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Understand Your Target Market: 3 Steps to Creating Customer Personas

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 09:00

Your product or service is intended for a particular group of people, right? Whether your customers are commuters, busy moms, fashion bloggers, or families needing dental care, your business appeals to a target market. You may have a grasp on your customers, but how well do actually know them?

Digging into the depths of your target market by creating customer personas or profiles can help ensure your product and marketing efforts are strategic and on point. According to Wikipedia, personas are defined as fictional characters created to represent the different user types that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way.

How do you create customer personas? Some business owners go off a gut feeling, however, unless you have psychic powers, it’s best to conduct some simple research. There’s a lot of information on the topic, so we’ve narrowed it down to three simple steps to help you pull together the framework of personas for your business. 

Step #1: Interview and/or survey your customers

Interviews and surveys can provide some of the most valuable feedback about your customers. One-on-one interviews provide the most in-depth infromation because you can get clarification or expand upon questions. Survey services like Survey Monkey allow you to sample a larger group given one-on-one interviews aren’t very scalable.

When interviewing or surveying customers, your questions will obviously vary depending on your industry (retail vs. service-based, or B2B). Here are some topics we explored when considering our customer personas:

  • How they found our company (referral, word-of-mouth, internet, an ad, social etc.)
  • Why they bought from us (good price, excellent service, unique offering, etc.)
  • Their level of technical experience (This, again, depends on your industry.)
  • Company information (size, type, industry, etc.)
  • Demographic information (age, gender, household income, etc.)
  • Location
  • What challenges they face
  • What problem our product or service solves for them
  • How our sales process was (easy, hard, middle of the road)

Asking these types of questions can help you start to see themes in your customer base as you move on to step 2.

Step #2: Dive into the data

Once you’ve gathered enough data from interviews and/or surveys, bucket your findings into different groupings. More than likely, you’ll start to see patterns. As certain characteristics start to bubble up, your personas will start to take shape.

Step #3: Develop the personas

You can start with around 3-5 personas. Use a persona template like the one found below from Orange Bus. Fill in the blanks with your data, create a name and even give your persona a picture to bring it to life. 

There are several persona frameworks you can create or choose from – check out these examples

For more information on creating customer personas, check out The Beginner’s Guide to Marketing Personas written by Kevan Lee of Buffer.

These three steps should help set you on a course to better understanding your customers’ motivations, challenges and the problems your business helps solve for them. Then you can take that information and create marketing content that best serves their needs.

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Understand Your Target Market: 3 Steps to Creating Customer Personas appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Top 10 Email Eyesores You Should Avoid

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 07:00

We’ve all seen ‘em. Emails that are so ugly, you ask yourself, “What were they thinking?” Nobody wants to send an ugly email, but it happens.

To avoid major email eyesores, here’s a list of flaws or faux pas you should avoid when creating your emails.

1. An email template that isn’t mobile-friendly

Sending an email that doesn’t render properly on a smartphone or tablet can be a waste of time for both the sender, as well as the reader. It’s frustrating for a reader to shift from vertical to horizontal while simultaneously pinching the screen to zoom in. After that experience, an impression of a sender’s business can be less than positive.

Hint: VerticalResponse email templates are fully-responsive so they look great on any device.

We also have more mobile-friendly design tips in this recent post.

2. Typos or grammatical errors

It’s always a turn off to see a perfectly good email marred by a misspelling. If caught, it’s a definite distraction to what you really want to convey in your message. It’s always a good idea to send a test message to yourself as well as someone else. Getting a second pair of eyes on your email can help you catch any of those unwelcome typos.

3. Font style overload

Using several or even a few different font styles within the same email can be overwhelming to a reader. Only use on or maybe two different fonts in your email to keep it looking clean and consistent.

4.  Color explosion

Using a rainbow of color choices in an email can be jarring to the reader. Whether it’s the color for your text or the background color, you should select colors that match your brand’s image.  If you need to use multiple colors, make sure they complement each other. For more info, learn about the psychology of colors.

5. Too much going on syndrome

In order to understand the main message or call to action, overly busy emails cause a reader’s eyes to dart back and forth across the screen. This will not get you the results you are looking for. More does not necessarily mean better.

Look at the example below and count how many calls to action and varying messages there are in this one email. There’s definitely too much going on here.

If you’re sending a promo, stick to one effective call to action, and make it very prominent. If you’re sending an email newsletter, divide content into clear, clean sections. Guide a reader’s eyes down one path, not fifty.

6. A buried call to action button

Most emails (should) have a call to action. Examples include: “Buy Now,” “Learn More,” “Donate Today,” etc. Don’t make your readers hunt for it. Include a call to action button that’s prominent and eye-catching.

In the email example below, the calls to action are hard to find. Why? Because they’re text-only, and they’re written in the same font and color as the rest of the text. The call to action, “Shop June Hitlist” blends in too much with the other copy to even get noticed.

Need help making buttons? We have a free button tool you can use.

7. Missing pre-header text

Pre-header text serves as a secondary subject line and it grabs a reader’s attention amongst other emails in a crowded inbox. If you’re not using pre-header text, add it to all of your emails now – It’s typically the first line of text found at the top of your email.

Below is a good example of using pre-header text:

8.  Imagery gone wild

Images are an important component to any email. We all know a picture is worth a thousand words. However, there’s no need to throw in a bunch of irrelevant images into an email. Any images should relate directly to the product, service or information the sender is trying to convey. Reference this article, which outlines the specifics of using images in emails.

9. A subject line that doesn’t align

Trying to trick a reader into opening an email with a subject line that doesn’t match the content of the email is just plain shady. Readers will be more hesitant to open any emails from that sender in the future. And, this kind of trickery is against the CAN-SPAM law, the Canadian CASL law and European laws, so just don’t do it.

P.s. Don’t USE ALL CAPS in a subject line either. It looks like you’re shouting. Highlighting one important word with all caps can be very attention-getting though, so don’t rule this technique out completely.

10. One big block of text

An email does not need to be a dissertation, or even a large paragraph. Enough said.

Email design eyesores can be easily avoided with the right font and color choices, a prominent call to action, the perfect mix of text, images and white space, and it never hurts to get a second opinion. Did we miss anything that gets to you? Let us know in the comments.

For more tips, check out our free email design guide.

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Top 10 Email Eyesores You Should Avoid appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

The Ultimate Guide to Switching from Constant Contact to VerticalResponse

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 06:01

VerticalResponse is an easy-to-use tool that allows you to create and send engaging email newsletters, offers and invitations. Better yet, we’re affordable, too. In fact, our pricing is 20% less than Constant Contact. Plus, If your email list contains under 1,000 contacts, you can use VerticalResponse for free to send up to 4,000 emails per month.

Thinking about making the switch? Your email lists, sign up forms, welcome emails, and your favorite newsletters can be transferred over from Constant Contact to VerticalResponse in a few simple steps. As Harry R. Maurer, PR Officer for Toastmasters International – District 56 explains, being able to create professional and mobile-friendly aka responsive emails in VerticalResponse is worth the shift:

 ”After exploring VerticalResponse, I found it cleaner, more intuitive than Constant Contact and the emails are responsive so they can be read more easily on mobile devices, which is vital in today’s business. I switched over to VerticalResponse this year and am thrilled with the system – even our members commented on the improved layout of the email designs.”

Ready to join us? First, you’ll need to gather a few things from your Constant Contact account, and then we’ll walk you through the set up of your new VerticalResponse account. In this guide, we’ll focus on gathering your email lists, sign up form, email content and images.

Exporting Your Email Lists
To export your email lists or contacts out of Constant Contact, you can either download one large list, or individual lists. Constant Contact automatically removes unsubscribed addresses from your lists, so as long as you chose either the Active List or your specific lists, you won’t need to change anything in order to mail through VerticalResponse. To avoid issues with CAN-SPAM, CASL, and other anti-spam laws, don’t download All Contacts, as it will include unsubscribes and you can’t mail to those addresses. Reference our handy chart for details about the types of lists you can mail through VerticalResponse.

