Tips For Small Business Owners Building Their First Website

A website is a sales and marketing tool, and like any other form of advertising or marketing, there are considerations to be made when contemplating a new website. An important consideration is always money, but this may not be the most important aspect of your website. How important the cost of the website is may be decided by your specific requirements and goals. There are companies that provide inexpensive website design packages that fit most budgets. Other companies offer higher end, customized products. Which direction you go will be based on your requirements, budget, and goals.

This article lays out some of the considerations that must be made to build an effective and profitable website. Questions or comments? Contact the author for more in depth information about the web design and development process.

1. What is the goal of your website?

Answering this question before the design process begins is extremely important. Without a clear direction, your website will attempt to be everything to everybody instead of targeting your potential customers. The goals of your website may be extremely simple, and require only a small informational site that gives your local clients a place to locate information about your business, and maybe a map to your physical location.

Some firms wish to sell their products online, and this presents several follow up questions. How will the website be promoted? Is the fulfillment chain organized and ready to go? Who (in your company) will manage the day to day operations of the website?

What is important is that you have a clear and concise goal for your website. Without direction, your web design company can’t build you an accurate bid, and your website is destined for failure. A small business owner doesn’t need any technical knowledge to build her website plan. Simply sitting down with a pen and notepad and answering a couple questions should help solidify the website plan. Who are the targeted users? What information will be available on the website? How do you envision the website bringing in clients? What is your budget? What is your expected return on investment?

2. How do I choose a web development company?

Hiring the correct web design company is extremely important to the success of the project. There are many thousands of excellent design firms out there that could a good job for you. How do you sift through them all to get the perfect fit? Here are a couple general guidelines to follow:

  • A reputable web design company will have both phone number and email contact information on their website. Sometimes it’s best to use a local company that you can meet with face to face. Other times, you might need to use an outside firm that matches your requirements. However, if you can’t reach the web design company by phone, move along – they’re probably an outsourcing company that uses non-English labor to build your site.
  • Choose the web development company that best meets your requirements. Some designers specialize in certain technologies, while others are more general. For example, if you have a custom accounting solution that you need to tie to your web store, a provider that sells services relating to your accounting package might be best. If you only need a small 3-5 page website, a discount design firm might be best.
  • Ask for references. A web design company should be able to provide you with at least 2 and up to 5 references. Then, call the references to make sure that they had a good experience with the design company. Next, research the design firm’s website and look for example sites they’ve created. Contact people at those companies to see if they had a good experience during their website design process.
  • Get examples of previous work. This will give you a good gauge of the web designer’s quality of work. Don’t use their own website as a gauge. Often, web design companies spend a lot of time on their own site.

3. How will I promote my website?

A website is useless unless it is properly promoted and is receiving targeted traffic (through search engine optimization). Initially, a business may start promoting its website using traditional methods like direct mail, business cards, etc. Some send out a bulk email to a client list letting them know about the website and what its benefits are to the client. Getting your website highly ranked nationwide or worldwide is a more complex and expensive process. After all, you’re competing with every similar website in the world! A less challenging goal is to get first page search results locally or regionally. Your web design professional can help you come up with a comprehensive online marketing plan.

Small Business Marketing – The Power of Web and Print

Small Business Marketing is a foundational aspect of business success. Even if you employ a professional to market your products, you can still do a lot yourself. Anything you do to get the word out about your business and its services or products could be the one thing that brings the perfect buyer. With so many options, which are the best small business marketing methods?

Here are a couple to consider:

Internet

The majority of businesses today do not have a website. This is amazing to me because having a website is vital to today’s business. It is no longer an added benefit; it’s necessary. The good news is it’s not hard to get one made and make it good. But you should employ an experienced web designer to do it unless you are skilled in web design and could do it on your own.

I repeat, SKILLED. Just because you can put a few words and pictures together for a page and make it live is not good enough. It needs to shine. In today’s business world, most people’s first contact with you will come through your website.

Think about it. If you want to learn about a company, where do you go? The county records office? No, you go online and type the name in. It’s that simple. And believe it or not, the first time you see their name and the opening page of their site you are making multiple assumptions and conclusions about that person or business. Do they appear professional, or do they appear amateurish? Are they artistic, or are they dull? Is there a sense of organization here, or is it so confusing you have a hard time deciphering up from down and left from right?

