Toys-To-Life And Gaming Industries Turn To Startups For Innovation

Toys-To-Life is a trend that incorporates physical toys into digital games. The industry had bumps, but startups are now driving Toys-To-Life innovation.

The gaming and toy industries have often been dominated by a small group of companies with the assets and marketing reach to secure shelf space in retail stores and online traffic. The continued growth of the Toys-to-Life sector, however, is shifting the scales in favor of small businesses and solopreneurs alike.

Toys-to-Life is a gaming trend that incorporates physical toys into digital games. With the launch of Activision’s Skylanders occurring in 2011, the industry is projected to grow to over $8 billion in revenue by 2013. When other major names like Disney and Lego joined in on the toys-to-life movement, it seemed that this industry would also be dominated by major players. The opposite has been the case, however, as Disney left not only Toys-to-Life but the entire gaming industry earlier this year.

Initially, industry pundits were saying Disney’s exit was the beginning of the end of the movement. However, the emergence of several innovative startups in the space tells a different story. In fact, it would seem that Disney’s size and experience may have been what prevented it from innovating at the pace required by this developing industry.

Entrepreneurs and small businesses, however, are experiencing increased success in both the toy and gaming industries. Jia Shen is the CEO and founder of PowerCore, a company that helps make digitally activated toys and objects for gaming experiences. At a recent DesignerCon in Pasadena California, Shen and his team partnered with fellow exhibitors in a digital version of a scavenger hunt to demonstrate the potential for augmented reality beyond games like Pokemon Go.

Examples of Toys-To-Life Innovation

Reinvigorating Older Franchises

One of the key ways Toys-to-Life is impacting the toy and gaming industries alike is its ability to revive popular franchises that may no longer be in the spotlight. Shen shares, “In a recent project, we partnered with Mattel, Animoca Brands, and Super7 to create a line of character cards that activate powerups in the new He-Man Tappers of Greyskull mobile game. We do this by using NFC (near-field-communication) technology to make the cards scannable from the game.”

Integrations like these create intrigue for existing franchises by generating new and exciting versions of gameplay. Toys-to-life enabled games encourage consumers to collect the various characters or power-ups required for enhanced gameplay, making it easier than ever for brands to bundle toys and games that go together.

The Toy Blank

Another trend in toys that is giving small businesses an edge is the emergence of the Toy Blank. Shen explains, “Toy Blanks, also known as Toy Platforms, are becoming a sound way for brands to license their characters to companies who can produce and distribute them more quickly. Players like Funko and Lego are mainstream examples of how much demand there is for this kind of toy.” As licensed toys designed by smaller toy manufacturers grow in popularity, there will be increased opportunities for designers and manufacturers to collaborate.

3D Printing Enabling Faster Innovation

Finally, larger companies are turning to firms with 3D printing capabilities to more rapidly prototype both standard and digitally activated toys. One reason pushing these larger organizations to leverage startups with 3D printing capabilities is the complexity involved in the modeling process.

Most 3D printers require a significant amount of engineering or computer science expertise, which means to develop their own solutions most companies would have to hire entirely new, highly qualified teams to maintain any 3D printing efforts. The result is an increase in demand for 3D printing startups that can meet the needs of larger organizations.

Enabling Designers

All of these changes are bringing about mutually beneficial updates for designers, game makers, and larger brands. By partnering with larger firms, small businesses in the toy and gaming industries can access assets that would otherwise be unattainable. By the same token, established industry leaders can leverage the innovation and lean speed with which startups operate to create content and collectibles that consumers want.


The relationship between startups and established toy brands is a model for how other industries can innovate. Innovation moves rapidly today, and startups are frequently the ones driving that change. If established companies want to survive successive cycles of disruption, and if young startups want a boost in their early days, partnerships can be mutually beneficial.

Skylanders Balloon Photo via Shutterstock

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What is an Infopreneur?

What is an Infopreneur?

A couple of decades ago, pursuing self-employment in the information industry was pretty difficult. Starting a publication was cumbersome and costly, blogging wasn’t an option and podcasts hadn’t even been dreamed up. For most aspiring entrepreneurs, making a steady living sharing your professional knowledge with others was an impossible pipe dream.

Thanks to the dawn of the web and a wide range of emerging technologies, that dream is now completely attainable for anyone and everyone — and those who choose that lifestyle are generally referred to as “infopreneurs”.

What is an Infopreneur?

Simply put, an infopreneur is a professional who collects information from multiple sources and personal experiences and uses it to create a unique package for consumers. And although the internet has hugely simplified that process, the term itself actually predates the era of digital celebrities. Harold “Skip” Weitzen coined the term in the 1980s elaborating on his own interpretation of what it means to be an infopreneur in the 1988 book “Infopreneurs: Turning Data Into Dollars”.

In the 20th Century, aspiring infopreneurs produced value-added reports and professional advice through mediums like self-published books, audio cassettes and CD-ROMs. After establishing personal a brand, an infopreneur could then work to establish sustainable self-employment sharing his or her insights on regular conference circuits and earning passive income generated through product sales.

Fast forward to 2017, and the internet, the emergence of social media and breakthroughs in self-publishing technologies have all made it far quicker and cheaper to get a foothold as an infoprenur. Sites like WordPress, YouTube and Facebook mean that anyone and everyone can share information and distribute it in a matter of seconds for free. Meanwhile, advertising services like AdWords and a variety of other methods of monetizing content mean that the right individual can start seeing steady income in record time.

