May 7, 2018 With so many choices and different processing rates structures, it’s hard to tell which payment processing solution is right for your website’s… Read More »What Payment Processor Should I Use for My eCommerce Site? PayPal, Square, Stripe, Authorize.net?
CCM Featured on the Drop & Give Me 20 Podcast November 1, 2016 Our own Marc Bethel, stopped by the Drop & Give Me 20… Read More »CCM Featured on the Drop & Give Me 20 Podcast
Wix or Squarespace? Which is better?
So you’re looking at doing a Do-It-Yourself website and you like the new looks of Wix and Squarespace. But which is better? What are the pros and cons? In this installment I’ll explain what’s good about these services and what’s bad and how to identify what’s best for your needs.
Wix vs Squarespace
The first question to ask yourself when trying to decide what type of website you could benefit from is this:
DO I CARE ABOUT SEO?
(DOES IT MATTER IF MY SITE CAN BE DISCOVERED IN SEARCH ENGINES?)
If the answer is No, go with Squarespace. It’s easy to use. If the answer is Yes, continue on.
Next, you need to ask yourself:
CAN I DO EVERYTHING MYSELF OR COULD I BENEFIT FROM HAVING SOMEONE MANAGE MY SITE FOR ME?
Time is money and you’re time is best spent doing what it is that makes you money. But if you’re comfortable taking on all the edits of a website yourself you should be okay with either Wix or Squarespace. Either way, read on. There is more to ask yourself.
DO I WANT A SITE THAT IS CUSTOM-DESIGNED TO MY BRAND OR AM I OKAY WITH A TEMPLATE?
If you want something custom-designed specifically for you and your brand, you don’t want Wix or Squarespace. You need a custom responsive web designer who you can trust. If you’re fine with using a template then we think Wix has the better options and a few (although still quite limiting) SEO features.
If you answered:
- Yes I care about SEO > You’ll be better off working with a professional web design firm (yes, work with a firm, not a “web guy” because companies actually respond to clients in a timely fashion and are upfront with their costs)
- No, I don’t care about SEO > You’ll be fine with wither Wix or Squarespace. You’ll probably find Squarespace to be easier to use however.
- Yes, I can manage my site on my own > You’ll be fine with Wix or Squarespace here too. If you have a remote knowledge of HTML or coding, you may find Wix to be a little more dynamic on the backend.
- No, I really could benefit from having a reliable company I could call on to make my web edits > Go with neither.. work with a professional web company like CCM who can do everything for you at the drop of a dime!
- No, I don’t care about having a template site > If the other questions above still haven’t disqualified you from using Wix or Squarespace, congratulations… you might be in the really small percentage of people that could actually benefit from a web product such as theirs’.
- Yes, I need a custom-designed site that is uniquely true to my brand! > Work with a professional web design firm like CCM.
Launch of Our New Website and Expanded Services
2014 is poised to be an exciting year here at CCM not only for us but for our customers as well. This week we launched our new and improved site www.ccm-web.com which showcases our new focus of building responsive website designs that render as mobile sites on mobile devices and normal sites on larger format screens. You can learn more about responsive web design on our page here.
As excited as we are about responsive site designs, it is the expanded full marketing services that we now offer our clients that really has us pumped for 2014. In addition to custom web design, hosting, site management, printing and SEO, CCM now offers amazing print solutions like vehicle wraps for business fleets, food trucks, delivery vehicles, trailers or pretty much anything on wheels. We also have added banner and tradeshow booths, stands, kiosks and professional signage at discount small business rates.
With out partners at Adams Outdoor, CCM now offers billboard advertising and placement in over 12 markets in the U.S. including the Hampton Roads region here in Virginia. Our wholesale small business rates for billboard advertising are so attractive businesses even save money by using us instead of going straight to the big outdoor companies directly.
In late 2013 we added full service video and… audio production to our agency services. You can learn more about tv, web or radio advertising production on our video production page.
