Anatomy of an Effective E-Commerce Website
March 16, 2018

Setting up and managing an e-commerce website to sell your company’s products involves a lot of work and knowledge of what might boost or bust your bottom line. While specific features and functionality requirements may vary depending on your type of business, some considerations are universally important.

A few of the must-have characteristics of an e-commerce website include:

  • Mobile friendly

According to data from Custora’s E-commerce Pulse, the share of mobile orders (phone and tablet) out of all e-commerce increased to 31 percent in 2016 (up from 29 percent in 2015). With more potential customers using mobile devices to buy products, it’s increasingly important to ensure your e-commerce site will deliver ease of use to desktop and mobile users alike. 

  • Easy to navigate

The easier you can make it for your website visitors to find and buy the products they’re looking for, the more likely you’ll convert those product searches into sales. Structure your e-commerce website so potential buyers can easily find what they want in as few clicks as possible, and make sure the checkout process is simple and straightforward. Also make it easy for visitors to find your refunds and exchange policy.

  • Transparency about shipping charges

Studies have shown that approximately 56% percent of shoppers abandon shopping carts because they discover unexpected costs at checkout. Consider disclosing shipping options and costs earlier rather than waiting until near the end of the checkout process. You might also think about finding a way to provide free shipping. With an increasing number of e-commerce sites offering to ship products for free, you may be at a disadvantage if you don’t extend this courtesy to buyers.

  • Search engine-optimized product descriptions that are also reader friendly

Brief, clear, well-written content with relevant key words will help visitors find your products quickly and learn what’s most important about them. Keep in mind content that consists of more than a few sentences may seem to go on forever on a smartphone screen. Make sure you’ve included product descriptions that give enough detail without becoming redundant and boring.

  • Professional images

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” How often have you heard that?

For an e-commerce website, a picture can mean thousands of dollars.

An image can make or break the sale online. Shoppers want to have a visual sense of what they’re buying online.

You’ll want to share images that bring out the best of your products. Consider contracting the help of a professional photographer who has experience in taking photographs for e-commerce websites.

If you’re looking to create an e-commerce website for your business, you can benefit from consultation with a website development and design professional who has experience with all that they entail. Also consider talking with a mentor at your local SCORE chapter. SCORE mentors have experience in all aspects of starting, managing, and marketing small businesses.

Since 1964, SCORE “Mentors to America’s Small Business” has helped more than 10 million aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners through mentoring and business workshops. More than 11,000 volunteer business mentors in over 320 chapters serve their communities through entrepreneur education dedicated to the formation, growth and success of small businesses. For more information about starting or operating a small business, call 1-800-634-0245 for the SCORE chapter nearest you. Visit SCORE at

Starting a new job off right
March 15, 2018

Get started on the right track with a new job by doing homework before the first day, getting a lay of the land, establishing a routine with supervisors, and meeting fellow employees.

According to Forbes, using this strategy will help to mitigate feeling overwhelmed and will show that a person is ready to be effective and perform at a high level.

Even before the job starts, it can be helpful to learn as much as possible about a company through annual reports, newsletters, and social media. Any big news, initiatives, or recent successes will be covered there and will serve as a starting point for future conversations. Contacting a boss ahead of the start time is another excellent way to get a handle on expectations and find out if any documents can be completed beforehand to save time.

During the first week or two, while everyone knows a person is new in the office, is the best time to get a feel for where everything is and how the organizational chart is laid out because there are no dumb questions at this stage. After this period wears off, veterans will have much less patience and enthusiasm for helping out.

Establishing a clear routine with an immediate supervisor is probably one of the most critical tasks for a new employee because every manager will have a different communication and leadership style. Don’t wait to find out what it is through trial and error, but instead ask up front how they would like to hear about progress and issues as well as give direction. Frequent check-ins, especially as projects are completed, ensures that the supervisor can provide immediate feedback and both parties can evaluate whether a workload is too light, too heavy, or just right.

Once all of the practical areas of a new job are explored, don’t forget to reach out and meet other people in the office. Having a group of peers as a support network will allow an employee to feel more comfortable at work, improve morale, and set the stage for networking opportunities.

Corporate experience aids small business owners
March 10, 2018

Many entrepreneurs are in a hurry to get away from corporate life to start their own small business but Inc. Magazine uses two ex-Goldman Sachs employees to explain that many of these same people will benefit greatly from their time at a large company. Rather than starting a business right out of college, or even during school, the exposure to a successful company’s people and processes will help provide a benchmark for solo success. Having a name that people recognize on a resume, meanwhile, might mean the difference between being funded or failing to launch in the future.

