9 tips for writing a killer email subject line

emailThe subject line of an email actually wields a surprising amount of power. Indeed 35% of recipients open emails based on subject lines alone.  A strong subject header can mean the difference between an email being opened or passed over for something more appealing.

So, as a small businesses owner how do you make your communications stand out in the sea of emails your audience receives every day?

 144.8 billion emails are sent every day

At some time or another most of us have been guilty of hastily cobbling together an email header at the very last moment with little thought. However we should really be thinking of our subject lines as an enticing headline that supports the content of our email. Much like a newspaper article, a press release or blog post, time should be spent crafting the most effective headline as possible. Afterall what’s the point of having an email packed with cracking content if it doesn’t even get opened?

Of course different approaches will appeal to different audiences, but there are some universal tips you can implement to help you create more effective subject lines, thus improving your email open rates.

9 Top tips for effective email subject lines

1. Be clear.  If ever in doubt about what your email subject line should be, chose clarity. The majority of your recipients will want to know upfront about what they can expect to find when they open your email.

“Don’t sell what’s inside, tell what’s inside” Mail chimp


So be clear about your content. Most importantly, be honest about your content. You won’t win customers by trying to entice them in with false promises, in fact they more likely to bypass your email next time.

2. Keep it short. The general rule of thumb is to keep your email subject line as short as you can. Try to aim for under 10 words. Remember 40% of emails are opened on mobiles devices first so if you make it too long your meaning won’t come across in the 4-7 words that average mobile screen can fit.

If you are struggling to get the number of words down, keep to the point, get rid of any unnecessary filler words and put your strongest words at the beginning. Get into the practice of editing down. For example instead of ‘Enter our free prize draw to win £500 to spend on stunning jewellery from our latest collection’ (17 words) you could edit it down to ‘Win £500 of jewellery from our new collection’ (8 words). Same message just shorter with the keywords right upfront.

5 tips to improve online video content3. Try numbers . Using numbers in your email headers can be a great way of getting noticed. For example here are some ones in my inbox that grabbed my attention and got opened:

  • 5 ways to sprinkle on the sparkle (Boden)
  • 23 ways to blow your valentines socks off (notonthehighstreet.com)
  • 7 golden rules for content marketing (Econsultancy)

I’m not sure of the psychology behind it, but studies seem to agree that odd numbers and random specific numbers seem to get higher open rates, so it’s definately worth giving numbers a whirl.

4. Mix up your content. Your header is only as good as the content inside. So if you find yourself stuck in a pattern of sending the same type of emails over and over again, your subject lines are probably going to reflect this. So reboot your content and surprise your audience by sending out a variety of different email communications such as competitions, newsletters, special offers, blog posts, sneak previews, quizzes, surveys and so on. It follows that if your content is varied and interesting, your email headlines are more likely to be too.

adding humour to email5. Introduce some humour. This can be a tricky one to get right but if you manage it can work wonders. A bit of humour can be a sure-fire way to grab attention and get your email to stand to from the crowd. A good example is Groupon’s much applauded subject line:

“Best of Groupon: The Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)” 

Puns or plays on word can also work well – holidays and seasonal promotions can lend them selves quite well to this. Here are a few of seasonal examples from notonthehighstreet.com who do creative email headlines really well.

  • They do say ‘drink and be merry’… fill your festive boots
  • It’s the best thing since Christmas…Easter we so glad to see you 
  • Pretend like you had this planned for ages…valentines day sorted

Being clever can be great but remember don’t try to be so clever  that no one can work out what your on about. If you do want to try writing some email headers with a bit of humour checkout this blog from Vertical Response – it’s got lots of examples of amusing subject lines alongside some great tips.

6. Offer a benefit . Including a clear benefit to you reader in your subject header can help increase your open rates. When you are crafting your subject line focus on the benefits rather than the features. Using strong benefit words can work well as they imply a promise of what is inside, for example

  • Increase
  • Discover
  • Learn
  • Win
  • Earn
  • Save

7. Urgency and Exclusivity. Subject lines that create a sense of urgency and exclusivity can give a 22% higher open rate. Here is a great example of an email I received recently from Banana Republic that covers both these elements. The subject line was: Our 40% online private sale ends today.

email urgency and exclusivity

And yes it did work as I did take advantage of the offer.

8. Don’t be mistaken for SPAM. The last thing you want is for your email to look like possible spam .

69% of email recipients report email as spam based only on the subject line.

People tend to steer clear of subject headers that look a bit ‘spammy’. So don’t be temped to oversell and be careful if you’re using overtly sales words like FREE in your headlines.  Definitely avoid using ALL CAPS as it shouts of spam.

9. Test and monitor. Most email service  providers will have ‘insight’ tools that will enable you to monitor your email performance. Simple A/B testing of your subject headers is a great way to find out what works best for your particular audience, helping you craft stronger performing headlines.

Finally, before you press SEND…

Before your send your email merrily on its way, double-check your subject line to ensure there are no typos and it can’t be misconstrued to cause any offence. If in doubt it’s always a good idea to ask yourself the following question: If you received this email would you open it, ignore it or assume it’s SPAM?

We’d love to hear some of your tips for creating powerful email subject lines, so please do leave a comment. 






The Impact of Shipping Methods and Policies on Conversions

Shipping methods and policies can have significant, measurable effects on ecommerce conversions. Design and site architecture tend to get more attention. But if you only change one thing about your ecommerce business, shipping could be the game changer.

Here are the top methods to drive conversions with the right shipping methods.

