Get online or it's curtains
04 April 2014
My notes from a lunchtime talk I just gave to Penny Waight’s curtain-making training course attendees, here in Four Marks.
The course is about setting up as a business and Penny needed someone to talk about the importance of having a website. I tried to keep it really simple. I hope it’s of some help to them, and to you too.
You can download a pdf of it too.. Aren’t I nice?
Your business and online marketing
When you first start a business the sheer amount of things you have to do can be daunting.
Businesses need revenue. Revenue comes from customers. How do you find your customers? What can you do to increase the chance of a customer picking you over your competition?
You have many tools as your disposal to help you get new customers. I’m going to talk about some of those that are available to you.
Many people think a brand is just a pretty logo. It isn’t. It’s much more than that. A brand is the promise of an experience, the standards you set as a business. A brand should express the value that your business brings to a customer. A brand is about how your business appears to the outside world, how you deal with customers as they come through the door of your shop, how you answer the phone and when a visitor arrives on your website. It’s about the quality of the product or service and the experience for the customer from start to finish.
A customer who has a great brand experience is more likely to recommend you to a potential new customer. A referral is the most effective way of building a business. It’s requires little effort, the referral is more likely to buy from you, and it costs you nothing.
Find a designer to help you develop your brand. That might start with a simple logo, and that logo should represent your core values as a business. It might come with a strap line that reinforces your brand values. e.g. Nike’s “Just do it”.
A brand identity, as we call it, might also include stationery, clothing, vehicle graphics and shop signs. Each and every element of your contact with a potential customer should be consistent.
How do we get that brand out into the real world?
Marketing is about communicating the value of a product or service to customers. So in essence it’s about communicating your brand to the outside world.
Good marketing should be a simple process for small businesses. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Firstly, you need to identify your ideal customer. For example, you might want to specialise curtains for the boutique hotel industry. So we’ve identified your ideal customer is a boutique hotel owner.
Then identify how you differentiate yourself in the market. That might be that you decide to specialise in Scandinavian-style print fabrics.
Then join the two elements together – the ideal customer and the differentiation. You specialise in curtains for boutique hotels and you want to target boutique hotel owners who have have an interest Scandinavian-style interiors.
This is a very niche market to say the least, but you can apply the principals to your own businesses very easily. I call this your marketing strategy. It’s the defining purpose for promoting your business.
Now we have a strategy we can now develop a marketing campaign around that.
Why should I have a website?
The website is the hub of all your online marketing activity.
Here’s some statistics for you:
73% of adults in the UK (38 million) accessed the internet every day during 2013. That’s up 20 million from 2006.
72% of adults in the UK bought goods or services online in 2013.
Mobile phone use increased from 24% to 53% between 2010 and 2013.
From these figures, you can see that, in terms of promoting your business, it is imperative that your business has an online presence. It’s also increasingly important that it works on mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets.
Most importantly it’s vital that your website is easy to find.
The website should reflect the brand values we discussed earlier. See it the same as entering a shop for the first time. Except you’ve got on average about 10-20 seconds to get their attention.
I’m not going to go on too much about the technicalities of websites but here’s some key things you need to do when you launch a business online.
Register your domain
A domain is a website address. Like www.bbc.co.uk. There are many types of suffixes. .com .co.uk .org etc. These are called TLDs or top level domains. I would recommend using .co.uk as it help establish that you are a UK business.
There are over 1500 new TLDs coming out soon: .design, .shopping, .courses. You will soon be spoiled for choice.
You can register domains for a set period of time, usually every year. They’re relatively cheap but remember they don’t include hosting (i.e. where your website lives) or email. Domains are like personalised number plates. They don’t come with the car.
Don’t rush into buying every name under the sun. Think about the domain name. Do your research. What are the pitfalls?
Websites come in all shapes and sizes. You can find free website builders online from the very bad (1and1), to the very good (Squarespace). These are templated websites and are less flexible than having a bespoke website built. They can be very useful for testing a business idea but they are restricted in terms of functionality and often look really terrible. They will cost between £60 and £150 per year including hosting.
A lot of the cheaper end of website design is templated too. If a web designer’s portfolio looks very standardised and they are promising websites for £100-£500 then you should be very cautious.
Also be warned about using your daughter/nephew/friend’s kid in their bedroom building you a website. What will you do when they go travelling for a year, up sticks to Uni, or never actually deliver a website because neither they or you knew what the process was in the first place?
A professional web designer will cost you more. You will get a bespoke website, built especially for your business. Ideally you need to budget between £1000 and £2500 for a small business website up to £5000 and beyond for a full eCommerce system.
With most websites today you should get what is called a Content Management System (CMS). This will allow you make edits to copy, add blog posts and update images by logging in through a web browser.
A professional web designer will conduct research for you, they will iterate through designs until they are right, they will help you develop content and promote the website and they will challenge your ideas and present you with new ones. You will develop a valuable relationship as your business grows. None of these benefits will come with a templated website.
Hire a professional web designer
Find someone you are comfortable with and you think you can build a long term business relationship with. Meet up face-to-face and talk about your business. Reiterate your brand values to them. Do this with a few designers before committing.
For a designer to build you a website that is successful, they need to understand your business first. Ideally you want to agree, what we call, a brief beforehand – a set of parameters and goals you want the website to achieve.