Need to figure out a media marketing plan and where and when to get your ads to run? Media Buying is just another convenient all-in-one service here at CCM!
It’s long been our vision to brand ourselves as the “full service ad agency for small businesses” and now we’ve truly become your one-stop-shop for all your marketing needs whether it’s online, digital, print, video, strategy or out of the box guerilla marketing. Our commitment to you is:
Quality, Effective Work at Reasonable Prices That Won’t Break the Bank
Blogging for SEO using WordPress
By now someone has probably told you that you should blog. They may have mentioned that it’s “good for SEO” if you blog but they probably didn’t tell you exactly how or why. Here’s the deal… you can blog all you want but if you’re not optimizing your blog the right way it won’t do much good.
There are basically two reasons to blog. 1. You want people to read what you wrote about a topic. 2. You want to help increase your site’s SEO and traffic. Personally, I could almost care less if anyone read my blog. I blog for SEO purposes mainly. So how do you blog for SEO?
Well, the first step in blogging for SEO purposes is to write blog posts that people will want to read. That’s right… do the exact other reason for blogging I just mentioned. That’s the first step you can take. If you write on a topic that people will want to learn about, or read about, you’re much more likely that people will stay on your blog and read it. But most importantly, by writing something well about a topic, you’re thereby creating content on the web that is relevant to a specific topic. This builds credibility on the topic with search engines like Google, therefore making your blog post much more likely to be indexed as a relevant link for the keywords your blog is about.
Now that you’ve written a blog post about a topic that you want to rank for in the search engines there are other things you need to do to optimize it. I recommend using a WordPress Blog because they’re the easiest to optimize for SEO and they already come with features and plugins that can help you out. Start by giving your blog post a title that contains your keyword phrase. For example I want my site to rank for people searching on SEO blogging, so hence the name of this blog post.
Next, (and write this down… it’s an important one) be sure to create one keyword hyperlink somewhere in your post. Make it link to your homepage, or another page on your website as long as it’s a page that is relevant to the keyword. For example, right now as a web designer in the Virginia Beach area, I’m trying to increase my presence on search engines for the keyword phrase web design Virginia Beach, so I’ve made it a point to create a link in this blog for ‘web design Virginia Beach’. What does this do? When Google bot crawls the web it will crawl my blog post and see I’ve associated a link for web design Virginia Beach with my website. Google now deems my site a little more relevant for that search term because another link now exists pointing to it for that term. This is something you want to do for your own keyword term of focus just one time per blog post. Don’t put a ton of different links in a single post. Search engines are very wise and they’ll see this as being spammy. They don’t like that. You’ll be better off building up your internal blog link-building over time by making a relevant keyword link once per blog or so where it makes sense. Also, (a little tip)… Don’t just make the keyword phrase a link… also give it a title of the same keyword term. For example your hyperlink code should look like this: <a href=”https://ccm-web.com” title=”web design virginia beach”>web design Virginia Beach</a>.
There are two more things you need to do. WordPress gives you the ability to categorize and add tags to your blog posts. Create a list of “Categories” to choose from. These should include the usual subjects that you blog about. I blog about Marketing, Web Design, SEO and Printing a lot… so those are some of my categories that I choose from. If you guessed that I categorized this post you’re reading now as an “SEO” blog, than you’re picking up quickly. Lastly there are tags. This is where you can add really specific keywords that you want your blog post to show up for. But similarly to the links… you definitely don’t want to go overboard with the amount of tags you use in a blog post. Use 1-4 tags. Preferably about 2 unless your blog honestly pertains to a bunch of things. You can create a new tag every time you blog, but WordPress is smart enough to remember the tags you use the most often and shows those to you to simply click on to tag. For another example, I’m going to create a tag called “Blogging for SEO” and a tag called “WordPress Blogs and SEO” for this particular post.