How to Export Your List from Constant Contact 

  • Go to Contacts on the left side of your Constant Contact account.
  • Click Active under the Contacts section. This will export all the mailable addresses and remove any unsubscribes.
  • You can also download your lists individually if you have multiple lists you want to keep separated for segmentation purposes.
  • Under Email Lists, click on the first list you’d like to export and follow the instructions below for each list.
  • Click the box next to the field Name to select all the records.
  • At the top of the list, select Export. You won’t see this option until records have been selected.

  • You’ll see a list of information associated with your lists. Check each box next to the information you’d like to keep.
  • Click Export at the bottom.

  • Once you’ve exported your information, click Activity at the top of your Contacts page to find the file.
  • Click either Download CSV or Download Excel –either will work in your new VerticalResponse account.

We also have a helpful video that walks you through exporting your list here.

How to Upload Your List(s) into VerticalResponse

Now that you have your list(s), you can upload them to your new VerticalResponse account.

  • Click the Contacts tab at the top of your VerticalResponse account.
  • Click the green plus (+) button.
  • Give your list a name, and if you want to create a sign up form at the same time, click the option that says Allow people to sign up for this list. We’ll walk you through setting up a new sign form after your list has been uploaded. You can always choose to set up a sign up form later, as well.

Next, you’ll upload your list. Because you have your list(s) ready to go, click the button that says Upload File, or just drag your file from your desktop to this screen, we’ll upload it for you.

Once the file has been uploaded, you’ll want to match your imported data/information with the columns or headers listed.  Previous headers used from Constant Contact will be imported, but you can change how the data is mapped if you wish.

  • Click the drop down menu above a column and find the field name you want to use.
  • When everything is matched or mapped the way you want it, click the Import button to finish the upload.
  • Repeat these steps for each list you need to import.

Gathering Your Sign up Form Information

While you aren’t able to export the exact sign up form you have in Constant Contact, you can easily create one in VerticalResponse. To gather your Constant Contact sign up information, you’ll want to take a screen shot. This will give you a reference for the design or text, so you can use it again. Here’s how to do that:

  • Click Contacts on the left side of your Constant Contact account, and then Sign up Form at the top of the page.
  • Click the magnifying glass under Actions and take a screen shot of the form.

- Or -

  • Click the name of the sign up form and copy the text to use in your new VerticalResponse sign up form.

Remember to remove the URL or any sign up buttons that are attached to your Constant Contact form from your website, blog or social network. Perform an online search (Google, Bing, Yahoo) to find any site in which you may have shared the existing link.

How to Set up a Sign up Form in VerticalResponse

You can quickly set up a new embeddable or hosted sign up form in VerticalResponse. These forms can either be embedded on your website, or hosted and shared in the same places as your Constant Contact form. Here’s how to get started:

  • Click on the Contacts tab in your VerticalResponse account.
  • Click the green plus (+) on Sign up Forms.
  • Our system will walk you through setting up your new sign up form; you can also find more information on our helpcenter.

Collecting Your Email Content

You’ll want to collect the contents of your Constant Contact emails, (unfortunately they won’t let you copy the HTML) to create new responsive emails in VerticalResponse a snap. To prepare, send a copy, or resend an email in Constant Contact to yourself. Then, you’ll be able to duplicate the general layout in VerticalResponse and copy the text you want to reuse. Here’s how to resend an email to yourself:

  • Click Campaigns on the left of your Constant Contact account.
  • Click Actions menu on right side to select the email you want to resend to yourself, then click Resend in the menu.

  • Click the Enter email addresses button, then Next on the far right.
  • Enter your email address and click Next.
  • Select the option to Send Now and click Finish.

Now you can log into your VerticalResponse account and create a new email. Here are step-by-step instructions.

If you’re using welcome emails in Constant Contact, copy and use the same text in your VerticalResponse welcome email as well. Here are instructions for creating a new welcome email.

Downloading Your Images
You can download any images from Constant Contact that you want to transfer to VerticalResponse. Here’s how:

  • Click Library on the left side of your Constant Contact account.

  • Click the name of the image, then right-click on the image and select to Save Image As. Name your image.

Once you’ve saved your images, keep them in a handy location on your computer and upload them into your email or account when you’re ready to use them.

These step-by-step instructions make the switch from Constant Contact to VerticalResponse a breeze. Remember, if your list contains under 1,000 email contacts, you mail for free!

Want or need more help? We have an award-winning support team available 7-days a week. Don’t hesitate to contact us!

Don’t have a VerticalResponse account? Create your account, and give us a spin today!

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post The Ultimate Guide to Switching from Constant Contact to VerticalResponse appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Pinterest Adds App Pins and Possibly a ‘Buy’ Button

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 12:00

Need help with a remodeling project? Tapped out of dinner ideas? Looking for an awesome wedding gift? There’s one website you can turn to and get help with all of these questions: Pinterest.

The social media site is known as a one-stop discovery site, with information on all sorts of interests. The site might not get as much attention as its social siblings, Facebook and Twitter, but it’s on its way. In fact, Pinterest is making headlines this week for introducing app pins. Plus, there are rumors that the scrapbook-like social site will add a ‘buy’ button in the near future.

Both of the new features indicate that Pinterest is moving towards an ecommerce site. Here’s what you need to know about the recent announcements:

What is the new app pin?

Pinterest is cozying up with Apple to offer an app pin. Now users can download apps to their iPhone or iPad without ever leaving Pinterest. To explain how it works, developers offer this example on the Pinterest blog: “Let’s say you’re pinning workout inspiration to your marathon training board. If you see a fitness app that helps you reach your goals, you can download it right from Pinterest.”

Matt Crystal, Pinterest’s head of international business, told International Business Times that its partnership with Apple is a great fit for the social site. Since so many people use Pinterest as a search engine for their interests and hobbies, offering app downloads is just another way to improve usability.

How will app pins work?

When you find an app pin, you’ll see an app icon and an ‘install’ button. All you have to do is tap the button and the app automatically downloads to your device. Here’s a snapshot from the Pinterest website that gives you an idea of what it looks like:

How can you pin an app to your board?

Do you have an app that you want to pin on your board? It’s pretty simple to do. According to Pinterest, you select ‘Add a Pin’ from your board view and then select the device. You’ll upload a high-resolution picture of your app and set the destination URL to your app’s page in the App Store.

What’s the latest on the Pinterest ‘buy’ button?

Just like other social sites, Pinterest is making a move into the advertising world. Just last month Pinterest started rolling out Promoted Pins as its first step, and now there are rumors of adding a ‘buy’ button. This new feature would allow users to buy some of their favorite products while on Pinterest.

Pinterest hasn’t officially confirmed the news, but according to Recode, there’s talk of the button launching in as little as three to six months. Facebook is experimenting with a similar feature.

What’s your take on the new Pinterest features? Does your business have an app that you plan to promote on Pinterest? Will your business take advantage of a ‘buy’ button? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below. Want some tips to using Pinterest for your business? We’ve got a free guide to help you. 

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© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Pinterest Adds App Pins and Possibly a ‘Buy’ Button appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Facebook Launches ‘Relevance Score’ for Ads

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 10:35

Like your high school English teacher, Facebook is breaking out the red pen. You won’t receive a letter grade, but Facebook will be grading ads on a score of 1 to 10. The score is based on how relevant your ads are to your audience. The more relevant the ad is, the higher the score. 

Here’s what you should know about the recently released score:

How is the score calculated?

According to Facebook, “the score is based on the positive and negative feedback we expect an ad to receive from its target audience.” Feedback is based on a variety of factors, but includes metrics like video views and conversion rates. The better the feedback is, the higher the score. The score can change as your audience interacts with the ad.

What are the benefits of the relevance score?

You might be wondering how yet another number is going to help you reach customers, but there are some significant benefits to this new Facebook statistic. Here are a few:

  • It can lower your advertising costs

Yes, you read that right. Facebook plans to reward those who create relevant ads by giving a discount on the ad. The better your relevance score is, the cheaper your ad. Facebook hasn’t given any specifics on the discount, but any break on advertising costs is a welcome one.

  • It provides testing options

Rather than create an ad and hope it hits home with your target audience, you can test ads and check your relevance score before releasing it. It’ll give you the opportunity to change copy or images to see which variation your audience will respond best to.

