batch of dollars

Last week, I explored the idea that raising prices can actually increase business. To many business owners, this is counter-intuitive. Most believe higher prices means less people will do business with them. But is that really the case? Some people have too much business because they charge too little. Others don’t have enough for the exact same reason. Case in point:

Cheap at Twice the Price

There was a shop in New Mexico that catered to tourists. The owner had acquired a number of Native American jewelry pieces, but she was having trouble selling them. Busloads of tourists would come through her store, look at the pieces, and leave without buying. She tried lowering the price, but to no avail.

As a last resort, she decided to offer the entire line at 50 percent off. After scribbling a note for her store manager to do so, she left for a week’s vacation.

Upon her return, she was pleased to discover that all the jewelry had sold. But further investigation revealed something startling. Her manager had misinterpreted the scribbled note to mean she should double the price of the jewelry, and that’s exactly what she did.

The preceding is a true story (I just can’t recall who I heard it from). This isn’t an isolated incident. Here’s the story of a software developer who had the same experience with his product, a consumer-focused productivity application, which he offered for $9.99.

Upon launching the software, Gary emailed every technology blog and journalist he knew to find some media attention for his product, and it worked: a number of major technology blogs covered the launch, and web traffic peaked at 50,000 daily hits over the launch period. Unfortunately, while traffic to the website was great, sales figures were very low: a huge volume of customers were viewing the website and deciding not to purchase the product. In an attempt to resolve this, Gary spent weeks tweaking and then fully re-designing the website, but it had no effect: people simply weren’t buying the product.

By March 2011, Gary became desperate, and out of a desire to begin making some kind of real revenue from the product, he decided to double the price of the software to $19.99, hoping to sell to the same niche of particularly interested customers who were currently purchasing the product, but at this higher price. To his shock, sales of XProductivity immediately spiked, increasing to ten times the number of daily sales he was previously processing.

So is there a corollary that says raising prices automatically results in more business? If it were that simple, we could all charge exorbitant rates and rake in the cash. It’s not quite that simple. Still, the bottom line is that many customers still equate cost with quality.

Yet, a 2009 Cornell study showed that, in two food-related experiments, higher prices didn’t cause the expected higher demand, contradicting previous studies [pdf].

What do you think? Were my two examples anecdotal, merely exceptions to the rule? Or does it depend on the product being sold?

One final thought. Even if raising your prices does cause less people to do business with you, it’s possible that the higher price will compensate for the decreased demand. In other words, selling fewer items at a higher cost may bring in more revenue and profit than your lower price structure did … and with less work on your part, to boot!

paper-people

Have you ever had a prospect tell he doesn’t need to market his business because he has more business than he can handle? Did you believe him?

“I already have more business than I can handle” is one of the most common blow-offs you’ll hear when prospecting. The trouble is discerning if it’s really a blow-off or whether it’s true. Some businesses do have more business than they can handle. But why? It’s been exactly two years that the Great Recession was “officially” declared to be over.

Unfortunately, many businesses didn’t get that memo. Most are still struggling. So who are these fortunate few with more business than they can handle, and how do I get a piece of that pie?

People who truly have more business than they can handle fall into one of two categories:

Complacent

These are business owners who provide quality work for a fair price. They are happy with the amount of business they’re getting. They’re making money and paying the bills. They may be in demand because of the quality of their work and are usually booked weeks (or months) in advance. If more people want to hire them than they’re able to service, they have no problem turning them away or recommending them to a competitor.

(I know of a local painting contractor who fits this description. Yet, ironically, he still markets heavily during the off-season to stay busy all year around.)

Overwhelmed

These are business owners who get so much business because they charge so little, yet feel obligated to serve every customer or client who knocks on their door. Hiring extra help is out of the question, because they aren’t making enough money.

For these overwhelmed business owners, the solution is surprisingly simple: raise your prices.

(Of course, telling them that often elicits a blank stare back in response.)

What these overwhelmed business owners don’t realize is that the reason sooo many people want to do business with them is not because they’re so good. It’s because they’re so cheap. What’s more, being the low-cost leader means you attract the price-driven buyer. (You know, the cheapskate who grinds you down to the lowest price, yet demands the best service, who complains every chance he gets, then asks for a refund when you can’t satisfy his unreasonable demands. But I digress.)

Perhaps you’re one of those overwhelmed by too much business. FreelanceSwitch has compiled a list of the Top Ten Signs You May Be Charging Too Little:

10. Your clients mistake your daily rate for an hourly one.

9. You’ve won every job you’ve ever bid on.

8. Even though you work 80-hour weeks, your income level qualifies you for welfare payments.

7. New clients are always asking what “the catch” is.

6. Clients pay your invoices in cash from their wallet.

(You can read the rest here.)