Free Shipping

Free shipping is one of the most effective ways to bump conversions. People really like free shipping, and it’s increasingly regarded as normal to offer it as stores get wise to how effective it is.

Free shipping sits at the point where our love of free things intersects with our dislike of additional charges. Psychologically, if we’re not expecting to pay for shipping (as online shoppers increasingly aren’t), we’ll experience shipping fees as a loss, and we all know how loss-averse customers are. If we’re offered free shipping, we’ll experience it as added value.

Free shipping eliminates one of the biggest hurdles in the ecommerce payment process. Asking people to pay is the hardest part of sales: without free shipping, you get customers over that hurdle – then immediately ask them to pay again. And you lose up to half of them doing it!

How to Implement Free Shipping

Time limit: Free shipping time limits are really effective. Offer a countdown to buy and qualify for free shipping: urgency is a powerful tool to trigger conversions by overcoming buyer procrastination.

Purchase cutoff: More than three quarters of shoppers have added items to their cart to qualify for free shipping. Lots of stores use a free shipping cutoff: Amazon offers free delivery on orders over $35 or small items, while JCrew uses intermittent free shipping on orders over a certain amount as a limited-time, urgency-triggering promo:

How to Implement Free Shipping
Free all the time: Bundling free shipping with everything all the time can be expensive, but it’s what customers say they want: most would prefer free shipping to a discount that’s actually worth more. There are ways to spread the hit, essentially by building shipping costs into product pricing. If there’s no way for you to do this try offering a flat shipping rate, or selectively bundling shipping costs with your least price-sensitive products while leaving the others unaffected. And remember free shipping drives conversions, so it should pay for itself in increased sales revenue

Shipping Time

Customers are extremely sensitive to shipping time, even when shipping is free. Shorter shipping times are perceived as a good, below a calendar week which is seen by most customers as a baseline.

Shipping time is perceived by customers as waiting, and as humans we are seriously averse to waiting. So offering shorter shipping times as a premium good has been done ever since there were two classes of postage stamp. E-tailers can leverage this to drive conversions.

  • 63% of consumers say it’s important that e-tailers provide estimated delivery times – the earlier the better in the checkout process.
  • 67% of shoppers want to be offered an expedited shipping service for an additional fee, but only about 16% of them will use it; 78% will use the standard shipping model.
  • 43% of shoppers have abandoned carts because of excessive delivery time.
  • 50% of online shoppers think tracking services ‘essential’ – and 71% prefer email notifications.

Shipping time intersects with free shipping: people will willingly wait longer for free shipping, but some will willingly pay extra for faster shipping. And even when they don’t plan to use it, customers want to be offered expedited shipping. They also massively prefer tracked shipping with notifications.

How to Leverage Shipping Time

Options: Customers like to be given choices. ASOS do this very well:

How to Leverage Shipping Time
Detail is important, and so is clearly stated value. ASOS win at this by showing exactly what each shipping option means to the customer, with crucial information bolded, and everything laid out simply.

Urgency: How can you make shipping times more urgent? By making them more concrete. Amazon does this well. Making the delivery date specific – ‘want it Monday, August 31?’ makes two-day delivery immediate, stating the benefit rather than the feature. Adding a countdown timer to qualify for two-day shipping drives urgency further.

Urgent shipping timesClarity: Customers prefer being told shipping options in detail, as early as possible and very clearly. Finding out they’ll have to wait ten days or more for their item could trigger abandonment! Popular methods of providing clarity are:

  • Flat rate shipping. Charging one flat rate for all shipping reduces friction and can be bundled with product prices the same way as free shipping, while letting you use free and expedited shipping as two contrasted ways of delivering additional shipping value.
  • Real time carrier times and rates. Link customers directly into carriers’ own offerings, generating trust and giving customers as much control as possible.

Tracking: Customers like tracking. Waiting for something indeterminate feels longer than waiting for something definite, so to provide a better customer experience offer detailed tracking, preferably via email. If you want to move to one of the high-accuracy granular tracking services now available that allow customers to track the van their product is in and offer half-hour delivery windows, be aware that the wrinkles haven’t been ironed out yet: early-adopt at your peril, but we’ll all be using those services soon.


Choosing the right carrier can make a world of difference to your shipping. People often strongly identify certain carriers with reliability and will perceive your association with that carrier as a reflection of your own trustworthiness. Knowing exactly who will be handling their packages gives customers an extra layer of control too.

Leverage carrier choice

Carriers differ markedly in the way they approach their provisions.

What do the options look like?

USPS: Use set pricing for all their services, so what you see is what you get. A good choice if your products are mostly small – it’s far and away the cheapest option for items under 13 ounces in the USA. See their business shipping kit request form here. Customers can track their order on the USPS website. However, USPS has a bad reputation for reliability with consumers – the ‘lazy USPS guy’ who leaves the ‘you were out when we called’ note without even knocking is not a myth, sadly, and many packages used to arrive in pretty poor shape too. The company has made big improvements over the last four years but will your customers believe that?

FedEx: Their expedited 2-day service can be pricey but ground shipping rates compare well with USPS on larger items. You can qualify for online discounts simply by setting up an account. FedEx apply a range of surcharges depending on location, fuel costs and other factors, including residential delivery and Saturday delivery. That means it’s harder to offer flat-rate shipping, and you can wind up paying far more than the basic price to get your products to your customers on time. If you ship high volumes daily this is less of a problem. To find out more, visit FedEx Small Business Center.