  • It provides a real-time metric

When an ad is running, you can monitor the score to see how it’s doing. If you want to make changes to improve the score while the ad is up, you can.

What are the drawbacks of the relevance score?

As with any new metric, there are a few downsides. Here are a few:

  • It’s just one number

While the relevance score is a litmus test for your ad, it’s still just one number. As always, you’ll want to look at all of your metrics to see how the ad is working for your specific needs.

  • Your advertising goal is more important than a number

An ad that meets your goal is a successful one, no matter what the relevance score says. For example, if you run an ad with the intent to boost sales of a specific product on your website and you see an increase in sales, that’s the statistic that’s important to you. Even if your relevance score is low, the fact that your ad is meeting your goal could be more important than the score.

What do you think of the new relevance scores? Will this new metric help your business? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.

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© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Facebook Launches ‘Relevance Score’ for Ads appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Introducing: Jelly, the Social App Non-Profits Should Jump On

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 06:00

Sure, a non-profit page on Facebook or Twitter can keep current supporters up-to-date, but what about reaching new people? Meet Jelly, the social app which allows people to help others by crowd sourcing answers to any question from within the Jelly-sphere. It’s similar to other Q&A platforms like Quora and Ask.com. Many of the questions have a local slant, and it gives non-profits multiple opportunities to grow an audience and gain potential donors or volunteers. 

Why should non-profits use Jelly?

There are few online sources that let you directly answer non-followers’ questions about your cause. While your followers on Twitter and Facebook already know about your non-profit, those posting inquiries on Jelly may not. 

Jelly provides a means to engage with others by posting your own questions, and a way to poll people (e.g., “Where do you donate blood?”) who may not follow you on other social media channels.

As a non-profit, who better to engage with than community members who want to help? As former Livestrong President and CEO Doug Ulman said about social media, “There is a difference between a community and a crowd. In a crowd, people push and shove and try to get a step ahead. In a community, people look around, they smile and share a story, because they know that a community doesn’t move forward unless they all move forward together.”

The community aspect of Jelly allows you to engage with the kind-hearted do-gooders and philanthropists.

How does Jelly work?

When you open the app, you’re presented with users’ questions, one by one. You can answer them or skip them. You have the option to include a map or link with your answer, or you can use your finger to draw on a photo too. You can also forward questions to someone you know.

You can post questions­ with an image, a map or text. You can ask the Jelly audience or post it on Facebook or Twitter with the touch of a button. If you get answers, you can mark them as “good,” send a digital “thank you” and reply to those who answered.

A few things to note:

  • Questions and answers are limited to 100 characters.
  • Using hashtags can increase your exposure to the right people on social media.
  • Multiple people can answer each question.

How can non-profits use Jelly?

One of the first non-profits to try out the platform was Livestrong. The non-profit had just started a social community called “Cancer Hacks” that sought to unite people affected by cancer in order to share solutions to everyday problems. When the non-profit’s Director of Creative Strategy Travis Rimel first learned about Jelly, he said he saw it as “a perfect complement to [Livestrong's] new model of crowdsourcing cancer support.”

The non-profit started posting questions and were pleased with the level of engagement they received from people in the online community.

Here are 10 ways your non-profit can use Jelly:

1. Need a location for an upcoming event? Post something like,”What’s an inexpensive venue for our health fair in Bangor, Maine in July?” with the map feature.

2.  Trying to pick a date for an event? Post questions asking about other events around the city that may occur on your potential dates.

3.  Poll potential donors by asking which incentives motivate them to give. For example, you could ask, “When you donate to a cause, would you rather receive a free T-shirt or a bumper sticker?”

4.  Answer questions related to your cause. One Jelly question asked, “Where can I donate bags of clothes in Williamsburg, Brooklyn?”

5. Post PSAs (public service announcements) for your cause.

6. Use photos to ask questions. For example, an animal shelter may post a photo of a new dog and ask the community to help identify it.  

7. Use the map feature to answer questions. If someone wants to know if there is a Red Cross in town, you can answer the question and supply a map to your location.

8. Use images to post information about your non-profit or cause. For example, a non-profit working to help smokers quit could post an image of a smoker’s lung after a decade of smoking.

9. Test your brand’s strength. You could ask the audience if they recognize this logo.

10. Gather helpful information. Non-profits can ask for advice. For example, you could ask, “What’s the best fundraiser you’ve ever done?”

For more information about Jelly, watch this VerticalResponse video. Are you currently using Jelly? Tell us what you like about it!

VerticalResponse has a free program for non-profits. Sign up and get started.

Wendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer with four books and thousands of published articles to her credit. Contact Wendy at WendyBurt@aol.com

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Introducing: Jelly, the Social App Non-Profits Should Jump On appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

9 Tips for Taking Top-Notch Smartphone Photos

Mon, 02/16/2015 - 06:00

Do you take photos to use in your emails, or to post on your business’s blog, website, or social networks? How often are you using a professional photographer, studio lighting, or a high-end digital SLR camera? If your answer is, “not that often,” we won’t report you to the photo police, but taking high quality images is an absolute must in this engagement craving, pin-worthy world.

Luckily, if you don’t have a top notch camera or a professional at your fingertips, your smartphone and some handy tips will do just the trick. Break out your smartphone and use these nine tips to take professional-looking photos with every tap of the screen.

1. Don’t zoom

Smartphone cameras are improving, but the second you start zooming, you lose picture quality. It sounds simple, but simply get closer! Or, take the photo then crop it later. If you do it this way, your picture won’t turn out grainy or blurry.

2. Use the rule of thirds

You could be using the nicest of cameras, but if your photo composition is all wrong, you may as well be using a disposable. The rule of thirds is one of the first principles you learn in a photography class as it’s highly important for well-balanced and intriguing photos. The rule is to break down an image and visualize it in thirds, both with horizontal and vertical lines. This gives you 9 imaginary boxes on your proposed photo. The 4 most inner lines on your grid are your guides for placing focal points in your photo. Darren Rowse wrote an entire post about the rule of thirds on Digital Photography School, and states that studies have shown people’s eyes most naturally hit these lines or grids, rather than the center of a photo.

When taking a photo with an iPhone, you’ll notice the gird lines automatically appear on the camera screen.

3. Try camera apps for more control

Rather than snapping photos straight from your camera, try several apps that give you more control. Camera+ is a popular option for iPhone users. DSLR Camera Pro is a hot choice for Android users. As the photographer, you have more options to take creative shots with these apps. Each one costs $3 or less. 

4. Add a new lens

You can actually buy lenses for your smartphone. It’s true. Here’s a set of three lenses for $12. They’re magnetic and go right over the camera lens on your phone. If you’re using your camera to take product photos, it’s a pretty small investment to improve the quality of your shots. Online stores like Photojojo carry a plethora of phone lenses, attachments, ring lights and more.

5. Use natural light

Smartphones aren’t great with lighting, so to compensate for this make sure you take photos near natural light. Going outside is a great option, but if you need to shoot indoors, shoot near a window. However, you don’t want to shoot directly into the window or your photo will be too bright. Instead, put your product off to an angle and take the picture with your back to the window.

Using the flash isn’t a good idea either. The flash in your smartphone isn’t great, and will likely cast a yellow light or shadows over your product. It’s not flattering.

6. Use online editing tools

Once you’ve taken your shots, turn to a photo-editing app or tool to crop, straighten, or enhance your photos with filters.

Pixlr Editor, GIMP and Adobe Photoshop Express are all great options. They’re free and easy to use for first timer editors.

Now that we’ve covered smartphone-specific tips, here are three additional tips to transform ordinary pictures into standout shots:

7. Use a creative but simple background

When you’re snapping a photo, the background matters. Suppose you want to take a picture of a model wearing a t-shirt that your company embroidered. The model is the focal point, but you want to select a nice background too. Select a painted wall for the model to stand in front of, or go outside and take the shot. Check out this example from online retailer ModCloth.