Most people believe that raising prices equals less business because fewer people will want to do business with them—when the exact opposite may be true. What about you? What do you think?

thumbsup

My first paid freelance job fresh out of design school was creating a brochure for a magician. Having moved beyond performing for children’s parties, he began doing “magic with a message”—shows designed to teach kids how to avoid drugs and strangers. The ideal venue for his show was high schools, and his target market was high school principals. The brochure was to be part of his marketing collateral.

Besides being an excellent magician, he is also a savvy marketer. Instead of images of himself performing magic tricks, the photos he provided were faces of delighted and awe-struck kids watching him perform. His reasoning was surprisingly astute. Rather than focusing on the magic, he wanted to draw attention to the experience. Showing how he created “insanely great experiences” for his audience is what caused his target prospect—namely, high school principals—to book an engagement.

As in my earlier article, this title comes from the ebook, Innovate the Steve Jobs Way: 7 Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success. Like my marketing-savvy magician friend, Apple seems to get the concept that people buy experiences rather than products. Their recent iPad commercial tells us that “now, we can watch a newspaper … listen to a magazine … curl up with a movie … and see a phone call.” Verizon, on the other hand, is telling us that their tablets are “flash-ready,” come equipped with a “core Tegra 2 chipset,” and are “4G LTE upgradeable.” And while that might send chills up yours and my techno-spine, it does nothing for someone like my technologically-challenged mother-in-law, who was impressed by the fact that “you just touch it to make it go where you want.” Even she can have an “insanely great experience”—but only with the tablet manufacturer smart enough to tell her so.

But “insanely great experiences” are not limited to using the product or service. People also want “insanely great experiences” when buying a product or service. Consultant Alan Weiss calls this creating “breakthrough relationships.” One way he suggests to do this is by keeping a record of important issues facing your existing clients and key prospects (regardless of whether you are working with them on these issues or if they are out of your area of expertise), then sending articles and other useful resources on that topic.

Let’s face it. Our prospects are not going to experience roller coaster thrills over the website we’ve developed for them. (In fact, you really didn’t develop the website for your prospect at all. You developed it for his prospects, clients, customers, or patients.) So what type of experience can you create during the buying process itself?

Over the past decade, I’ve seen website development go from what most people thought was some type of voodoo magic to something a teenager can do. Next year, my fifteen-year-old son will be learning in high school what I went to graphic design college (and re-paid thousands of dollars back in student loans) to learn. When kids coming out of high school know much as you did when you graduated college (if you did), your skills have become commoditized. Sure, you’re going to develop a great site. Of course it will have a professional look, be standards-complaint and search engine friendly. But those things are “the cost of entry” if you want to compete in this field—not what sets you apart. Creating “insanely great experiences” during the buying process may be the only hope you have left.

Neil Rackham (SPIN Selling) and Michael Gerber (The E-Myth Revisited) concur. In an article entitled, “From Valve Communication to Value Creation,” Rackham says that “…value is migrating from the product itself to how the product is acquired.” (Italics mine.)

Michael Gerber says that the commodity isn’t what’s important—the way it’s delivered or acquired is. According to Gerber, the entrepreneur considers the business to be the product, not what he delivers to the customer. He looks at the business “as if it were a product, sitting on a shelf and competing for the customer’s attention against a whole shelf of competing products (or businesses).”

This means “how the business interacts with the consumer is more important than what it sells.”

The commodity is the thing your customer actually walks out with in his hand.
The product is what your customer feels as he walks out of your business.
What he feels about your business, not what he feels about the commodity.
The E-Myth Revisited

Yesterday, I got a haircut at a place I’d never gone to before. Although I was very happy with the end result, the girl cutting my hair looked as though she’d rather be anywhere else than where she was. The stylist the next chair over was the polar opposite— gregarious and outgoing, making conversation with her client … and I began wishing I’d gotten her instead. Don’t get me wrong, just like my haircut, your client ought to be thrilled with the site you developed. But a large part of that thrill includes the process of how he obtained the site. Did you create an “insanely great experience, or did you leave your client wishing the developer “the next chair over” had built his site instead?

right

In my last article, I talked about the difference between Tactical thinking and Strategic thinking. In a nutshell, Tactical thinking is “doing things right,” while Strategic thinking is “doing the right things.” Strategic thinking is typically leadership: creating the vision. Whereas Tactical thinking is management: implementing the vision.

When it comes to strategic vs. tactical planning, it’s easy to fall into either/or thinking—that is, either strategic thinking is better, or tactical thinking is better. This is especially true when you realize which type of thinker you are. We tend to believe that our type of thinking must be superior. But regardless of whether you are a strategic or a tactical thinker, you must come to realize that both types are critical to success; and you must learn to appreciate your business partner and/or your employees’ way of thinking and value the contribution they can make towards accomplishing your goals.

