From Inc.com: Top 5 Ecommerce Platforms of 2017

If you’re an entrepreneur looking to start up an e-commerce business or a small business owner looking for e-commerce solutions to either begin selling online or as a means to scale up and grow your business, here are the top five e-commerce platforms for 2017, according to popular business news website Inc.com:

1. Shopify

Shopify hosts over 325,000 active online shops and with its focus on social commerce and mobile shopping, the platform continues to evolve to meet the growing requirements of online stores.

The Benefits of Shopify are:

  • Over 100 store templates (themes) to choose from
  • 1500+ apps (plugins/extensions) to extend the store’s functionality
  • Ability to connect your online store with your Facebook page and sell directly on Facebook
  • Built in mobile-friendly shopping cart and seller mobile apps (and Shopify provides a platform to connect store owners with app developers for the development of their store’s app)
  • 24/7 support via live chat, phone and tutorials as well as the Shopify community forum

Despite these advantages, there are some important downsides with the platform. First, if you don’t use Shopify Payment, there will be an additional transaction fee on every sale. Plus, many of the extensions for additional functionality aren’t free, so, running your store on Shopify might cost a little more than you expected. Lastly, Shopify has its own coding language called ‘Liquid’, so any customization in the system comes at an additional expense.

When is Shopify a good choice?

For beginners with conventional requirements, Shopify remains the ideal ecommerce solution. Based on your budget requirements, you can choose different packages which range from $29 to $299/month. But if you have unique features and functionalities in mind for your store, it might be better to look elsewhere.

2. BigCommerce

Launched in 2009, BigCommerce currently hosts over 55,000 online stores and is among the leading ecommerce software providers. From big names like Martha Stewart & Toyota to SMEs, the platform ideally caters to stores of all sizes. And considering the comprehensive list of built in features it offers, BigCommerce is often considered the best option for those who have little to no technical knowledge, or simply don’t have time to mess with the code.

For an even more in depth view, see my interview with Brent Bellm, CEO of BigCommerce:

The Benefits of BigCommerce are:

  • Extensive built in features including newsletters, coupons, shipping, tax, analytics, and more
  • Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce charges no transaction fee
  • All free and paid themes are responsive and offer a smooth mobile experience
  • Integrate your store with Facebook, eBay, Google shopping and a range of comparison sites
  • Powerful support with extremely helpful setup wizard, educational videos, and extensive guides with visual representations

One concern with BigCommerce is the lack of free themes. Currently it offers only 7 free themes, while most of their immediate competitors offer more than 20 free themes. However, the platform has a comprehensive list of premium themes, and it also allows customization of these themes if you want to give your store an entirely unique look and feel.

When should you go with BigCommerce?

If you want a full-fledged store, but don’t want the hassles of integrating plug-ins, editing HTML/CSS or other code, then BigCommerce is definitely the go-to ecommerce platform for you. If you are willing to compromise a bit on themes, then BigCommerce is a strong alternative to Shopify at roughly the same pricing (BigCommerce’s plans are between $29 and $199/month) without the incremental transaction fees.

3. Magento

With almost one-fourth of the market share, Magento is often considered the market leader among ecommerce platforms. For its reliability and scalability, many popular brands use Magento as the underlying technology for their online stores, including Burger King, Huawei, Pepe Jeans & Liverpool F.C. This platform is considered the best ecommerce platform for enterprise level online stores.

For an even more in-depth view, see my interview with Mark Lavelle, CEO of Magento.

The Benefits of Magento are:

  • Good user experience: easy to use and manage
  • Open source platform and therefore open to all sorts of customization
  • 9000+ plugins/extensions to scale your business
  • Free extensions that enable social commerce so you can sell on social media platforms
  • Extensive resource library for store management, growth, demos, and online community of store owners as well as plugin developers you can tap for help

One of the critical factors associated with Magento is the pricing of its versions. The basic Community version is free, while the advanced Enterprise version costs a minimum $20,000/year. Needless to say, the Community version is no match for the Enterprise version, which offers many built in high-end features such as customer segmentation, a support module, 24/7 support and a much more.

Additionally, the flexible, open source nature of the platform also makes it quite complex, so you need very competent developers for customization. So even with the Community version -considering hosting, SSL, extensions, customization, etc. – it will likely cost you significant time and money to get your ecommerce store exactly as you want it.

