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Selling Stuff Online: Events

SellingShizOnline

 

In our first couple blog posts of the series, we discussed the basics of online sales and what to consider when selling products. Selling tangible objects seems pretty straightforward, but what if your business a) is a venue, like a community center or stadium, or b) puts on a certain amount of events (or, as I like to call them, funtivities) each year? It’s not the same as selling a physical product on an ecommerce site. I only recently began to appreciate the many considerations of online booking when working on booking for Anchorspace this past month.

1) How does booking work? 

There are two ways we can think about online scheduling. Option 1 is a “Class” event (there is a set number of attendees in one space). Say you’re a higher education institution or a local YMCA. You have multiple instructors offering all sorts of classes at various times, or just one or two classes going every six months. Or, maybe you’re a business like us, and offer a workshop once or twice a year that has roughly 30 spaces open. With this type of scheduling, you want the registration to stop once you reach the desired number of participants. At Anchorspace, for instance, there are 4 desk spaces available to daily users. It’d be inconvenient (and not to mention confusing) to have people signing up for the space even after the four person limit.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 9.49.51 AM

A “Class” type event.

The other event type is a “Booking”- perhaps a “book now” situation for car maintenance or a haircut, or renting a bowling alley for a birthday party. This is more about attributing a certain time slot with a certain place/person, regardless of numbers. As the business, you don’t need to sell a ticket to each individual coming to the bowling alley birthday party- you just need to indicate to others that it’s already being used at that time. An example: the conference room at Anchorspace is available for booking every hour. We don’t need to know how many people will be using it (I mean, after 10 people elbow room becomes a concern), just whether or not it’s available from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

A "Book Now" type event

A “Book Now” type event

Discerning between these types of events will help narrow down the scheduling software that makes the most sense for you (some handle “class” types better than “booking” types).

2) How many people can attend?

Selling tickets for a rural high school’s prom is a slightly different experience than selling tickets to a Patriots playoff game at Gillette Stadium.

If you have tens of thousands of people purchasing tickets through your website, you’ll want to invest some money in a program that can handle that amount of traffic. A smaller venue probably doesn’t need quite as much attention, and can get by without all the complex bells and whistles.



3) How often does this event occur?

Is this a “one and done” event (sports game, New Year’s Eve Party) or recurring (a horse drawn carriage tour that leaves every two hours)? Certain plugins, like Tickera, are intended solely for “one and done” events. Maybe you’ve seen this in action, like a Bonnaroo 2015 site or Wordcamp Boston 2015. These events happen once a year, and often have their own website (though it may be linked to something larger).

Other plugins, like Events Manager, are made for recurring events, or businesses that host multiple events. With Events Manager, you can display a calendar in the widget area in the sidebar, along with your top 5 (or so) upcoming events. The example below is from the Grand Ole Opry. As you might guess, they have an event almost every day, and they have a vast number of users to accommodate in a buyer experience. Their event software is pretty robust and offers different viewing options to cater to the needs of many.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 9.50.59 AM

4) How does payment work?

Do you want to require people to pay in full at the time of booking, or just hold their card information? (Remember, if you decide to take payment through your website, it’s important to have SSL and a payment gateway in place). Not all plugins integrate with all payment gateways- but there is something called Mijreh, a PCI compliant plugin that links ecommerce systems with payment gateways. As a disclaimer, I’ve never used this plugin, but have seen it referenced in my travels online and thought it worth pointing out.

(Some places may have free events, but since this series is about selling stuff, I’m going to save myself some sanity and neglect such events for now).

All of these questions should help narrow down what you need to look for in event management software. This will also determine how much moneyu you’ll throw down. Most online scheduling software will give you a free month trial to decide whether it’s a good fit for your company’s needs. After that, the pay structure varies. Full Slate, for instance, is around $30/month, but increases an extra $15 for each additional staff member. TicketTailor and Events Manager have a flat yearly rate. Some plugins will take out a certain percentage for commission, so be mindful of that as you’re looking around. Bonus: many offer discounts for non-profits,

Next week, we’ll explore the topic of E-products!