So when I use the term strategic vs. tactical thinking, it’s not to imply that they are at odds with one another; rather it’s to contrast the difference between the two, so you can begin to distinguish and appreciate those differences. It’s also critical to recognize when you are not applying both types of thinking to the situation.

Difficulties arise when one or the other, rather than both, is used to tackle a problem. Strategic thinkers tend to analyze the situation but often fail to take action. “Paralysis by analysis” is their downfall. Tactical thinkers are all about “doing something,” but they often don’t think before springing into action; so oftentimes, their action is ineffective, and perhaps unnecessary. If only they’d taken the time to step back and analyze the situation beforehand.

Think of strategic and tactical thinking like the strings of a violin. In order for the instrument to create beautiful music, each string must have tension applied to both ends. If tension is released from either side, then the music it was intended to create cannot be produced.

The apparent tension between strategic and tactical thinking is seen in the statement, “Doing Things Right vs. Doing the Right Things.” Tactical thinkers tend to focus on “doing things right,” and strategic thinkers are concerned with “doing the right things.” But let’s consider that statement for just a moment. If you do something “right,” but it’s the wrong thing to do, your efforts will be futile. Conversely, if you do the “right thing,” but you do it wrong, you’ll also fail miserably.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat” – Sun Tzu

Let me give you a couple of examples.

Doing the Right Thing, but Doing it Wrong

When my partners and I began our web development business, one of the “things” we did to find clients was cold-calling. Today, I run a telemarketing department, so I know something about it. But eight years ago, I was completely ignorant on the topic. Without a script or much of plan, we opened the phone book and started calling.

As you can imagine, we were less than successful. We landed two very small jobs (one of which we ended up refunding the money), so we decided that cold calling wasn’t the way to find clients in our market. It wasn’t until a few years later that I met some colleagues who were having great success with cold calling. One even told me that it was the primary way he gained new business. Our failure caused us to conclude that we were “doing the wrong thing,” when in reality, we were “doing the thing wrong.”

Doing the Wrong Thing, but Doing it Right

A few years later, I met a business woman whose product was coffee gift baskets. Previous to this, she’d been a freelance computer programmer and IT consultant. As most of you know, the primary way a person in that field gets business is through networking: belonging to groups such as chamber of commerce, establishing relationships with people that could become clients or who know others who could become clients. Much of this type of work is gained by “word of mouth.” Jackie knew this and was good at it. And since that was all she knew, she was using it for her coffee gift basket business.

The problem was that, unlike computer programming, where she only needed maybe one or two new clients every few months to make a living, Jackie needed to sell several dozen baskets each week to make a profit. What Jackie needed was a website and a retail outlet to expose her product to the public. Networking meetings were getting her one or two sales, at best, a month. If Jackie had been a different type of person, she might have concluded that she was “doing the thing wrong” and tried harder—more networking meetings, talk to more people, and so on. Fortunately, she realized that, although she was “doing the thing right,” it was “the wrong thing” to do for her new business.

So let’s get away from either/or thinking, and engage in both/and thinking: both strategic thinking and tactical thinking are critical for success.

There’s no doubt that WordPress is one of the most popular blogging platforms and content management systems on the Internet. It’s widely supported, relatively easy for the end user to learn, and is easily extensible. For the average user, the WordPress theme engine makes it easy to customize the look and feel of your site. It features a robust plug-in system, and with an expansive ecosphere of existing plug-ins, you can add new features with ease.

It stands to reason that many a small business would turn to WordPress to establish its online presence. So we’ve put together a collection of great ecommerce plug-ins to add catalog, cart and sales functionality to your WordPress site. They range from basic to complex, from free to commercial, but each provides tools that allow you to easily sell your wares on a WordPress-powered website.

WP e-Commerce

WP e-Commerce is one of the most popular ecommerce plug-ins for WordPress. For a free plug-in, WP e-Commerce doesn’t skimp on features. It supports multiple payment gateways such as PayPal, Authorize.net and Google Checkout. The plug-in comes with a variety of ready-made themes, but still fully supports the creation of your own custom themes. You can also customize your order forms, share products via social networking integration, organize products into multiple categories, provide product variations (e.g. size, color) and much more.

For all its features, WP e-Commerce installation keeps it simple, requiring no more effort than other WordPress plug-ins – simply upload to the plug-ins directory and install from within WP Admin. If you’re looking to quickly launch an ecommerce site while avoiding a large time commitment or financial investment, WP e-Commerce is a fast and free, yet feature-rich solution.

Price: FREE

Jigoshop

Jigoshop is another great, free WordPress plug-in that looks quite promising. Boasting a lengthy set of features, Jigoshop gives you complete control over managing your inventory, coupon codes and shipping rates. The plug-in also supports multiple currencies, tax collection and various localization options. While the list of supported payment gateways isn’t quite as extensive as WP e-Commerce, PayPal is supported. Jigoshop also includes a couple of handy sidebar widgets for product search and filtering.