When is Magento the ideal solution?

Magento is considered the right ecommerce platform for enterprise-level merchants with a large volume of products. Given the complexity of store setup and management with Magento, the platform is not recommended for beginners.

4. YoKart

With its feature richness and smart pricing models, YoKart is built with a specific focus on helping startups build ecommerce ecosystem easily. Think of it as the one-stop solution for launching multi-vendor stores like eBay and Etsy. Although many other ecommerce platforms also provide their multi-vendor version, YoKart does this seamlessly.

The Benefits of YoKart are:

  • A ready-to-launch multi-vendor marketplace solution
  • Other than the framework, you own the source code and can customize the portal to your requirements
    • YoKart is built on an encrypted framework. Which means that customization would require knowledge of that framework. In general, an experienced PHP developer would quickly understand the framework and how to modify it as needed.
  • Mobile-friendly platform and a dedicated Android app for marketplaces
  • Same features across all pricing packages (briefed below)
  • Comprehensive manuals for store owners and merchants, video tutorials, FAQs, and 12-month free support for store management

Being a relatively new entrant in the industry, there are no third-party extensions currently available for YoKart. But the system offers built in analytics tool, over a dozen supported payment gateways, rewards and discount coupon management features. A big drawback, however, is its lack of social commerce capabilities, meaning that that it currently lacks the features to allow merchants to sell on Facebook and other social media platforms.

When is YoKart the right ecommerce platform?

For multi-vendor stores such as eBay and Etsy, YoKart is a great choice. Its startup package is a hosted solution with one-year license, which costs $250 and allows startups to verify their business model. The advanced version is self-hosted, customizable, costs $999 (one time), and is intended for companies who have a sound business model. Switching from a startup to an advanced package is also quite easy.

5. Big Cartel

With the slogan ‘We believe in the artist’, Big Cartel targets artists & other small-scale home-based businesses run by individuals. The platform claims to have helped over a million artists in selling their creations online since it launched in 2005. This extremely simple to use hosted system is often regarded as the best ticket for artists and other creative people to enter the ecommerce arena.

The Benefits of Big Cartel are:

  • Extremely simple to setup a store and manage it
  • Facebook shop access
  • Aesthetically sound themes
  • WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) code editor to customize your theme including HTML, CSS & JavaScript
  • Comprehensive Help Center (detailed guides & FAQs), useful video tutorials, support via email, and Big Cartel’s Facebook & Twitter accounts

The simplicity of Big Cartel also results in limited functionality, which is definitely a downside for those who want to do more than just sell products. Big Cartel’s theme library is limited to 12 themes, out of which only 2 are responsive (meaning optimized for mobile devices). There are limited add-ons; however, store owners can get access to 500+ apps via Zapier integration.

These challenges are due to the fact that Big Cartel targets a very specific segment, so, some of them can be overlooked. Currently, it only offers social commerce for Facebook. Given its target audience (artists & creative individuals), it will likely include other social networks in the future (or at least it should).

When Big Cartel is the right ecommerce solution?

As stated previously, this platform is ideal for individual artists and creative people (not for typical retailers). With its simplistic stores and economical pricing ($0 to $29.99/month), Big Cartel allows artists to sell things online easily with a good-looking website, thereby allowing artist to focus on creating things instead of managing their online store.

What do you think? Have you ever heard of any of these solutions or perhaps, utilize one? Let us know in the comments below!

14 Useful Tools Every Entrepreneur Needs

Sometimes, the entrepreneur tries to do it all by themselves especially sole-proprietors. This can apply a lot of pressure to a small business owner and considering that they typically have little-to-no outside assistance, sole-proprietors need tools to help them reduce the time they spend on everyday or mundane tasks.

Besides, the more time the entrepreneur is able to free up, not only is it a godsend, but it allows the sole-proprietor the ability to maximize their time and creative potential in order to help their business venture grow and mature.

1. WISESTAMP

WiseStamp makes it remarkably easy to create a professional email signature that will show your picture and automatically give recipients all your contact information, including links to your website and social media pages. There are several ways to customize the process that is all entirely free. For additional options, the site offers a yearly subscription.