Selling Stuff Online: Products

SellingShizOnlineLast week, we talked about some basics you needed to be ready to sell things online. The next few weeks is the fun part: what you actually sell!

The most normal thing to sell is physical products. Physical products being things that have dimensions, weight, and possibly variables for people to select from (sizes, colors, etc.)

Selecting a shopping cart software: part science, part art. 

We’ll get into selling other types of things next week but you don’t need me to tell you that buying a seat in a stadium for the next Britney Spears concert you are going to is different than buying a black t-shirt. So different cart software is built to sell different kinds of things. You may also want to ask yourself these questions as you start your research to find a cart you like:

1) What integration does my cart need to have? If your cart needs to interact with your POS system or Quickbooks, that’s a good way to cross off a lot of options up front. Note the word ‘need’ here, you may be smitten by some swoonworthy features but knowing what you need will keep your eyes on the prize.

2) What payment gateway do you want to use? Some software only works with one or two gateways, some work with lots more. If you don’t have passionate views on payment gateways like some of us do, enter into this research knowing you’ll be flexible.

3) What are you planning on selling? And how many? See concert tickets versus black t-shirt example above. Also some cart software charges you by the quantity of items you list. So get a clear idea of what you want to sell first to help you evaluate options.

Once you have your cart softwares narrowed down to two or three options, start reading online reviews and looking at examples of each. This will give you an idea of customer support and whether you like the way it looks. For example if a cart promises to be ‘responsive’ and looking at the 4-5 examples listed on the website none of them seem mobile friendly, you may want to ask yourself why. Or you could just hire some nerd to do this nerdy research project for you. Seriously, there is a reason I can’t find a fun picture to go along with this.



Care about the little things.

The more information you give to customers, the better. Things like dimensions and weight not only help them figure out how that item will look in their living room but help you figure out how much to charge for shipping. When possible, fill out all available fields for each item in your cart software… and be consistent product to product.

Decide on shipping.

The below chart shows why you need to decide about shipping:

shipping-study

You have a few options when it comes to shipping: free, calculated, or flat rate. Rather than saying the same thing this article says, I’ll link to a nice blog post from Shopify about the differences between these three. 

In short, we’ve seen free shipping is quite motivating for a lot of people… and most consumers understand the idea of the minimum order amount to get it:

someecardfreeshipping



Cross-selling and Upselling: Helping People Buy More

So now you have what you’re going to sell, a cart you’re going to sell if from, and some idea of how you’ll handle shipping.

Now it seems a little sad we’re already thinking of how we can get your customer to spend MORE money with you but why wouldn’t we be? Your favorite brands cross-sell and upsell to you all the time.

Cross-selling: If you like X product, you may also like Y, Z, and A products. Or customers who bought X also bought… you get the idea. Many cart softwares will let you cross sell.

Up-selling: Getting someone to buy a higher priced version of what they were going to buy.

This is the best visual example for this I have ever seen. And the blog it comes from is super useful and you can go read it: http://blog.flowify.net/up-selling-and-cross-selling-how-to-increase-your-restaurants-revenue-using-resources-you-already-have/

UpsellingInfographics

 

Luring Them In With Bargains: The Allure of the Coupon Code

Now there may be points in the life of your online cart where you either need to move some inventory (to make way for new stuff) or you want to experiment with pricing. Coupon codes are something you can typically issue for either a dollar amount or percentage off either all the items in your cart or just certain items. For obvious reasons, they typically have an expiration date.

What coupon codes allow you to do is measure if/how purchases change while it is in effect. Most cart software will let you make them.

Then you distribute the codes (or perhaps different codes) via direct mail, email, social media, print and online ads, etc. to get them to your customers.

Old-Navy-THANKYOU-376x300

 

So I hope that is helpful as you sell physical products in your online store! Next week, we’ll talk about selling event tickets and things you may want to think about related to that. Stay tuned.