Background ideas:

  • Go outdoors and find a clear, colorful, or bright background like the side of a brick building
  • Place products on wooden tables, floors, or cutting boards
  • Hang a piece of ironed fabric on a wall to use as a backdrop
  • Find a colored wall to shoot in front of
  • Use stone, tiles, or rock walls as a background 

8. Try adding props

Adding a prop to your picture can spice it up. Of course, the prop should make sense. Think about how a customer uses your product to come up with prop ideas. Let’s say you sell used books. Your customers probably like to read in a comfy chair in their living room, so why not shoot a book in a chair with a blanked draped over it? These props add to the picture. A picture like this is bound to draw more attention than a snapshot of a book on a tile floor.

9. Take a variety of shots

Practice makes perfect, and variety helps. If you take two or three shots of the same product in a different setting, you’re bound to get a slew of great pics. Eventually, you’ll have a stockpile of product shots that you can rely on.

With these tips, no one will know that your photos were snapped with your phone. Do you use your smartphone to take marketing photos? Do you have any tips to share? If so, feel free to offer tips in the comments section below.

Send emails with top-notch smartphone photos by using VerticalResponse – It’s free up to 1,000 email contacts.

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 9 Tips for Taking Top-Notch Smartphone Photos appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

How to Export Your Email Contacts from Constant Contact

Fri, 02/13/2015 - 06:00

Your email addresses and contacts are the lifeblood of your email marketing campaigns. However, if you decide to switch email service providers, how do you keep those contacts intact and transfer them safely out of the old and into the new? In this short video, Jill Bastian, our Community Education & Training Manager, shows you how to easily export your email contacts out of Constant Contact and into your new VerticalResponse account. Take a look:

Learn more about switching from Constant Contact to VerticalRresponse here

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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5 Tips to Creating a Sense of Urgency in Your Writing and Emails

Thu, 02/12/2015 - 06:00

When it comes to making a decision, do you ever hesitate? Of course you do, everyone does! Even when it comes to making decisions about things we enjoy, such as where to eat, what to buy, or what event to attend, we debate and delay the decision making process.

So how do you get people to take action quickly with your own business? You need to eliminate any potential procrastinating ways. How? By creating a sense of urgency in your writing.

Whether you’re writing an irresistible email subject line, drafting up a promo, creating an email invitation, or writing a social post, here are five ways to grab the attention of your audience, and ignite them into action. 

1. Set a Deadline
Nothing conveys a sense of urgency quite like a deadline. Reinforce the deadline in your email subject line or headline, the body copy and in the call-to-action. Use words such as “ends tomorrow,” “good until 3/3/15,” or “offer expires Thursday.”

2. Use Time-Sensitive Language
Use time-sensitive phrasing and wording such as, “time is running out,” “last chance,”or “only one day left,” especially in tandem with a deadline. Here’s an example: “Last chance! This offer expires tomorrow at noon PST. Don’t miss out.”

If you don’t want to use a hard deadline or expiration date, you can still use time-sensitive language in a general way, e.g. “limited-time offer.” You can also employ a countdown clock in your emails and across social media channels to reinforce the sense of urgency. Sending a last reminder in the final hours of an offer can also be effective. 

3. Create Demand with Scarcity
An alternative way to communicate urgency to your readers without relying on deadlines is to emphasize or create a sense of scarcity, e.g. “Get it before it’s gone,” “only 5 spots left,” or “While supplies last.”

Whether you’re selling tickets to a fundraiser, or new merchandise, reminding your audience that you only have a finite and rapidly dwindling supply of something can help push those fence-sitters over the edge. Also be honest about the limited supply of your product or service as well. If people rush to buy a “flying off the shelves” ticket only to see there are plenty more a week later, you’ll have angry customers on your hands.

4. Keep Your Writing Brief
Once you entice readers, don’t overwhelm them with a mountain of text, because the average reader doesn’t have the attention for it. Instead, keep the body of your message brief so readers focus on your headline, key points and call-to-action. Need some help in the brevity department? Check out the very cool and free Hemingway App.

5. Use a Clear, Direct Call-to-Action
It doesn’t matter how well written your email, blog or social post is if your readers don’t know what you want them to do. Make it obvious with a direct and easy to understand CTA, or call-to-action. Whether you want them to make a phone call or click-through to your website, make your CTA a highly visible link or button with action-oriented wording. You can use the VerticalResponse Button Builder to create your own call-to-action button for free. 

Did we miss any tips? Share yours in the comments section below.

Send emails with a sense of urgency using VerticalResponse – It’s free up to 1,000 email contacts.

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 5 Tips to Creating a Sense of Urgency in Your Writing and Emails appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

3 Free Content Curation Tools That’ll Enhance Your Social Posts

Wed, 02/11/2015 - 06:00

Social media is an important part of your small business marketing plan. Coming up with relevant and interesting content to post on a regular basis (that isn’t just about your biz) requires a little extra time.

At this point, you might be thinking that you don’t have time to sit around, browse the web, find great content and then post it to your social media accounts. Thankfully, there are free and low cost tools out there designed for busy small businesses like you. 

You can use curation tools. These social media tools find or suggest content that your audience will like and make it easy for you to share it. Here’s a list of three to check out:

1. Swayy

Swayy is focused entirely on social media curation. You tell it what topics you’re interested in and it’ll generate a list of related content. It also looks at your posts, your audience’s interests and their engagement with your business to add to the list.

The content is presented in a visual way, making it easy to scroll through and find interesting items to share. Here’s what a curated list of content looks like:

If you what to share something, you can do so immediately or schedule it to appear at a later date. Swayy will analyze how well it did with your audience and refine the content search for the next time around. You can also view your analytics reports in real-time.

The free version gives you one dashboard. If you want to add to it, plans start at $9 a month.

2. Zite

Similar to Swayy, Zite gives you a list of content that matches your interests. As you look through the content, you can “like it” and the site will suggest similar content. As your list of liked content grows, the site hones in on your taste and gives you specifically tailored content to check out.

It has a clean layout, mimicking that of a newspaper or magazine. Here’s an example of what you’ll see:

When you find a must-share article, you can post it directly to your site or social networks.

Added bonus: It’s free.

3. Hootsuite

Hootsuite is a popular social media tool. Many small business owners use it to manage multiple social sites, but it suggests content too. There’s a “suggested content” section where you can select topics of interest and get a list of popular posts that fit in that category.

If you see something you like, you can post it to your account with a few easy clicks. Here’s what it looks like: 

As you can see, the content is set up in a list format, which is a different look than other tools.

As mentioned, Hootsuite is not just a curation tool. It’s a social media management tool as well, so you can access several social sites all from one dashboard, which is helpful for Aly Silverio, founder of independent clothing line Jawbreaking.

“It’s awesome being able to line up our tweets and not have to worry about constantly being on our phones to post tweets,” she says.

You get a double feature with this tool: curation and management.

There is a free version, with limited features. Paid plans start at $9.99 a month.

How to get started

Before you dive into any of these platforms, figure out what specific goals you want to achieve. Are you hoping to drive more visitors to your website? Would you like to find relevant content to share with your audience? Are you curious about whether or not your audience enjoys the content you’re sharing?

Once you know what you’d like to achieve, try out the free versions of the platforms and select one that fits your needs. 

Which social media curation tools are your favorites? Let us know in the comments section below.

Get more helpful content tips by subscribing to our weekly email newsletter, or checking our more content on our blog here

Kylie Jane Wakefield is a freelance writer and content creator in Los Angeles. She’s written for NewsCred, CMO.com, Forbes, Tablet Magazine, and The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 3 Free Content Curation Tools That’ll Enhance Your Social Posts appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

3 Emails You Should Be Sending But Aren’t

Mon, 02/09/2015 - 06:00

When it comes to email marketing, many small business owners rely on only a few emails to try to accomplish goals. While newsletters, event emails and offers are your email bread and butter, it’s important to have a variety of email types in the mix.

To keep you from getting in a routine of sending the same thing over and over, we’ve put together a list of less common email types that you can add to your email marketing plan. Give one of these emails a try to spice up your content and keep subscribers coming back again and again.

1. New content email

When you write a new blog post, create a must-see infographic, or post a new video on your website, you should share it in an email.

It would be amazing if your target audience checked your website or blog on a daily basis, but that’s probably unrealistic. Your new post might go unnoticed, unless you tell people it exists. That’s where email comes in. Send an email that offers a brief summary of what’s new and share a link.

