First Things First: How To Plan Your Website For Success

When it comes to small business website planning, most people get the order wrong.

Often, a person will have an idea for a business and decide the first thing they need to do is have a website built. It’s not.

Or they may be pursuing a project, having some success and getting plenty of encouragement, and decide that this will make a good business. They think all they need to do to be ready for business is put up their website. It’s not.

A website is necessary for almost any business today. And it pays to have it professionally done and not rely on freebie site builders or a neighbor who’s good with computers or even the graphic artist who designed your cool new logo.

You need someone that knows about business and online marketing. Someone who knows the difference between what works and what simply looks good.

There are a lot of things that need to be decided before you ever think about domain names, special effects, colors, pictures, or any of the things that only make a site look good.

Ask the right questions

The first question is what type of site do you need? Most folks don’t know that there are several different types of websites that can accomplish very different things. So to answer this question, you first have to decide what you want your site to accomplish. Is it just for information, so that you’ll have a place for customers to learn about you and your product/service? Do you need it to bring in or pre-qualify leads? Or do you need an e-commerce site to actually make sales?

The next thing you have to decide is (and this is THE most important factor in marketing success), who is your audience? If you don’t know exactly who your target market is, there’s no need to bother. You need to know everything you can about them so you can speak their language and say something they want to hear.

These answers will help you determine the functionality; in other words, what does your site need to do? Does it need forms to collect information and let prospects and customers contact you? Does it need video to show a process? Does it need a shopping cart to take sales? Does it need a blog or forum to keep your audience up-to-date? You need to know exactly what you want people to do when they visit your site.

Only after we’ve answered these questions can we start planning specifics like keywords, colors, domain names, navigation structures and branding.

The answers all fit togetherIf you know your business these questions will be easy to answer because you’ve likely thought about all these issues as part of your business plan. If you haven’t, there are tools that can help. Knowing this information will not only help you have a better website, it will make your business stronger too.

Ready to get started? Got more questions? Contact me.

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It’s human nature to wait until we’re “ready” or things are “right”, but you can miss a lot of opportunities that way – especially when a deal as good as this one comes along!

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Just Give It Away

The holidays are fast approaching. It’s a time when thoughts turn to giving – and receiving. After all, everyone likes to get gifts. And that’s a fact you can use in your business.

But you have to be careful about how you do it. While giving away freebies can help you increase your business, give-aways can also sometimes have the opposite effect. There are pros and cons, and both effective and futile methods of using them.

Advantages of giving:

Almost all online businesses should use a free offer to build a mailing list. A small sample of your product or service, an informational e-book, or the first in a series of classes are some good low cost examples to give away. Describe the offer in a way that demonstrates that you can solve their problem or meet their need, and give it away in exchange for their name and email address. You then use this list to build trust and loyalty.

Most businesses can also use the “buy one, get one” or bonus with purchase concept to lure new buyers and encourage those who are undecided. This works with coupons or in-store displays. Just make sure to clearly spell out the terms and conditions of the offer.

Prizes are another way to gain by giving. Everybody loves a chance to win, and contests are a great way to bring attention and excitement to your business. Get legal advice about the rules in your state; there are certain things you can’t require.

But be careful:

There are many people who simply look for all the free stuff they can get and have no intention of ever becoming a paying customer. There will always be a small percentage of those no matter what but you can minimize the impact by making sure your offer is created to appeal specifically to the type of customers you want to reach.

You also have to make sure you don’t give away too much or do it too often. If you give the entire solution, folks will have no reason to buy. And if you do it to often, they won’t buy because they believe it will soon be free. Too much free can lower the perceived value of your brand as well. People will think it can’t be worth much if you’re always giving it away.

With planning and creativity giving can become an effective – and satisfying – part of your business marketing program.

It’s Too Soon!

A few weeks ago one of the popular cable networks started advertising Christmas movies. Lots of folks thought it was way too early. After all, it’s not even officially fall yet.

But the fact is that if you are in business it really is time to plan for the holiday season. This applies even more if any part of your operation involves retail sales. It’s not too soon to get ready.
Ready for Holidays
Cards and promotional material. If you send out holiday greetings to your clients, now is the time to design and order them. The same goes for any special advertising materials such as flyers or signs for your store. You should also consider whether you want to offer (or update) gift cards or certificates.

Extra help. Do you need to hire extra salespeople to handle the holiday rush? Looking for a VA to help with the overload so you can spend time with the family? Or maybe you need someone to cover the business while you take some time off.

Policies and procedures. Payment and return policies need to be in place. And you need to have plenty of shipping options as well. Customers need to be able to trust that they’ll receive their merchandise on time.

Inventory and listings. You don’t want to lose customers – or drive them to your competitors – by running out of popular items during the holiday shopping rush. Check with your suppliers to make sure you’ll have what you need in plenty of time. And test your product listings for function and accuracy, both online and in paper catalogs.

Atmosphere. Are your decorations and displays organized and ready? Do you have the right music available for background both in your store or office and for your online videos and presentations? Don’t forget to decorate your website as well. A festive background or banner picture is always a nice touch.