The website must be clear, artistically designed, and comprehensive. The extra time and money put into this will make a difference. I have worked with one person in particular who has a great business website. Dozens of people have told him they absolutely love the website and it was one of the deciding factors that led them to do business with his company. And these are people investing many thousands of dollars, involving high levels of trust. His experience with his website is a good illustration of the power of a professional, well designed site.

Your website is a platform to show people who you are, a short history how you came to be in the business, some photos of your work, perhaps a story of a thrilled customer, and ways for customers to reach you. In addition, you can include a blog page on your site because fresh content, added to your blog as often as possible, will bring lots of traffic to your site. As a general rule, the more you add fresh, keyword-focused material to your blog, the more the search engines will like you up and send viewers to your site.

For your blog, you can add all sorts of product or service related things beneficial to your readers, whom you hope are potential buyers of your products or services. You add a benefit to them by writing material they will find informative and useful – they provide a benefit to you as potential customers and clients.

Print Media

While some people claim print media is headed into oblivion, some of the top marketers in the nation think just the opposite. In fact, many of them consider print media to still be the most effective way to market a product. They refer to this as direct marketing; sending something to a select group of people with the hopes they will want to purchase their product. Obviously, since you can’t know if an individual you send a card or brochure to could even afford or want what you sell, direct marketing must be done in a specific way.

In most print marketing of your product, you don’t go try to find the buyer… you let the buyer come to you. How to do this? Here are a few ideas:

1. Create postcards or fliers. On a card or trifold paper, write a captivating description of what you have to sell and add a photo or two. Make it really sing, and include all the benefits to entice potential readers to call you or come by your store.

Distribute these cards wherever you can, in places like laundromats, at apartment buildings, on car windows – only be careful not to break any soliciting or marketing laws. I have done this kind of marketing door to door in neighborhoods with great effect. You never know who may read it and discover your product is just what they were looking for. And even if the marketing doesn’t sell that particular product, it may lead to another individual who buys something else.

2. Create classified ads.

Make them short and sweet and make it easy for readers to contact you, either by email or telephone. Place the ads in papers (both online and offline) that you know get good circulation and have the type of readers that fit your demographic model.

3. Write direct marketing letters.

These letters will go to a specific type of buyer: the one you know is looking or could be looking for your product or service. Once you know who they are and what they are looking for, write a professional looking letter, addressed specifically to them. You want to include a very brief introduction on yourself, a short paragraph telling them your name and what you do, and then get right to telling them about the benefits of the product you are selling.

Focus on the benefits; sell them the package. Make sure there is ample contact information for them to get back to you. If they are interested, they will contact you back and at that time can learn all they want about your background and experience. The important thing is to resist the temptation to carry on and on about you or your company. The truth is, people don’t really care. They care about what the product or service will do for them. Focus on that.

If you put some effort into your small business marketing, you will reap substantial rewards for it. No business survives without marketing, but ALL businesses benefit from it.

The Best Way to Market Your New Small Business Effectively

Owning your own small business is one the most difficult things you can do in the professional world. Of course if it wasn’t, everyone would be doing it and everyone would be rich. The problem is that is hard work and it requires an awful lot of time and dedication. It is in a business’s marketing strategy that the successful separate themselves from the ordinary.

Your small business will see success if you implement a more defined approach in place that keeps you constantly marketing your product and your business. The best way to do that is through the use of proven small business marketing solutions. By keeping on sticking to the plan you will generate high-quality leads and convert your prospects into new customers in no time. Here are a few ways you can market your new or small business in a few easy steps:

  • First start off with some good market research of your immediate geographic area. Marketing research consists of different ways of collecting information that can include interviews, questionnaires, surveys and even focus group. Through all this information collected you can try to analyze if there is a market for your small business. Among the things you’ll be looking for is the demographic group which would be most interested in your product or service. All of your initial marketing and advertising efforts will then be focused on that particular demographic.
  • The next thing you must do is decide upon a feasible marketing budget. Marketing isn’t cheap in some markets so be sure to save up funds for things like packaging, promotions, advertising and publicity. All businesses need advertising in some form or another and they all need money to do so.
  • One often undervalued form of marketing is the grassroots strategy or word of mouth. Not only is it quite effective but also extremely cheap. It’s so cheap it’s free. Tell everyone you know to tell everyone they know about your new business. Print up and hang flyers in local businesses and have business cards developed to hand out. Try to make yourself seen at all the local events, charity functions and town meetings. It’s great way to connect with local leaders and network with potential customers. You’re getting the name of your business out there in the minds of people who will be doing business with you.
  • A very effective marketing tool if done correctly is a website for your business. Web designers are very affordable for a new business that may not have the start up capital. Most families always have one person in them who know some web design skills too so ask them to help you for a few extra bucks. You don’t need an extremely complex site for a startup but you do need a clean one free of typographical errors, broken links or anything else that looks unprofessional.
  • The last way to get some good publicity to your new small business is to get in the news. Let me rephrase that, get in the news in a positive way. Contact local newspaper writers or broadcasters for interviews about current business events or trends. The goal is to make yourself look like an expert in the field.