So that’s it in a nutshell. Remember: Write a well-written post on a topic that you want to be known for. Give it a good title that includes the important keyword phrase. Add a text hyperlink to your main url from within your blog post’s content. Give that link a title=”” tag. Properly categorize your blog post with a Category that pertains to it. Tag your blog with the top 2 or 3 keywords that are relevant to your post that you want it to show up for.
Oh… and one more important bit of advice before I wrap this up. Please, Please, Please… Don’t forget to proof read your blogs. There’s nothing worse than trying to look credible on a topic while sounding like you can’t write using basic grammar. In fact, that can be pretty detrimental to your efforts. So please take a minute or two to read over what you wrote. If you’re not a good writer/speller and you know it, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that to yourself. Have a friend or coworker proofread your post for you before posting. A second set of eyes is always a good thing!
Good luck with your SEO blogging and blog away! These practices over time will help push your site up in the rankings for your keyword terms.
How To Start a Business in Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia is a great place to do business because it’s a fairly easy state to operate in with fair tax rates. Some states make it more difficult, a few may make it easier, but very few states offer the diverse demographics and geographical beauty, options and cultural diversity that Virginia does, making it an ideal grounds for clientele for any business. Whether you’re thinking of starting a new business in Virginia Beach, Richmond, Fairfax, Roanoke, Danville or Abington, it’s all basically the same. The following is a helpful list of things that you’ll need to do in order to succeed in your entrepreneurial endeavor.
1. Write a business plan.
2. Know your competition.
3. Develop a Marketing plan.
4. Identify what “kind” of business license you should have.
5. Come up with a budget.
6. Market your business.
1. Write a Business Plan
Why are you going into business? What will you sell? How will you sell it? What makes you different? Why are you special? How do you want to be seen in the marketplace? From whom will you get your supplies? What will you offer that will make people come back for more? What is your budget? (see budget below, later). Write out about a 3 pages business plan. Identify the basics and what’s important, but don’t get too in depth with it, spending weeks and months formulating it. The reason why you shouldn’t is because your business will naturally change and evolve every few months for about 3 years until it settles into what you will eventually become.
2. Know Your Competition
Who are your biggest competitors? Are you doing business locally or nationally? Regionally? Identify who the big cats are that are out there as well as some of the smaller players. Sometimes it’s the other small guys that are really the biggest poachers of your business to watch out for. What are they doing that you should and shouldn’t be doing? Know your enemy! But don’t think of competition as your enemy. Competition is what makes capitalism thrive. Competition drives us all. In fact, you’ll probably find that some of your competitors might actually send you a ton of business! Whether it’s the fact that they are so terrible at what they do that their customers come flocking to you because they’ve heard better things, or it’s that your competitor might not offer one of the things that you offer and vice versa, so you two end up referring business to each other. Both of those things happen to me on a regular basis and I’m grateful for it.
3. Develop a Marketing Plan
You’re going to need a name, a logo, a website, business cards, maybe shirts, promotional items and so on. But you’re going to need advertising too. Identifying a budget for advertising is usually very difficult for a start-up. You’ve just sunk all your money into getting the business going, now there’s not much to throw at advertising. The good news is there’s a secret. Networking. Get out there and meet people. Join your local chapter of BNI, or any referral group. You can even find a ton of local groups on Linkedin in your area such as Entrepreneurs of Southeast Virginia for example. Join associations and business-related clubs. This is a cost-effective way to meet people who will refer you business. You can also develop a program where you pay people for referrals if you want. Sometimes that works.
Set aside some money for a quality website, an SEO link-building campaign and the occasional media run. This is what’s important in the first year or two of your business. But plan it from the beginning. If you’re unsure of what types of marketing you should be doing for your type of business, call up a small business marketing consulting company such as Commonwealth Creative Marketing, located in Virginia. They’ll help you identify what you need to do.