To be clear, the ever-increasing simplicity of web publishing and distribution does not guarantee success — and in order to be a successful infopreneur, you will need to exercise plenty of effort and cunning. The web is absolutely flooded with self-labelled experts and professional bloggers in various fields. In order to stand out from the crowd and generate a following, you’ve got to establish your own unique selling points and some sort of signature style and flair.

Why Be an Infopreneur?

Just like any type of self-employment, pursuing a career as an infopreneur comes with plenty of perks. You get to choose when and where to apply yourself, and chase work that genuinely interests and engages you. At the same time, unlike other kinds of business startups, becoming an infopreneur carries far fewer risks.

First and foremost, it’s not hard to bootstrap a career in selling information. One of the easiest ways to begin establishing yourself as an infopreneur is to launch a blog or YouTube channel. Hosting fees for sites like WordPress are quite affordable and producing a quality eBook costs only time. Distributing self-published books and magazines online via Amazon and other platforms can be fairly cheap, too.

Meanwhile, infopreneurs generally don’t have to worry about ordinary startup overhead like brick-and-mortar costs or eCommerce support. It’s also far easier for infopreneurs to start generating some form of return on investment.

Can You Succeed as an Infopreneur?

If you feel like you’ve got the drive, determination and experience necessary to establish yourself as a credible source of useful information, you may want to consider pursuing self-employment as an infopreneur. So long as you’ve got internet access, you can produce and widely distribute content at virtually no cost. You’ve got little to lose, and plenty to gain.

Yet in order to taste success, you’ll need to come up with something unique. Every month, bloggers churn out about 73.9 million posts on WordPress, and there are literally millions of eBooks doing the rounds on Amazon. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to do market research and establish a built-in online following for the content you produce.

The road to success for infopreneurs is never easy — but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve it.

Working at Laptop Photo via Shutterstock

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25 Desktop Photo Editing Tools You May Not Know About

25 Desktop Photo Editing Tools You May Not Know About

Because of smartphones, owners of these devices have access to high-quality cameras with them at all times. This has made it possible for people to take pictures anywhere and post them right away, for business or personal applications. But the images they take are not always picture-perfect, which is why having a photo editing application you can access right away in your browser has become a valuable tool.

The 25 desktop photo editing tools on this list will let you edit your images with basic and sophisticated tools right from your browser without having to install them on your system.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools


The Pixlr editor comes with a wide range of tools that will allow you to perform many different functions that are similar to Photoshop. And just like Photoshop, it has the Layers functionality to give you greater control of the images you edit. This includes adjustments, distortions, filters, and transformations.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Pixlr

If you don’t want to go into that much detail, you can use Pixlr Express to quickly open your image and use the slider-based interface to make basic adjustments. You can make enhancements by sharpening the image, cropping and adjusting the exposure along with several different filters. 


Fotor has an easy to use interface that lets you edit images, create collages and greeting cards with frames, clip art and text. It has five different modules with a collection of filters with standard and specialized photo editing, including one designed to enhance selfies. Some of the filters are, color splash, black and white, lens flare and more.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Fotor

The collage feature lets you drop photos into 1:1, 3:4 or 4:3 aspect ratios with 80 templates, or you can create your own.


PicMonkey  has three groups of functions separated into Edit/Touch Up, Design and Collage so you can manipulate your images. In addition to standard editing features such as cropping, effects, touchups and resizing, the design function gives you a blank canvas so you can create invitations, posters, leaflets and more for your business quickly and easily.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - PicMonkey

The design function has templates for a wide range of projects so you can create graphics for your website, social media page or to print out on paper.


Once you upload your picture on BeFunky, the user interface lets you edit your image in a straightforward manner with multiple options. This app lets you transform your image and make it more engaging with frames, filters, effects and collage templates. The slider for each function lets you control the level of manipulation for each effect.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - BeFunky

Ready-made templates for event graphics, small business, blogger resources, social media headers, social media graphics, and greeting cards are available with subcategories to create customized projects with a large number of elements.


Ribbet has a single click auto-fix function to quickly enhance your image when you don’t have time and you need to post it right away. Crop, rotate, exposure, colors, sharpen, and resize also come as standard editing features along with collage. After you finish editing your image, you can save it to the local hard drive, Picasa and Google+, Flickr and Facebook.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Ribbet

You also get special effects, stickers, text, frames, touchup, pro features, and seasonal filters which can be customized to fit your needs. 


Upperpix comes with several different applications to edit your images online. You can apply filters, add text, draw, merge and add colors to your images. Basic shapes can also be integrated into an image to add custom background to highlight a particular product or service in a website.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Upperpix

A Layers/Objects panel lets you view the different layers and objects you’ve added to your image to better manage the editing process.


FotoFlexer has been around long enough to perfect the user interface, and it has done a great job to make the process of editing a photograph as easy as possible. The tabbed interface have basic edits, effects, animations, beautify tools, distort, and layer with great functionalities. It also includes an eyedropper tool so you can match colors of your image perfectly.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - FotoFlexer

FotoFlexer also has an auto fix button, a red eye removal tool, and dozens of effects such as a greyscale, cartoon, sepia, color splash, blur edges, comic, and color rotate effect.