Large companies were once small businesses themselves, and the culture that formed the backbone of the initial startup was likely a significant reason for their success. Innovation and work ethic can all be a direct result of the culture of a business, and even if a potential entrepreneur doesn’t agree with the current state of affairs, it will be a point of reference from which to deviate.

Part of that company’s culture will have had something to do with performance, and it is likely that there are many incredibly talented people working in a large business that have accomplished great things during their careers. Not everyone wants to make it on their own, and these kinds of companies also draw bright young talent each year after college. Having these individuals as peers and mentors should not be discounted and provides a healthy dose of competitive spirit for the young up and comers.

A great culture of performance, armed with talented people, will drive systems to help secure the success of a large business well into the future and these processes are found within training programs, logistics, human resources, and every other part of running a vast enterprise. Having systems and processes are crucial if a business is going to scale past the initial stages and it is easy to lack appreciation and knowledge of this without seeing it firsthand.

Options For Making Your Small Business Website Mobile Friendly
March 9, 2018

With Google changing the game in April 2015 by giving better search results page ranking to mobile-friendly websites, many small businesses have cause for concern.

According to an infographic by Greater Rochester SCORE, 93.3 percent of small/medium business websites were not yet mobile friendly at the end of 2014.

That’s a big deal considering that in May 2015, Google announced more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers in the United States and nine other countries.

Trying to navigate through and view a website that doesn’t present well on a mobile device frustrates users and can create miss opportunities for your business.

If you’re unsure if your website is mobile friendly or not, you can run this quick test to determine that. If your website is not yet mobile friendly, you’re probably wondering about your options for making it so.

Here are three ways you can turn your website into one that will play well with mobile devices:

Develop a mobile version of your desktop website.

By using a conversion platform, your website developer can create a separate version of your website that will appear when someone views your site on a mobile device. This is a relatively quick way to make your website mobile friendly, but it has some drawbacks; you’ll need to maintain and update content on two separate websites and visitors on mobile devices may get frustrated because your website’s mobile version will likely not have the breadth of information that your desktop site has.

Use a mobile plugin for your site.

Popular website content management systems like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla) have plugins you can install to make your website mobile friendly without creating a version separate from your desktop website. For more information about how you might make your existing site mobile friendly using plugins, visit Google’s Mobile Guide, which provides links to software available for various website platforms.

Recreate your website using a responsive web design.

Responsive design takes a mobile-first approach and provides a solution that gives you one website with design and features that adapt to screens of various sizes (smartphones, tablets, etc.). From the start, it takes into account how design, content, features, and functionality must be incorporated to ensure a positive user experience regardless of whether your website is accessed from a mobile device or desktop computer.

Typically, the separate mobile version of a desktop site and the plugin options are viewed as temporary fixes while responsive design is considered a more permanent solution. Each solution has some pros and cons, so consider talking with a website design professional to determine what makes sense for you in the short- and long-term. Not sure where to turn? Contact your local SCORE chapter for guidance and resources to help you with all aspects of starting and growing your small business.

Since 1964, SCORE “Mentors to America’s Small Business” has helped more than 10 million aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners through mentoring and business workshops. More than 11,000 volunteer business mentors in over 320 chapters serve their communities through entrepreneur education dedicated to the formation, growth and success of small businesses. For more information about starting or operating a small business, call 1-800-634-0245 for the SCORE chapter nearest you. Visit SCORE at


Crowdfunding Dos and Don’ts for Small Businesses
March 8, 2018

For startup entrepreneurs experiencing difficulty—or exasperation—in trying to get financing for their businesses via traditional means, crowdfunding offers an alternative.

Crowdfunding can be an effective way to raise capital—and public awareness—when launching or growing a small business. Rather than approaching a single lender to make a significant loan to your business (which you will most likely need to personally guaranty), crowdfunding platforms give you a way to leverage your network of friends, family, social media connections, and the public at large to obtain significant capital in small increments.

It’s a collective online effort that can expand your professional network and introduce your business to potential customers.

Crowdfunding for businesses presently comes in three primary forms:

  • Rewards-based crowdfunding (such as via Kickstarter and Indiegogo)
  • Equity crowdfunding (such as via CircleUp)
  • Peer-to-peer lending (such as via Lending Club)

Equity crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending are governed by a complicated web of federal and state securities laws, while rewards-based crowdfunding is generally exempt from those laws. This article focuses primarily on rewards-based crowdfunding.