Selling Stuff Online: The Basics

SellingShizOnline

So, you have a thing that you want to sell on the internet, maybe some old college textbooks, tickets to your concert, or your first ever e-book. You’ve promoted your “things” online (hey, you may be offering the best water out there but if a thirsty horse can’t find it, well, you both lose). So, step one of selling your product online is hustling beforehand. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend checking out this 39 step product launch list from The $100 Startup. It works well with all industries and types of products.

Back to the matter at hand- you want to sell something online. Where do you start? It depends on the type of product you’re selling: physical (t-shirts, furniture, etc), events (tickets to a concert at your venue, hourly booking for a conference room), or electronic (an ebook or webinar streaming). Remember, hustling comes first- this series is going to help get your product from A to B in terms of function (although we will get into some neat sales strategies later on). Don’t worry, this is the first in a series of posts. Consider this the essentials to getting set up to sell online.

You need three things to sell online:

1) A secure certificate (SSL)

2) Some system to sell.

3) A payment gateway



1) Secure Certificate: Keeping Payment Info Secure

First and foremost, your website needs a secure certificate (this link is to a former Tech Thursday video where we explain Secure Certificates). Any site that accepts payment should have a secure certificate- it’s not just a best practice, most only cart softwares (the good ones) won’t work without it.

Remember, you can tell if a site is secure if it’s address is “https://….whatever.com.” (Note that ‘s’!) The setup process varies from web host to web host, but we can tell you that secure certificates are relatively cheap (around $15/year- well worth it, in our opinion). Plus, without this security, you may end up losing potential customers. Who wants to put their information into a site with Death Star level security (hint- there was a gaping hole in the middle of the Death Star. No one should have been surprised when it got breached).

The Mozilla Foundation is trying to get free SSLs for everyone but until that happens, whether you get one free or pay some money for it, it has to be installed on your domain.

If you use Firefox, right click on the padlock in next to URL (it appears when a page/site is https) and click ‘View Certificate’ and you’ll see all about it:

sslinfo

Note: You’ll need a dedicated IP to be able to install a secure certificate. Our host charges $30 for this, so for us to accept payments on our site as an additional per year is:

$13.95 for SSL + $30 for dedicated IP = $43.95/year in additional domain stuff



2) Software To Take The Payment

Next, you want to construct the actual sales component of your website- which we’ll explain in further detail in future posts. This construction process depends on the type of “stuff” you want to sell. If you’re selling physical products (t-shirts, books, jars of sea-glass), your website needs to be set up with a shopping cart. Sites such as Amazon use the shopping cart model. These sites also have to take into account the product’s dimensions, color, taxes, shipping costs. Examples of some popular eCommerce sites include WooCommerce and Shopify.

Amazon- an example of a shopping cart site. Fun Fact: when you're looking for automotive gear, instead of "Add to Cart" it says "Add to Garage." Oh, Amazon...

Amazon- an example of a shopping cart site. Fun Fact: when you’re looking for automotive gear, instead of “Add to Cart” it says “Add to Garage.” Oh, Amazon…

However, if you’re selling events (seats at a concert, spaces in a class), your site needs to be capable of online booking- a different set up all together. This involves more of a date-time purchase than a physical object. Some examples of booking programs include Events Manager (a Wordpress plugin) and Full Slate (a scheduling program we are using for Anchorspace).

An example of a booking site: Bangor Waterfront Concerts. This also made me excited for the summer...

An example of a booking site: Bangor Waterfront Concerts. This also made me excited for the summer…

Yet another option is an online payment form (common for accepting donations, subscriptions to online publications, popular programs for forms include WuFoo and Gravity Forms (a Wordpress plugin).

An example of a simple donation form a la WuForm.

An example of a simple donation form a la WuFoo.

So clearly different items require different amounts of information… and what you sell will depend on the solution you pick. We’ll discuss these in coming weeks.

3) Payment Gateway: The Third Party Taking Your Credit Card Fees

So if you sell things online, most likely you’ll be taking debit and credit cards (unless you are one of those uber cool people who only use Bitcoin or something).