DHL: Also use a surcharge system. Customers can track their order on the company website. One of the most innovative carriers – it’s working on an app to deliver to parked cars! – has a strong international presence so if you deliver to Europe and China, German-based DHL are definitely worth a look.

UPS: The biggest carrier in ecommerce. Very good ground shipping rates for packages around the 2lb mark help explain that – free shipping on midsize items is easier to arrange on those terms. They use a surcharge system just like everyone except USPS and there’s no free package pickup service. The other key to their success is that they take delivery reliability extremely seriously and seldom deliver inaccurately or late. To get a good result from UPS it’s essential to ‘build’ your own rates via the company’s Account Manager based on your delivery volume. To find out more, check out UPS Small Business Solutions.


  • Offer customers real-time carrier rates to demonstrate transparency and empower the consumer. The downside? Too many options cause ‘paralysis by analysis’ and consumers click away, abandoning the cart!
  • Select one carrier and get the best out of that carrier, building their pricing into yours ‘invisibly’ and offering free shipping for most products.
  • Use an app like ShipRobot, ShipStation or Shippo to handle shipping for you.


ReturnsReturns are important for online shoppers who can’t touch the products they’re buying. For those who worry their product might be delivered damaged or inaccurately, or who feel less secure because they’re not dealing directly with an individual person, it’s an additional layer of security.

  • 82% of ecommerce customers want to know returns will be easy.
  • Free returns can result in a 357% increase in consumer spending.
  • 20% of all items bought online are returned – and in 65% or more cases it’s the merchant or carrier’s fault, not the customer’s.
  • 41% of shoppers will make an impulse purchase if free returns are offered.
  • 48% of returned purchases are returned free.
  • 92% of online shoppers will shop again at a store with an easy returns policy.

Returns are clearly important to consumers. Why? They’re buying products they can’t touch and they have to rely on your measurements, your pictures and your product descriptions to know what they’re paying for. That creates insecurity – and people don’t want to buy from a store that ‘will let them fail,’ in the words of Dr Amanda Bower, professor of business administration and marketing at Washington and Lee University.

Speaking to NBC News, Dr Bower explains: ‘Consumers are not weighing fair versus unfair. They’re thinking, “It costs me $7 to get it here, $7 to get it back to you, I’ve just paid $14 for the privilege of finding out your stuff doesn’t work for me. And I don’t want to do that again.”’

How to leverage returns

The most effective returns policy is also the simplest: offer free, any-reason returns within 28 days. Opting for free returns, as we’ve seen, shoots consumer spending through the roof. Gains far outweigh expenses. There’s a psychological factor too: before the customer buys, the idea of committing to purchase is psychologically daunting.

The Takeaway

Free shipping and free returns are the best investments you can make in shipping for conversions. Keep all the information about shipping – time, carrier, tracking, price – clear at every step to increase conversions.

Make that purchase commitment-free, by offering free returns, and the customer is more likely to buy. But once they have the product, will they return it? “Probably not,” says Shopify’s Mark MacDonald, “they’re already committed.”

Image Source: (1, 2, 3, 4)

How small business ecommerce can use Pinterest to drive online sales

PinterestWith its focus on the visual and inspirational, it’s no wonder that Pinterest attracts an audience of active users who like to shop online. A successful presence on Pinterest can help drive traffic to your small business website and increase your online sales.

With 72.8 million users Pinterest continues to grow at an impressive rate. Indeed its user base grew 25% between March 2014 and March 2015. One of the best things about Pinterest is its audience of savvy shoppers.  Research shows that;

To ensure you are doing all you can to maximise your small businesses presence on Pinterest, we take a look at a few tips to help you tap into all that this great visual platform has to offer.

Getting the basics right

Before going into more detail about managing your ongoing Pinterest presence, it is important to get off to the right start. Even if you have been up and running for a while there is no harm in going to back to revisit the basics to see if anything needs improving or amending.

The best place to start is Pinterest for Business itself. It will guide you step-by-step guide through setting up your business account, verifying your website, adding the Pin It button and creating pins and boards.

Profile. Make sure you complete your business profile and include your logo. Your profile page is where your boards and pins are kept. Your bio should be a snapshot of your business, who you are and what your business stands for. Don’t forget to include your website address. To humanise you business a bit more try creating a separate ‘about us’ board, giving a behind the scenes look at your business and staff. notonthehighstreet.com has a whole board dedicated to their craft sellers.


pinterest behind the scenes board

Boards. Categorise your pins into separate themed boards and give each board a specific title and a strong cover images. Don’t go mad at the beginning creating loads of different boards. It is better to start with a few, easily manageable boards until you get going. When starting a new board try to putting a number of pins up right at the start so that your board doesn’t look empty. An empty board is unlikely to inspire someone to revisit.

Showcasing your products

The first rule. As with any social media platform try not to overly promote your products. There is nothing more off-putting than blatant self promotion. Your aim should be to have a balance of content that taps into the lifestyle and interest of your target market.

Inspiring images.  Think more about how you can best set the stage for your products. Rather than using standard, run of the mill stock product photos, think about how you can create inspiring, beautiful images of your products.  Try photographing them  in real life situations and settings.  Take a look at jewellery retailer Stella & Dot’s Pinterest boards. The images are bright, colourful and inspiring.  Each of their boards have specific titles and a great cover image with the titles overlain (you can create just such cover images on Canva ). Don’t forget Pinterest is a visual medium so video can work extremely well too.

