recession helped. We’ve seen many businesses that were once satisfied with their level of business start advertising to bring in new customers. Many unemployed or under-employed folks have decided it’s a good time to open a business. In the last year more than a dozen new restaurants have opened in our area. Almost all of them have some on board with us. This recession has really hurt those media outlets that rely on national advertising. Specifically radio and television stations have seen a steep decline in ad revenue. They have responded by trying to focus on the local market with lower rates to limited success. The dailies too have tried to attract more local customers by lowering rates. Both of these groups fail to realize it’s not the price of the advertising that’s the problem, it’s the value to the customers.

10. What lessons do you think your company’s story holds for small businesses in other industries?
Quality and focus. You just produce a good quality product and you need to have a customer base in mind that is large enough to support your business. We spend a lot of time and money creating compelling content so people will pick up our paper. This translates into a large audience with specific demographic traits that a certain group of local businesses need to reach. The key is “need.” If we didn’t exist how would the local cafe reach people? That’s how you know you have a solid place in the market that will survive recessions and changes in how people use technology.

April 1, 2010   No Comments

The Benefits of Using Dropship Suppliers

Dropshipping is a rather contentious topic amongst the legions of online sellers. There are those who love it and swear it’s the panacea for anyone interested in starting their own ecommerce business and then there are others who don’t believe in it as a distribution channel. Our opinion on the matter is slightly more moderate: dropshipping is a great way for small and medium sized companies to source products to sell online for a profit, however you can’t just slap a bunch of products on a website and expect the dough to start rolling in. Like any successful business, an online store requires a sound business plan, a well thought out marketing strategy, excellent customer service and some good old-fashioned hard work (and this holds true regardless of whether or not you support dropshipping).

So is using a dropshipper the right choice for you? Well, to ensure that everyone is on the same page, let’s define dropshipping first. In a nutshell, dropshipping is a supply chain management technique where when a customer purchases a product from an online store, the retailer passes the order information to a wholesale supplier and then the supplier processes and ships the order to the end-customer – hence the term dropship supplier.

For many new businesses, partnering with a reputable dropship supplier offers a way to sell a wide variety of products without the cost of carrying that inventory. Also because the supplier isn’t paid until after a product sells (and you’ve been paid), it’s a low risk way to test new products or to just start an online store.

Working with dropshippers offers other advantages to the online store owner. Since you don’t have to place an order with a supplier, wait for the inventory to arrive at your store and then start selling it, you can get the jump on hot products and new trends much quicker than a retailer who does not employ a dropshipper. In fact all you have to do is stick the product on your website, promote it, and wait for the orders to start coming in.

Most importantly, using a dropship supplier allows you to focus on your core competencies. More likely than not you got into online retailing because you enjoy the marketing, the selling, and the customer relations side of owning a webstore. That’s also what you’re good at. Using a dropshipper means you get to focus the majority of your efforts on this piece of the business and let the dropshipper focus on order fulfillment. Ultimately this leaves you more time to make more sales and more money.

These are just a few reasons why you’d want to consider using a dropship supplier. The best advice we can offer is for you to do your research and locate a reputable dropshipper that supplies the products you want to sell. They’ll be able to answer your questions and you can decide whether or not this is a business strategy you wish to pursue.

For more dropship and eCommerce tips visit the Shopster blog

Shopster offers a suite of Dropship and eCommerce solutions for small to medium sized businesses. Thousands of online merchants from around the world rely on Shopster as it simplifies the complexities of online retail, allowing merchants to manage their store, transactions, and supply chain relationships in one easy to use place. Shopster is an official eBay Solutions Partner.

Guest Blogger: Suzanne Lucas – Communication Manager of Shopster eCommerce Inc.

April 1, 2010   No Comments

Small Business Advice – Pay What You Wish?

On the surface, it sounds crazy, but these days various types of businesses are experimenting with a format where customers are allowed to pay whatever they want for a service or product.

The trend has been going on for years, as can be seen in this 2007 Springwise trendspotting article about restaurants in cities including Denver, Salt Lake City and Vienna allowing customers to choose their own prices (and sometimes even portion sizes).

Today, it looks as if each of those restaurants is still going strong, which is some accomplishment in the unforgiving restaurant industry, especially in a recession.

Some of the restaurants in question do seem to have combined the pay-what-you-wish concept with progressive social activism, which may help them attract a clientele willing to engage in good faith and support the concept rather than freeloading and mooching of the proprietors.

In any case, the concept is not limited to restaurants. The best known example of pay-what-you-wish might be the opaque pricing site Priceline.com, where customers can bid for hotel rooms and rental cars by offering to pay whatever price seems fair to them.