LunaPic has a simple look that is deceptive, because it has a load of features. You get a magic wand selection, gradients, blending, animation effects, texts, drawing and more. The save provides some of them most popular formats, including gif, jpg, png, bmp, pdf, swf (flash), mpg and avi (movie files).

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - LunaPic

Once you’re finished, you can use the built-in sharing feature with your audience on Facebook, Twitter or Picasa.

Sumo Paint

Sumo Paint has a user interface that looks like Photoshop, and it has tools for performing extreme touchups with a huge number of filter effects that comes included in this app. A fully loaded toolbar has many features Photoshop users will be familiar with, such as selection, painting, shapes, cropping, and transform tools, zoom, eyedropper, and foreground/background colors.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Sumo Paint

Photoshop Express

You can’t mention photo editing without Photoshop, and Adobe has a stripped down version called Photoshop Express  that brings the technology and experience of the company to this app. You will get editing tools such as white balance, saturation, exposure, crop, rotate and more.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Photoshop Express

While it does provide some powerful editing tools, it does fall short when it comes to providing creative tools such as collage, decorating, filters and others.


With Picozu you can connect with social media sites and cloud services like Dropbox, Google Drive or SkyDrive to get your images and share them. You can edit your image using brushes, filters, and layers, as well as color fill, magic eraser, freehand selection, cropping, selections and more.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Picozu

Some of the other advanced editing tools are distortion, edge detection, noise, blur and others


Polarr has many features, including a great selection of tutorials. Editing features such as cropping, lighting, and color correction tools are readily available, but you also get advanced functions. Histogram editor, curve adjustments, gradient mask and radial mask, sharpening and clarity tools as well as a large number of filters.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Polarr

You can save in .JPEG or .PNG format with pixel size and image quality percentage and share them on Facebook, or Twitter.


As part of the Adobe family of products, Aviary provides professionally designed filters, stickers and frames, frames and overlays, and touch-up tools so you can create and share your images. You can stylize images with more than 100 filters, draw and add text to enhance images with Hi-Def.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Aviary

The editing features include crop, rotate, and straighten along with being able to modify brightness, contrast, highlights and shadows.


Canva is a tool that lets you design professional grade graphics, but also edits photos. The platform provides more than 1 million layouts, stock photographs and illustrations with easy to use drag and drop functionality. The preset filters let you easily edit images with brightness, contrast, saturation, tint, blur, and vignette.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Canva

This is a very useful application for small businesses that want to design their own posters, flyers, logos, presentations and more. It has a library of more than 1 million premium images or design with hundreds of free elements and fonts to make this possible.

Fotor Online HDR Software

Unlike standard digital cameras, High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is able to capture a wider range of lights and colors to produce images that are extremely vivid while retaining the details that might be lost. The Fotor HDR Software has advanced HDR technologies to deliver the same effects using alignment, ghost reduction, and Local/Global Tone Mapping.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Fotor Online HDR Software

The result is an HDR effect that will give your images new life.


Fotostars has an array of filters and effects to change and enhance any image quickly and easily. It includes 50 photo effects and photo frames to add unique styles and characters to your images. You can then add text and use the constructor to edit it with color grading, desaturation, image noise, lateral shadow, sepia transformation and more.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Fotostars

These features come with cropping tools as well as blurring and dream effects with a layers menu and customizable camera control. Images can be shared on Twitter, Facebook, Mail, Instagram, iMessage, iPhoto, WhatsApp and other social media and email clients.


PiZap photo editor has more than 50 million followers, which may be attributed to the multiple of features it provides. With PiZap, you can edit photos and decorate them with more than 200 fonts, outlines and text affects and use over 1,000 stickers to further embellish your images.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - piZap

The online photo editing tool has the basic features, but it also includes Instagram style filters, light FX, textures, special effects and painting tools. If you are feeling creative, you can use the MEME and Emoji maker to create one of a kind images for your audience.

Photo Lab

Photo Lab gives you more than 600 effects to create almost any imaginable scenario for your picture. You can use creative artistic effects to create collages for multiple images with holiday e-card templates and fun face montages. The photorealistic effects lets you insert your images into books, dollar bills, magazine covers or mobile devices to market your small business.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Photo Lab

The photo editor has crop, rotate, color adjustment, lighting, sharpness, and touch-up functions.


PicBuzz is a great promotional tool you can use for your business to increase brand awareness and attract more customers. Filters and effects address, hotels, restaurants, artists and designers can be used with realistic photo montages.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - PicBuzz

If you can’t find one that suits your industry, you can create your own photo templates and use it for yourself, or it can be a business opportunity by offering them for sale.


Afterlight is an easy to use editor with 15 adjustment tools, 74 filters, 78 textures and a list of 128 frames to place your images. The cropping and transforming tools have 15 different preset functions to quickly make the most common adjustments. But you can also use the rotating tool, vertical and horizontal flipping tools, and straightening along with the standard editing tools to get the right effect

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Afterlight


Compression is an important feature if you plan using your images online, especially mobile Internet. TinyPNG is able to optimize your PNG and JPEG image with perfect balance in quality and file size by selectively decreasing the number of colors in the image. This means it requires fewer bytes to store and transmit the data, which makes your website faster for end users.

TinyPNG is currently being used by some of the biggest brands in the world, including Samsung, Sony, EA, Walmart, Bank of America and many others. While this is not a photo editing tool, it is just as useful for anyone that has a digital presence.