If your business is creating and sending a lot of content each week, each email could promote a few pieces of content. You want to encourage more website traffic, but you don’t want to overwhelm inboxes in the process.

Here’s an example of an email that entices readers to check out a new article: 

What we like about this email:

  • It’s short. You don’t have to write a long description of the content. It’s okay to keep it short. A few sentences is fine.
  • A creative image. This article, which talks about learning from failure, isn’t an easy piece of content to find an image for. However, the author thought outside of the box and found a picture that fits.
  • Clear call to action. The reader should click on the red text link. The obvious call to action is an important component in this email. They could have also used a call to action button to make it even more obvious. You can create on using our free Button Builder

2. Customer appreciation email

It’s common to send a newsletter that updates your clients about recent news, or emails that encourage sales, but sometimes it’s a good idea to just say thanks. Everyone appreciates a thank you, which is why you should take the time to express it.

Whether your non-profit just reached a campaign goal, or your business just hit a milestone anniversary, send an email thanking your donors or customers for being part of that success.

Here’s an example of a customer appreciation email from a non-profit

What we like about this email:

  • Conversational tone. The text is inviting and talks to real people.
  • A way to engage. In this email, the reader can make another donation and continue to engage with the non-profit. (Businesses can include a link back to their website.)

You might also consider hosting a customer appreciation event. Retailers could host a customer appreciation sale with a discount offered to loyal customers. Service-based businesses can offer a discount via email for a popular service. Non-profits could host a thank you breakfast for key donors. Of course, you can invite guests via email.

3. Current event email

Consider creating an email that has a connection to a current event or trend. For example, you could send an email that has a holiday theme or is tied to another current event. 

Here’s a quick list of reoccurring events that you can focus an email on:

  • Regular holidays
  • Sporting events (just abide by any usage rights)
  • Weather changes
  • Changing seasons
  • Election time
  • Back to School
  • Local events, community celebrations
  • Obscure holidays (Margarita Day, Bring Your Dog to Work Day, etc.)

Of course, timing is key. In most cases, you can plan ahead. Mark your calendar with email reminders to ensure you send an email out before St. Patrick’s Day or the Back to School season.

Consider offering some kind of promotion or deal that’s connected to the event. For example, a pizza shop can offer 20 percent off for orders placed during the Pennant Race. A heating repair company can offer a discounted maintenance check on the first official day of winter.

When the Polar Vortex swept through the country last winter, a car rental business in St. Croix sent out an email encouraging winter bound residents to take a vacation.

“The rough weather in the Northeast gave this client a big boost,” says Perry Sheraw, managing director of Sugarmill Media, who helped the company compose the email. Here’s a look at what recipients got in their inbox: 

What we like about this email:

  • Humor. The connection between the snowstorm and mixed drinks is comical.
  • Great image. The image of a beach is a great lure for people who are tired of shoveling snow.
  • Creativity. The company took a current event and got creative with it, using it as a clever marketing tool.

Are there other emails that you can think of that are overlooked? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Send your emails for free with VerticalResponse. 

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 3 Emails You Should Be Sending But Aren’t appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Emails We Love, Just in Time for Valentine’s Day

Fri, 02/06/2015 - 09:00

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching and our inboxes are heating up with plenty of love-fueled messages touting everything from flowers and wine to tech devices and chocolate. Yes please to all of the above! This year, Valentine’s Day spending is projected to increase six percent according to a consumer survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics for the National Retail Federation. Total spending is expected to reach $18.9 billion – a survey high. With that much cash on the line, everyone is vying for a piece of your heart and your wallet.

We perused our inboxes for a few of our favorites and thought we’d share the love.

Starting at the top with some standout subject lines:

  • Love is… 100% Chocolate
  • Fall in love at first step
  • You’re My Favorite
  • Hurry, Cupid’s Counting Down! Send a Special Greeting Card
  • We’re making Valentine’s Day a little sweeter
  • Show your files some love
  • A Valentine’s Day present any self-respecting music fan will love
  • Vogue loves you: Our Valentine’s Day special
  • Float Their Boat This Valentine’s Day!
  • Valentine’s Day and iPad. Made for each other
  • For love or money?
  • Valentine’s Day gifts for your one and only.
  • Free Shipping On Last Minute Valentine’s Day Gifts
  • You’ll ❤ Key Pieces for the Season
  • We’ve got a crush (or two). How about you?
  • Make Valentine’s Day Oh-So-Dreamy! Plus, Get $15 Off $100
  • Ten Ways to Say “I Love You”
  • The clock is ticking! Send Rebecca a Valentine’s Day bouquet from just $29.99
  • Cupid’s Here with Wine, Chocolates & $0 Shipping
  • Who’s the object of our fashion affection this month?
  • Here’s 50% off for Valentine’s Day. Go on, take it. Nobody’s watching…
  • Will You Be Our Valentine? Sweepstakes, News, & More To Show Our LUV
  • New ♥ PDF Pattern & Made with #%*!?
  • Last Chance to Get the Look You Love Before V-Day

Valentine’s Day isn’t just for humans. According to the study mentioned above, “a record one in five (21.2%) say they will include Fluffy and Fido in their Valentine’s Day plans, looking to spend a mere $5.28 on average – which equates to a whopping $703 million on pint-sized gifts of all varieties.” Here’s one from BarkBox that puts humor and a little “ruv in the air.”

February 14 doesn’t have to be all candy and kisses. Fitbit reminds us that loving yourself (or someone else) by getting fit is also chic.

We’re always a sucker for cute creative this time of year, and this cork heart by Invino had us swooning:

Southwest Airlines used the classic conversation hearts to start a Valentine’s Day conversation with subscribers:

Who doesn’t need gift ideas? Uncommon Goods delivered the goods with their top ten gift list:

Not a retailer on Valentine’s Day? Not a problem. One Medical Group shares the local love with San Francisco by offering a new member promo.

Showing every B2B company that you, too, can get into the Valentine’s spirit, check out this example from Hightail (formerly YouSendIt).

Turntable Kitchen, a vinyl and cooking subscription box woos us with a lovely quote, an enticing comparison (a 3 month subscription box full of recipes, ingredients and music is cheaper than a dozen roses), a cocktail recipe, and contest giveaway. What’s not to love?

How will you share the love this Valentine’s Day and get a piece of that $18.9 billion? Send your Valentine’s Day emails for free using VerticalResponse.

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in February 2012 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and relevance.

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Emails We Love, Just in Time for Valentine’s Day appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

You’re Invited: 6 Components to a Successful Event Email

Thu, 02/05/2015 - 06:00

Events and emails go hand in hand. Whether you host an open house, charity gala, webinar or customer appreciation day, the best way to promote your event and invite guests is through email. 

About 52 percent of VerticalResponse customers use our platform to send out event emails. Next to newsletters, they’re the second most popular email to create and send. That’s why we wanted to create a handy guide to help you with your next event email.

Using an example, we’ll breakdown the anatomy of a successful event email and explain the key components. We’ll also give you a few tips to make sure your email gets maximum exposure.

Let’s start by going over the anatomy of an event email. We’ll use this simple example that anyone can easily create:

1. Subject line

You need an engaging and interesting subject line to pull your reader in. It’s especially important with an event email because registration depends on getting the recipient to open your invitation.

Remember, a good subject line tells the reader what to expect, offers interesting information and has a sense of urgency that propels the reader to act. Using the phrase, “you’re invited” is also simple, yet powerful. Keep the subject line around 40-50 characters so it’s not cut off in a subscriber’s inbox.

2. Logo or company name

Sounds like a no-brainer, but you want to reinforce who the invitation is from by including your logo and company name clearly in the email. Using a masthead, as you would in a newsletter, works well. 

3. Reason

You’re throwing an event and/or inviting people to try something new, which is great, but why? Aside from telling people about the event, let readers know what’s in it for them. Will they learn something new? Will they get to make and take something home? Will they get to network with 500 people in their industry? Will they get to meet a new director or talk to someone interesting? Will they get a sneak peek at products or services? State your reasoning and people will want to come.

