So, you’ve started your own small business? Working out of your garage? A local retail space? A workshop? A van? You’ve even put together a simple website using Wix, Weebly or WordPress.com.
…but there’s a problem: No one can find you on Google, and your clients keep telling you your website is rubbish: It’s time to pull the trigger on a new website; but what do you need? How do you prepare?
Master Chef: Dan Menzies, Lead Developer & Managing Director of PSD to Final
No matter what you do in your business, it’s likely your website is the first port of call for new clients; and just as likely your existing clients visit your website regularly. This means your website is just as important as your workshop, your retail frontage, or your van.
But with careful planning and management, it can be much more. It can become your virtual shop front. A place to sell goods and services; a place to gather referrals and qualify new clients; a place not just to showcase your business, but to do business.
- Desktop PC or Notebook PC
- Email address
- Website Developer (not just a Web Designer)
- No less than two friendly clients
Step 1: Engage your Web Developer
Needed: A local Web Developer
First things first. You’ll need to have a sit-down with a Web Developer. Why a developer, and not a designer? We’re looking at complexity, and Developers are best positioned to make sure your site works, not just looks pretty.
Unless you are a Web Designer or Software Engineer yourself, or have a great deal of experience working with distributed teams, I highly recommend finding a local developer. The face-to-face service will result in a much better outcome.
With your Web Developer (or Dev), discuss the following:
- The core function of your business (retail sales, service, management, etc)
- Where you make the most margin
- Your current interactions with your clients
- Your current sales channels
- Any ambitions you have for your new site/storefront
- Any inefficiencies you believe can be overcome by utilizing an online platform
During your first meeting, stress to your Dev that you’re looking for a Partner to build a Web-Based Solution, a site to improve your business; not just “advertise”.
Once you have everything “laid on the table”, brainstorm with your Dev to find out what’s possible, what kind of budget you need (or have), and put together a list of suggestions and questions for your key clients.
With more than 40% of web traffic in 2017 (YTD) being generated by Mobile users, it’s not just recommended, but essential, that your new website is Mobile Responsive. This means it displays correctly, and provides a seamless customer experience, regardless of the device accessing it (Desktop, Notebook, Tablet or Mobile).
Finally, if the question of technology comes up; I highly recommend a using the open source WordPress website software, with the WooCommerce plugin, Intuit Payments/QBMS Gateway plugin and any one of the number of QuickBooks / WooCommerce synchronization services (which links your virtual shop to your accounting software). I am, however, biased 😉
Step 2: Engage your key clients
Needed: Patience, 2 or more co-operative clients
The biggest mistake people make when developing a website is not knowing what they want. Implementing the wrong solution can be extremely costly (in time, money, and clients). By asking questions of clients directly, we can significantly reduce the possibility of heading in the wrong direction.
With questions from your Dev meeting in hand, approach at least 2 key clients/customers. Ask for suggestions on how:
- Interaction with your business can be easier
- Purchasing from you can be more convenient and efficient
- Any additional questions suggested through brainstorming with your Dev
We’re looking for pain-points in your customer experience that can be solved with the clever implementation of a good website.
Step 3: Back to the Dev
Needed: A local Web Developer
After discussions with your clients, return to your Dev for another meeting. During this meeting discuss:
- Results of your discussions with clients
- Potential solutions to the pain-points your clients mentioned
- Other ideas you’ve had, since the last discussion (trust me, there will be a few)
You will also want to have your Dev:
- Register a domain for your (if you don’t have one already)
- Organise some website and email hosting (again, if you don’t already have this)
- Advise you on the Merchant service to use, and a plan of action to get this set up
- Advise you of the process/service they’ll be using to tie back to Intuit QuickBooks
- Create a JumpChart account for you, and pre-fill a sitemap structure
Before the meeting ends, you’ll want to walk away with
- A clear idea of what is to be implanted
- A clear plan of attack and timeline
- At least a rough guide to price
Step 4: Content Creation
Needed: Patience, JumpChart
Planning and pre-generating the text-based content for your website will dramatically decrease the costs, and time spent in the development phase.
During this step, you need to work your way through each page of content in your sitemap and write at least 3 paragraphs of relevant text. No less than 150 words on each page (Google and Bing like websites to be “wordy”).
If you have a large number of products (eg retail store or industrial supplies), contact your suppliers before doing this; they may already have the information available. If they do, don’t enter it into JumpChart – there’s a reasonable chance your Web Developer can just “import” it.
Step 5: Build and Deploy
Needed: Patience, and a keen eye
This is largely down to your Web Developer, however, immediately before launch you should take the time to go through the site with a fine-tooth-comb. Every page, every product, every service, every contact form; and perform a few test transactions. Be sure to confirm transactions are being synchronised with your accounting package, too.
If feasible, allow the clients from Step 2: Engage your key clients to view your new beta site, and have a “tinker”. Their feedback will also prove invaluable.
This process (known as Client QA) will help ensure a smooth launch.
Step 6: Ongoing Management
Ok, you’ve launched. Job’s done, right? Wrong. Now it’s time for the real work…
You may recall waaaay back at the start of this article I mentioned “…your website is just as important as your workshop, your retail frontage or your van”. That’s correct. And you need to treat it as such.
What does that mean? It means you need to put regular time into your website, just the same as you would when you are working on/in any other part of your business:
Put your web address on everything
Your web address should be plastered all over your workshop, retail space, vehicle, cards, shirt, emails, newsletters, invoices, receipts, PC’s, POS, phone, and, well, any other relevant surface you own!
Run regular specials and promotions
Running regular or semi-regular competitions, promotions and specials helps to build your newsletter database, keeps people returning to your site, and keeps your business in the front of people’s minds.
Update the site content regularly
In the web-world, we have a saying; “Content is King”. Google and Bing love new content on your site – they also hate when sites are left idle and stagnate. If you want to improve/keep that search engine rank, you need to regularly add new content. This could be in the form of blog posts, industry-related articles, newsletter articles, new products/services, or anything else relevant.
Post regularly to Social Media
You may need a specialist to get you started here, but posting relevant content to social media is a great way to drive new traffic to your site, and acquire new customers.
Refer existing customers for payments, when appropriate
Allowing customers to pay their bills/invoices online is not only convenient for the customer, but it puts their eyes on your branding, on your products/services and brings you to the front of their minds. If you’re able to use Intuit Payments, it will make your accountant’s life easier, too.
Regularly run AdWords campaigns
If you have the budget available, Google AdWords or Bing Ads allow you to rocket to the top of the page for very specific search terms (including ones dominated by your competitors). This can assist in creating new visitors, new clients, and improving market share.
Continuous Technical Improvement (or Iterating)
Without pestering, regularly check with your clients regarding your new website. Is it working for them? Can anything be improved? Is it too simple (or complex)? Does it do what they need? Refer relevant feedback to your Dev, and regularly schedule in improvements.
Continuous Promotion Improvement
Regularly analyze your promotions. How many leads were generated? Did they convert (and why / why not)? Was there solid ROI? How did it compare to the last campaign? Use this information to plan future campaigns, and make more effective use of your promotional spend/effort.