Phixr is a complete imaging solution in which you can manipulate the photo by rotating, flipping, and resizing it based in pixels, percentage or standard sizes. The color effect has more than 70 options, including normalize, auto white balance, color enhance, black and white, sepia and auto contrast.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Phixr

You can decorate the photos with stock objects, borders and textures as well as adding fun effects by converting images to oil paintings or charcoal drawing.  Image editing tools can sharpen, blur, and soften your photographs while removing red eye and whitening teeth.

Free Online Photo Editor

The Free Online Photo Editor is an application that is very basic, but it delivers in terms of getting the job done quickly and efficiently. It includes basic functionality like cropping, re-sizing, brightness/contrast adjustments, working with text, and a number of effects. If you are looking for a no frills solution, this is it.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Free Online Photo Editor


This application has been dubbed as the online alternative to GIMP, and with so many features, iPiccy might have earned the title. It has a lot of useful and powerful photo editing tools, including more than 110 photo effects, tools and filters that let you add text and stickers as well as create collages.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - iPiccy

The tools are categorized under Basic, Advanced, Adjustments, Color, and Filters and you can use them for one-click fix to the image, resize, crop, rotate, sharpen, or flip the picture, as well as edit the exposure, hue, saturation, and colors. 


Pixelmator is a full-featured and powerful image editing app for the Mac that lets you create advanced composition using many of the tools it provides. It has pixel accurate editing so you can apply or remove any effect.

Desktop Photo Editing Tools - Pixelmator

You can paint, retouch and draw on new or existing images and add more than 160 effects and see the results in real-time. The color correction tools are professional grade, which lets you adjust exposure, hue, saturation, shadows and highlights, brightness, contrast, and much more.


While Photoshop is the gold standard when it comes to photo editing and manipulation, it has a high learning curve and it is not cheap. These 25 browser-based desktop photo editors let you quickly edit images without having to worry if you have the right application on your computer.

Finding the right solution will depend on your specific needs and how much functionality you will require to make it possible. If you plan on make mobile a big part of  photo editing make sure it has a mobile app. And as always, try the free version first and if it delivers for you, go for the premium version, if it is available.

Photo Studio Photo via Shutterstock

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50 Small Business Ideas for Infopreneurs

50 Small Business Ideas for Infopreneurs

Infopreneurs are business owners who make money by selling information. Of course, information can come in many different forms. So there are plenty of different business ideas out there for those who want to make a living by selling their expertise. Here are 50 different business ideas for infopreneurs.

Business Ideas for Infopreneurs

Traditional Author

50 Small Business Ideas for Infopreneurs - Author

If you want to share information, writing a book can be a great way to pack a lot into a single product.

eBook Author

But you don’t have to go through a traditional publisher anymore. You can easily publish your own books online now and sell them as ebooks.

Expert Blogger

You can also start your own blog on a subject where you have a lot of expertise.

Niche Blogger

Or you can start a blog in a very specific niche and share information and commentary about just that specific subject.

Guest Blogger

If you’re well known in a specific niche or industry, you can also earn an income by offering your services as a guest blogger for other sites.


Podcasting is a great way to share information and expertise in an audio format.

Newsletter Writer

50 Small Business Ideas for Infopreneurs - Newsletter Writer

Or you can share your expertise with subscribers via an email newsletter.

Affiliate Marketer

Whether you have a blog, podcast, newsletter or other online venue, you can build a business by working with brands as an affiliate marketer that drives traffic to related websites.

YouTube Personality

You can also create your own YouTube channel or online videos where you share information and make money via advertising.

Public Speaker

If you prefer to share your expertise in person, you can make public speaking appearances at relevant events.

Niche Website Operator

You can also start a website in a specific niche and share information in formats other than traditional blog posts or podcasts.

Membership Site Owner

Or you can build a website and charge a membership fee for those who want to access specific parts of the site or receive other benefits like bonus content via email.

Social Media Influencer

You can also share your expertise or information via social media and build up your reputation as a social media influencer.

Social Media Manager

Though it’s also a service-based business, you can share your expertise through those services by working with businesses to manage their social media accounts.

Online Course Creator

For those who want to teach a specific skill or craft, you can create your own online courses and sell them to relevant customers.

Workbook Seller

Or you can create workbooks, worksheets or other informational downloads and sell them via a blog or website.

How-to Guide Creator

How-to guides can be another great way to share specific pieces of information. You can create your own and then sell them online or even make hard copies.

Magazine Publisher

Traditional print publications might not be as popular as they used to be. But you can still create your own magazines or similar publications and sell them to consumers.

Newspaper Publisher

Likewise, you can create a local or niche newspaper to sell information to consumers.

Freelance Blogger

Freelancing is another great way to sell your expertise in a specific subject. You can write for other websites or publications as a way to earn an income.

Ghost Blogger

Or you could create articles or blog posts and sell them to websites for them to publish under their own names.


Copywriters can specialize in a variety of different content formats. You can build your own business writing anything from advertisements to product descriptions.


Or you could work with clients on a more personal level as a coach in a specific field or niche, either in person or online.


Consultants are similar to coaches, but can help people or businesses deal with more specific issues.

Forum Moderator

If you want to build an info business online, you can create an online forum where you and members of your community can share information.

Community Leader

Or you can start a community based business either in person or online and make money through events or membership.

Directory Site Operator

You can also create a website specifically to list a specific type of information. You can then charge businesses or individuals to be listed on your site.