4. What Kind of Business Should You Be?
You’ll need to identify and decide what type of business you want to be structured as. Should you be an LLC, an S-Corp, a proprietorship, Inc, etc? You should talk with an attorney that specializes in business law. Find one that you trust, or that a friend of yours recommends… They’ll know the pro’s and con’s and help steer you in the right direction. Usually they won’t even charge you to help give you some advice on this. What they want is for you to assign them to be the registered agent for your business, which essentially means that they would handle writing your operating agreement and handle the annual renewals to the Virginia State Corporations Commission. Usually this will cost most small businesses less than $300 per year and it is totally worth it. It’s worth it because your time is money and unless you were a business attorney in your prior life, you probably don’t know exactly how to word things and to whom they should be filed with the state and how. Having a solid business attorney as your registered agent is well worth it.
Types of Businesses
There are a lot of options for how you can structure your business, but most SMALL BUSINESSES IN VIRGINIA will opt to form as one of these three:
- LLC (limited liability company) or; LLC-P (limited liability partnership)
- S-Corp (small corporation)
LLCs and S corps have much in common:
- • Limited liability protection. With both, owners are typically not personally responsible for business debts and liabilities.
- • Separate entities. Both are separate legal entities created by a state filing.
- • Pass-through taxation. Both are typically pass-through tax entities, and while S corps must file a business tax return, LLCs only file business tax returns if the LLC has more than one owner. With pass-through taxation, no income taxes are paid at the business level. Business profit or loss is passed-through to owners’ personal tax returns. Any necessary tax is reported and paid at the individual level.
- • Ongoing state requirements. Both are subject to state-mandated formalities, such as filing annual reports and paying the necessary fees.
Differences in ownership and formalities:
Ownership. The IRS restricts S corporation ownership, but not that of limited liability companies. IRS restrictions include the following:
- • LLCs can have an unlimited number of members; S corps can have no more than 100 shareholders (owners).
- • Non-U.S. citizens/residents can be members of LLCs; S corps may not have non-U.S. citizens/residents as shareholders.
- • S corporations cannot be owned by C corporations, other S corporations, LLCs, partnerships or many trusts. This is not the case for LLCs.
- • LLCs are allowed to have subsidiaries without restriction.
Ongoing formalities. S corporations face more extensive internal formalities. LLCs are recommended, but not required, to follow internal formalities.
- • Required formalities for S corporations include: Adopting bylaws, issuing stock, holding initial and annual director and shareholder meetings, and keeping meeting minutes with corporate records.
- • Recommended formalities for LLCs include: Adopting an operating agreement, issuing membership shares, holding and documenting annual member meetings (and manager meetings, if the LLC is manager-managed), and documenting all major company decisions.
Differences in management:
- • Owners of an LLC can choose to have members (owners) or managers manage the LLC. When members manage an LLC, the LLC is much like a partnership. If run by managers, the LLC more closely resembles a corporation; members will not be involved in the daily business decisions.
- • S corps have directors and officers. The board of directors oversees corporate affairs and handles major decisions but not daily operations. Instead, directors elect officers who manage daily business affairs.
Other differences between S corps and LLCs include:
- • Existence. An S corporation’s existence is perpetual, but some states require LLCs to list a dissolution date in the formation documents. Certain events, such as death or withdrawal of a member, can cause the LLC to dissolve.
- • Transferability of ownership. S corporation stock is freely transferable, as long as IRS ownership restrictions are met. LLC membership interest (ownership) typically is not freely transferable—approval from other members is often required.
- • Self-employment taxes. S corporations may have preferable self-employment taxes compared to the LLC because the owner can be treated as an employee and paid a reasonable salary. FICA taxes are withheld and paid on that amount. Corporate earnings after payment of the salary may be able to be treated as unearned income that is not subject to self-employment taxes. For more information and whether this might apply to your particular situation, please contact your accountant or tax adviser.