Though a few more supported payment gateways would be nice, we’re still impressed with the features of this free plug-in, and definitely think it’s worth trying out.

Price: FREE

ShopperPress

ShopperPress is meant to act as a one-stop solution for ecommerce in WordPress. With over 20 ready-made themes, you simply install the plug-in, select your desired look, add products and start selling. ShopperPress supports both physical and digital goods, custom order forms, multiple languages and over 20 payment gateways. You can also easily integrate Google Analytics, as well as your own advertising. It’s not entirely clear how easily you can customize the storefront beyond the 20 or so included templates, but if you need a drop-in solution for ecommerce, ShopperPress may be just what you’re looking for. Furthermore, the $79 price tag includes technical support from the ShopperPress team.

Price: $79

Cart66

Formerly PHPurchase, Cart66 is a WordPress ecommerce solution for selling physical and digital goods as well as subscriptions. The plug-in includes Amazon S3 integration so you can easily and reliably deliver digital downloads to your customers. PayPal integration allows for Instant Payment Notification and delivery. Cart66 also lets you set up your own merchant accounts and gateway services.

It has all the features you’d expect from a commercial ecommerce solution, including inventory tracking, support for promotional codes and multiple product variations. Unlike some of the other plug-ins we’ve discussed, Cart66 doesn’t have a storefront, per se, but rather allows you to drop products into any WordPress page or post on your site. While this may be a hindrance to some, this level of flexibility is great for vendors selling only a few products, or for those who wish to place some products behind a registration page or member area.

Price: $89-$399

Shopp

Shopp is an SEO-friendly, powerful and popular ecommerce plug-in. Shopp claims to work out of the box with any WordPress theme, so integration into an existing site should be simple. Other WordPress-centric features include dashboard widgets to easily view sales and product history, short codes and theme widgets to allow you to quickly drop Shopp elements and products into your pages.

Shopp also has a host over other standard ecommerce features: multi-category inventory management, payment history, multiple product images and variations, email notifications and a shipping calculator. The software also includes a number of promotional tools and supports a large variety of payment gateways, either natively or via plug-ins (PayPal, Google Checkout, 2Checkout, First Data, Authorize.net and more).

Price: $55-$299

eShop

Free plug-in eShop is another economical solution for rapid ecommerce integration into your WordPress site. eShop supports both physical and digital product sales, integrates Authorize.net and PayPal gateways (as well as a few others) and is compatible with the WP affiliate plug-in. Some basic features include stock management, configurable email templates, a variety of shipping methods, basic statistics, downloadable sales data, and much more. Like Cart66, eShop uses WordPress pages and posts, so you can easily integrate your products into any section of the site.

Price: FREE

WP Secure Downloads

This premium WordPress plug-in is designed specifically for managing and selling digital goods online and is perfect for selling software, music, artwork, documents, and anything else to be delivered as downloadable content. The plug-in installs just like any other WordPress plug-in, with no outside configuration necessary, and boasts features such as automatic theme integration, a built-in shopping cart and subscription-based purchases.

If your sales are limited strictly to digital products and you don’t want the overhead of a large ecommerce package, but desire the flexibility of simple product management and sales, WP Secure Downloads is the ideal solution.

Price: $37-$179

MarketPress

This BuddyPress and WPMU-compatible ecommerce plug-in allows you to quickly and easily create an entire network of ecommerce sites (of course, you can use it for single storefronts as well). If you’ve got a lot of products to sell across a number of websites, or want to create a network of hosted ecommerce sites, this is definitely the plug-in to consider.

MarketPress keeps your database tables clean by using custom post types and fields for product data; new products are added simply by creating a new post. Other features include multiple product images, coupon codes, custom email templates, multiple currency support and customizable widgets. The plug-in also features a powerful API for extending functionality – for example, to create your own custom payment modules or collect a percentage of sales from network stores.

Price: $39-$209


More WordPress Resources From Mashable:


7 Ways to Build a Business Around WordPress
HOW TO: Transfer Your Blog From WordPress.com to WordPress.org [VIDEO]
How WordPress Themes Actually Work [INFOGRAPHIC]
HOW TO: Make Your WordPress Blog More Like Tumblr
8 of the Best Premium WordPress Themes


More About: business, ecommerce, List, Lists, shopping carts, small business, Web Development, WordPress, WordPress plugins

For more Dev & Design coverage:

Lisa Wehr is the founder and CEO of Oneupweb, a leading digital marketing agency representing some of the nation’s most recognized brands for more than 15 years.

The goal of any web development agency is to deliver a website that not only looks attractive but is also manageable. It seems there are new contenders vying to be the top content management system (CMS) every day. Making it easy to add products, articles and just about anything else is a mandatory development skill today. Inevitably, the question always arises: “Do we download something free and open source, or do we buy a solution?”