Small Business Advice – Success Is Messy

Many, many people have a goal in mind to start their own business. Running a business, managing operations, making profits, and controlling one’s daily life – sounds pretty attractive. And there is good reason for it. But running a business isn’t the easiest way to go. I remember hearing some wise small business advice a few years ago, and over the years found it to be profoundly accurate:

Success is messy.

If you are running an active business and making lots of deals and building lots of relationships you are going to be immersed in disorder. Sometimes, it will be frequent. Success carries with it some pretty consistent attributes, and one of the most prominent is disorder.

Call it disorder, or loose ends, or chaos, or whatever else you might name the condition, it is a characteristic of a business that is always progressing, always advancing, always chartering new waters in search of the next horizon. When your business does these things, there are always situations where you are not sure how to steer the ship, where to pause, when to shoot forward, or what to do because you cannot see the future and you cannot always know the best course of action.

Progress means messy; success means messy.

If a business doesn’t progress, the business will go down, and eventually away. No business can survive doing the same ol’ things the same ol’ way forever. Our world changes daily. Our markets change, our suppliers change, our operations change. When existing in a world of constant change, a business must change with it or become obsolete, in short order.

Most people become comfortable once they hit a certain level in profits or income. They have a tendency to “settle in” at that point, and start enjoying the level to which they’ve risen. But many people don’t take to heart the reality that nothing remains the same for very long. Things have to be reevaluated, employees have to be let go, new people hired, old relationships replaced with new, and so on. And this is precisely where business, and success, gets messy.

Because this world in which we live is riddled with problems of every kind, all the time, it stands to reason we must constantly be willing to face new challenges and find a way to address them. We do this by advancing toward the problems, before they come to us. Ask yourself these questions as you think about how your business might be messy (and thus possibly successful):

1. Does my desk (or truck seat, or station, etc) have much more on it than I could possibly do today?

If your answer is yes, that is most likely a very good thing. In business, you can rarely say every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed and you can now go home and forget about everything. Usually, in your best condition you can accomplish only a small portion of your goals for each day, because you have to have so much ready for the unforeseen, the unexpected. An overload of work is not a problem to a small business; it is a sign of progress.

2. Am I able to handle every phone call and every appointment that comes to me?

There is a tendency to think that as business owners, if we are completely on top of our game, then every phone call is returned and every appointment is scheduled… and met. This, however, is not a sign of success. Success means choosing between good opportunities and great opportunities and clearing your schedule of time wasters. In a normal day, if you have 25 people to call and 5 appointments to make, chances are 5 of those phone calls have low or possibly zero potential and one or two of your appointments will be an exercise in futility. As a successful business owner, you must force yourself to spend time only on the profitable ones. Success is messy, and it will fill your calendar with unnecessary fluff, which you must learn to get rid of.

3. Are there conflicts of interest between the people I work with each day?

There is no shortage of conflicts among people; it’s a fact of life everyone has to deal with. But the business owner of a successful business will get more than his or her own share of it. Conflict is a ready partner of success of any kind. When a business is progressing, and successful, there will be employees who are climbing over each other for position, and power. There will be co-workers and independent contractors who are not happy with you success, and they will want to take it from you. You might have distributors and suppliers who “accidentally” overcharge you and go around you and create headache for you. This is a cost of success. Expect it. People are flawed (including you) and will create problems. And the more successful you are, the more it seems to happen. The real measure of success is not whether someone can make money, it is whether they can properly handle the issues that arise from it.

Operating a small business is a lofty goal, and not many people make it a reality. But for those who do, they must learn to expect and address that success is not easy, nor will it ever be. Success is messy, and the small business advice I offer you is simply this:

Don’t try to clean up the mess. Learn that messiness is a necessary part of progress, and progress is a necessary part of success.