Of course, Priceline is not a true pay-what-you-wish concept since there is a hidden price for each city or category below which rental car companies and hotel chains will not provide inventory. You can offer to pay $5 for a 4-star hotel in New York City, but the hotel is under no obligation to accept.

On the other hand, Priceline does seem to have carved out a sustainable niche that allows customers access to good deals while also simultaneously giving hotels and car rental chains the ability to dispose of excess inventory without eroding prices across the board.

The question of course is whether pay-what-you-wish pricing makes sense in the big picture. A recent article on Inc.com’s Retail blog by Tom Szaky, co-founder and CEO of TerraCycle, shows that the concept may have relevance for the general retail world. Szaky reported on his blog that TerraCycle had moved from a pure dot.com model into the brick-and-mortar retail world by opening a pay-what-you-wish retail store.

In defending/justifying his decision, Szaky pointed out that the concept has worked in other industries, including music where bands like Radiohead have managed to make money by selling digital albums and letting users choose whatever price they think is fair.

The model may work best where the incremental costs of each additional product sold are very low or even non-existent (i.e. digital content) or where brand loyalty (rock bands) is high.

On the other hand, one could argue that auction sites like eBay prove that retailers don’t need to set prices to make money. As long as buyers are operating in a situation of perceived or real scarcity, they will compete among themselves to set a price that may in fact be higher than what a retailer would get if he/she had set the price to begin with.

What do you think? Would you ever let your customers choose their own prices for some of the products or services you sell? Have you participated as a seller in any auction sites such as eBay? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!

January 25, 2010   1 Comment

Small Business Advice – Save Energy, Save Money

Last year the government’s Cash for Clunkers program got plenty of attention for giving individuals financial incentives to trade in gas guzzlers in exchanger for newer, more fuel efficient replacements.

Cash for Clunkers was then followed by in many parts of the country by other programs that promoted energy efficiency by giving rebates that encouraging consumers to upgrade from old appliances to more efficient Energy Star-rated models.

Why should government support efficiency programs? The idea is that everyone wins when the government helps consumers trade up to newer models of cars or appliances. Consumers get lower electric or fuel bills. Manufacturers are able to move products that would otherwise be harder to sell in the current economic climate. Governments benefit in a couple of ways. If manufacturers can stay in business, the government has fewer unemployed people to support. And if overall energy or fuel usage declines, the government feels less pressure to build new power plants or fuel refineries.

So how does all of this help small businesses? Well, as a recent article in the Small Business Trends blog pointed out, businesses too can benefit from government support for energy efficiency upgrades. The article highlights benefits in several states including:

  • California, where Pacific Gas & Electric Company offers rebates of $10 to $125 for installing high efficiency light bulbs.

and

  • Indiana, where Duke Energy gives small businesses up to $50,000 in annual rebates for high-efficiency improvements to HVAC-type systems.

Even if a power company won’t subsidize the actual cost of upgrades, it might still help businesses figure out how to make improvements. That’s what Minnesota’s Xcel Energy does by covering  most of the cost of heating-optimization studies.

The important thing for small businesses is to check for special offers and promotions in your state, city or local community. For instance, small business owners in Austin, Texas not only qualify for a general commercial rebate, but also an additional special 30 percent bonus rebate, plus a lighting program that covers up to 70% of installed costs.

Other small business energy efficiency grant and rebate programs exist around the country from Pennsylvania to Arizona (where the state subsidizes up to 90% of incremental measure costs).

Rather than hunting all over the Internet, you can save yourself time and energy by using the handy guide from Business.gov that provides links to state and local energy efficiency programs for small businesses.

And remember, in addition to up front savings from rebates or other forms of assistance from government and utilities, any energy efficiency improvements you make to your business should end up helping your bottom line by reducing recurring expenses.

If you really go all out and achieve superior efficiency to the point where you’re powering your business with solar or wind energy, your efficiency could even become a marketing point among Green-minded consumers. It’s a message that has worked for businesses from New Belgium Brewing to Horizon Organic.

Has your small business benefited from any government or utility-sponsored energy efficiency program? Or have you seen bottom-line savings from energy efficiency improvements. Share your experiences in the Comments field below!

January 11, 2010   No Comments

Small Business Advice – Getting Exposure through Blogs

Sure, it would be fantastic if your small business was featured on Good Morning America or in the pages of People magazine.

But let’s be realistic — the odds of getting covered in such a mass-market publication are low simply because of the massive level of competition for scarce pages or airtime. Good Morning America‘s producers need to attract the maximum number of viewers and if it comes down to a decision between an interview with you or Brad Pitt, well, let’s just say that the bookies won’t be taking bets in your favor.