Ask developers and they’ll probably explain they have favorites from both realms. However, most marketing execs and decision makers aren’t as familiar with CMSs, let alone quick to name drop their most preferred. Feel overwhelmed or torn by CMS choices? Let’s discuss the pros and cons of developing within both open and closed source systems. And for further direction, let’s scope out the top open and closed source ways to manage content for both ecommerce and general content sites.


Open Source vs. Closed Source


Open source means there are a lot of people working on the software. Plenty of individuals are making sure the code is solid and that the software is easy to use. Documentation is usually easy to find, and there are plenty of people out there writing “how-tos,” which make design and development easier and even fun. You can count on regular updates that are continually improving the product. Open source systems let you see what makes the software tick, and you can often change it to suit your needs. Use this to your advantage when it comes to differentiating yourself from the rest of the pack.

However, because of the popularity of open source systems, many people are familiar with open source code, which creates a higher risk for hacking. If you choose to design in an open source system, your development team is going to need to put time and work into preventing third-party tampering. This difficulty will scale based on many factors such as how many people need to have access to sensitive areas of the site (like the admin panel).

Closed source software usually equates to better security and support. For an ecommerce site, it isn’t necessarily more secure to go with a closed source system, but unlike open source systems, developers don’t have to spend as much time securing code. If a developer runs into any issues in a closed source software, providers are more than happy to offer you support. This is a convenience, because it cuts down on the development time and cost.

Unfortunately with closed source, the barrier to entry is a lot higher. A smaller community means less experience and collective knowledge. This usually equates with much higher costs across the board. You often have to pay for the software or service, and if your support package doesn’t include it, you end up having to pay someone else for their expertise.


Top Open Source CMSs for Product Management


Three of the top open source CMSs for successfully managing ecommerce sites are: Magento, osCommerce and Zen Cart. All three of these CMSs provide well-structured source code, which allows for easier collaboration between developers and designers and an overall smoother workflow. It’s important that developers have access to a rich architecture that makes plugin and extension development a snap, while designers have access to a powerful, templating system.


Top Open Source General Purpose CMSs


It seems that there are hundreds of these out there. With its humble start as a simple blogging platform, WordPress has grown into a full-blown content management system. The community supporting this gem has made it into a powerhouse capable of handling just about anyone’s needs. Some big names are using this CMS: The Wall Street Journal, CNN and Ford, to name a few. Although WordPress has achieved notoriety, both Joomla and Drupal are also big names in the open source general purpose realm. Some of the biggest sites online are built with Joomla (Living Well Magazine) and Drupal (The White House, The Economist). Developers and designers have a number of possibilities when creating websites in WordPress, Joomla or Drupal.


Top Closed Source CMSs for Product Management


If taking the closed source route, it’s usually best to make sure the service offers good, customizable aesthetics. Shopify, Volusion and AspDotNetStorefront are all fully functional and secure storefronts to help developers and designers with creating successful ecommerce sites. Though you can’t peek at the code running your store, you do have access to the powerful templating systems such as “Liquid” (if using Shopify), which allows your imagination to run wild while designing. When using any of these three closed source CMSs, it’s a snap to include custom HTML, CSS and JavaScript.


Top Closed Source General Purpose CMSs


Where to begin? Many of the closed source content management systems offer different prices for different needs. There are services out there such as CushyCMS for individuals or small companies with mostly static content, and there are the big kids on the block such as Telerik and Sharepoint that operate on Microsoft’s .NET
Framework.

CushyCMS is a designer’s dream as there is no development involved — just standards like HTML, CSS and JavaScript are used. In the case of Telerik and Sharepoint, the .NET Framework and the powerful editor Visual Studio can make developing and designing much easier.


In the end, it all boils down to the abilities of your in-house tech staff and your budget. Many enterprise companies design with open source because they have qualified developers. If you don’t feel that your team is ready to take on extra challenges, then closed source (and its built-in support) may be the best route. Although closed source companies will offer support, they may not always offer you programming support. For instance, they may outsource a job for you. The very best design work is created with confidence, so be sure you’re working with a CMS that you feel secure in.


Interested in more Web Development resources? Check out Mashable Explore, a new way to discover information on your favorite Mashable topics.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, tioloco

More About: business, drupal, joomla, List, Lists, open source, small business, web design, Web Development, WordPress

For more Dev & Design coverage:

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

The term “offload” or “offloading” in information technology and computer science refers to the transfer of something from your system to an external system. In the context of websites, your system is your website (and your web servers/web host), and the external system consists of third-party web services such as Google Analytics or Shopify.

This article suggests five common site features that you can host elsewhere.


Why You Should Or Shouldn’t Offload


There are advantages and disadvantages to having parts of your website catered to by third-party web services. In order for you to decide what should and shouldn’t be on your system, let’s first talk about the pros and cons of website feature offloading.