Pinterest for small businesses

Rich pins. To get the most out of selling your products online it is worth getting aboard with Rich Pins. These are specific tools to help you sell on Pinterest  by offering extra information about your product – making it easier for customers to purchase from you. As a small business the Product Pin is the most important Rich pin. Popular amongst Pinners, over 2 million save product pins to their boards every day. Appearing on your pin the product pin show realtime information about that product including pricing, availability and links straight through  to your purchase page. For further information checkout Pinterest Rich Pins.

Pinterest rich pins

It’s about lifestyle

To get the most out of Pinterest, you need to take a broader approach to content – think a bit outside the box considering the wider lifestyle and interests of your target market. Take a look at what other businesses in your industry are doing on their boards. What are the wider industry trends in your business? Create boards about what is on trending now or next season. Such as this ‘Trending Watch: Neon’ board from notonthehighstreet.com.

pinterest trend board



Womens sportswear retailer Sweaty Betty do lifestyle brilliantly on Pinterest. In addition to their lively and interesting product boards they have a huge variety of lifestyle oriented boards to appeal to their target market including Beauty Tips, Gym Hair, Healthy Selfies, Best Pools in the World, Guide to favourite places, Quotations and Mantras and Food & Drink. For a bit on inspiration take a moment check out Sweaty Betty’s Pinterest page.

Sweaty Betty Pinterest


Drive traffic back to your website

Of course driving potential customers back to your website is key to increasing your online sales. In addition to your great product boards, also include some other content to interest your audience.

Blogs. Have a board dedicated to your blog posts (I’m sure most of you have realised the benefits a blog can bring to your business by now!). This not only provides some great content for your audience, it also leads them onto your website. Here’s an example of ShopIntegrator’s own small business blog board.

pinterest blog board


Special offers. Special offers and discount codes are another good way to entice an audience back to your site and give a boost to your sales. Make it exclusive to Pinterest and don’t forget to promote your offer on your email newsletter.

Special seasonal boards: Creating fun and inspirational boards around seasonal gift ideas is a great way to grab attention from pinners and get them to click-through to your website. Gift company notonthehighstreet.com creates great boards at key seasonal periods – packed full of gift ideas for their customers.


notonthehighstreet pinterest christmas board


Learn as you go

Time is precious for small businesses owners so it is essential that the effort and time you are putting into social media is achieving results. It is important therefore to keep on track of how you are performing. Understanding what is working and what needs improving upon is essential to ensure a successful presence.

Pinterest Analytics: Once you’ve set up your business account you can access Pinterest Analytics. This way you can measure how your profile page is performing. Pinterest Analytics will show what pins and boards people like most from your page; including number of impressions, repins, and click-throughs. You can also learn about your audience demographics, their interests and other brands your audience engage with.

Check out other profile boards: Keep an eye on what competitors and other businesses within your industry  are doing so you don’t miss out on any opportunities or forthcoming trends. Pinterest has a page of case studies of business who have achieved real success with their presence. For some inspiration and ideas on how to take your business forward take a moment to check some of Pinterest’s success stories.

Engage with your audience: Social media is all about engaging with your audience. So don’t be afraid of asking their opinion – what are their interests, what would they like to see you pinning? Contests are a great way to engage with your audience and find out more about their interests. Try running a competition for new board ideas or themes or ask them to create a board using your products from your website.

pinterest contest


Most of all have fun with Pinterest. It’s a great platform for you to get creative with inspiring imagery and interesting content. We’d love to hear your ideas and experiences using Pinterest for your business, so please do leave a comment.



7 tips to help small businesses successfully manage online returns

managing online returnsProduct returns are always going to be part and parcel of online selling. The nature of the online environment means that unless a customer visits a bricks and mortar store first, they can’t physically examine a product or service prior to purchase.

Although a bit of a nuisance, returns are expected even by the major online brands. The trick is to handle your returns as efficiently and effectively possible. If you have a well-managed returns procedure created with your customer’s needs in mind then returns can have positive impact on your business.

‘Our best customers have the highest return rates’ Zappos

Handling returns can be annoying but try to view your returns in a positive way. Online shoe retailer Zappos maintains it is their customers with the highest returns rate that spend the most money and are the most profitable.  Successfully managed returns can;

  • Improve retention rates and repeat sales through building customer loyalty
  • Help conversions by acting as a trust signpost 
  • Showcase great customer service
  • Provide a competitor advantage

How to keep your return rate low

Even with the positives a well-managed returns procedure can bring, there is no doubt that they can be annoying and can cost small businesses valuable time and money. Here are a few simple to implement tips to help you lower your return rates.

Realistic customer expectations. As we mentioned earlier because customers don’t have the opportunity to try the product before they purchase, they are reliant on the information you provide. Therefore the more accurate you are in your descriptions and the more realistic your imagery the less likely there will be a difference in what your customers are expecting to receive and what actually gets delivered.

  • Product pages. Use accurate, detailed descriptions for every product. Imagery is essential, the more accurate the better. Try offering multi-angle or 360° photos. Video also works really well as it shows the product off motion.

customer reviewsCustomer reviews. Customer reviews help manage customer expectations. For example if I was about to buy a top and wasn’t sure about the sizing, a customer review might mention that the top comes up on the large size so I would know to size down, consequently reducing the likelihood of me having to return the top.


Offer detailed guides and instructions. Many products are returned simply because a customer is struggling to put together or set up an item. Help them out as much as possible by including simple instructions and guides with the product. Have a video ‘how to guide’ on your website that you can direct them to and a helpline number that they can contact you on – it will reduce returns and save you time in the long run.

