Promoting your start-up business – Part 4 – Your Website

 

Photo by Peter Hires Images

Photo by Peter Hires Images

I write this with trepidation as everyone has an opinion about websites, what they should include, and what they should look like.

There are plenty of choices. Of course a lot depends on your budget, what sort of business you have, and whom you consider your target customers to be.

If you are selling stuff I would always recommend you talk to a professional web designer familiar with shopping carts and all the other bells and whistles required to make an on-line shopping site run smoothly. Ask around and get recommendations.

If you are mainly selling your expertise, I would still recommend you ask a professional if you are not confident with the free and paid-for software available to build a website, or if you simply do not have the time to do it yourself. It comes back to that old adage that you should concentrate on working on your business (that is doing what you do best) and not working in your business just trying to do all the chores. If building a website is a chore, don’t do it. If it is fun and almost recreational, then go for it.

There is quite a lot of free software available and most of the hosting companies have an assortment which can be installed automatically as you wish. I will not say that it always goes to plan. Sometimes you will need a support ticket because your host ran the wrong routine, but generally it works.

I do not have experience of anything other than WordPress. There are plenty of free themes available, and quite a few firms have premium paid-for themes you can try, but if you need a WordPress tutorial there are better teachers than I. Email me if you need help finding someone.

What about the content of your website? If you trade in a particular niche product area or if you are sell particular services or knowledge, you should post articles showing your expertise. Some people worry that if visitors to the website learn how to do something from reading your articles they will not buy from you. Actually these will be people who would not buy from you anyway. They will go away and mess up in an amateur way because they did not realise you cannot write the entire manual of your expertise on a website.

You will get customers who buy from you because they have a particular problem and they have read your articles and know you are the person to solve their problem. That is called content marketing. Writing in a niche attracts people who use the search engines to ask questions. Believe me, I know it works.

Talking of search engines, in WordPress and other website software you can get tools to help your Search Engine Optimization (SEO); to get your website found. You do have the option to hire an SEO specialist if you wish. As always, if you do not know what you are doing, get specialist help.

I believe virtually all businesses should have websites. They are our on-line brochures, they help us be found and if our potential customers have already heard of us, they can learn more about us. Then, when they call, they will have qualified themselves to buy already.

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Minding your own business content

WordPress logo blue

WordPress logo blue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As our small businesses are so personal to us it makes sense to keep control of what we put out in the big wide world.

You may have seen recently that Posterous is being closed down by Twitter, who acquired the platform in March 2012. I rather enjoyed using Posterous. I posted quite a few of my photos there, mainly from my walks around the countryside locally. I was disappointed that my content was under threat.

However, Posterous has offered us a back-up solution which I have taken up, and in fact I have transferred everything from my Posterous site to a WordPress.com blog, which is here. It needs work, but everything is there.

Now people might say that as another “easy” blog platform which I don’t own, that WordPress.com blog is still subject to the whims of the business which owns it. Well, firstly, I trust them to act in the best interests of their customers, and secondly, I have bought the domain through the owners, Automattic and if something terrible happened to their company, which I am sure it won’t, I can take my domain elsewhere as I did with onourbikes.com. It is still a WordPress site of course, albeit WordPress.org one, but the domain is mine and the site is backed up.

My ex-Posterous WordPress site is not a business one, but it does illustrate that we need to own all our material and content. My own opinion is that we need to own the domains of all our websites and blogs. If we use a platform such as WordPress.com, then it gives security to own the domain for $18 a year or so.

It is true that I have a blog on Blogger.com because it is convenient to post my opinion about tax issues there rather than on my main business website, which is all about content to help clients and to attract prospects.. However, from experience I know it would be easy to extract all the content via a back-up or directly onto a WordPress.org site because I have done it already.

Just do not take it for granted that everything you think you own will be preserved in aspic forever unless you really do own and back up the domain where it sits. Keep your ear to the ground for what could happen to all your other stuff, because you are just paying the rent if it is on someone else’s platform. Just because I pay the rent on Flickr doesn’t mean all my photos are not saved and backed up securely.

I think we need to keep our business stuff and all our original material in places we own. If we really cannot own them we must pay the rent for a space we can have backed up properly. Don’t lose it.

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You can lead a consultant to market…

Confession

Something to aim for

Here is a confession: I am a consultant. I am consulted about tax issues and I am consulted about business problems. Luckily my potential clients know where to find me. Luckily? Well, maybe not. I have to market to get business. It is obvious really.