Partnerships with little to no employees:
If you’re a partnership that will not be immediately hiring a bunch of employees but rather paying subcontractors with 1099’s for the forseeable future, you should become a LLC, but elect to be taxed as an S-Corp. This is actually an option that you have. The key advantage to this is that you won’t have to pay any social security tax as a business. If you don’t have a payroll, you don’t need to be paying social security tax as a business. But you’ll still be set up as an LLC in this circumstance which best meets your needs as a partnership with no “actual” employees.
Partnerships with employees:
Become an LLC or an S-Corp. As an LLC, the owners are not considered employees. LLC’s do not pay income tax on earnings as a company. Instead, income is reported to the IRS and each owner or partner is given a From 1065-K which indicate your personal earnings for the year. This form 1065-K is what YOU pay your yearly income tax based on. So as an LLC you’re only responsible for paying taxes on what you earned as an individual whatever that amount may be. As an S-Corp, you have to file your business income taxes yearly.
Not a Partnership:
Become an LLC (not an LLC-P). This way you won’t have to file business taxes with the IRS. You will only have to report your earnings on your personal taxes in most instances. *Consult your CPA and/or business attorney as this is not guaranteed legal advice.
How Do I Pay My Virginia State Tax?
If you are selling tangible goods in the state of Virginia, you must pay the State a 5% tax rate on all items sold (as of 2/1/2013) to the state on a monthly basis. It’s as easy as signing up your business at http://www.tax.virginia.gov and paying by eform ST-9 with a secure online payment from your business bank account each month.
What is sales and use tax exempt in the Virginia? Anything such as website design, graphic design, consulting, advice, repairs, maintenance, and anything that is not a physical good. Physical goods such as business cards, batteries, tires, food, candles and any type of product is subject to 5% Virginia State Sales Tax.
5. What’s Your Budget?
What will your expenses be? What will each sale cost you? How much overhead do you have? What’s the hard cost of a product or service you offer before you sell it? This will determine your profit margins. If your margins are bad, you won’t be in business very long at all. When figuring out your profit margins, always consider the hard cost upfront, taxes and how this fits into your monthly expenses as well such as rent, bills, marketing etc. As long as there’s still some significant profit left over, you’ll be sitting well.
6. Marketing Your Business in Virginia
Marketing may easily be the single most important part of your business. Businesses who develop their branding from the beginning or their existence always tend to do better from a sales and marketing standpoint. Having a nice logo and branding is where it all starts. These days you can’t just think of a name for your business and go from there… You need to consider a few other things when coming up with a name. Is there a domain name available for this name? You probably want a .com domain and those hard to come by nowadays. You don’t want a website that has a neverendingongoingdomainnamewithtonsofwordslikethis.com. You want something that’s short and easy to remember and something that preferably has your name in it as well as what you offer. Think “Daniels Heating & Air” for example. That’s a good name because you can have the domain name www.danielsheatandair.com. But if all the good domains are taken you could be stuck with www.danielsheat-and-airconditioning.com which no one will remember, and radio ads are completely out of the question at that point. So go to www.1and1.com or any popular domain registrar’s website and start looking up domains that would be good for potential business names for your business. Think ahead. It will be worth it!
The next step is coming up with a great logo. You want something that fits your business that will be recognizeable to people. Your logo should contain colors that you like but not too many. You don’t want something too busy or with too much detail. You want a simple, clear, clean, sharp logo that will translate well to shirts, letterhead, signs, business cards, your website, Facebook, pens, you name it. Not just any design will do.
Once you have a logo designed, the rest can fall into place pretty easily. Get yourself some business cards printed from a local Virginia printer like Commonwealth Creative Marketing that does quality work for affordable rates.
No one uses the Yellow Pages anymore, so you’ll need a good website. Your competition already has a strong website with good SEO (search engine optimization), so you’ve immediately got some catching up to do on the web. Start thinking about what you want your site to say about you, what you want your customers to be able to see and do on your website. Plan it out with a web design company in Virginia like Commonwealth Creative Marketing. They can do great design work and build you a site that is makes you look outstanding on the web. Make sure you’re trusting a web designer that knows how to build a site with quality SEO practices. Otherwise you’ll end up with a nice site, but what good is it if no one can find it. Commonwealth Creative Marketing is your best bet for SEO website design in Virginia.