7 Best practice tips

Outlined below are seven best practice tips to you manage your online returns successfully.

eu distance selling régulations1. Have a clear, easy-to-understand returns policy and procedure. Your website should clear returns policy and procedure. Take a look at clothing retailer White Stuff returns page. It focuses on their customer’s needs by making it easy to find,  straightforward to understand and outlining their customers rights. Reiterate you returns procedure and policy on your invoice that is included with the product.

Ensure you are aware of the legal distance selling regulations for your country and the rights your customers have. For example in the UK you should be familiar with the Sales of Goods Act and the  EU distance selling regulations.  Changes to regulations in June 2014 extended returns to 14 days from receipt of goods. Useful websites include:

Gov.UK – online and distance selling for businesses

EU – rights when shopping online

Sales of Goods Act

2. Offer free returns.  For a small online business with narrow profit margins this may be a hard one to swallow but the benefits of offering free returns to your customers will usually outweigh any costs. Customers really won’t appreciate a hefty return postage fee cost and it will put people off coming back to you. Focus on the long-term benefit of customer retention. In addition providing free returns is a great selling point and can help with conversions so don’t forget to flag it up on your website.

3. Make it  convenient.  Successful businesses always have customer needs at the heart of everything they do. Think about how you can make your returns procedure convenient and hassle free for your customers. Try:

  • including a pre-printed and pre-paid returns label in with your packaging. Offering a downloadable returns label like White Stuff on the returns page of your website is also helpful as many customers will mislay the one included with the product paperwork.
  • think also about offering click and collect options to customers.  They than have the option to return their item to a local click and collect shop at their own convenience.

don't argue over customer returns4. Don’t argue over returns. This is another area where it pays to think long-term. Splitting hairs with customers over returns is going to lose you business and reduce your retention rates. Most returns will be genuine but sometimes you may just have to suck up a spurious return and focus on the bigger picture. Use a policy of ‘no quibble’ returns is a great selling point and can give you an advantage over your competitors.

5. Get feedback. Try to get feedback from your customers when they make a return. Feedback can be really useful as it can help you identify and tackle potential problem areas. For example if a number of products are returned because ‘product not as depicted’ it means you may need to address your product descriptions and improve your product images.

6. Prompt customer communications. The prompter you are in your communications with your customers the happier your customers will be and the more positive they will feel towards your business. As soon as you receive your customer’s returns, email them with confirmation of receipt of goods and inform them when they can expect to receive their refund. Contact them again when you have issued their refund. Customers will appreciate your efficiency and it will stop them having to contact your customer service department.

discount returned items7. Resale on returned items.  It’s not always possible to resell returned items at full price, for example if the packaging is damaged. So you’re not stuck with lots of returned stock taking up valuable storage space, it makes sense to get rid of it. Offer such products at a discounted price on your website – maybe under a ‘ clearance section’ or even on eBay. It may not give you the profit you wanted but it may mean you break even and avoid mounting storage costs.  It is essential if you are doing this that you clearly state any damage – this way the customer won’t be able to return the item as he or she was aware of the damage prior to purchase.

Hopefully we’ve shown that returns aren’t necessarily a bad thing and that if managed well you can find ways to reduce your returns rate. Implementing a best practice returns procedure will also help your business in the long run in term of stronger customer relations, trust and goodwill.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on online returns, so please do leave a comment. 

7 Solid Reasons Why You Should Pay Attention to Customer Reviews

Online commerce and the popularity of social media have truly made customer the king. Customer reviews are shaping consumer decisions to a great extent, and this influence is expected to rise further. Shopper experiences and preferences are being shared widely and enthusiastically, impacting the bottomlines of many businesses.

Smart businesses have long since realized this shift in power in the favor of the consumer and have started tweaking their marketing strategies to accommodate growing reviews and customer engagement in general.

As a business you need these reviews if you want to stay competitive and grow. Here are only seven reasons why customer reviews are important and what paying attention to them will achieve for you.

1. Reviews Build Credibility for Your Business

In this day and age businesses are dealing with very smart and knowledgeable consumers. It’s very unlikely anyone is going to take you at face value. It’s also very unlikely they will buy what you have to say via paid advertisements.

Instead, your target buyers will research your background and will pay particular attention to the user reviews you have received. Positive or negative, all reviews are being read and mulled over. As per one survey, positive customer reviews influence the buying decisions of 90% of shoppers, while negative reviews influence the purchase decisions of 86% of shoppers. That’s a big number that no business can or should ignore.

If a quick search on you does not turn up an adequate number of positive reviews, your target shoppers will very likely not proceed with doing any business with you because you have not done enough to come across as a bankable option to them.

On the other hand, if a search on you returns a high number of negative reviews, you will lose many potential customers, as well as some of the existing ones.

Customer reviews mean a lot to shoppers today and here’s why:

  • User reviews are reassuring for people who have never done business with you. Customer reviews have a human touch about them which makes them believable.
  • Detailed reviews can remove doubts in the minds of shoppers about certain products or services, making them more likely to go ahead with their purchase decision.
  • People feel better about their decision when they see many others have taken a similar one too.
  • Many of the shoppers are avid reviewers themselves and are instinctively wary of an ecommerce site or any business that is lacking in this aspect.

Reviews Build Credibility for Your Business
More and more people are basing their purchase decisions on the social presence and credibility garnered by businesses. It’s no longer enough to be good at what you do, you need your customers to say as much about you, and you need them to do this in big numbers.