Pros of Offloading


  • Reduced Cost: Whether it’s lower web server costs, fewer employee hours to commit to maintenance and management, the web solutions listed below will generally lead to cost reductions. Many of the services mentioned are either free or significantly lower in cost than if you were to develop, manage and maintain them yourselves.
  • Generally Better: Third-party solutions are often built by innovative companies such as Google and Yahoo, who are highly regarded as experts in the products they offer. The research, talent and manpower they’re able to commit to solving problems are more than most companies can handle.
  • Faster/More Reliable Service: Companies such as Google and Yahoo have massive IT infrastructures and server farms to ensure that their services perform well and with little to no service interruption.
  • Data Security: If a site feature requires user data management (such as credit card information and phone numbers), the web solutions mentioned below are known to have great security features. If you lack data security expertise in your company, it might be a good idea to let companies that are better equipped to handle sensitive data handle information submitted to you. This also reduces the chance of data compromises due to insecure servers, or may lead to reducing costs related to data security — security audits, SSL certificates, security consultants and developers, and so forth.

Cons of Offloading


  • Potentially Slower Web Pages: Having an external website serve parts of your website could potentially slow down some of your pages, especially for features that are embedded in your web pages (such as contact forms). This is because whenever a widget from a third-party company is included in a webpage, it has to make a connection to the other company’s server — which could be located far away from your own.
  • Lack of Control: Site features that can be offloaded are typically customizable, but there will always be limits to your ability to customize them when compared to things that you manage yourself.
  • More Things to Worry About: Most of the web services discussed here require you to sign up for an account on their website. This means more information to deal with, more systems to learn and more time needed to keep track of stuff.
  • Privacy Concern: If a site feature requires user data to be submitted, you will not be able to completely oversee what happens to that data.

Now that you know the benefits and disadvantages of offloading your website features, let’s look at those web services that are most commonly offloaded.


1. E-Commerce Management System


Custom-built e-commerce systems can be costly — not only the upfront costs of having one developed, but also those incurred once it’s up and running. There are open source software apps like Magento that are far less costly than building your own system, but still, dealing with security and data privacy can be a nightmare. The complexity and robustness in features of typical e-commerce solutions can be taxing to your web servers (and your budget).

Check out the following excellent hosted e-commerce management systems below.

  • Shopify: With a client base that includes Amnesty International and Pixar, it’s no wonder that Shopify is regarded as the go-to for hosted e-commerce systems. It will deal with credit card transactions for you, has a user-friendly interface for managing your inventory and your e-store will be highly customizable so that you’re able to match your existing company brand. Plans start from $29 a month.
  • SolidShops: If you’re a big fan of 37Signals apps (e.g. Basecamp and Highrise), you’ll appreciate the simplicity and ease-of-use of the SolidShops interface. SolidShops is a newcomer in the hosted e-commerce space, so while it’s still in beta, it’s free to use. After beta, plans start at $29 a month.
  • E-junkie: If you deal with digital goods (such as e-books), E-junkie is the premier solution for you. E-junkie lets you embed a widget into your site for near-seamless integration. Plans start at $5 a month.
  • Wazala: Wazala promises that you’ll be able to build your very own e-commerce site in 15 minutes or less. Now that’s a promise we can all appreciate! Wazala can handle credit cards, or PayPal and Google Checkout for utmost convenience to your e-shoppers. Plans start at $9.95 a month.

2. Website Analytics


It’s impo
rtant to learn what users are doing on your site so that you can ensure optimal use and growth. However, having server-side statistics-gathering tools that you host yourself can be taxing on your web host and will not give you the benefits associated with using third-party services, such as integration with other products.

Here are three web analytics tools you can offload the work to.

  • Google Analytics: Google Analytics is highly regarded in the web marketing space because it’s free, has loads of features and reporting tools, integrates with other Google products and is easy to install.
  • ClickTale: If you would like visuals on what your website users are doing, check out ClickTale, a web analytics service that tracks and records user action. You can see where people are clicking on most (and thus, most fixated on), as well as watch videos of how users are interacting with your site. ClickTale has a free plan that records 300 user interactions, and paid plans start at $99 a month.
  • Yahoo Web Analytics: It’s hard to be trailing Google, but Yahoo has launched a wonderful analytics tool that rivals Google’s Analytics. Yahoo Web Analytics boasts near real-time analytics, whereas Google Analytics can take up to 24 hours to update your data. It has advanced data visualization tools to help you create images that you can use in reports and slideshow presentations.

3. Forums


Building a community has many benefits: It connects your customers with others, allows them to help themselves if they have a question about your product and can increase customer loyalty. However, maintaining your own forums on-site can be a burden to your web servers because of the amount of data interactivity that forums typically generate. Additionally, most self-hosted, open source solutions out there, such as phpBB, are notorious for being difficult to deploy and customize (this is spoken from experience in developing for these systems). Check out hosted solutions for community forums that will reduce your stress and headaches.