If you sell things in real life, either with a full on credit card system like at a retail store or scanning someone’s credit card with a Square card reader, you know if you scan the payment for $10, you don’t get $10 in your account… you get less than that.

What interfaces between your shopping cart system and the credit card is the payment processor. We really like Stripe, mainly because it integrates with a ton of stuff and means we don’t have to charge our customers a monthly fee or a setup fee for processing… and it’s competitive. But other solutions exist like Authorize.net, Paypal (not the free version), etc. You’ll need to set something up to interface with the credit card before whatever is left is gently placed in your checking account.

If you want an excellent graphic and explanation of this, please visit: http://www.larryullman.com/2012/10/10/introduction-to-stripe/

Now that you know the basics of setting up an online storefront, we can go beyond the basics. Tune in next Tuesday when we’ll continue with this series talking about selling physical products (anything that takes up space in the world that’s not paper space)!



Online Ads 101: Affiliates

The last few weeks, we’ve talked about a few different ways to make money online with your website: PPC (pay per click) ads, display ads, and ad networks. The idea, of course, is not to overwhelm but show you how some of your favorite people online make money when you visit their website. This post is the last in our series.

Affiliate ads, or basically selling a product or service for a commission, is not a new idea. Many people do this in real life (think of any sort of party at which you could also buy things: cookware, jewelry, adult toys, etc.)

Online affiliates are even easier as you don’t have to clean your house or have suitcases of product to do them. Sometimes an affiliate will pay when someone clicks on a link to their site from your website, sometimes only when a purchase is made. Fees paid out can be a commission (percentage of total) or a flat fee per customer, depending on the service. There are literally thousands of affiliate programs (and if you have a unique product or service, you can set one up. More info on setting up an affiliate program here: http://lkrsocialmedia.com/2011/09/how-to-create-an-affiliate-program-that-doesnt-suck/)



The most popular online affiliate program is Amazon. When you sign up, they give you a way to make special links to products on Amazon.com. Like the new desk chair you bought? Make an affiliate link. Like the sweet and spicy tea you keep in your office? Make an affiliate link. Then you post these links places: social media, blog, website, email newsletter, etc. If someone follows your link and buys your product, you get 2-3% commission (up to 10% if you sell more).

For fun once, I made an Amazon Affiliate account and shared a couple links on Facebook (to my personal profile) over the course of a few weeks. You know, I never did get that $1 and change from Amazon…

I made $1 as an Amazon Affiliate. Stop being jealous.

I made $1 as an Amazon Affiliate. Stop being jealous.

(I guess I just felt slimy doing this, which is why it ended up being a three day experiment without much thought put into it and yielded such unimpressive results.)

But I do know plenty of bloggers who post, say, links where you can buy books they are reading or write ‘affiliate’ blog posts linking to products. It’s possible, especially if the thing you want to sell isn’t made by you (ex: You want to recommend people buy a Seth Godin book but aren’t a bookstore or Seth Godin.)



Amazon doesn’t have high profit margins so they can’t give you, say, 50% commission. But that’s where working directly with a smaller distributor makes sense. The more directly you work with the company selling the product, the higher your commission.

Let’s take another affiliate example. I am a pretty big Rupaul fan but I also know that Rupaul mentions sponsors, etc. on his/her/not-sure-the-proper-pronoun podcast. So I went to the Shop portion of the Rupaul website:

rupaulaffiliate

I know the writing is tiny on my screenshot but you’ll see the ‘Glamazon’ shirt can be purchased on Rupaul.com but The other items (ex: action figure) can be purchased from other websites. Tell tale sign of an affiliate, you get redirected to another website (note the URL and website design change when I click on the action figure):

Love Rupaul but not sure my love is $199 of love.

Love Rupaul but not sure my love is $199 of love.

Point is, affiliates let you recommend stuff and get paid, without having to process the payment, ship it, or really do any kind of customer service. You are middle manning it. That said, if you have an audience and that audience trusts you to recommend products, your middle manning is worth something.