2. Reviews Help Increase Your Sales

A glowing review is always good to read but it can do a lot more than make you happy. More people finding you credible and giving you the thumbs-up leads to many more giving you a chance and shopping with you. If you do a good job of satisfying your customers, expect to see a rise in sales figures for your business on the back of a considerable number of good user reviews.

3. Reviews Tell You If Your Marketing Is Working

So you have been pumping your heart and soul into marketing your business but are not sure whether it is reaching the target audience or whether it is having the desired effect on your target audience?

Invite them to leave a review with you and you will know exactly where you stand. Pay attention to the tone of the reviews, whether it is positive, negative or lukewarm: “Lukewarm reviews are gentle indicators that something–your strategy, customer service, quality assurance, even your product–is off. Like miners in the dark, it’s imperative to pay attention to these online chirps–and course-correct before it’s too late.
How Online Reviews Make (or Break) Your Business

Every review tells you something. Be attuned into them to glean precious information out of them.

4. Reviews Help you Improve Customer Experience

Reviews Help you Improve Customer Experience
Reviews many a time contain detailed feedback. Anyone who has compared products online would know this. Some reviewers go to great extents to put their point across.

That is pure gold for a business. If you want to improve user experience, which you should if you value customer service, here are your customers telling you in no uncertain terms exactly what they like and/or dislike about your products and services. Many of them take out the time to pen in detail how you have helped them and also delineate areas where you have been found wanting.

People telling you exactly what you need to do to improve should be immediately taken into consideration, though whether you act on it or not may depend on a number of factors. Many companies, big and small, take customer feedback into account and release updated versions of their products that aim at improving the user experience. People like being listened to. So encourage shoppers to leave detailed reviews on your website or via social media so that you can improve customer experience and boost your chances of customer retention as well as customer acquisition.

5. Reviews Allow You to Shape Your Narrative about Yourself

A lot is being written about businesses on various websites all over the world. Some of it is positive, a lot of it is negative. But all this dependence on customer reviews does not mean businesses are helpless; in fact, far from it.

It is true that your customers are now calling the shots. However, they only do so based on what you provide them with (or as in this case, don’t provide them with) in the first place.

So that you are not caught napping by a string of harmful reviews or deliberate misinformation circulating around the Internet about your business, become proactive and start collecting positive reviews.

Also, find negative reviews about yourself and address them. An indifference to user reviews may prove costly to your business but a smart handling of them will allow you to shape your desired narrative about yourself.

6. Reviews Help You Rise in Google Search Rankings

Your competitors who have been doing their bit in collecting positive reviews and combatting negative ones are likely to feature higher up than you in search results as well as inspire more confidence in shoppers.

In stark contrast, the indifferent presence of your business on the Web, accompanied by negative or a low amount of reviews, will harm your online reputation and lose you many potential customers.

If you have been engaging in local SEO efforts but have not been paying equal attention to reviews and recommendations, then you have been selling yourself short.

So instead of tumbling down Google search rankings because you couldn’t be bothered about user reviews, approach this matter as an opportunity to rise through the ranks and gain more customers in the process.

7. Reviews Keep You in Touch with Times

Technology is forcing businesses to keep up with the pace of innovation to stay relevant.

The consumer base is increasingly aware of the options available to them. They are always scouting for the best deals and services they can buy for their money. If there’s anybody out there offering even a slightly better service than you, chances are your customers will find them and flock to them.

When people find a better deal, they are also very eager to inform their social circles about it. Information like this spreads fast via word of mouth on social media and on review sites. Somebody mentioning another business on your Twitter feed should ideally make you want to check them out soon as you can to ascertain what they are doing better or if there’s something you can learn from them.

Customer reviews and sundry comments are thus an excellent source of market intelligence. Newer businesses are dynamic and the social media is a vibrant place. People love to share and exchange information. As an alert business you can be a direct beneficiary of this by tapping into the consumer sentiment and evolving strategies and policies to keep up with the changing times, expectations, and demands.


We have stated here seven reasons for you to take user reviews seriously, but rest assured there are many more. These, however, should make you want to sit up and take stock of how you have been approaching your online marketing efforts.

Overall, you lose customers and fall behind times when you take an indifferent approach to user reviews. But when you are convinced of the power of customer reviews and devise an active strategy to collect them, you gain greater business credibility, higher sales, and at times enhanced customer loyalty as well.

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7 indispensable time management tips for small business owners

Time management for small businessWhy does it always feel that there are never quite enough hours in the day? Lack of time is a challenge most small online business owners face daily. The very nature of a small business or start-up means constantly juggling multiple tasks, trying not to let anything slip. Small business owners have to wear many hats, dealing tasks ranging from formulating company strategy to changing a printer cartridge.

Interestingly,  50% of small business owners feel lack of time is one of the most difficult aspects of owning a small business – even higher than making a profit!   Clearly getting on top of managing your time effectively is something worth conquering.  In the US 1 in 4 small business owners believes that  just one extra hour in the working day is worth more than $500. Successful time management can help:

  • increase productivity   
  • reduce stress levels
  • improve efficiency 
  • cut time-wasting.

We take a look at some practical, easy to implement tips that will help you better manage your valuable time.