If you are an entrepreneur looking to start a business in Virginia and you have questions or just want to talk to someone who has done it themselves and works with new businesses everyday helping them, please give me a call anytime during the week. I’d love to offer any advice that I have and help you with marketing your new business.
Owner, Commonwealth Creative Marketing
Why We Love Working With Small Business
Early on in my career I got a “thrown to the fire” introduction to Corporate America. Out of college I worked for a large corporation that had clients that were even bigger corporations. Even though I wasn’t working for an “ad agency” like I’d wanted to, I was gaining solid business experience. It didn’t take long to figure out I didn’t really enjoy the corporate atmosphere of being monitored all hours of the day, the ties, the shoes, the reports, the pep rallies and so on. I kind of imagined myself doing my job unbothered by bosses and only bothered by people who needed my help… and me sort of acting as a central helper and having time to have fun while I worked. I wanted to wake up excited to go to work, not dreading it. I also wanted to wear flip flops but I knew that was pushing it a little.
I finally gathered up enough “business experience” in my field that a real, respected Ad Agency deemed me acceptable to hire. It was a great feeling and I finally felt like I was doing what I’d always wanted to do, working in the environment I’d always wanted to and with the types of people I dreamed about. What I learned next was that the “Ad Agency World” had problems of its own. That problem is that when one or two clients go away, so to do employees… practically overnight. Stability was a problem, and although I felt like I was making a name and a lot of friends and advocates, I still found myself bouncing around from agency to agency for a few years.
During this whirlwind time I had the pleasure of working with clients of all sizes. Big ones like Wal-Mart, SunTrust, Popeyes and Troy University… and little ones like an MRI/CT Scan office, a local bank and local restaurants. They were all fun and unique in their own ways, but after a while I found that I preferred the entrepreneurial spirit of the small business owners over the corporate guys who had to dodge mazes of red tape just to decide whether they could answer me honestly or not.
I think the turning point for me was when I was working on the Window World account in 2008. Window World is a national company with franchisees all over every state in the U.S. They have a corporate office in North Carolina that I worked with but they didn’t force all their employees to work with us. They let it be known that the company I worked with was their “preferred” agency and that we had created a fine library of creative print, web, radio and tv spots for them to choose from, but they also left Johnny the entrepreneur in Tucson the freedom to make, and run his own terrible ads featuring him, his son and the family dog. I kind of liked this philosophy. Although it would’ve been nice for our pockets if their corporate office forced all their franchisees to spend all their advertising dollars with us, it was rewarding to be working with a company that was willing to let their owners (their livelihood), make their own decisions and succeed or fail on their own.
I really liked talking to these individual entrepreneurs from all over the country, discussing how each of their markets differ and what “would and wouldn’t” work in certain places even when the product was the same in every place. It was unique. It was fun. And the people spoke and breathed with the true American spirit. They wanted to build their business into a success so that they and their families and children could live a good life. They were grateful of their opportunities and wanted to make money. That was it. They weren’t in it to impress share holders, or to afford 3rd homes for all the titles that begin with the letter C. They were normal, hard working people like you and me. They were small business owners.
Right after I left that job, I started working with Matt, Sarah and company, whom I started my first company with about a year later. We all shared the same philosophy that small businesses were the ideal client for us to work with. Small businesses deserved nice marketing, quality websites, and “ad agency” creative, but at a fair price. Small business website design quickly became a staple of our company, followed by discount printing and search engine optimization for small business. Every client I talk with is different, but they all have the same entrepreneurial spirit that we share. And that makes doing business an easy and special thing. Oh, and I get to wear flip flops 9 months out of the year.