Industry Thought Leader

If you’re able to build expertise in a specific industry, you can come to be known as a thought leader and earn an income through anything from training sessions to speaking engagements.

Printables Seller

There are a variety of different printable products you can sell online through downloads, from in-depth guides to simple informational posters.

Webinar Host

Webinars are quick online informational events where you can share your expertise with a wide audience over video.

Workshop Host

Or you could host in-person workshops and charge an admission fee to interested consumers.


If you want to share your expertise on a one-on-one level, you can start a business as a tutor specializing in a particular subject.

Class Instructor

Or you can start a larger class teaching anything from dance to SAT-prep.

Conference Organizer

If you want to share information via conferences or events, you can start your own and then make sure you have great speakers and info for your attendees.

Mobile App Seller

Mobile apps can also help you share information with mobile consumers. You can develop your own and then sell it or make money via in-app purchases or ads.

Financial Advisor

If you’re knowledgeable about finances, you can serve as an advisor for individuals or businesses to share your expertise in exchange for a fee.


You can also sell information in the form of research on specific subjects requested by your clients.


Editors might not always share their own personal expertise in their work. But they can add helpful insights for writers in a variety of different formats.

Professional Trainer

If you work in an industry that requires a specific form of training, you can build a business by offering that specific training to businesses that want to outsource that part of their business.

E-Library Creator

You can also collect information from various sources and create your own e-library as a way to make finding information easier for people.

Business Plan Service Operator

For business experts, you can offer your services as a business plan writer or consultant as a way to share your expertise with new entrepreneurs.

Marketing Service Operator

You can also provide content marketing and other marketing informational products or services to businesses.

Press Release Service Operator

Or you can provide a service where you write press releases for businesses to share their information with media outlets and more.

Brochure Creator

You can also create brochures and other smaller form informational content for business clients.

Direct Mail Creator

Or you could start a service where you write or create direct mail campaigns to share information about businesses or causes.


If you know more than one language, you can also help to translate informational documents and other materials.

Short Story Writer

Writers who don’t want to write full length books or short blog posts could also potentially build a business by writing and selling short stories.

Personal Trainer

For fitness minded entrepreneurs who want to share expertise with individual clients, personal training can be a great business idea.

Fitness Instructor

Or you could hold larger classes where you share your expertise with multiple people at once.

Meal Planning Service Provider

If your expertise lies more in the realm of dieting, you can also create and sell meal plans for clients who need help coming up with a personalized plan.

Group Tablet, Mobile Newslettert, Author Photos via Shutterstock

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How to Win Business with Click-To-Call

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Click-to-call for mobile devices is booming and is expected to skyrocket in coming years. How can you get a piece of this action as a small business owner?

With all the ways we have to connect with one another today, it may surprise you to learn the phone is still the preferred method for customers to interact with businesses. In fact, a recent study by Invoca shows companies big and small are seeing an explosion of inbound calls. Why? One big reason is the tremendous growth of click-to-call, the ability to dial a business directly from a mobile search.

Click-to-call is booming, and the already staggering number of calls to businesses from mobile devices is expected to skyrocket in coming years: a predicted 162 billion calls will be made to businesses from smartphones by 2020.

So how do you get a piece of this click-to-call action as a small business owner? By making it easy to call your company, understanding what mobile callers want, and creating a consistently positive phone experience. In this article, we’ll explore ways to do all three.

Driving Mobile Traffic to Your Business Number

In mere seconds, smartphone users can search for and connect with companies that meet their needs — great news for businesses that are ready to pick up the phone and to deliver. Calls initiated by smartphone users are especially valuable to growing companies, because they allow for personal connection other channels can’t provide. A one-on-one conversation with a prospective customer is a unique opportunity to clearly communicate the value of your service, and a chance to build rapport and trust.

There are lots of ways to make your telephone number stand out to mobile customers:

  • Start by making your number clickable and prominent on your website. Be sure to include your number in your website’s header, footer, contact page, and any calls to action.
  • Consider adding a “Click to Call” button on your homepage.
  • Limit the need for scrolling by making sure your number appears near the top of your homepage.
  • Ensure your Google business information is up-to-date and a phone number is visible. For more information on claiming your business and managing your listing, check out Google’s support page.
  • In addition to having your phone number listed, a simple line of code is all it takes to make your number clickable from a mobile phone: <a href=“tel:1-847-555-5555”>1-847-555-5555</a>

Understanding the Mobile Audience

According to Invoca, smartphone users typically reach out for three reasons:

  • To get a quick answer. Scrolling through your website or FAQ page doesn’t appeal to mobile users. They’re looking to click, call and get to the bottom of things quickly (e.g. service, pricing, hours, etc.)
  • To express a concern. When mobile users are concerned about something, they’re not interested in sending an email or submitting a form online — they want to speak with a live person who can help.
  • To get expert advice. What better way to learn a topic than to chat with someone who knows that topic through and through? Mobile users look to the pros when seeking guidance. That’s you!

In other words, the click-to-call crowd needs help, and they want it right away.

Creating a Standout Experience for Mobile Callers

Winning over the mobile crowd takes more than a clickable number. In fact, without a friendly, helpful person to answer, an influx of calls could harm your business. Mobile users value excellent service, and don’t want to waste time waiting around for it. One in five calls from mobile phones are abandoned — likely due to common offenders like long hold times or reaching an automated system instead of a live person — and callers are more likely to hang up on a local business than a call center. Furthermore, dissatisfied callers aren’t afraid to share their feedback. Not only did 74 percent of those polled by Invoca say they are likely to choose another business after a negative phone experience, 70 percent said they are likely to complain to friends or family, 30 percent are likely to leave a bad review, and 24 percent are likely to complain on social media. Yikes!