1. Prioritise

There are always going to be some tasks that need to be prioritised over others. The trick is to ensure you focus on the real priorities rather than just the tasks that are easier or of more interesting. Before embarking on your working day decide what your priorities are. A simple way to do this is to get into the daily habit of categorising tasks into order of importance and urgency. This way you can focus on the tasks that have to be completed today rather than ending up spending your time on something that really could wait.  For example categorise tasks into groups –

 1 – Critical tasks. Important tasks that have to be completed  today or you face significant consequences

2 – Tasks essential to the daily smooth running of your business – important but not so urgent as your critical tasks

 3 – Everything else. 

Ensure you get everything completed in group 1 before you move onto group 2 and then only move on to group 3 when all the tasks in group 2 are completed. Getting into the discipline of prioritising your daily workload will enable you better focus your time on the areas that matter rather than being sidetracked by the ‘nice’ but not essential’ tasks.

planning2. Plan

Planning follows neatly on from prioritising. Once you know your priorities then you can schedule them into your day. A schedule can sometimes be more effective than a ‘to do’ list. There is a tendency to just keep adding to a ‘to do list’ until it becomes a very long, endless list of tasks – which is no help to anyone.

Juggling lots of things at the same time makes it difficult to see the wood for the trees. Try putting half an hour aside first thing to plan and prioritise. This will help you feel in more control of what you are doing. Think realistically about what you want to achieve that day and plan your day around those task. At the end of the day it feels rewarding to have completed what you set out to do.

There are certain times of the day that we work better. For example if you know you are a morning person then plan to get all the tasks that you know you need to focus on done first thing. Plan the routine ‘no brainer’ jobs during the afternoon slump time – it’s a far more productive use of your time. Trying to get complex tasks done when you are tired will take twice as long as it would if you were fresh and at your best.

staying motivated3. Stay motivated

Small online business owners often work from home and as a consequence can find themselves spending long period of time alone. Humans are inherently social creatures so it can be demotivating not having people around to banter with or bounce ideas off. The weight of your business usually rests on your shoulders alone so keeping motivated is essential. Of course everybody has an off day now and then but you need to remain motivated to ensure you stick to plans, manage your time well and stay focused.

  • Make time to be social. Try joining small business discussion forums or local networking groups. This can be a good way to share any small business concerns or ideas you have amongst like-minded people.
  • Take regular breaks. Typically the human brain uses up its energy reserves in 60-90 minutes so putting time aside to recharge is essential.
  • Try exercise. research shows that regular exercise is closely linked to increased levels of motivation.
  • Remind yourselves of all the positives. It can be all too easy to focus on the harder aspects of owning a business. Make time to remember all the great benefits there are to being your own boss!

organised work space4 . Streamline your processes and organise your work space

Sounds simple but an ordered workspace will make you more efficient. A messy, cluttered environment can be a real distraction. Keep on top of paperwork and have a proper filing system in place.

Think about what processes could be streamlined in your business. For example, do you spend hours a week dealing with customer queries? If so implement a Help / Frequently Asked Question page on your website and direct people there as their first port of call.  Can you set up templates for routine communications? The more efficient you can make your systems and processes the more time you will be able to free up.

And, don’t forget there are some excellent automated software and apps available to help you in all aspects of your business such as time management, task management, scheduling, accounting and email, to name just a few.  Work out what areas you could do with a bit of help and investigate some of the software on offer.

time management procrastination5. Stop procrastinating

We’ve all been there. It’s all too easy to put off things we don’t won’t to do by focusing our efforts on more enjoyable things. Many a time I’ve put off doing a task I’m dreading by distracting myself with other ‘pressing’ jobs such as tidying the house or surfing the internet. Of course we all know that in long run the unwanted task doesn’t go away and often just gets worse the longer we leave it. So instead of leaving it to fester,  grab the bull by the horns and just deal with it. I promise you’ll feel a whole letter better and waste a lot less time by getting uncomfortable tasks done as soon as possible.

“Done is better than perfect”

We also put things off by spending too long trying to get things perfect. Perfectionism can eat up your time like nothing else. Sometimes it’s better to just do ‘good enough’ and get it finished  so you can move on to the next thing.

6. Delegate or outsource

We all have things that we are better at doing than others. But as small businesses owners the need for control in all areas of our business can mean we end up doing absolutely everything – even things that we know we could easily  delegate or outsource to somebody else. It is always going to be a struggle to keep up with the demands of a small business. According to research, the average small business owner has between 3-6 different roles in any one day. If you want to manage your time more effectively try outsourcing or delegating areas you don’t enjoy or  feel confident doing to someone who is better placed to do it. It will free up your time to focus on other important areas.

managing distractions7. Get rid of distractions

Distractions can disrupt all you good time management intention. You could be cracking on with a priority task only to get distracted by a phone call, email or social media update. Once distracted it can be hard to get back to the task in hand and you can end up wasting a lot of valuable time.  Learn what things are most likely to distract you and have a strategy to cut those distractions out until you have got on what you need.

The average American worker admits to “wasting” about 3 hours of a typical 8 hour work day (not including lunch breaks).

For example group together routine tasks such as admin, social media updates, answering non-urgent emails and phone-calls and build in a specific time of the day to deal with all such tasks. Put your phone on silent log-out of the social media, close the door and focus on getting on with what is important.

The very nature of small business means we’ll always want more hours in the day. Of course that’s impossible, however getting on top of time management will help you better cope with the many jobs and pressures you deal with on a daily basis. In return increasing your productivity and helping lower your stress levels.

We’d love to hear your own tips on time management – so please do share you thoughts and experiences.