That sounds like you are doing a lot of work and it’s true. Working with a web designer is a partnership. The business belongs to you. You know your customers, your products and your services better than the web designer. They need to know how your business works in order to deliver a site that fits your business. Part of that process is this discovery stage. A good web designer can help you write that brief. But, yes, you do need one.
A good web designer should ask for a deposit and a contract. This can be a simple document that sets out the relationship between the two parties and also the scope of the work required. Do not start a project without a clear agreement over what it is they are building for you and how long it will take, along with a payment plan. A contract will protect you as well as the designer.
The biggest delay to any getting website built is content. You’ll need to give the designer content for the website before they can design the site for you.
Generating that content can be very hard. The web designer might be able to help you here as many do write copy. If not, think about engaging a copywriter. Write down your key products and services, any project studies you may have completed and gather together testimonials, affiliation logos, qualifications and give them all to the designer.
Think about investing in a decent camera to record projects or speak to a photographer about spending a day creating images or even video. Video is a very powerful, and increasingly popular, medium.
A typical small business website will take 2-3 weeks to build. But the process is often much longer because of design approval delays, and hold ups with content. Expect 4-6 weeks all in all. Stay in touch with your web designer. A good designer will use a project management system like Basecamp. Ask to be included in this.
Once your website is finished your work has only just begun.
Getting out there
How do I get found online? Once your site is live you may find yourself drumming your fingers on the kitchen table waiting for customers.
There’s no waiting around. You need to activate your online marketing potential.
Submit your website to the search engines
Search engines index the web. They crawl the web through links and build a listing of websites with that information. Google is the king of search. 89% of UK searches go through Google. Other search engines are available!
You could wait for them to find you but that would take time. Instead your web designer can build a special page called a site map, which lists all the pages on your website. This is submitted to the search engines. Hey presto, your site is now appearing in search pages.
Register your business
Get your business listed on other websites. There are hundreds of other online directories out there, such as yell.com, Scoot and 192. Pick a few each month and register your business.
As more and more people come online and start to use mobile devices local search is becoming important. Google Places is where you register your business for local search. Microsoft Bing Places is the same thing.
Optimise your website
There are ways of building and populating websites to help search engines find your pages more easily. This process is called Search Engine Optimisation or SEO.
Basically you are trying to get potential customers to your website. Google will send a visitor to your site if it thinks that your page matches their search. You can achieve this by populating your web page with content that refers to the search terms a visitor has used.
There are many ways to achieve this but it’s important that you create a website that can be easily read by the search engines and that they contain keywords you want to be found by in the content of each page.
This is a process that should appear with the initial website build but it is often left out. It is also something that you should tweak and adjust on a on-going basis.
Advertise your website
Pay per click (PPC) advertising is what has made Google all its money.
When you get a page of search results back from Google, the top three spaces and the right hand column are paid adverts. You can do this too. It’s a great way of getting instant traffic to a website.
PPC is also a great way of researching which words and phrases people are using to find your website. You can then use the successful keywords to populate your website.
The downside is that it costs you money. Basically you choose a keyword (or phrase) – for instance “curtain design Hampshire” and you then bid on where your advert appears in the list. Set a daily budget and stick to it. Ask your web designer to set it up for you or speak to an SEO expert. You can even call Google to get help with setting it all up.
Promote your business
Social media is free and very popular. It’s an area in which you can spread your brand and gain new potential customers with very little effort.
LinkedIn is a business networking website that allows you to list yourself, your CV and qualifications and also your business, its products and services too. It allows you to connect with other users to build a network you can speak to and has countless discussion groups. It can be a powerful tool for sales and marketing.
Facebook offers pages for businesses. Set one up, mirror the main content from your website, add images and post to it regularly. Grow your audience by asking all your friends on Facebook to follow you.
Twitter is great for engaging with potential customers and announcing new products, ideas and answering questions.
Pinterest is a good fit for interior design-related businesses. You can create and populate mood boards with images from other websites for specific styles and send those directly to potential customers.
The important thing to remember that any time your business appear on the web it should be consistent with your branding. Keep the logo and the description the same for every profile page.
Consider starting a blog. It keeps your website fresh with new content and it also helps you think about an editorial calendar for marketing your business. It’s important to have a planned cycle of marketing and writing a blog is an ideal way for generating the content you will need.
If you have something to say then think about offering a monthly email newsletter. Add a sign up form on your website. You can build a loyal following with a mailing list and you are speaking to people who are interested in your products or services from the start. Mailchimp offers a free entry-level service.
By giving something away you can turn prospects into customers. Think about giving away a PDF document on how to do something or post a video on YouTube showing a certain technique.
Ask for recommendations and reviews and post them online – either on your website as testimonials or on review sites. These are increasingly powerful ways of attracting new customers. As I said earlier, the best new customers are referrals. Treat your existing customer well and they will recommend you to someone else. Turn those customers into champions by rewarding them for recommendations.
All this activity is part of your business so will feel fairly effortless. It will engage and, therefore, attract visitors with the potential for transforming them into customers.
I hope you can see that for very little outlay you have access to a really wide range of tools to market your new business.
There’s never been a better time to start a business using online marketing to tap into a market that is growing exponentially and is hungry for quality products and services.
Remember that your website is the online marketing hub of your business and that it should reflect your values and standards. It should connect all your online marketing activity and ultimately help turn those visitors into customers.