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Guest blog by Andre Fairweather from Stomm website design and hosting

As a website developer and hosting provider I deal with a number of newly self-employed clients and small business owners. When I’m introduced it’s a good bet that I’ll be asked “how much do you charge for a website?” and “how quickly can you build one?”. You may think I’m committing career suicide but more often than not it’s better to ask “Do I actually need a website right now?”

A lot of clients automatically think that a website will be the answer to all of their advertising woes. Throw £50 at a nephew “who knows computers” and in a year you’re selling your online business to Facebook. OK, that’s a bit far-fetched. In reality a brand new website without the proper marketing or advertising can be like a having a shop on a blind alley. Unless you have the time to promote your business properly, a site that’s your only source of potential custom will be difficult to get a return on investment.

To give an example I was recently contacted by a self-employed dressmaker. She wanted a shop built as quickly and cheaply as possible. Her idea was a single page for each product, with a price and a buy-now button. I asked if she had considered shipping costs and stock control; “Say there’s only one of a particular type of dress in stock; what would happen if two customers try and purchase it at the same time?” In this example it’s easy to say that you have two customers. But in reality one customer will be let down and you can bet that’ll be the customer to complain to their friends on Facebook.

Another common example is the “can you get me to the top of Google” conversation. Well yes, I can probably get you to the top of Google for your company name. But getting the number one spot for “tiling company” for a brand new four page website is no simple task. Time, effort and a budget has to be allocated to work out a campaign to get your site noticed on Google. Next time you’re telephoned by a company offering to get you to the top of Google, ask them for what exact keywords they mean. A lot of clients I meet have been stung by this in the past.

Instead there a lot of things that can be done for free to get your site noticed e.g. writing your own blog / news stories and generating good links from trusted sites. But when you factor in the time spent running a small business, writing blog entries often takes a backseat. Especially if you’re self-employed. So when a potential client does find your website, they see that the latest news story was from three years ago.

So what’s the answer?

One approach would be to build a website for referential purposes. Be realistic about what the website is for and budget accordingly. Take an interest in what the website is about and spend a few hours writing content. If you’re not a writer then fine. Think of the questions that a potential customer usually asks and go from there. A good website developer can help with content but you will get a better website if you give a good starting point. Consider this – would you trust a website developer to sell your services for you to your clients? No? Then you’re potentially doing that exact thing by letting them write all of the content on your website.

Consider using social media. If you’re not able to maintain Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all at once then just use one of them. On Facebook ask your friends to ‘like’ your page. Try and add a post maybe once a week. It can be about a particular job you’re working on or maybe wishing your clients a happy Tuesday and good weather. You’re then kept in mind with your friends about who to recommend if a job comes up. I’ve met clients who hate Facebook but they’re ignoring a huge potential client base. Even if you don’t use it yourself, don’t ignore the possibilities for your own business.

Simple things like having an email address with a domain matching your business can look professional. Rather than a @hotmail.co.uk or @live.com address. You can then create departments for your new business by using accounts@ and info@ – have those email addresses send out your invoices instead of your own address. Consider a company logo and maybe some t-shirts embroidered with it. Then use one of those budget business card printing services. You’d be surprised how professional a uniform, a good logo and a business card can come across than some half finished website. All the things I’ve just described can be set up for under £100 if you know where to look. Even with your logo, let’s say you go with something that ‘does the job’ for now. Companies rebrand constantly. So don’t try and aim for a logo that’ll suit you for 15 years, think in the context of what you’re spending. You can always get a better logo made when your business becomes more successful. Plus it’ll give you something to talk about on social media!

If you are to have a website consider whether you have the time and budget to make it a success, just because it’s been built doesn’t grant you automatic first page results on Google. That’s why there are now full-time jobs for people to run social media campaigns and blog writing services for companies. If you go into a web build to suit your fledgling business then you can always go back and redevelop it, same way as your logo.

Lastly if you are new to dealing with people from the IT world remember this: don’t begrudge an hourly rate because you feel anyone can do a particular job in an hour. You’re paying an hourly rate because that person has the skills and abilities to get it done in an hour to a high standard.

I hope this information gives you a good starting point in representing your company online. If you need any further help or advice with any web service please contact me via my website or telephone 03333 230361 quoting ‘Adzuki’ when you call.

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