If you’re throwing a physical event and your venue is stellar (even if it’s your own business location), be sure to tout why people would want to visit the venue as well. You’d be surprised how often the venue or location alone persuades people to attend. If you’re giving people a glimpse behind the scenes of your own business, inquiring minds will be intrigued.

4. Event details

You obviously can’t have an event without a date, time and place. Be sure to include all of the necessary information in your email. If you’re throwing a physical event, include the full address of the venue, parking information, etc. If you’re inviting people to a demo, webinar, or new service, include full log in or sign up details. Also include a link back to your website, and contact info such as a phone number or email address for your business so someone can call with questions if need be.

5. Call to Action

Every email needs a call to action. Use a button maker to help with this task, and direct people to either your sign up form, your site, to a landing page, blog post, or even a Facebook events page with more details. 

6. Picture

Your invitation should include an image that represents the event. If your event is tied to a specific person, include his or her picture (including yourself!). This will help attendees recognize him, her, or you immediately. If you’re hosting a grand opening, include a picture of your new building. Is your event connected to a cause? Use its logo in your email. If you’re giving a demo, webinar, or introducing a new service, include an inciting snapshot. Images are powerful for engagement.

Bonus Tips

In addition to sending your event email, you should also do the following to drive sign ups and ticket sales:

  • Send more than one email

An event email isn’t a one-and-done deal. You should send at least three emails about your event. Be sure to send reminders to those who haven’t opened or clicked your email. The day before the event, send one last email to recap important information like where to park and directions.

  • Invite guests via Facebook and other social channels

In addition to inviting your contacts via email, you can also invite guests via Facebook by creating an event. It’s not only another way to promote your event, but you can invite people that you don’t have email addresses for. Creating an event on Facebook is quite simple. Facebook has step-by-step instructions on its website. It takes just a few minutes to do it.

  • Email past participants first, and/or offer them a discount

If this is a recurring event, reward past participants by emailing them first and/or offering them a discount.

  • Offer early bird and regular pricing

If your event comes with a cost, offer two pricing options: Early bird and regular. Reward people who jump on the opportunity early.

With these tips, your next event email should be a shining success. Do you send event emails? If so, tell us what works best for you.

You can use VerticalResponse to send your email invitations for free. Get started now. 

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post You’re Invited: 6 Components to a Successful Event Email appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

8 Must-Dos for Pinning to Your Business Pinterest Account

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 06:00

Pinterest can help your business get discovered by millions looking to plan, buy and do almost anything. It’s no wonder more businesses are jumping on the Pinterest bandwagon. To ensure your business stands out (in a good way), get familiar with these nine must-dos so you’re pinning to your business Pinterest account like a pro.

1. Include Pin It buttons on your site: The Pin It button is the best way for your business to get discovered on Pinterest. When you add the Pin It button to your site’s pages, you make it easy for people to add your content and images to Pinterest. According to Pinterest, three months after Allrecipes.com added the Pin It button, people added more than 50,000 recipes from their website, leading to 139 million impressions!

2. Pin a variety of subjects: Pinterest appeals to a wide range of interests that your followers have, so why only represent a small portion of that conversation? Pin a variety of topics, not just those expected from your business. Pinterest did this themselves for the New Year with their Things to Try in 2015. They encouraged pinners to get in the action by creating boards of their own and sharing across other social networks like Facebook. 

3. Pin enough content to your boards: A common mistake businesses on Pinterest make is creating too many boards that contain just a handful of pins. A more effective approach is to start with a few, broader topic but robust boards that you can add several pins to. Later, when you’ve built up the number of pins on a board and want to get more specific, Pinterest allows you to select up to 50 pins to move to a new board. You can also copy pins so they live on two different boards, or delete them. For example, build up a hefty Holidays board, then later create a more specific Valentine’s Day board off-shoot. 

4. Link your pins and include a link: It’s a total buzz kill when you click a pin and it’s a dead end. Make sure you link your pins back to your website or blog to drive visits from Pinterest to your business. Pinterest drives more referral traffic than any other social network aside from Facebook, so it’s worth it to make sure your pins are linked. In addition, include the link directly in your photo caption. It eliminates the fact that you have to click twice on a pin to reach the original site, and it doubles your chances of gaining traffic back to your site.

5. Include a price: Always include a price when you pin a product or service. It makes it easy for everyone to know immediately how much something costs. If you want to take this a step further, try using Rich Pins. Rich Pins include additional information, such as when a product is in stock, or when an item changes in price. Pinterest also automatically emails anyone who has pinned that item letting him or her know about the changes. This directs more visits back to your Pinterest account, your website, and may even result even some purchases. Cool right? You’ll need to add some code to your website for this, but Pinterest has all the details to help you

 

6. Use Promoted Pins: Pinterest recently announced that they’re opening up their successful paid Promoted Pin functionality to any U.S. business. Similar to promoted Facebook posts, Promoted Pins appear in search and category feeds, which reach more people. After recent beta testing, Pinterest found that Promoted Pins performed just as well, if not sometimes better than organic pins. On average, Promoted Pins are shared eleven times, which can boost the number of people who see your pin by 30 percent. You’ll have to pony up some budget for Promoted Pins, but it could be well worth it to drive engaged visits to your website. Visit the Promoted Pin page to get on the list for the program.

7. Pin offerings to build your email list: Building a solid list of engaged email subscribers is an on-going process – This is where Pinterest comes in. Use specific pins to drive people from Pinterest to an email sign up form on your website or landing page. In our post, 3 Steps to Building Your Email List with Pinterest, Melanie Duncan advises small businesses or entrepreneurs to first create an offering such as a coupon code, ebook, checklist, guide, video, online training workshop, etc. Then, you’ll want to create and upload an image advertising your offer (remember to include a call to action). Lastly, link people from your pin back to your site with a sign up form that allows people to redeem the offer. This works especially well for those who have non product-based businesses.

Here’s an example she used:

 

8. Measure pin success with analytics: Pinterest drives more traffic than Twitter, LinkedIn and Reddit combined, but do you know how much traffic your site gets from it? Pinterest analytics can tell you. You can also find out what people are pinning from your website and which of your pins and boards are driving the most impressions, clicks and repins. Watch this primer video and read this post to learn more about Pinterest analytics. 

Image courtesy of Pinterest

If you don’t have a Pinterest for Business account, you can get yours here, or convert your existing Pinterest account here.

These nine must-dos will have you pinning like a pro in no time. Have a tip to add to our list? Share it in the comments.

Gain more social media marketing insight by subscribing to our weekly email newsletter.

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 8 Must-Dos for Pinning to Your Business Pinterest Account appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

6 Time-Saving Business Tools to Help You Get Organized

Tue, 02/03/2015 - 06:00

Getting (and staying) organized is a goal for many busy small business owners juggling multiple tasks with limited time. Here are six online tools you can use to organize all your business needs, and make this your most productive and time-savvy year yet.

1. Trello
The perfect hybrid of an online to-do list and full-scale organizational tool, Trello is the ideal app for someone seeking a project management platform that’s easy to use with straightforward functionality. Among its many features, you can use the main landing page to organize your tasks by creating note cards and dragging them onto one of your customized Trello note boards (think Pinterest with Post-its). Each note card offers a color-coding option, allowing you to rank it by priority and proposed deadline.

Additionally, everyone in your business can keep track each other’s projects using the ‘Share with Others’ function, allowing for greater collaboration and transparency across teams. 

Trello is a free app with options to upgrade storage space, fun extras, and more visibility into other boards with an added fee. 

2. Buffer
The incorporation of social media has become vital to increasing brand awareness and reaching new customers in the marketplace. However, it can also be seen as time consuming and less valuable than other projects that generate revenue. Insert Buffer – a tool that allows you to automate your posts across popular social media networks like Facebook and Twitter, saving you time while growing your social reach.  

Buffer users can pre-schedule up to 10 free social posts per week (unlimited posts are available for a monthly fee) that can include a link, photo or infographic to help your followers better engage with the message you want to convey.

3. Evernote
Serial note keepers appreciate Evernote – an app dedicated to making sure you have one central place for all the important ideas you need to jot down for your business. Evernote’s web clipper extension gives you the capability to save snippets from online articles, handy URLs, typed notes, and even photo snapshots from your tablet so that you can retrieve them later.