If you want to see if a product you like has an affiliate program, simply type in “company name affiliate” into Google. Typing “Constant Contact affiliate” into Google got me to the CC affiliate page:

constantcontactaffilate

Affiliate marketing, when done by those who genuinely enjoy a product and want others to experience its benefits (and, let’s face it, make a buck or two in the process), is a useful marketing tool. That said, there can also be a dark side. For example, if I am a financial advisor and I sell you the IRA plan where I make commission on but there is another IRA in the world that I know is actually better for you, that’s conflict of interest territory to me. I couldn’t sleep at night doing that. But as long as you’re straight-forward about what you make money on, I think affiliates can be perfectly ethical and potentially profitable.



Online Ads 101: Ad Networks

Our previous posts about online advertising have covered pay per click and display ads. As discussed in those posts, PPC and display ads are different options in terms of types of ads (PPC means you pay when someone clicks your ad and hopefully makes a purchase, display ads offer general awareness and cost per 1000 or so impressions). This week is about ad networks, which offer a convenient method of getting your ad to a publisher. In other words, it’s less about display and more about the transaction between publisher and advertiser.



What is an ad network? An ad network is a solution to supply-demand in the world of online advertising. Ad Networks act as matchmakers that fill in the gaps for those trying to sell ads and those looking to display ads. So, you sell custom llama hats, and this llama farm is looking for advertisements, you have a 83% compatibility match! (Note: this is not literally how ad networks operate, and probably not how matchmaking works, either).

Ad networks, much like matchmakers, come in all shapes and sizes. For instance, some ad networks work specifically within certain niches (i.e. technology, home improvement, outdoor apparel, that sort of thing). Other, much larger networks are more concerned with “blanket coverage” (or, the leave no stone unturned model). There are also, as you may imagine, different options in terms of pricing and the amount of say you have about where your ad goes. Three common types of ad networks include:

Vertical/Representative: With this type of ad network, you’re allowed full control over what website(s) your ad goes on. You also might even be able to choose the position of your ad on any given website (while this sounds exhausting, it could make all the difference in avoiding unfortunate ad placements).
Blind: This is a riskier model, but they’re usually pretty cheap. As the name suggests, you have NO idea where your ad is going. This type of ad network would work for the light of budget, but not the faint of heart.
Targeted: This type of ad network uses data from a person’s browsing history and makes assumptions (age, sex, location, interests) in order to determine which ads to serve. (This article has more information on targeted ad networks and how they work).



Why would anyone be interested in ad networks?

As with anything, there are some pros and cons to explore. Perhaps the best thing about ad networks is that you don’t have to hustle your ad. It eliminates the whole door to door “Hey, can I put my ad in your window?” element to online advertising, which saves a lot of time and energy (and is great for those who hate doing this sort of sales thing in the first place). Working with an ad network may also get you in touch with businesses you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise (i.e. you’re an actor and the ad network is your agent who helps get your foot in the door with big production companies). You also don’t have to haggle over pricing with a publisher, the ad network does all of that for you.

The biggest con to using an ad network is probably the gamble. While you’re likely to save money by sending your ads to a network, you could also end up paying quite a bit. Another potential issue to watch out for is where your ads are actually going. Like I said before, some networks will let you control where your ad gets displayed, other networks won’t. If you like to have control over that sort of thing, then maybe ad networks aren’t the way to go.



 Examples of Ad Networks:

YouTube Partners: If you’re a YouTube sensation, like Dom Mazzetti or Justin Bieber, you can enable your channel for monetization. This means that your video will display relevant ads “either inside or near the video” who will pay you to display on your video(s). Of course, there are some strict rules about what videos are eligible for monetization (the good news is, if you’ve filmed your cat and there is no background music, you  could be in line to make some money). The amount you can make by becoming a YouTube partner depends on the ads that get displayed (which you don’t have any control over, but hey- money!).