Extra content. Do you need to publish a gift ideas guide? These can take some time and effort to put together but often pay off in increased sales.

Advertising and marketing. Are your ads written? Have you decided on your holiday blog posts and social media content? Planning and organizing these things early will save time and stress during the busy season.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Need help? Contact us.

How Am I Doing?

I got a letter last week from a company I’ve done business with for 9 years. It annoyed me so much that I have decided to switch to a different service as soon as I possibly can – even though it will cost extra money and be a major inconvenience. I had considered this move before because they’ve sent several letters all with that same phrase that ticked me off.

It’s not just that the employees are rude and unhelpful. It’s not even that they’re raising the price again, for the third time and a more than 33% rate increase in less than 2 years.

No, what I find so extremely irritating is that all their letters start with the phrase “In order to continue the high level of customer service we have consistently provided…” That is arrogant and obnoxious, in addition to being untrue!

And it’s also very bad marketing.

You don’t have to tell your customers that you have excellent customer service. Your customers should be telling you! And if they aren’t telling you, then you should be asking them.

Tips for getting feedback

How Can I Help?1. Make sure your business is listed in all the places your customers are likely to talk about their experiences. This includes social media and review sites.

2. Ask for and make it easy for customers to leave comments.

3. Get permission to use spontaneous compliments you recieve by phone or email.

4. Offer an incentive – just be sure you make it random so it doesn’t appear that you’re trying to buy good reviews.

5. Don’t ignore negative comments; address them!

Customer reviews have a trememdous impact on business these days. People will listen to your marketing message if it’s a good one, but they also make buying decisions based on what real people have to say.

That’s Hot!

No matter what type of business you’re in, the one thing that every artist and entrepreneur always needs is a steady stream of interested prospects and customers. There’s no way to avoid the numbers game if you want to your
business to grow, or even to keep a steady pace. You must have a certain amount of people looking at what you do because only a percentage of them will need what you offer, and only a percentage of those people will actually buy.

That's HotSo, the first step to getting customers is getting attention. Modern life is tremendously crowded with messages and modern attention spans are notoriously low. The competition, in all fields, is intense and you will often have only a few seconds to make an impression.

You have to be tuned in to who your best customer is and what they need and want. You have to let them know that you can give it to them. And you have to be (or hire someone who is) creative enough to get the message out in a way that’s unique. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Choose and use the right words.

  • Start with vocabulary your audience understands. Big words and technical terms don’t usually make you appear more knowledgeable or impressive; they just make you difficult to understand.
  • Tell a story. You can be entertaining and informative at the same time. Your business has a personality – often known as your brand. Let it show.
  • Use action verbs and descriptive phrases whenever possible. Your words should paint a picture and encourage emotion.

Make it sensual. Sexy doesn’t have to mean naked, nasty or inappropriate. It means creating ways to get the senses involved. It means creating an atmosphere of comfort, affection or adventure. It means making people feel special. Photograph your products being used or against a rich background. Add music and/or video to your website. Find ways to let the customer feel.

Do something unexpected. People love to be surprised and that’s the best way to capture attention and make them take notice. The only limits are in your creativity and imagination!

Time Out!

For most of us, June starts the busy summer season: making school break activity plans for the kids, celebrating dads and grads, family reunions and vacations. This is in addition to the ongoing challenges of keeping a business going and growing.

In all the bustle of extra activity, one thing that usually gets left off the to-do list is time for relaxation. Vacations with the family turn into another set of tasks to accomplish so that the end of your trip -if you can actually take one – finds you as tired as you were at the beginning.

No matter how much you enjoy your work, your mind and body do get stressed. You need to take regular time out to relax and recharge. Not just for yourself, but for those you care about and for the health of your business. Here’s why:

Lower stress. Every job has at least a few parts that create frustration or anxiety. And even the fun parts require effort and concentration. Both of these conditions can cause both mental and physical stress which slows you down and eventually takes a toll on your health. It’s important to have a regular release.

Dream and Create. Have you ever had the experience of solving a problem as soon as you quit thinking about it? Ideas and solutions come faster and easier when you get rid of tension.

Evaluate and Plan. Get away from the pressure of day-to-day operations so that you can see the big picture. Let your mind drift a little and contemplate where you are and dream about where you want to be. This is where goals come from.

Remember the Joy. You started your business for a reason. Keeping in touch with the happiness and anticipation you felt at the beginning will help maintain your motivation and keep you in tune with the adventure.

Celebrate. Like we discussed last time, it’s important to acknowledge and take pleasure in your progress and accomplishments. It helps keep you moving forward, and it feels good!

Now obviously you can’t just pack up and spend a week on the beach every month (at least, most of can’t). But there are many ways to take regular, rejuvenating breaks. For example, you can limit the length of your work days, automate or outsource routine duties to free up time, and set aside a day or a portion of a day each week to spend in worship or meditation. Find a way that fits your business and lifestyle, and stick to it.

Regular time outs will make your time in more effective and enjoyable.