In order to reap the substantial rewards click-to-call has to offer, small businesses need the customer experience infrastructure to support it. Before overhauling your website or your marketing plan to better feature click-to-call, it can be helpful to take a look at your phone service strategy. Maximizing on these three elements can help ensure a positive caller experience:

  • An inviting introduction. Responsiveness inspires trust. Live answering during business hours is key — if callers reach voicemail or an automated system, they’re likely to move on to the next company in their mobile search. Aim to answer with your custom greeting within the first few rings, and be sure your tone of voice says “I’m excited you called!” Pro tip: smiling is a surefire way to achieve a warm, friendly tone.
  • A game plan. Mobile callers may do little or no research on your business before calling, so be sure anyone who is answering your phone is prepared with helpful answers to common questions. It’s not uncommon for callers to ask to speak with a particular department — like sales, support, or billing — so it’s best to equip your phone answering team with a game plan outlining how to handle or route certain types of calls. Above all, show your dedication to providing great service, and train your phone team to avoid dead-end phrases like “I don’t know.” First impressions are critical!
  • Reliably superior service. It’s not easy to consistently impress new and returning customers over the phone — especially for small businesses — but it’s possible with the right team. And if you haven’t found your phone dream team yet, a virtual receptionist service like Ruby® Receptionists can help ensure every caller gets the royal treatment, even when you’re too swamped to pick up the phone — giving you the peace of mind to focus on other things.

Lifelong customers are built on meaningful connections, and the click-to-call boom presents a profound opportunity for small businesses to create those connections. Mobile callers are looking for the same thing all callers are seeking: a live, friendly voice ready to help — and if your company is ready to answer the call, you’re in luck.

Image: Ruby Receptionists

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These eCommerce statistics for small businesses have been collected from a variety of sources.

Last updated: January 29, 2017

General Ecommerce Statistics

  • 51 percent of Americans prefer to shop online.
  • Online buying frequency numbers:
    • 95 percent of Americans shop online at least yearly.
    • 80 percent of Americans shop online at least monthly.
    • 30 percent of Americans shop online at least weekly.
    • 5 percent of Americans shop online daily.
  • 48 percent of online shoppers have bought or spent more than planned when shopping online.

Marketing and Conversion eCommerce Statistics

  • Between 2014 and 2015, social media referrals to eCommerce sites increased 198 percent.
  • Almost a quarter of online shoppers (23 percent) are influenced by social media recommendations.
  • Using product videos on eCommerce sites can increase product purchases by 144 percent.
  • The following factors have been shown to influence American shoppers to buy online:

  • While 49 percent of online shoppers cite not being able to touch, feel or try a product as one of their least favorite aspects of online shopping, ecommerce retailers can alleviate some of those frustrations with the following tactics:

Product Returns eCommerce Statistics

Research shows that:

  • At least 30 percent of all products ordered online are returned as compared to 8.89 percent in brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Stated reasons for eCommerce returns:
    • 20 percent of consumers returned items because they received damaged products.
    • 22 percent said they received different products from what they ordered 23 percent said they received wrong item altogether.
    • 35 percent of shoppers return products because of other reasons.

In addition, studies have shown that:

  • 60 percent of shoppers actually read your return policy before completing a sale, and that the return policy ultimately influences 80 percent of the sale.
  • 55.2 percent of consumers disliked online shopping due to products being “difficult to return” or the associated restocking fees and or return shipping fees.

Lost Opportunities eCommerce Statistics

  • 28 percent of online shoppers will abandon their cart if the shipping costs are too high.
  • 74 percent of small business websites have no eCommerce.
  • An estimated 66 percent of online consumers abandon their transactions due to problems during the payment process.
  • 30 percent of mobile shoppers abandon a transaction if the experience is not optimized for mobile.
  • The following factors can negatively influence eCommerce conversions:

Weird eCommerce Statistics

Studies show that:

  • 20 percent of American online shoppers have purchased from the bathroom.
  • 10 percent of Americans shop online when they’re under the influence of alcohol.

Bottom Line

As the statistics above show, eCommerce is a thriving industry. Small businesses that are not participating stand to lose out on both sales and relevancy as the number of online shoppers continues to grow. While it’s important to take customer wants and needs into consideration, the payoff exceeds the cost.

Ready to get started? These posts can help:

Ecommerce Photo via Shutterstock

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The Old Man and The Pen

"You can outlast the other guys if you try." – Seth Godin

This is a simple story about the life of a particular writer, and how he ignored the one thing about his craft that would have given him everything he truly wanted …

A young man in his late twenties decided to become a writer.

At the beginning of the pursuit of his craft, he sought out all the writing advice he could find. He attended writing workshops, went to many parties of a literary nature, drove far into the woods seeking the wisdom of writing retreats, and read countless books on writing by countless other writers.

After several years of this, he began to despair. He seemed to have found the correct knowledge, and a few seemingly valuable contacts along the way, but he hadn’t yet written anything of consequence.

He felt very validated by a number of his very nice friends in his Thursday night writing circle, but he couldn’t keep down the horror in his gut that something was going terribly wrong.