But these days there are lots of other ways to get exposure for your business, especially online where more and more people are turning to business blogs for information, news and advice.

John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing has put together a good article for American Express’s Open Forum called “5 Tips for Getting More Exposure from Bloggers, Tweeters and Fans.”

John shows that with a bit of effort, your odds are good of getting covered in a respected, well-read business blog. One of his best ideas involves using sites like Digg, Stumbleupon and delicious to try to find up-and-coming blogs that aren’t yet inundated with pitches.

When you do find these blogs, John warns against simply firing off a press release and hoping for the best. The Internet is all about interactivity, participation and relationship-building. A far better approach would be to become a regular reader of the blog, subscribe to its RSS feed. If a blogger has a Facebook page, join her fan group. If a blogger uses Twitter, start following him.

One of the best ways to show a blogger that you are an engaged reader is to make useful comments (not promotional fluff) and help stimulate conversation on her posts.

Finally, when you have established yourself as a credible and engaged reader, that’s the time to pounce and send along a brief pitch for a story, explaining why your idea would be a perfect fit for the blog and its readers.

Sure, such a strategy takes an investment of time and energy, but it could be worth it to establish yourself as a go-to source for a rising-star blogger. These days, the line is thinner than ever between traditional media and the blogosphere. Bloggers are invited to participate in White House news conferences and cover political campaigns. Blogs sometimes break major news stories that have offline papers scrambling to keep up. And since bloggers have an insatiable need for content, getting known as a valuable source of good story ideas could lead to extensive ongoing coverage for yourself and your business.

Also note that blog exposure can be especially valuable for companies that sell products or services direct to consumers via the Internet. A consumer reading a blog that mentions you or your company is just a few clicks away from making a purchase…

Have you had any luck getting exposure or sales through a blog? If so, what strategies did you employ to get noticed? Share your advice and help establish yourself as a respected source right here at Dollar Days Blog by leaving a comment below!

December 28, 2009   No Comments

Small Business Advice – Tackling Tricky Hiring Issues

One of the best parts of building a company is hiring great people so that your business can benefit from their skills, their ideas and their enthusiasm.

But as Merrin Muxlow has pointed out over at the Resource Nation blog, recruiting new employees involves a host of tricky legal and ethical issues including background checks and employment law compliance.

Maxlow makes useful recommendations about getting an applicant’s consent before running a background check, being careful about accessing an applicant’s social media profiles, knowing all the applicable anti-discrimination laws (FederalState and local) that apply to hiring procedures, and taking the time to verify necessary licenses, credentials and employment eligibility. Maxlow suggests that E-Verify can prove useful for this last task.

Need more advice before bringing a new hire on board? Guidestar published an article earlier this year that contains lots of good advice on Avoiding Common Hiring Pitfalls. For instance, Guidestar notes that it’s vital to properly define the position you’re trying to fill before seeking candidates. If you’re too ambitious in defining the scope of the position, you may have trouble finding applicants who contain all the skills and competencies you’re requiring. Guidestar advises being realistic in defining the position and making sure that you budget a salary sufficient to attract the caliber of employee you’re seeking.

Like the article in Resource Nation, Guidestar emphasizes the importance of checking references and not rushing the hiring decision. That doesn’t mean that you should dawdle either. Instead, create a timetable and then stick to it. Proceed at a deliberate pace while acting with consideration toward the candidates and trying to envision the process from their perspective.

If all these seems awfully challenging, you might enjoy Will Helmlinger’s look at hiring “Pitfalls and Pratfalls” on Inc.com’s website. Helmlinger has some great advice in this story, including a suggestion that the hiring manager should let candidates do most of the talking during the interview process and to avoid misinterpreting what candidates say.

For instance, Helmlinger offers the hypothetical scenario in which a hiring manager asks if an applicant is willing to work overtime. If the applicant says “Yes,” the hiring manager may assume the applicant is willing to regularly burn the midnight oil. But Helmlinger notes that the hiring manager has no grounds to jump to that conclusion without first asking how often and how long the applicant might expect or be available to work beyond regular hours.

Phew! That’s a lot for an employer to remember. But investing some time and effort up front in finding and vetting the right person for the job will prove invaluable to building a stable, loyal and enthusiastic team of employees all pulling together to help build your business.

How do you handle tricky hiring tasks? Do you perform background checks yourself or outsource the procedures? How do you ensure your company doesn’t run afoul of anti-discrimination hiring rules? Share your thoughts, experiences and suggestions in the Comments below.

December 14, 2009   No Comments