YouTube_Partner

 

BlogHer: Another real life example of ad networks in action is BlogHer. As the name suggests, this is primarily geared toward women bloggers, but it isn’t a “no boys allowed” situation. How does it work? Well, BlogHer has a vast network of writers (called Influencers) and certain marketers are encouraged to join in and have their products/services/brand talked about (or maybe just featured in some sort of ad. In the description of their services, BlogHer says: “Our Influencers share your brand with their readers- in the context of their lives.” So, someone might approach BlogHer with a new celebrity product launch or a custom video recipe series, and say “Make this popular” (but more eloquent and professional). BlogHer then connects the product or service with different writers in their network, and away they go.

logo

 

There are hundreds of other ad networks out there, of all sizes, service and variety. Stay tuned next week for a post on Affiliate Ads!



Online Ads: Display Ads

onlineadsdisplayadsSo last week, we discussed PPC (or Pay Per Click) ads. Many networks have these now but the idea is you pay when people click.

But what if you don’t have an online store where people can make a purchase? What if general awareness is what you are after? What if you want the ads you serve up on your site to display depending on what people have been looking at. (Don’t act like you’ve never been freaked out where, after browsing for shoes, you’re on some complete other website and you see an ad for the very shoes you were looking at!)

Display ads started out as banner ads and they were typically wide (you know, like actual banners are). I remember when I too added my first banner ad on top of my Geocities website (if I could remember the URL of my site, I’d so go to the Wayback Machine and get the screenshot but alas, this one will have to do):

If you are also slightly nostalgic for Geocities websites, please visit this lovely blog: http://code.tutsplus.com/articles/top-10-reasons-why-the-closing-of-geocities-is-long-overdue--net-7393

If you are also slightly nostalgic for Geocities websites, please visit this lovely blog: http://code.tutsplus.com/articles/top-10-reasons-why-the-closing-of-geocities-is-long-overdue–net-7393

Got to love the Yahoo Geocities display ad!

Now, display ads are much more comprehensive. They can be videos, animations, pictures, etc. and they can be everywhere on a website, from pop ups to sidebar items.

For display ads, you pay a certain amount of money per 1,000 impressions. (I’m over generalizing clearly.) Up until relatively recently, like the newspapers of today, you put your display ad on a website and hoped people saw it/remembered it, as you paid whether they clicked on it or not. So these ads were being served up to a wide variety of people.



Google, however, has changed all this again with a concept called ‘remarketing’. The idea is displaying these ads to people who have already been to your website. (You setup a way to collect cookies from people who have visited your site, creating what Google calls a ‘remarketing list’.) It’s definitely sneaky but you can see where it would be more effective to display an ad to someone who has been to your site than someone who has never heard of you.

Just for fun, I went to Mashable.com and took a screenshot (I am a 33 year old woman):

My Mashable experience includes a 'website in 3 minutes' post (I've been doing research on a blog post about these 'automatic' website builders) and one for Old Navy (I've been looking for some staple clothing items to fill in gaps in my closet).

My Mashable experience includes a ‘website in 3 minutes’ post (I’ve been doing research on a blog post about these ‘automatic’ website builders) and one for Old Navy (I’ve been looking for some staple clothing items to fill in gaps in my closet).

I asked Kassie for fun to screenshot what she sees when she goes to Mashable.com:
kassiesmashableexperience

The takeaway, besides the fact that Kassie is way more intellectual than I seem to be, is that display ads can now be different for different website visitors. And that’s pretty cool.

So display ads are just another way to do online ads. Many of the sites that have them (like Mashable) are quite large (they have pretty detailed specs for ads for example but since they don’t have pricing, I’m guessing you have to have pretty deep pockets to play with them).

Next week, we’ll talk about a solution to this problem of not having, say, multiple ad agencies and your own sales people to sell ads on your website: ad networks.

More on display advertising on Wikipedia (of course) and Google has documentation on remarketing. If you want someone to set this up for you, our friend Colin at Root Deeper Marketing is a Google certified specialist and could totally do it for you.



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