2. WORKFLOW MAX

Workflow Max offers everything you need in a single integrated platform. This tool can be used on the computer or on whatever smart device you prefer. You can handle everything from lead and client management to invoicing and time sheets, job costing, purchase orders and more. There are more than 30 add-ons you can use to adjust the workflow as needed.

3. ZAPIER

Zapier lets you automate tasks easily by teaching more than 750 apps to work together. The free plan allows you to build individual connections and create basic automation, while the premium plan allows greater customization of the automation processes.

4. SHAKE

Shake by Legal Shield provides free templates that can be filled in with your specific information and sent to clients or collaborators to sign electronically and return. There is absolutely no cost when you use one of Shake’s free templates, or you can upgrade to the monthly plan to make extensive customizations. For most people just starting out, the free plan will be more than sufficient.

5. SQUARE

Square gives you the ability to take secure payments anywhere you are and has zero fees to get set up. The company will send interested individuals the hardware that attaches to a smart device for free and then keeps 2.75 percent of any transaction that is completed. This gives entrepreneurs the ability to accept debit and credit cards from wherever they have the opportunity to make a sale.

6. ADOBE SPARK

If you’ve read anything about using social media to grow your business, you already know how important it is to have high-quality graphics that are designed for the platform you are using. Adobe Spark lets you do this for free. The premade templates are sized appropriately for whichever platform you are designing for, and the site also gives you the ability to create a stunning video with virtually no prior experience.

7. HOOTSUITE

Hootsuite makes managing all of your social media accounts as easy as delegating the process to a virtual assistant. The free version lets you connect three social media accounts, schedule messaging and see basic analytics information. Plans are available for people who need to organize more accounts and for those who already have a team.

8. GETRESPONSE

Email marketing and connecting to prospective clients through those efforts is incredibly important to effectively grow your business. GetResponse helps businesses do this for as little as $15 per month and includes 1,000 subscribers. As the business grows, higher-tier levels are available within the service. Every company, no matter how small, can benefit from gorgeously designed functional email marketing. Plus, you get landing pages and marketing automation, too. Higher-tier plans include additional features, like webinars, Salesforce integration and campaign consulting.

9. GRAMMARLY

Solopreneurs often begin by doing everything themselves, including writing their own copy for email, social media, website pages and advertising materials. This is an effective way to keep initial costs low, but not all entrepreneurs have the requisite skill set to write beautiful copy. Grammarly evens the playing field by catching grammatical and punctuation mistakes often overlooked by word processor applications. The free version also allows you to check for plagiarism, to make sure nothing you’ve read for research accidentally makes its way into your finished product. The upgrade option catches more details.

[Editor’s Note: I have this installed myself and while it is sometimes useful at catching minor grammar mistakes, I find it to be intrusive and annoying more often than not. In addition, this app really pushes for the user to upgrade to the premium version far more than I would like.]

10. WISEINTRO

WiseIntro is a free way to build your online presence without any startup costs. As you gain traction and need more options, it is easy to upgrade to one of the tool’s monthly plans to unlock additional features. This is an especially good choice for entrepreneurs. This is because of the strong visual component they have to their work and their need to show prospective clients exactly what they can do while still avoiding — at this early stage — having to pay a graphic designer to create a custom website.

11. SIGHTED

Sighted is an online invoicing tool perfect for freelancers and entrepreneurs. The free plan is perfect for a small business, offering 20 invoices per month in multiple currencies, for up to 10 clients. As the business scales, paid plans (starting at $4.99 a month) allow for unlimited invoices, expenses and 100 or more clients. All plans feature the ability to accept online payments and include a profit and loss report to make tax time a little easier.

12. EVERNOTE

Evernote is a place to store all of those ideas, pictures, mind maps and other assorted information that you want to remember. It can be accessed from a smart device or computer, and when you input something in one location, it will be available from all of your devices instantly. This is a great tool for any planning you do on the go, and it comes with a ton of free storage. If you find yourself relying on it as an extension of your own memory, you can upgrade to a plan with more storage.

[Editor’s Note: I’ve tried EverNote before and found that I disliked the interface and felt like there are a lot of features missing. I’ve since moved to OneNote as my notetaking tool of choice and haven’t looked back.]

13. PORTENT TITLE MAKER

Everyone gets stuck with creating a catchy title for a blog post or article at some point. Portent’s Title Maker takes your keyword and turns it into an interesting heading to give you a jumping-off point for your next piece of content. This tool can even help generate ideas for newsletters, brochures, and emails.