Secured by the cloud, locating any saved note is made easy with the app’s bookmarking function that allows you to quickly search for what you want to get your next project started.

Evernote is free to use. If you need to collaborate with others or manage other users you can sign up for a Premium or Business account.

4. Anti-Social
Designed to temporarily rid you from all online distractions, Anti-Social can be used to block any website that causes you to waste time or be unproductive. A valuable tool that is best used during peak work hours, this app allows you the functionality to set start and finish points to ensure you have a restrictive period of time in the day for focusing and completing necessary tasks.

Anti-Social is an app you download and install on your computer, with a fee of $15 to purchase the license.

5. Freedom
From anti-social to zero social, Freedom gives you the capability to blackout the online world completely. If you’re someone who’s easily distracted and not heavily dependent on the internet or e-commerce management for your business, this app allows you to select up to 8 hours at a time where you go completely off the interweb grid.

Freedom is $10 for the license, but you can purchase both Anti-Social and Freedom together for $20.

6. Toggl
Have you ever wondered how much time you really spend on your daily tasks? If the answer is yes, give Toggl a try. This free time tracking software can be setup to track any task no matter how small. Simply plug in a name for your project and hit ‘start’ to begin. Even more useful, all of your sessions are saved in your account for review so that you can look at trends over time to better understand how you’re spending your time.

Toggl is free, but if you’d like to have a team of more than 5 people use the system, or you need to export data to share with clients, you’ll need to sign up for the Pro plan at $5 per head per month.

With the integration of these time saving business tools, you’ll be almost certain to see not only an increase in productivity, but you’re also bound to feel more inspired to develop and meet goals quicker to help your business flourish.

What time-saving tools are you using? Let us know in the comments below.

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© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 6 Time-Saving Business Tools to Help You Get Organized appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

10 Crowdfunding Websites Every Non-Profit Should Know

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 06:00

As a non-profit, you’re always looking for new ways to raise money. One option that has quickly caught on is crowdfunding. Crowdfunding websites showcase and provide financial transactions for individuals, groups, businesses or non-profits attempting to get a large number of people to donate small amounts of money for their project or cause.

It’s worked for non-profits like Start From Seed, an organization that provides comprehensive doula services and childbirth education. This organization turned to Rally, an online fundraising platform.

In addition to raising money, the non-profit posted updates of their new space, photos of newborns that were helped, a wish list and details of how money was spent.

“We forgo salaries and use any money we raise to run the program,”explains Cheryl Orengo, co-founder of Start From Seed.

Between donations and other fundraising, Start From Seed raised enough to pay rent a year in advance, which eases its financial burden.

Non-profits like Start From Seed say this kind of fundraising is fast, simple and an inexpensive method to raise money. It’s also a convenient way to generate media buzz about events, recruit volunteers, and spread awareness about your campaign on social media.

If you want to give crowdfunding a go for your own non-profit, here are 10 sites that you’ll want to check out:

1. Rally 

Start From Seed had success with this online fundraising platform. It’s a user-friendly site with an appealing presentation and there’s no minimum donation. 

2. HopeMob 

This site boasts a community of 10,000+ members. There are plenty of great success stories on this site, including the more than $5,000 raised for The Supply, a nonprofit that builds schools in Nairobi.

3. Start Some Good

In addition to an easy-to-use platform, this site offers Crowdfunding 101, a free nine-part email course for non-profits and social entrepreneurs. Plus, the site only charges fees if your campaign reaches its tipping point.

4. Crowdrise

One of the more organized sites, Crowdrise divides fundraising by a variety of categories like animal welfare or education. The site also separates non-profits by the method of fundraising like a run/walk or celebrity-backed campaign.

5. Causes

Billing itself as the world’s largest online campaigning platform, Causes currently only allows registered 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofits to fundraise on its site. In addition to fundraising, campaigns can be used to create petitions and ask people to take pledges, such as Toyota’s campaign to make child passenger safety a priority.

6. Indiegogo 

Campaigns must set a goal and select between fixed and flexible accounts. If you set up a fixed account and don’t hit your goal, any money raised is returned to the donor. If you set up a flexible account and don’t hit your goal, you keep the money raised but Indiegogo keeps a higher percentage of your funds. Registered 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) do receive discounts, but you’ll want to crunch the numbers.

7. FirstGiving 

With over a decade of fundraising, FirstGiving boasts some big names in the nonprofit sector, such as Habitat for Humanity, the Special Olympics and The Humane Society. 

8. RocketHub 

Television network A&E now searches RocketHub for crowd-funding projects that it wants to feature in its new “Project Startup.”Fees vary based on whether or not you meet your goals.

9. CauseVox

Boasting the ability for non-profits to easily change the look of their fundraising page without a developer, CauseVox makes it easy to embed multimedia ­– like videos or Flickr slideshows – just by pasting a link. Case studies include the Autism Science Foundation and Change for Kids. It has a unique fee and pricing system as well.

10. Razoo

This site allows non-profits to host a Giving Day, which is a 24-hour online fundraising competition in which Razoo trains you to reach supporters via social media, email, events and more.

Ready to get started? Here are a few tips from Lesley Mansford, CEO of Razoo:

  • Use videos. Fundraisers with videos typically earn four times more.
  • Tie donations to direct impact. For example, “Just $20 feeds a child three meals a day for a month.”
  • Ask your donors to share your campaign. Razoo has found that every Facebook share helps raise about $18 of donations on its site.

Most of these sites keep between 3 and 5 percent of the funds your nonprofit raises, and there are fees collected by credit card processors, so be sure to read the FAQs on each site carefully.

Have you used one of these sites to raise funds or awareness? If so, tell us your thoughts in the comment section below. VerticalResponse has a free program for non-profits. Sign up and get started. 

Wendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer with four books and thousands of published articles to her credit. Contact Wendy at WendyBurt@aol.com.

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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How Welcome Emails Increase Engagement [VIDEO]

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 06:00

Have you ever signed up for an email list only to receive your first email weeks or a month later? By the time you’ve finally received that first email or newsletter, you may have forgotten you even subscribed in the first place. The best way to engage your newest subscribers from the get-go is with an acknowledging welcome email

To learn more about welcome emails and the positive impact they can have on your engagement, Jill Bastian, Community Education & Training Manager at VerticalResponse, shares her knowledge in our latest episode of Tips in 2. One of the key takeaways shared in this video is the importance of the timing of your welcome email. To be most effective, your welcome email should be sent out within 48 hours of a new subscriber signing up for your mailing list. If you use the new VerticalResponse, this can be done automatically. 

Additionally, Jill provides some ideas on what you can share in your welcome email including:

  • Demos
  • Webinars
  • Guides
  • White papers
  • And even coupons

Watch the video below to get tips on sending welcome emails and increasing engagement with your newest subscribers.

You can create welcome emails in VerticalResponse by signing up for a free account here.

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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8 Dos and Don’ts of Networking Follow up

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 06:00

There are networking opportunities everywhere and whether it’s at a trade show, conference, meetup, or even chatting with someone on your commute you need to make the most of every opportunity because you never know who you might meet!  Here are eight actionable dos and don’ts for following up with someone in a professional way after you’ve connected:

DO: Send an invitation to connect on LinkedIn in a timely manor by including a personal note on where you met him or her and something you may have discussed.  For example, “It was great meeting you at the ABC Event. I’d like to keep in touch about the possible partnership we were chatting about.”

DON’T: Send a LinkedIn invite to every business card you collect. You should have a one-on-one meaningful conversation with someone before sending them an invitation to connect.

DO: Follow up via email to business cards you collected and personalize the messages. Ensure you let people know ahead of time you’ll be sending an email and have their permission, otherwise your email may be viewed in a negative light. 

DON’T: Buy a list of event attendees and email them all. This would be a violation of the CAN-SPAM act. Also, it’s not the best way to start a professional relationship.

DO: Try to follow up in a timely fashion, usually within a few days to a week of the event. It will help keep you top of mind of your potential clients or business partners. 

DON’T: Wait too long to follow up with a contact. Time flies after events and it’s easy to forget all of the people that you might have met. 