  • Ninja Post: With Ninja Post, you can get your very own forums up and running in no time. It has all the features you’d expect from a forums system with some nice perks like real-time thread updating, Twitter/Facebook integration, integration with Google Adsense, and more. Plans start at about $8 a month.
  • Nabble: Nabble is a free and simple tool for creating a basic forum. It allows you to embed your forum on your website, providing you with a tightly integrated solution.
  • ZetaBoards: ZetaBoards is a free, hosted forum web service with tons of awesome features, such as full customization (if you know some CSS), support for custom domains (so that the web address of your forums will match your website’s) and more.
  • Lefora: You can create a forum with Lefora, a free, hosted forum web service. It has beautiful features such as the ability to post images and videos, Facebook and Twitter integration, and a graphical user interface for the forum post editor so that your clients won’t need to deal with code and markup to format their posts.
  • ProBoards: ProBoards is a free, hosted forum web service that allows you to create your very own forum in seconds. It’s simple, customizable and even has an iPhone app that people can use to post on your forums.
  • Zoho Discussions: Zoho Discussions is a forum, customer support and customer feedback system all rolled into one. It’s fully customizable, has content discoverability features such as RSS feeds, search and SEO options, and more. The free plan is great for intranets, with the ability to have two forums and one moderator. The next plan starts at $12 a month and gives you the ability to have public forums, community statistics and increased file attachment limits (for users who would like to post images and videos, for example).

4. Site Search


Using a third-party site search has the benefit of using the technologies these search companies have developed to your advantage. Not only that, but it saves you from having to create/develop your own search feature and can cut some costs related to increased site interactivity and bandwidth usage due to users searching your site. Here are three awesome options for offloading the burden of site search.

  • Bing Box: Bing Box is a free, simple widget by Microsoft that will give your users the ability to search your site using Microsoft’s Bing search engine.
  • Google Custom Search: Google allows you to take its years of experience and excellence in the field of search and integrate it into your site. Using Google Custom Search is a snap, and you can get it set up within minutes.
  • Yahoo Search BOSS: Yahoo Search BOSS is a solution if you need a completely customizable search engine for your site because, unlike Google Custom Search, which retains a lot of Google’s branding, Search BOSS gives you utmost design flexibility. Not only that, but it doesn’t display ads in search results like Google Custom Search. The downside? You’ll need access to a web developer to get it up and running on your site; it’s not a copy/paste solution.

5. Contact Forms and Other Web Forms


Web forms are the bread and butter of website interaction. It is the primary way you can gather data from your users (aside from publishing your e-mail address, which can be clunky and lead to tons of spam). Contact forms can be tricky to set up and develop on your own and won’t nearly come close to the reporting/analytics features and ease-of-use that third-party form building web services have to offer. Here are a few to check out.

  • Google Docs Forms: Not many people take advantage of the fact that you can create embeddable web forms (for contact forms, registrations and online surveys) using Google Docs. What’s great about this web service, besides it being free, is that it integrates directly with the Google Docs office suite (such as its spreadsheets and documents).
  • Wufoo: Wufoo is a fun web form builder that is so simple to use. It allows file uploads/attachments (in case your web form user wants to upload pictures or PDFs, for example), it permits customization and takes the time to make sure your data is safe. Its free plan allows you to have up to three forms and 100 submissions per month.
  • JotForm: JotForm is a free web form builder that has a slick interface for you to take advantage of when buildi
    ng your web forms. You can even build payment forms with it (integrated with PayPal, Google Checkout, Authorize.net, and so forth).
  • Contactify: If you just need a simple contact form, check out Contactify, a free hosted solution for dealing with your website communication needs. It will reduce the spam you get from having to provide your e-mail address in public.

More Dev & Design Resources from Mashable:


HOW TO: Design & Program a Facebook Landing Page for Your Business
Learning Ruby: Expert Advice for Advanced Developers
10 Premium Tumblr Themes Worth Paying For
HOW TO: Get the Most From Crowdsourced Design Competitions
HOW TO: Get More Out of Your Fonts

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, kemie

More About: analytics, business, design, forums, Google, List, Lists, Search, small business, web apps, web design, Web Development, web forms, widgets, wufoo, Yahoo

For more Dev & Design coverage:




twitter republic image

Scott Gerber is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, public speaker and author of Never Get a “Real” Job: How to Dump Your Boss, Build a Business and Not Go Broke. The content for this post was sourced from the Young Entrepreneur Council, a group of successful Gen Y business owners. You can submit your questions to this group on NeverGetaRealJob.com.

To tweet or not to tweet. That is the question on many business owners’ minds.

For some, Twitter has proven to be a powerful way to engage customers and build a community. For others, tweeting has been nothing but a useless time suck. The fact is, most small business owners have no concept about how to use Twitter effectively. Many entrepreneurs simply produce and promote useless spam, while others over extend and over engage.

