(This full-page article appeared in the Trading Post and published nationally.)
If you’re running a small business and you don’t have a website, then now is the time to take the plunge.
An email address and a website are two useful and cost effective additions to any company’s marketing toolkit. In fact every small business can benefit from displaying their wares online and taking inquiries by email, says Stefan Sojka, Creative Director of the Cyrius Media Group, a company firm specialising in web design.
Surprisingly, there are still a large number of businesses without a website, even though more and more people are now using the Internet as a first port of call to find the goods and services they need. The Trading Post’s own website is a prime example of an on-line presence supporting the “real world” version. Your own website can compliment your business perfectly.
“Above and beyond the visuals, a website allows your company to communicate your standards of excellence, your philosophy and your commitment to customer service by having the text and layout of the site reflect the way you do business,” says Stefan.
“If you sell products or ongoing services to your clients, a simple online store and list of services can entice them to do more business with you. Don’t forget testimonials on your site either – always a great boost to your credibility. Then there are your awards, industry affiliations and preferred suppliers or products – all reassuring your potential customers that you are knowledgeable, experienced and trustworthy.
“This kind of expanded brochure-style website is ideal for potential clients to discover what you are all about and to help them make a decision to hire your services, even before they have spoken to you.”
While not recommending that anyone jump on the technology bandwagon just for the sake of it, Stefan advises all small business to seriously consider the benefits of having a website – or upgrading the one they have.
“Sadly, many a website has been created without much thought to how it will function as a marketing tool,” he says. “Not only that, since there are no official standards of website design a site costing many thousands of dollars can actually harm your business because of badly planned content or annoying technical issues. The best sites are simple, concise, easy to use, visually appealing -- and built to an appropriate budget.”
To help you make sound decisions, Stefan has prepared the following planning checklist:
Domain name: You should have a domain name (website address) that is either your business name or a shortened form of it. It can be .com.au, .biz, .com or whatever, so long as it is easy to spell and give out to people. It can also contain a keyword or two (good for search engines), but shouldn’t be too long or hard to type. You can register domain names directly, but it is wise to consult your web professional.
Hosting: To run a website it must be ‘hosted’ by a company that allows it to stay online 24 hours a day. Larger companies can host their own sites, but it is usually best left to specialists, especially with security issues and many other technical concerns. Economy of scale dictates that larger, well-established web hosting companies should be able to offer good services and technical support for a very reasonable price. Once again your website developer/designer would usually have a choice of hosts, depending on your needs.
Web developer: You should look for a firm that understands your business requirements and has a proven portfolio of successful and satisfied clients. You should try to obtain ball park quotes, but if you have no idea what your site will be like, a quote will be impossible. You should find out what kind of process the developer will use to help you plan your site and arrive at their quote.
Planning: Look at your competitors’ websites as well as any other sites that you find appealing to get an idea of what you like and dislike. It’s getting cheaper every day to do the tricky stuff, but some things are still out of reach for most of us – remember some sites may have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Having collated all the information you require you will then need to employ a writer to tie it all together into a uniform style and the have the site professionally designed and mapped out.
Consistency: This is a great opportunity to marry the look of your website with your off-line material (business cards, logo, letterheads, etc). It is also a good time to get some great photos done of your work or products and to request testimonials from past clients.
Marketing: Your site will sit there doing nothing unless people know about it. You need to make sure your site is optimised so it can be found in search engines (there are a few tricks to this, including coming up with the right keywords) and is listed in any industry directories and other places where you think your potential customers might go looking for you. Off line, you have to get your site “out there” – put the web address on your vehicles, in your newspaper advertisements, on business cards, invoices, letterheads, work shirts, caps – anywhere and everywhere.
Ultimately, the key to success is to ask yourself what you want to achieve with your site. “Maybe you have more work than you can handle at present so your website will be mainly a branding exercise, keeping you in the public eye. Maybe you plan to market yourself aggressively and target specific groups – if so your site must reflect and support these goals,” says Stefan. “above all it is a reflection of what you are doing off-line and as such need to present you in the best possible way – professional, informative and visually appealing.”
For more information, including free initial consultation and planning advice, phone the Cyrius Media Group on (02) 9877 5544 or visit their website at: www.cyrius.com.au