According to SCORE mentor and Portland Maine business attorney Chris Dargie, rewards-based crowdfunding has rapidly become an accepted way to raise capital for small businesses.

“Traditionally, companies raised capital by issuing debt or equity,” said Dargie. “Rewards-based crowdfunding introduced a completely new alternative. The model has shown that the public is willing to contribute capital to worthy projects without any expectation of future profit, which is quite revolutionary.”

To help make a rewards-based crowdfunding effort successful, Dargie offers these dos and don’ts:


  • Understand the differences between rewards-based crowdfunding, equity crowdfunding, and peer-to-peer lending. With rewards-based crowdfunding, you are only promising your backers some sort of token incentive and the risks are more limited.

Whereas with equity crowdfunding, you are giving up equity and the risks can be substantial. With peer-to-peer lending, the business is taking on debt that it is legally obligated to pay back.

  • Pick the right platform for your rewards-based campaign. You should not automatically default to Kickstarter or Indiegogo, as there may be better options. Remember, crowdfunding is a form of marketing, and you want to be where your customers are.
  • Follow through on your promises. Watchdog groups and state and federal consumer protection bureaus have begun to shift their attention to deceptive crowdfunding campaigns.

“There is an inherent risk of consumer fraud in these campaigns,” said Dargie, “and businesses should be prepared to deliver on their commitments if they want to minimize their risk of legal liability.”


  • Fail to manage the expectations of your campaign’s backers. Delays in business are a fact of life and usually only become a problem when the company fails to keep its backers in the loop.
  • Launch a campaign without the liability protection of a properly formed business entity.

 “You don’t want to be left holding the bag personally if your business has spent all the money on development and has nothing to show for it at the end, and the backers want their money back,” said Dargie.

  • Forget about taxes. Proceeds raised from rewards-based crowdfunding campaigns are usually treated as taxable income to the business. For this reason, Dargie advises businesses to consult with their tax advisors before embarking on a crowdfunding campaign.

Before you decide to launch a crowdfunding campaign for your business, consider reaching out to the local SCORE chapter near you. SCORE mentors have expertise in all aspects of starting and running a business and can help you determine the effective ways to reach your business’s goals and objectives.

Since 1964, SCORE “Mentors to America’s Small Business” has helped more than 10 million aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners through mentoring and business workshops. More than 11,000 volunteer business mentors in over 320 chapters serve their communities through entrepreneur education dedicated to the formation, growth and success of small businesses. For more information about starting or operating a small business, call 1-800-634-0245 for the SCORE chapter nearest you. Visit SCORE at



Financing Options For Small Businesses
March 2, 2018

For many start-ups, funding their businesses stands as one of the key obstacles to getting their companies off the ground and moving forward. According to the SBA Office of Advocacy, small businesses seek financing for four primary reasons:

1) Starting a business
2) Purchasing inventory
3) Expanding the business
4) Strengthening the business

What approach to funding will best suit the intent and needs of your small business? Understanding what types of financing is available is a good first step in figuring that out.

There are two major categories of financing—debt and equity—and other options exist as well.

Debt Financing

This involves borrowing money that you must repay (usually with interest) over a period of time. Generally, some or all assets of your business will be used to secure the loans. To protect them from default on a loan, lenders commonly require borrowers to personally guarantee repayment (i.e., to have a sufficient personal interest at stake).

Banks have been the major source of small business debt financing, but some have become more reluctant to offer long-term loans to smaller companies because of the risk involved. Fortunately, the Small Business Administration’s SBA 7(a) program has helped fill the void by encouraging banks to issue long-term loans to small businesses unable to get financing on reasonable terms through conventional lending sources.

Equity Financing

With equity financing (or equity capital), a small business raises money by offering shares of ownership in the business. Investors’ equity investments give them ownership stakes in the business and allow them to share in the company’s profits.

Equity capital may come from a variety of sources—such as your own personal savings, your life insurance policy, family, friends, employees, customers, government grants, venture capitalists, or angel investors.

Equity investors will naturally expect to get a return on their investments. Some might also require that they have a hand in your company’s decision-making.

Other Funding Options

These other financing and cost-sharing options also exist.