DO: When you reach out to someone go the extra mile about how your businesses or connection can be mutually beneficial. Take the time to research and understand what his or her company does, if you don’t know already.

DON’T: Go on and on about your company without understanding if it’s a good fit for the company that you’re reaching out to.

DO: Set a limit to the amount of communication. Do some testing to see the optimal amount of touches that it takes to connect with someone. Refine your cadence and amount of outreach accordingly. 

DON’T: Call or email again and again if there is no response. No one likes to be harassed or stalked.

DO: Extend an offer for a free demo or ways to learn about your product or service.

DON’T: Forget to include a link to your website.

DO: Include your LinkedIn profile link (personal or business) within your email signature to make it easy for people to connect with you.

DON’T: Have an unprofessional picture in your email signature or as your LinkedIn profile picture. 

DO: “Like” a business you’re interested in on Facebook and follow on LinkedIn and Twitter. When you do, the business or owner may follow you back.

DON’T: Try to friend someone’s personal page on Facebook or connect in other more personal ways. Sometimes it can be perceived as creepy.

These eight networking follow up dos and don’ts should keep you on the right path to growing your network and making successful new connections like a pro.  

What are your dos and don’ts of networking? Share in the comments.

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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14 Sweet Valentine’s Day Email Subject Lines + 3 Ways to Spice Up Your Emails

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 06:00

Holidays are always great time to jumpstart your email marketing efforts. There are special occasions throughout the year when you can show customers that you value them while promoting your product or service at the same time. What better time than Valentine’s Day? 

According to the National Retail Federation, the average person plans to spend $133.91 on the holiday. That’s up slightly from $130.97 last year.

To capture some of that spending, we’ve put together a list of tips to keep in mind when sending out your Valentine’s Day emails and as an added bonus we have fourteen Valentine’s Day subject line examples.

1. Participate (or protest), even if you don’t sell typical Valentine’s Day items

Valentine’s Day isn’t just for candy, card, jewelry, and/or flower shops. Many people want to give or receive gifts that aren’t cliché. Or, they want to protest the entire day! That’s where you come in. Do the work for your customers and figure out which products or services make good gifts. For those who want nothing to do with Valentine’s Day, amuse them by providing an anti-Valentine’s Day gift, service, sale or entertaining content. Email a gift guide, a to-do list, throw an event, or create a board on Pinterest with ideas like the Dating Divas did to inspire your customers on this love-filled holiday.

For some examples of off-kilter Valentine’s Day offers in action, check out the following examples:

This email from WD, a technology company, promoted a hard drive as a gift.

The Dailey Method, a barre fitness studio, created a list of events leading up to Valentine’s Day including a “Give Love Day,” in which they donated $1 for each student who attended a class to the George Mark House. On Valentine’s Day, each student was allowed to bring someone they love to class for free.

7×7, a local San Francisco guide and website sent an email newsletter with a variety of Valentine’s Day content. They wrote an anti-Valentine’s Day to-do list, a list of “three sexy itineraries” for a memorable date on Valentine’s Day, and a wine list when your romance is more complex than sweet.

2. Show the love with free goods

Valentine’s Day is an ideal time to give out free stuff. It’s a holiday about giving, and who better to give to than your customers? The gift can be something simple, you don’t have to break the bank over it.

For example, Audible provided its customers with a free book download.

Try giving away gift cards with small amounts of cash on them, or one of your small signature products. If you own a restaurant, you could offer diners two free beverages, etc.

3. Entice with a captivating subject line

When it comes to email marketing, you have to include a subject line that will stand out. Otherwise, it’s going to get lost in the sea of emails that your customers receive every day. Your subject line should contain “something that alleviates a pain point [like] a discount, free shipping offer or an emphasis on getting the gift in time if you waited until the last minute,” says Kristen Hicks, an Austin-based copywriter who creates content for businesses.

Specifically, solid subject lines should include:

  • A few words. You want to keep your subject lines short so that readers can tell what information you’re trying to get across.
  • An urgent message. Use urgent language like “Time is running out” or “Act Now.”
  • Consider an incentive. Include an incentive like “Save 10%,” in your subject line. 

Need some Valentine’s Day ideas for your own emails? The following are 14 subject lines that can inspire you:

1. Our Valentine to You: Take $5 Off an Upcoming Event!
2. Clogged Pipes Aren’t Romantic. Take $50 off Rotor Rooter Services
3. Join Us for 7 Days of Love in February
4. Your Soundtrack for Valentine’s Day
5. 50 Sexy Books to Get You in the Mood (for Valentine’s Day)
6. ♥ Happy Valentine’s Day ♥ Just for you…
7. Got a Coffee Crush? Your 20% Offer is Waiting
8. A Unique Valentine’s Day Gift She Won’t Expect
9. Your Anti-Valentine’s Day Agenda
10. Hassle-free Romance
11. A perfect meal for your sweetheart
12. Score points with your Valentine!
13. 6 Ways to Make This Valentine’s Day One to Remember
14. Valentine’s Day on a Budget: Homemade Ideas

Need a few more? We’ve got 14 more examples for you. 

Send the love via email for free with VerticalResponse.

Kylie Jane Wakefield is a freelance writer and content creator in Los Angeles. She’s written for NewsCred, CMO.com, Forbes, Tablet Magazine, and The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Show Me the Money: 5 Small Business Grants to Consider

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 06:00

Marty Metro, owner of UsedCardboardBoxes.com and a VerticalResponse email marketing customer since 2006, will never forget the day he found out that his company won a $250,000 small business grant from Chase Bank.

“The grant absolutely helped us achieve the next step in our dream,” said Marty. “We’ve been able to hire more staff, purchase more inventory, get specialized machinery. It allowed us to take huge steps forward much much faster.” (Read how UsedCardboardBoxes.com uses email marketing to promote their products, and watch the video profile produced by Chase.)

As a small business owner, you probably didn’t start your own company based purely on financial reasons. Money certainly isn’t everything – but it does help.

In the last couple of years, big companies have come out with contests and programs that offer financial support and other resources to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Nearly any small business can apply; submission requirements vary, but typically ask you to explain your business and what you plan to do with the grant money.

Here are a few contests worth checking out:

1. American Small Business Championship

The American Small Business Championship is organized by small business association SCORE and warehouse giant Sam’s Club. More than 100 U.S.-based small businesses (two from each state, including the District of Columbia) will win a $1,000 Sam’s Club gift card, an all-expenses-paid trip to a regional business symposium, and a year of free mentoring from SCORE. Deadline: February 6, 2015. Submission requirements: Written entry or video. 

2. FedEx Think Bigger

The grand prize winner of the FedEx Think Bigger contest will get a hefty $25,000 small business grant. One second-place winner will get $10,000 and eight third-place winners will get $5,000 each. Previous winners include a farm that produces goat’s milk caramel sauces and a maker of custom-designed Moroccan accessories. Deadline: February 12, 2015. Submission requirements: Written entry, photos and optional video.

3. Tap the Future

Beer brand Miller is getting into the small business movement with its second Tap the Future business competition. Entrants participate in live, local events to claim part of the $300,000 prize pool, and can also win access to mentors like Daymond John from ABC’s “Shark Tank,” also a contest judge. Deadline: Contest opens in February 2015; check mltapthefuture.com for updates.

4. Mission Main Street Grants

One the biggest ongoing grant programs, Mission Main Street Grants by Chase is awarding $3 million in the form of 20 small business grants at $150,000 each. (UsedCardboardBoxes.com entered – and won – in 2012.) Deadline: The current contest is closed and winners will be announced this month; check missionmainstreetgrants.com for updates.

5. Love Our Local Business

Supported by Intuit, Love Our Local Business is making “wishes” come true for 15 small businesses. Participants submit a business “wish” (what they want to do with $5,000) and Intuit will make it happen for the winners. Deadline: The current contest is closed, but you can sign up to get notified of their next program at loveourlocalbusiness.com.

Did we miss a small business grant contest? Share it below!

To help small businesses grow, VerticalResponse has a free email plan allowing you to send up to 4,000 emails free each month. Get the details here

© 2015, VerticalResponse Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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