14. ASSISTANT.TO

Just because you are a entrepreneurs doesn’t mean you want to do every single task for yourself. Most businesses owners would agree that having a secretary to take care of details is essential. Unfortunately, it isn’t affordable for everyone just starting out. Assistant.to sets up your appointments by working with your email recipient, automatically adjusting time zones and even rescheduling meetings if something comes up.

 

What do you think? Have you tried any of these solutions yourself? Sound off in the comments below!

 

Source: Entrepreneur.com

Great Marketing Software for Any Small Business

If you are like me, you are constantly looking for a fantastic solution for your small business in order to solve complicated problems. Often, it is difficult as a small business owner to balance everything on your plate that is required to grow your business.

Below are some fantastic solutions that will help grow your business, increase your outreach and engagement, and help grow your brand. Many, like SalesForce and MailChimp, are leaders in their respective industries. Let’s dive in!

From Inc.com (source):

Salesforce

Before you get started, it’s important to have a scalable Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system in place. As the best-known platform in this market segment, Salesforce is an ideal option for any business hoping to access a multi-featured solution. In addition to numerous modules for sales, marketing, and contact management, Salesforce integrates with many of the other tools businesses use today. This means that as your business adds new applications to help manage operations, you’ll be able to utilize the information you’ve collected within Salesforce.

 

Optify

It can sometimes feel as though you’re taking shots in the dark with your marketing efforts. Optify can provide the feedback you need with each of your online efforts. Your website will be benchmarked against others in your industry, with feedback helping you determine areas where you can improve. Advanced analytics will give you all the information you need about those who visit your website, including the sites referring those visitors and what actions they take once they arrive at your site. This information could be just what you need as you start a new marketing campaign.

 

MailChimp

Email is usually an integral part of reaching out to new and existing customers. MailChimp is one of the best ways to manage your email marketing campaigns. You can choose from a wide variety of professionally-designed templates to make your messages more attractive. You’ll also enjoy tools that help you monitor results, conduct A/B testing, and automate follow-up emails.

 

HubSpot

HubSpot is designed to support businesses in their marketing efforts, consolidating their various activities into one central dashboard. One of the best features of HubSpot, however, is its training resources. Professionals can take courses and even get certified in various marketing skills through the site. The end result will be that you’ll be able to craft a marketing strategy like you’re a pro.

 

Referral Rock

Often the best way to get the word out about what you’re doing is through your own network. Referral Rock integrates with a business’s existing systems to build a referral network that gets results. Using this tool, you can create and manage referral programs and monitor results. You can automate workflows so that follow-up emails are sent based on the action customers took on previous emails.

 

SalesAutoPilot

If you run an ecommerce business, SalesAutopilot has a marketing automation solution designed especially for your needs. Through this tool, you can run surveys and polls, send market-segmented email messages, and measure results. You can also manage your product inventory and create order forms.

 

Followerwonk

Boosting your social media audience can help amplify each message you create and send. Followerwonk is a tool from Moz that helps you identify followers who are most likely to be interested in the type of content you offer. You can also research your existing followers to learn more about their interests and goals to better identify the type of content you should be sharing. This has the added benefit of giving you the insight you can use when searching for new followers.

 

Hootsuite

Staying active on social media takes time, and time is one commodity many entrepreneurs lack. Hootsuite can help you monitor posts across various social media accounts. You can schedule posts to go live on multiple platforms at once, giving you the convenience of writing all of your social media messages at a time that works best for your schedule. You can also schedule posts to go live at a time when your followers are most likely to see them, rather than when you happen to be online.

 

LeadGenius

Businesses can spend hours looking for the right contacts for their email campaigns and marketing efforts. LeadGenius uses publicly-available information to build robust contact databases, giving teams the names of people who are likely to be interested. This makes each effort more effective, helping teams avoid wasting time. You’ll also be able to measure results to continue to hone your marketing campaigns.

With the right software in place, professionals can ensure every marketing effort gets results. It can be difficult to find the perfect solution with the many tools available, but careful research can help a leader find the right software

Source: Inc.com

 

What do you think? Have you tried any of these solutions yourself? Sound off in the comments below!