How to create a successful brand for your small business or ecommerce start-up

branding for small businessesMany small businesses have been up and running a good while before their thoughts turn to brand building. Even then branding ends up slipping to the bottom of the to-do list. Of course, with the 101 things small business owners are faced with on an every day basis this is understandable. Yet it is important not to underestimate the importance of good branding.

In order to be successful long-term, branding needs to be at the heart of your business. Working on creating a proper brand presence early on can pay dividends in the long run. Why? Because the impression you make as a business as critical to your long-term success and this is tied intrinsically into branding.

What is a brand?

“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”. Jeff Bezos, Founder Amazon

Your  brand is essentially the set of ideas your business stands for in people’s minds. Recognisable visually such as through a logo, your brand is also shaped by your actions as a business.  A successful brand will help differentiate you from your competitors, build loyalty, increase traffic, create brand advocates and help connect people emotionally to your business.

For example I have being buying Converse All Star for well over 20 years. Not solely because of the trainers themselves but because over years I have connected emotionally to the brand through a sense of belonging becoming a loyal returning customer in the process.

brand loyalty


Defining your brand

Branding itself is a massive area indeed, large companies have  dedicated people such as brand managers and brand directors working on their brand full-time. As a small business owners we obviously don’t have that luxury, yet with a bit of time and effort we are quite capable of building a successful brand for our business ourselves. Before you embark on building your brand presence you need first to spend some time thinking about the fundamentals of your brand.  Considering the following questions will help you get you off to a solid start.

  • What is your purpose as a business?
  • What are your businesses core values?
  • Who is your target audience and what are their needs?
  • What do your customers think when they think of your business?
  • What differentiates your business from that of your competitors?
  • And most importantly, what is it you want your customers to think when your business comes to mind.

7 essential tips small business can use to build their brand

The great news is you don’t need a huge budget in place to build your brand. You will however need to invest some time and thought into establishing a solid brand presence.

excellent customer service1. Offer a positive customer experience.

72% of consumers say customer service is central to brand loyalty.  


I mentioned earlier that branding is closely associated with the impression you make as a business. Central to this is offering your customers an all round positive experience from start to finish. Ensuring that your customers experience a seamless journey – from navigating your website, browsing products, using your shopping cart, making a payment, shipping and delivery to exemplary customer service – is essential if your want to building a positive impression and healthy reputation.

2. Use content to build your brand

Authentic, relevant, quality content is integral to building your brand. Content that reflects your brand identity and is relevant to the needs of your customers will build brand engagement, brand loyalty and brand trust.

80% of consumers say that the authenticity of content is the most influential factor in their decision to become a follower of a brand.

Focus on providing a variety of engaging, value added, visual and non-visual content for your customers. For example;

  • Blog posts
  • New articles
  • How to Guides
  • Online Tutorials
  • Webinars
  • Infographics
  • Competitions and Quizzes.

3. Create a brand personality

People prefer to do business with other people. For small business owners your brand personality is likely to be you – it is what you do on behalf of your business. Think about the tone you use when you write, how you interact on with people on the phone, what things you post on social media and what visual images you use. Remember what you are submitting is a reflection of your business and your brand values.

Try using your ‘About Us’ page to give customers a feel for the people behind the business. ‘Meet the team’ or ‘behind the scenes’ can give a face to your business and help people build an emotional connection to your brand. Take a look a Stella and Dot or Riverford’s About Us videos.

Use Social media to build brand awareness4. Use Social Media

71% of people say they are more likely to make a purchase from a brand they follow on social media. 

Social media is a great platform to build awareness of your brand. Firstly consider not only the platforms your target market are likely to be using but also which platforms best support your brand image. For example Facebook is probably a safe starting point for most businesses as it is has huge and diverse audience, if you are heavily imaged based then look at Pinterest and Instagram and if you are B2B then you probably want to be on LinkedIn. The point is to give it some thought before you leap in.

The content you post should reflect your brand image and support your brand values. The more valuable it is to your customers the higher the likelihood is that it will be shared.

5. Brand trust

A successful business with a loyal customer base will have worked hard over time to establish brand trust – think John Lewis, FedEx, Apple and Amazon. As a small business and start-up the best way to start developing brand trust is, as we mentioned earlier in the article, through providing a consistently positive customer experience.

When you are starting out it is also a good idea to include various trust signposts that will signal to new customers that your business is trustworthy. For example:

  • Security logos and Trustmarks
  • Customer testimonials
  • Awards or accolades
  • Customer reviews
  • Transparent information on delivery and returns 
  • Exemplary customer service
  • Easy to find contact details and registered address
  • Links to official organisations and associations

6. Visual identity

Building a recognisable visual identity is essential to establishing a  brand. Firstly create a great logo and use it everywhere. Think also about your visually branding in terms of fonts, colours, style and feel. This should be applied to all your marketing materials both online and offline. If you keep these things consistent you will start to establish visual brand recognition.  It is a good idea to create a set of visual brand guidelines and standards – such as how your logo can be used, what font should be used and the Pantone reference for your brand colours.

7. Be consistent.

brand consistencyApparently it takes between 5-7 brand impressions before someone remembers your brand. Therefore staying consistent is absolutely essential if you want to establish your brand in the mind of customers.  Consistency will reinforce your brand identity making your brand recognisable and differentiating you from your competitors. Mixed messages and inconsistent branding will only leave customers confused about your business with no reason to invest in what you have to offer.



We’d love to hear your own thoughts and experiences on building a brand for your small business, so please do leave a comment.