  • Partnerships
  • Joint ventures
  • Alliances
  • Crowdfunding

And you might also consider researching business incubators. While they typically don’t offer cash, they do provide some combination of valuable support in the way of free or discounted administrative services, an affordable workspace, shared office equipment, and even management guidance.

If you’re seeking funding to start or grow your small business, reach out to your local SCORE chapter for guidance. SCORE mentors have expertise in all aspects of business, and they can help guide you to resources that might best fit your financing needs. Also, check out the free Financing For Small Businesses e-learning course on the SBA website.

Since 1964, SCORE “Mentors to America’s Small Business” has helped more than 10 million aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners through mentoring and business workshops. More than 11,000 volunteer business mentors in over 320 chapters serve their communities through entrepreneur education dedicated to the formation, growth and success of small businesses. For more information about starting or operating a small business, call 1-800-634-0245 for the SCORE chapter nearest you. Visit SCORE at

Work Notes: Networking in large companies
March 1, 2018

New job? Take enough time to get acclimated but start early to build a network of company contacts.

At a firm with only a dozen employees, it is easy to meet everyone at once and get a quick read on company culture. At larger firms, networking is essential to gain a greater understanding, not only of culture, but also the business as a whole.
Many large companies have onboarding events and these are excellent opportunities to meet fellow newcomers and veterans alike.

But after the meet-and-greet is over, most people can benefit from knowing a wider group of people within a company. It’s not about office politics — or it shouldn’t be, according to SkillSource founder Jennifer V Miller. Knowing a wide group within a large company can add value if you are willing to lend a hand where necessary.

Lunch dates are useful for meeting people. Ask peers to invite people from different departments.

Stay in touch with promotions and awards in the companies. Drop an email of congratulations, even if you don’t know the person well.

When you do meet new people, encourage them to do a short infomercial on their roles.

What is the blockchain technology behind bitcoin?
February 27, 2018

Massive surges in the value of bitcoin have people buzzing about blockchain technology, the power of cryptocurrencies, which might seem unnecessarily mysterious.

According to Investopedia, it isn’t as complicated as it might seem. Blockchain, the technology that powers bitcoin, is just a system to record transactions.

Unlike traditional record keeping, blockchain doesn’t use a third party, such as a credit card company, to validate these transactions. Instead, it uses thousands of computers spread out across the globe.

The technology does this by making copies of the entire blockchain that are downloaded by all nodes participating in the system. Each copy contains a record of every transaction that has ever been made, which addresses were involved, and when it happened. Once data is added to the blockchain, it cannot be changed and thus serves as an excellent record of account backed up securely across a decentralized network. As new transactions occur, every computer gets to work verifying them and adding them as a block to the existing chain, giving the technology its name. These new blocks are added to the chain about once every ten minutes and newly minted bitcoin are given to these users, or miners, as a reward for helping the blockchain progress. This process takes more computing power and energy to complete over time as the number of existing bitcoins starts to approach the maximum total allowed.

As the Harvard Business Review explains, many people are excited about blockchain because of the potential it holds for a variety of industries in markets. It can serve as an open, distributed ledger that any two groups can use to verify transactions with a permanent record of events. Any of these transactions could be searched for, validated, and shared when necessary and could dramatically reduce the number of human resources required to handle the data. As an example, it currently takes microseconds to execute a typical stock trade online, and it needs little or no action on the part of a human. Settling the new ownership of the stock, however, can take days as both parties must consult their individual ledgers, verify the terms of the sale, and finally record the transaction. Using blockchain in this situation could expedite the process and cut out the inefficient middlemen.

The blockchain is still in its early stages of adoption, and there is still a lot of potential for this technology to make a significant impact on a variety of markets. Only time will tell how quickly and how big that effect will become.

Ransomware threat grows; small businesses at risk
February 25, 2018

A recent uptick in hackers using ransomware to take their victims’ data hostage means that organizations should aggressively move to back up data — and teach employees how hackers work.

According to PC Magazine, in a ransomware attack criminals deploy malicious code through email or websites. The code then encrypts computer data so that the company can no longer access it. Criminals then demand payment for unlocking it.

The technique has been very successful. Ransomware reports rose 35-fold from the last quarter of 2015 to the first quarter of 2016. Some extremely high profile cases have made big news, such as the U.K.’s National Health Service data that cost the organization $100,000 in ransom and an estimated $1 billion in damages.