I know quite a few other consultants. Many people who are consultants have retired from a long term job, or have been involuntarily “retired” through redundancy. Often such people have very valuable skills to offer and they want to work, or they need to due to pension disasters of which there are many in the private sector.

So often our consultants have no idea how to find business. It is often better not to call oneself a consultant for fear of being a butt of the many jokes.  So disregard my earlier remark that I am a consultant. I am someone who has a good deal of expertise and can really help you and your business. I also can help you find just the specialist you need.

Available for work

We have established that there are many very experienced people looking for freelance work. So many of them have no idea how to find this work and surprisingly for many who may have so recently had a job and had to use IT or ICT are technophobes with regard to the on-line stuff. Sadly for those people, that is where so many potential customers look for specialists if they haven’t found them through networking and word of mouth.

Action now!

So what to do? In many ways it is obvious:

  • have a website
  • have valuable content on the website in the shape of articles
  • have a blog

Content marketing is a main driver of visitors. The technical content on my main tax website is popular. It is also self-tuning in letting me know what people are looking for because I know what was in their search, which I know through Google Analytics and StatCounter.  In fact I don’t have to write articles very regularly if I make sure they are really valuable.

Then there is this place, On Our Bikes. It attracts prospective clients and it helps keep me up the search rankings. I am easily found on a name searchof course because my name is not that common, but there are for more instances of me than of the other guys with the same moniker. So there is no doubt about my name brand but my name would have to be known in connection with what I do for this to be really effective.

It might be better to search for my expertise. If we look for “tax Essex”, but without the inverted commas I am still high up  on the first page. If we enter “tax return Essex”, at the time of writing my business is the first of the entries which have not been paid for on the first page of Google.

So the answer in terms of driving the on-line marketing is through having websites and blogs which are entirely WordPress based. And WordPress is relatively inexpensive to manage though I recommend you do get some help in managing it. The results are really brilliant.

Don’t be Billy / Billie no-mates

I cannot understand how so many “consultants” sit around and wait for business to arrive somehow when they make no effort. Having a LinkedIn profile can help quite a lot. And any profile can help because I keep some of my photos on Flickr and the Google search entry for my Flickr says “Tax practitioner, business connector, freelance writer, blogger at On Our Bikes, Jon Stow Consulting Tax Blog and Jon Stow’s Posterous …” So you can keep your photographs backed up and have a profile mentioning your expertise. And it’s free, though I do recommend that any person with expertise makes more effort than that.

If you are a specialist, you can do a lot at relatively low cost to be found on-line. You do have to make an effort and not be scared of getting out there. Look at what others do, and adapt their tactics to your own skills.

Preferably you should pay a marketing person who knows what they are doing, so get a recommendation. I think that at a minimum you ought to have a LinkedIn profile and a website with a few specialist articles so that visitors can see that you know your stuff. Then talk to someone about how you can be found on-line ahead of other people (that’s called SEO).

Do it!

Just don’t do nothing. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. There really is no excuse especially when the alternative is poverty. Do you need a consultant, oh sorry, specialist?

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Riding the wave

So if we move with the times, let’s enjoy ourselves. If you are reading this you probably know that I have quite a significant on-line presence. I cannot claim to be one of the big hitters like Chris Brogan or Guy Kawasaki or even one of the biggest in the county where I am based, but I do try hard. Of course I do that because I know that on-line marketing is absolutely vital, and that includes all the social media stuff, but to tell the truth I also do it because it is fun.

It is fun, isn’t it? We have to keep reading, absorbing, learning and trying every new thing. Some innovative ideas never really get of the ground (like Google Wave) but we give it a go and see what happens. Even the stuff that comes to naught keeps us sharp.

In the past year or so I have moved from just using the on-line websites and having a static website to being a serious blogger (because I like it and it works), to learning a lot about WordPress though I need to learn a lot more. I have tried many different platforms and some I like and some I don’t. We just need to understand what works for business and if that brings some fun, it is just great.

The on-line marketing has made business so much more exciting and for me so much less isolated, because with Twitter and the various forums we have so much worthwhile conversation. Do you think I am getting carried away? Well, I am riding the wave or one of them, and if I fall off there is another right behind.

It is all so exhilarating isn’t it, and all the better when the money comes in? What do you think?

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