He was having a good time. There were the parties, the drink, the pills, and the long conversations about art and writing.

Then, somewhere in his mid-thirties, the not-so-young-anymore writer looked around and realized that he had wasted many years. This confused him, because his entire circle of friends were “writers” after all.

He had a decision to make.

On a particularly starry Thursday night, the phone rang — like it did almost every other night of the week — at 11:03 p.m. Pacific Time. Only this time, he didn’t answer it. It rang again, and again, and four more times before midnight. He did not pick it up.

Instead of going out with his “writer” friends, that night he just sat at his desk and stared at a blank sheet of paper. He did manage to get 133 words down before sunrise. It was a bad feeling to have accomplished so little — while also missing out on the booze — but it was a much better feeling than anything he could remember in years.

So, he did not answer the phone on the next night, or the next. Instead, he stayed in, staring at blank pages and slowly filling them up with words. And then he just … kept going like that … for another 42 years.

A few weeks before his death, a reporter asked the old writer for the secret to a great literary career.

The old man held up a worn Bic pen and said, “If there is a secret, it’s in here somewhere, swirling around in all that black ink. It spills down on the page, and something happens, or it doesn’t, and you spill more and more of it to try to find your way.”

“What if I use a keyboard instead of a pen?” the reporter asked.

“Don’t get cute with me kid, same damn thing,” the writer said. “Slow and steady.”

The old writer had not become famous or particularly wealthy; he hadn’t won any international awards or even made a single bestseller list. Those things, he said, were not up to him, not in his control, or yours. But, over the course of many years, he had built an unimpeachable reputation, a vast audience, and a very good living.

He could not say what had become of his old “writer” friends, but he was grateful that they had eventually driven him straight into the arms of his chosen craft.

“You can outlast the other guys if you try. If you stick at stuff that bores them, it accrues. Drip, drip, drip you win.”

– Seth Godin

Image source: Eli Francis via Unsplash.

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Mark Your Tax Calendars for 2017

Mark the Dates for the 2017 Tax Calendar

As a business owner, you don’t want to miss any tax deadline. Doing so can result in tax penalties, which can be hefty and are not deductible. Here are some key dates (some of which are new this year), as well as strategies you can use to be on time.

2017 Tax Calendar

Income Tax Returns

If you are a calendar-year partnership or limited liability company (LLC) filing Form 1065 for 2016, the due date is March 15, 2017. Previously, this form was due on the same date as the owner’s Form 1040, but the date was moved up. However, if you get a filing extension, you’ll now have six months — to September 15, 2017 — to file the 2016 return. These are the same deadlines that apply for calendar-year S corporations.

If you are a calendar-year C corporation, your Form 1120 for 2016 is not due until April 18, 2017. Previously, this form had a March 15 deadline. The filing extension remains September 15, so there’s only a five-month extension for this return.

The filing deadline for your personal income tax return, Form 1040, is due on April 18, 2017 (April 15 is a Saturday and April 17 is Emancipation Day in Washington D.C.).

Employment Tax Returns

The due dates for the employer’s quarterly tax return, Form 941, for 2017 are the end of the month following the close of the quarter to which the form relates: April 30, 2017, July 31, 2017, October 31, 2017, and January 31, 2018. If taxes have been timely deposited in full, the due date is extended to the 10th day of the second month following the end of the quarter (e.g., May 10 for the first quarter if taxes have been deposited in full).

If you have been filing the annual Form 944 instead of the quarterly Form 941 and need to switch because you expect payments for the year to exceed $2,500, you can’t simply do this on your own. You have to get the IRS’s approval. You have until April to contact the IRS and request a change by calling 800-829-4933.

For federal unemployment tax, there’s an annual filing. The due date for filing Form 940 for 2016 is January 31, 2017. However, if you deposited all your FUTA tax when it was due, you can file Form 940 by February 10, 2017.

Estimated Taxes

If you are self-employed (sole proprietor, independent contractor, partner, or LLC member) and pay estimated taxes, be sure to note the payment due dates for 2017: April 18, 2018, June 15, 2018, September 15, 2018, and January 16, 2018.

Don’t send the first installment for 2017 with your 2016 income tax return.

You can avoid late payments because you’re traveling or simply forget by scheduling estimated taxes for Form 1040 in advance. You can do this up to 365 days in advance if you opt to pay through If you use for business taxes, advances can only be scheduled up to 120 days in advance. There’s no cost for using this service. Find out more about in IRS Publication 966.

Information Returns

You were supposed to provide employees with W-2s and independent contractors with 1099-MISCs for 2016 services by January 31, 2017. This was also the date that transmittal of these forms were due to the Social Security Administration (for W-2s) and the IRS (for 1099-MISCs showing nonemployee compensation). This is a new transmittal date, which applies whether you’re transmitting forms on paper or electronically. If you are already late, file as soon as you can to minimize penalties.

You could have asked for a filing extension by submitting Form 8809 by January 31. It’s too late now, but remember this option for next year.

If you are a small employer with a self-insured health care plan (e.g., a health reimbursement arrangement), the deadline for furnishing employees with Form 1095-B for 2016 coverage is March 2, 2017. They were originally due by January 31, 2017, but the IRS gave everyone an extension this year. However, transmittal of the forms are due to the IRS by February 28, 2017, if you do this on paper, or March 31, 2017, if you transmit copies electronically.