However, small businesses are just as likely — or more likely — to have a ransomware attack. In fact, according to PC magazine, some criminals exclusively target small businesses, which rarely have the IT resources in place to prevent such attacks. One attack on a small business can not only disrupt commerce, but likely poison relationships with larger companies.

Employees themselves are often responsible for letting the hackers in by downloading malicious files through email. These email attachments can masquerade as innocuous pdfs, but, in fact, they are executable programs. No one should ever click on an attachment in email if they do not recognize the sender.

Even legitimate websites can often host malicious programs and one visit to such a website can mean ransomware infection. Malicious links are one way these programs take over. Users should never click links or popups to update extensions, for example.

Preparation is key. Constantly update all computers. Updates might be a pain, but they are critical since updates often address security issues. Cybercriminals love old operating systems. They know how they work. They may not know yet how to compromise the newest and best systems.

Experts recommend deploying so-called hosted endpoint security to manage computers, networks and mobile devices. These inexpensive programs are provided by companies such as F-secure, Webroot Secure, and Avast.

Finally, a great step to take in avoiding ransomware involves finding a backup solution to fall back on in case the defenses fail and the data is already being held for ransom. Sophisticated solutions exist that allow a company to maintain several layers of backups that can be rolled back to a time before hackers compromised the data just like nothing ever happened.

If you are attacked, should you pay? Experts say no — easy to say but not easy to do if you are facing catastrophic data loss. But remember, these are criminals. There is no guarantee they will restore your systems after you pay and every chance they won’t.

Eight Considerations Investors Look At When Deciding Whether Or Not To Fund Your Small Business
February 23, 2018

Before someone decides to provide financing for your small business, he or she will want to assess the likelihood of your success. Investors want to avoid excessive risk and put their dollars where they stand to gain financially. As they evaluate the opportunity to fund your business, they’ll consider a number of details and characteristics. The more prepared you are to demonstrate the feasibility of your business idea and your capabilities as a business owner, the better your chances of convincing investors to put their confidence in you.

Among the many considerations that may go into an investor’s “yes” or “no” decision to fund your business are:

  • Business plan – As an outline of your goals and how you intend to achieve them, a business plan serves as the roadmap for your business. A well-thought out, well-researched business plan shows you have done your due diligence and are taking your venture seriously.
  • Business model – Your business model is the framework of how your business will operate. It serves to provide a view into how your company will generate revenue and make a profit. Prospective investors will want to ensure it seems sustainable and agile to last long term. Business models often include various assumptions about your business including activities your business will engage in, revenue sources, sales channels, customer base, business resources (such as property, website, customer lists, etc.), suppliers/vendors, value proposition, cost structures, and more.
  • Gross margin – This is the difference between your revenue and your cost of goods sold. It’s represented as the percent of total sales revenue after your direct costs for producing your products or services. Gross margin is a much better indicator of whether or not a business has staying power than looking at revenue alone. What’s deemed healthy varies from industry to industry, so investors will take that into account when considering your business’s gross margin.
  • Strength of your brand – If you have an established business, investors will also consider the viability of your brand. Is it well known to your target market and how much of that target market has it penetrated? Is it easy to differentiate from your competition?
  • Sales funnel – Investors will also want to know what opportunities to generate income you have in your sales funnel. Not only will the quantity make an impression, but investors will also have an interest in the quality of those prospects.
  • Personal and business credit history – If these are in good order, it will reflect more favorably on your sense of responsibility and accountability in the eyes of investors.
  • Professional valuation – With a third party providing an expert estimation of what your company is worth, you’ll have an unbiased appraisal to share with investors.
  • Your professionalism – Investors will want to know the company is in capable hands. If you present yourself professionally, showing up on time with all paperwork and records organized and up to date, you’ll exude confidence and competence.

In addition to what we’ve mentioned here, other factors might also influence an investor’s decision. The key to a successful pitch is to put the time and effort required to research, plan, and prepare. For guidance and feedback as you work through the process, contact your local SCORE chapter to talk with a small business mentor. Mentoring is free of charge. With knowledge about and experience in all aspects of operating small businesses in diverse industries, SCORE mentors can serve valuable resources as you start and grow your company.

Since 1964, SCORE “Mentors to America’s Small Business” has helped more than 10 million aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners through mentoring and business workshops. More than 11,000 volunteer business mentors in over 320 chapters serve their communities through entrepreneur education dedicated to the formation, growth and success of small businesses. For more information about starting or operating a small business, call 1-800-634-0245 for the SCORE chapter nearest you. Visit SCORE at