In order to teach business owners how to benefit from this tool, I asked a panel of successful young entrepreneurs how their entrepreneurial brethren can utilize Twitter to their advantage rather than to their dismay.


1. It’s A Social Tool


ashleyTwitter is an amazing tool to market and really interact with fans and customers. It gives you real-time conversation with them, but if you don’t interact and answer questions people have, it’s a complete turn off. There is a reason that it’s a ‘social media’ tool and the key word is ‘social.’ Don’t constantly shove information down their throats. Be social and see what your customers want or need.

– Ashley Bodi

Company URL: Business Beware

Twitter: @businessbeware


2. Avoid Insecurity Work


Ryan“Insecurity Work” is when you compulsively check your e-mail, website traffic, blog comments, etc., and it’s poison. Twitter is one of the most common causes of insecurity work that I see among young entrepreneurs. I suggest that you limit the time you spend on Twitter each day to less than a half hour. Remember: You don’t need to @Reply every single person that mentions your brand.

– Ryan Paugh

Company URL: www.ryanpaugh.com

Twitter: @paughginney


3. Engage With Your Followers


KrisAfter running Ruby Media Group, a social media and personal branding agency for over a year now, my best tip for using Twitter to market to customers and fans is to not market! This sounds contrary to everything traditional marketers know, but the best companies on Twitter create conversations with fans and become “followers” of their lives, making their product embedded into their daily lives.

– Kris Ruby

Company URL: Ruby Media Group

Twitter: @sparklingruby


4. Autoresponder


ElizabethI have an automatic responder using socialoomph.com set up so that when people “follow” me on Twitter they get a direct message regarding my website. For Schedule Makeover(TM) time coaching and training, the goal is to drive traffic to my newsletter signup.

– Elizabeth Saunders

Company URL: Schedule Makeover

Twitter: @RealLifeE

Facebook: Time Coaching


5. Provide Value and Get Software to Help


LucasThere are two goals you should have when using Twitter to market to customers: Establish yourself as an expert and deliver relevant valuable content. Post tips, advice and guidance that will help your potential customers. Once you get the content down on what you want to post, I recommend using software like Tweet Adder to help you manage your account and stay active with your followers.

– Lucas Sommer

Company URL: Audimated

Twitter: @audimated


6. Provide Relevant Information


AndersonTwitter is a brilliant tool to push information out to your customers and fans, but it is important to remember that Twitter is not about self-promotion. Be sure you’re engaging your customer base and starting a dialogue. Create genuine interaction and work to distribute information relevant to your customers. Using this approach will help you harness the power of Twitter.

– Anderson Schoenrock

Company URL: Scan Digital

Twitter: Scan Digital


7. Be Personal and Interesting


MattSeventy to eighty percent of your tweets should be informational, fun or personal in nature, and only 20 to 30% should be commercial. Retweet interesting links, useful articles and photos taken from your cell phone. For example, at SitePoint we recently tweeted about Movember mustaches, posted photos of 10 staff members who grew mustaches, and asked our Twitter followers and Facebook fans to vote on the best one.

– Matt Mickiewicz

Company URL: 99designs

Twitter: @sitepointmatt


8. Twitter Etiquette


HeatherFirst, understand that quality always trumps quantity when it comes to social media. One hundred evangelists far outweigh 100,000 mere “followers.” Second, follow Twitter etiquette: listen, be relevant, mind your brand, engage, and give more than you get.

– Heather Huhman

Company URL: Come Recommended

Twitter: @heatherhuhman



More Business Resources from Mashable:


5 Masterminds Redefining Social Media Marketing
24 Professional Events & Organizations for Social Media Strategists
The Future of the Social Media Strategist
7 Tips for Succeeding as a Social Media Strategist
HOW TO: Define the Role of Your Social Media Team

Image courtesy of Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

More About: business, entrepreneurs, small business, social media, startups, tips, twitter




icons image

The cold snap may not have “snapped,” but all that winter chill hasn’t prevented Mashable from churning out another set of social media tools and resources.

Have a read through resources below for a perspective on Wikipedia’s short life and it’s prospective future, or how videos games are helping social good. Tech & Mobile has some tips for Ruby and some odd Apple patents. Business offers up some case studies and how marketers can optimize crowdsourcing.

Looking for even more social media resources? This guide appears every weekend, and you can check out all the lists-gone-by here any time.


Social Media


For more social media news and resources, you can follow Mashable’s social media channel on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.


Tech & Mobile


For more tech news and resources, you can follow Mashable’s tech channel on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.


Business


For more business news and resources, you can follow Mashable’s business channel on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

Image courtesy of Webtreats

More About: business, facebook, Features Week In Review, List, Lists, Mobile 2.0, small business, social media, tech, technology, twitter