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Being an entrepreneur in today’s economy is full of hurdles. If you’re looking to start a business, or if you have an existing business that is struggling with common barriers to success, don’t lose hope. Any barrier to entry can be overcome with the right knowledge and perseverance.
In this article, we’ll walk you through three common business barriers that many small (and even large) companies experience: poor online traffic, high payment processing fees, and falling behind the competition. We’ll offer our advice and insight on how to stand out above the crowd and help your business start to thrive.
1. Not Getting Enough Online Traffic
It’s not enough to have a beautiful, high-functioning, website if it’s not showing up on search engines. Nowadays, you can have a stellar, revolutionary, product that could change the world, but it’s not going to go anywhere if it doesn’t stand out on the internet.
That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in. SEO is the process of optimizing the back and front end of your website so that it appears more credible to search engine algorithms, allowing you to rank higher on search results. It’s essential in this day and age.
There are many simple SEO strategies to employ if your website is falling totally under the radar. Even seemingly small things, like adding a sitemap on your site for the search engine to crawl, can make a huge difference in improving your rankings when added together.
- Keyword optimize. Keywords basically search terms. Your web page needs to organically incorporate the search terms you want to target on the front and back end. Don’t stuff keywords or use black hat tactics, and this can go a long way.
- Make your UX accessible. User experience (UX) is ideal from both a marketing and SEO perspective. You want your website to be easily navigable and approachable so your product or service comes across in the best light and leads to conversions.
- Update your Google My Business information regularly. Make sure your business shows up on Google Maps and contains your number, address, hours, website, and other key information. This lends credibility and legitimacy to your company.
- Optimize your metadata. Metadata is back-end page information that tells a search engine how your page should appear. It shows up as a link and a short description, and it’s like an elevator pitch that gets people to click on your result. These are short but can pack a powerful punch. Make sure your metadata is relevant, engaging, and informational.
- Create backlinks. Backlinks are when your website is mentioned by another in the form of a link. The more backlinks your website has on other credible sites, the higher Google and other major search engines will rate your domain rankings. You should make backlinks with high-quality websites one of your top SEO priorities.
One other tip we can offer is to create a blog. Google and other major search engines rank websites higher when they create regular, high-quality content. Not only will interesting pieces contribute to your brand voice and educate or entertain your readers, but you’ll be contributing to your SEO with every article. Make sure your blog posts have a decent length: longer posts (1,000 + words) perform better on most major search engines.
Ensure your blog content is informative and not overly promotional. If it’s a 1,000-word advertisement with a clickbait title promising something other than what you deliver, you’re more likely to drive a potential customer away than drawing them in. For the best results, hire a professional writer to create blog posts on a regular basis.
Another SEO tactic is more direct: paid search and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. With most major search engines, you can pay to have your website appear on certain search results or in advertisements across the web. It’s wildly effective when done right, but it’s a money trap if you make mistakes. PPC is an art and a science; you’re far better off choosing an SEO agency if you’re going to go down this route. In fact, for all of the above strategies, it’s best to go with a professional SEO expert rather than try to do it yourself.
2. Finding the Right Payment Processing Solution and Dealing With the MATCH List
Finding the right payment processing solution for your business is never easy. If you’re a small business (or if you operate in an industry considered to be “high-risk,” such as cannabis or gambling) you may find it exceedingly difficult to find an affordable payment processor willing to work with you.
Banks, lending institutions, and credit card companies get away with charging exorbitant fees to these struggling, high-risk companies because the business owners feel like they have no alternatives. Don’t give up and pay these fees just because you feel like there’s no alternative — there are many companies out there willing to work with companies who have small budgets and work in challenging industries. You just have to do your research.
Another issue that can make finding a payment processor more stressful is being placed on the TMF (Terminated Merchant File) or MATCH (Member Alert to Control High-Risk Merchants) list. It might seem like a death sentence to some companies, but while this might certainly make your life more difficult, it’s not a barrier to business that’s impossible to overcome.
MATCH is a system designed by Mastercard that collects credit information about businesses. If your credit card processing services were terminated for reasons under their specific criteria, you’ll be placed on the MATCH list.
It’s effectively a blacklist: banks will commonly screen your business against the MATCH list to see if you’ve had a terminated account, and if you’re on it, they’re not likely to take you on and give you a merchant account. The MATCH list has been notoriously inaccurate in the past, as Mastercard did not always check for accuracy before placing a customer on their list.
If you’ve been added to the TMF/MATCH list, you may find it difficult to create a new merchant account. Don’t despair: it’s not the end of the world. You can still find a specialized payment processing service that allows companies on the MATCH list to create an affordable merchant account.
These companies will not always charge unfair fees to create a merchant account, either: if you do your research, you can find a payment processing company that has direct relationships with banks and credit card institutions, which allows you to bypass extra costs. Try to find a company that has no processing volume minimum and a tiered payment system that allows you to purchase only the services you need.
3. Being Swamped With Too Many Competitors
Offer something new and unique. Anything. Innovation is the key to standing out above your competitors, and even if that innovation is small, it will give you the necessary leg up to stand out from the crowd.
One example is offering proprietary technology. Every company can benefit from technology that none of its competitors can use. For example, an ice cream company that has a proprietary churning process may have customers that are more eager to try something that’s totally unique and found nowhere else. This technology will act as an attention grabber, but you need to also ensure your actual product is high-quality for it to pay off.
You get bonus points as a brand if you’re able to capitalize on an existing trend. This is where marketing comes in. You need to unify your brand image, voice, and marketing material so that it’s bold and recognizable, and stays in touch with the times. Just don’t go overboard on trying to appear “hip” to appeal to the youth: that’s been proven to backfire. (Think of how much young people despised the Wendy’s “meme” commercials).
To stand out, you also need to ensure that you are providing excellent customer service every step of the way. Every one of your customer-facing representatives should be friendly, personable, and know your product inside and out. People might forget what extra amino acids your drink is packed with or what animal is on your logo, but they won’t forget how a friendly person made them feel. If you have the same service as your competitor, but you’ve treated them with greater respect, they’re more likely to turn to you.
Additionally, consider offering a guarantee or free trial on your product to ensure customer satisfaction. For example, you can offer a 30-day satisfaction guarantee that allows your product to be returned for free if your customer isn’t satisfied. Simply offering this will give your customer the confidence to purchase your product, knowing there’s no risk. This will also encourage feedback on your product from customers who know you value their satisfaction, allowing you to improve over time.
Because the stakes are so high for business owners, all obstacles can cause anxiety and overthink, but none are insurmountable. The best chance of greater success comes from patience, persistence, and tenacity. Stay well-read and don’t let the process scare you – the potential benefits of clearing each of the three hurdles above cannot be understated.