Correcting Delinquencies

It seems axiomatic that the sooner you submit a late return, the smaller the penalties will be. That’s because penalties apply per month (or part thereof). Interest on tax underpayments applies month-by-month as well.

But when it comes to information returns, correcting a delinquency as soon as possible can really limit penalties. For example, if you send a delinquent 1099 within 30 days of the required filing date, the penalty is only $50. If you miss this date but file by August 1, the penalty doubles to $100. But if you don’t file by August 1, the penalty jumps to $260.


You can create your own tax calendar so you’ll never miss another deadline by using a free desktop calendar tool from the IRS. Also, be sure to include the dates for state tax obligations (e.g., state unemployment insurance).

Tax Dates Photo via Shutterstock

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DuckDuckGo Gives Business Owners Unique Research Tool

The anonymous DuckDuckGo search engine provides small businesses with a safe way to search the web along some useful features.

Of course you know about Google, Yahoo, Bing and AOL, but have you heard of the DuckDuckGo search engine? Well, it’s an internet search engine that emphasizes protecting searchers’ privacy and avoiding the “filter bubble” of personalized search results.

A Look at the DuckDuckGo Search Engine

The “filter bubble” is a term coined by internet activist Eli Pariser to refer to the selective information that search engines present to users based on variances such as location, past click behavior and search history. That means that different results are shown to different people. Not everyone who searches for a particular topic sees the same results. While this might be beneficial at certain times, the filter bubble also can isolate and deter you from seeing the entire picture.  DuckDuckGo doesn’t have a filter bubble. And the ability to switch which local region you’re searching in gives you more options and ultimately, a truer search.

While its main draw is lack of a filter bubble, DuckDuckGo has another killer feature you may not have heard of – !bangs. By simply appending “!g” or “!google” in the search box you will be taken immediately to the Google search engine. If you type !stackoverflow, !wikipedia or a large number of other similarly well-known web destinations, the DuckDuckGo will bring up these respective websites too. This is pretty clever stuff!

The search engine also doesn’t follow you around with ads.

The anonymous DuckDuckGo search engine provides small businesses with a safe way to search the web along some useful features.

Here’s a scenario; you search for restaurants and go through a few. The next time you want to search for something, the search engine will show you targeted restaurant ads. This could be useful for a variety of reasons, but it is typically a monetization strategy. However, DuckDuckGo keeps a clean, clutter-free interface at all times. “We don’t store your search history,” says the company on their main search page. “We therefore have nothing to sell to advertisers that track you across the internet.”

The downside with this search engine, however, is that it’s not as intuitive as Google when it comes to news. The search engine doesn’t seem to have a section that’s specifically dedicated to News.

Overall, DuckDuckGo is definitely one of the more private search engines around. Its clean design, lack of filter bubble and ibangs makes it a useful research tool if — you need to get out of your bubble and explore some new things on the web..

Image: DuckDuckGo

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How To Build Your Personal Magnetism and Charisma

How To Build Your Personal Magnetism and Charisma

With all the talk about, writing about and discussion about personal branding, this magnetism and charisma is already inside each one of us and part of the DNA of the personality we were born with.

In Developmental Psychologist Jan Mercer’s article in Psychology Today: Temperament and Genetics, she confirms “biological factors determine the individual’s ‘temperament,’ the group of personality characteristics that seem to be present in some form from early life onward and that make us consider people as having individualized personalities.”

So, if you want to be more fun, dynamic, social and memorable, then look inside and develop all the qualities, capacity and potential  you already have.

Within seconds of meeting someone in person, we just know whether someone is interesting, annoying, funny, sharp or seemingly easy to get along with. First impressions are usually gut impressions and are often right on. Not always but usually.

So What Attracts People to Each Other?

Our physical appearance and image is unmistakable. Our style, grooming and personal presentation are important magnets for standing out and being remembered. The way we look and present ourselves makes an undeniable impression and statement.

It is true however most of the time, that we remember people because of their personality, energy, personal magnetism and how it makes us feel.

The study of Interpersonal Attraction and what leads people to friendships or romantic relationships is a major area of research in social psychology related to how much we like, dislike or hate someone. It can be viewed as a force acting between two people that tends to draw them together and resist their separation.  It is suggested that to determine attraction, the genetic personality combined with the situation must be taken into account.

We should take every opportunity to connect with people, spend time with people you want to grow relationships with and be willing to discuss and work on areas of disagreement or conflict with people you already have relationships with.

Getting to know people more personally unlocks the magnetism between them.

Here are 13 qualities that can make us more memorable and can build personal magnetism.

  • Kindness
  • Authenticity
  • Willingness
  • Relevance
  • Relatability
  • Knowledge
  • Optimism
  • Humility
  • Responsibility
  • Compassion
  • Magnanimity
  • Humor
  • Levity

Here are a few more more things that you can do to develop more personal magnetism.

  • Take the time to talk one on one
  • Be willing to introduce good people to each other
  • Be complimentary to others
  • Help others in times of change and transition
  • Be positive, hopeful and authentic
  • Share a good sense of humor

“The next time someone asks you, “How’s it going?” or “What do you think of the weather?” don’t think of it as an imposition. See it as an opportunity to open a conversation, establish a connection and set the stage for a potentially deeper relationship” says Andy Molinsky Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Brandeis International Business School.

What qualities attract you to others?

What qualities do you believe attract others to you?

Magnet Photo via Shutterstock

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