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To someone who’s about to start their first business website

If you are reading this there is as good chance you are over 45, your job has been retrenched and you are totally frustrated by prospective employers who won’t even give you a shot at an interview – even though you have the background and experience for the job. (I know, because I‘ve been there).

So now you have come to the conclusion that it may be easier to become self employed and create your own job – either in competition with your old company, or as a consultant to your industry, or as the provider of a completely different skill, product or service.

I am assuming that you are smart enough to have analysed your market and your own capabilities and you feel reasonably confident that you have a business concept that can succeed. So the next thing you need is your own website. (Twenty years ago, a letterhead and some business cards were enough, but these days a website is the cost of entry for a new company, whether you are a financial planner or a plumber).

On the plus side, it certainly is true that a home based or low overhead online business can earn you a living and there are thousands of web start ups to prove it. Realistically, however, having your own website is no guarantee that you will make money or survive.

Furthermore, if your only experience of websites is browsing them on your computer or smart phone, you are likely to have very little idea of how the internet really works for business and what it takes to pull together a website that actually earns money.

Make sure your first site isn’t a lemon.

If you don’t know much about websites, I suggest that you get hold of Peter Kent’s well respected “Search Engine Optimization for Dummies” (5th edition 2012) and read the first 160 pages. In a couple of hours, you will have a much better grasp of how the internet works and what a website has to do to get noticed.

The truth is that buying your first website is like buying a brand new car when you have only just got your P plates. It may look like a shiny new car, smell like a shiny new car and drive out of the showroom like a shiny new car, but in a few months time you may find out that you have unknowingly bought a model that has lots of problems.

What is a lemon website? There are four sure signs:

The site does not single mindedly put forward a marketing strategy that aims at reaching a specific target market with carefully selected selling messages that add up to a compelling reason to buy.

The site is not well enough written and designed to attract, involve and convince visitors, or is frustrating to navigate through. Site visitors are seeking specific information fast, and if they don’t find it quickly and easily on your site they will click on to the next.

The search engine optimisation or SEO strategy, which makes it easier for search engines like Google to find and rate your site, is badly planned or badly executed. If this is the case, very few web searchers will ever find you.

The biggest sign of a lemon, of course, is that your site is not making you money. Low visitor numbers , few contact phone calls or emails and scant sales mean that the site is not working hard – and the longer it takes you to find this out, the harder it will be to fix,

Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.

Money is always tight when you start a new business and you are going to be sorely tempted to outsource your new website to a cut-price overseas supplier. Of course you are more than welcome to do that, but you should first think about some of the risks of having your website written, designed and built overseas:

A successful website requires constant ongoing communication between the site owner and the builder – but this may be difficult to achieve that when the supplier is not a native English speaker and a long way away.

The person writing and designing your website may not fully understand the Australian lifestyle, Australian values and the Australian market or be absolutely fluent in Australian English. (No matter how well educated we are, Australians speak and write Auslish, Indians Indlish and Chinese Chinlish – we can’t help it).

The supplier may have good IT skills, but is not as good at SEO copywriting – the skill of selecting hard working key search words for the Australian market and making the web content search engine friendly.

If yours is a very simple site with a limited product vocabulary, you may well get away with it. If you sell reverse osmosis water pumps, for example, the content is likely to be technical and possibly provided by the manufacturer.

If you are marketing anything more personal and emotional – such as self managed super advice, physiotherapy, party catering or bespoke furniture –the risk that you will fail to connect with your target market is more real.
The real problem with overseas outsourcing is that you are usually choosing your foreign supplier blind, or purely by price.

You will find plenty of IT professionals in South East Asia, for example, who will work for $10 – $15 an hour – but how good are they? And how good is their English? And will you really be able to tell if they have done a great job? My only advice to you is don’t take the cheapest quote, take the dearest.

If this is your first website, this checklist may help.

A lot of money spent on website design is wasted because the new site owner has not thought the site through or provided enough information since this means more work for the site developer, more time wasted and more revisions.

This short checklist could make the process less frustrating and expensive for you:

Do you have a good business strategy – the right product, the right target market and strong reasons why your customers will chose you rather than someone else?

Does the online text make sense to your customers? Is it relevant, fresh, interesting and Australian?
Does your supplier’s cost estimate include everything, right up to the time the new site is loaded onto your server and working? (This should include the design or design template, all text and visual content not supplied by you, all coding, all testing, FTP transfer to the server, and installation and testing of all applications such as auto checkout, a blog, etc.)

What SEO (search engine optimisation) functions does this price include? Keyword selection? Basic SEO strategy? Writing and coding of meta tags to support content and the keyword strategy? All links inserted and checked?

And finally, will you be able to make minor or major changes to the site yourself in the future, adding new testimonials, for example, or will you have to pay the developer to make these for you?

Need an article like this for any consumer or B2B audience? Or an eBook? Or any other web content? Please contact me from this website or via LinkedIn.