Social media is no longer just a way to keep in touch with friends and family. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, MySpace, WordPress, Flixster and Digg are just the start of a long list of social networking sites. A social networking site is a virtual place where people can connect with others who have similar interests. Such a site allows interactive dialogue and user generated content. In the last few years business has discovered how useful such sites can be. If you have a product or service that users of a specific social network might be interested in, why not join the dialogue? It is especially useful for a small business owner because it is free and raises awareness of your business. Every click on the link to your website will improve your status on the search engine lists. See my blog about SEO for more information about optimizing your website.

If you are creative and energetic you can create a following of people that are interested in what you have to say. Traditionally business owners get involved in the community where they live; they contribute to fundraisers, they support a little league team, they have a float in the Santa Claus parade. All this is part of the effort to raise their public profile and generate business. It is imperative for a business owner to market themselves. It is still important to do all those things and more, but in the modern world, your “community” is much larger. You can sell your product anywhere in the world if you want to! And how do prospective clients discover you and what you are offering? On social media of course!

Don’t forget the “Social” in Social media. You do not want to have a Facebook page, Blog or Twitter account where you only try to sell sell sell. You won’t get followers that way. Instead, focus on providing content that people will find entertaining or educational. There has to be a reason for them to return to your page repeatedly. Perhaps you will have a contest, or give a coupon to the 100th visitor, or some other freebie. Humour is always a great way to encourage more visitors. They stop to laugh and stay to find out more about your business. If you are not a comedian or that approach is not appropriate for your business is, another thing you can do is provide information and advice. If you had a Car Repair Shop you could post tips for maintaining your car the best way or if you have a Bakery business you could post a favourite recipe of the month or something like that. Perhaps you are a psychologist. You could post articles about taking care of yourself or positive affirmations of something. The whole idea is to try to create a “buzz” about you and your business.

It takes time, effort and a bit of creativity to maintain a Facebook page, Blog or Twitter account but the results are worth it. If you can afford it, you may be able to hire a specialist to do it all for you but if you need to keep a tight control of your marketing budget you can do it yourself for free! Good Luck!

I invite you to  check out my Facebook page and my Twitter Account if you like.

Have a good week!

Olwen Hanmer,

 Sandstone Studios

If you have decided to hire a professional instead of going with one of the DIY sites, you may be surprised by all the questions they ask you at the beginning. At least, they should be asking you questions. I would be worried if they don’t. Some small business owners get frustrated by all these questions. You don’t have the time. You don’t want to be bothered. You want the designer to just get the job done, after all that’s why you hired them, right?

The truth is, they are getting the job done. I discussed some of the things you will need to think about in regards to your new website last week. The designer is going to help you with this process. They will ask the questions that will help focus your thoughts.

The first step is always an analysis what you want/need from your website. Are there specific things you need it to do for you? What functionality is required? Do you need a “shopping cart” or other ways to sell your product? Do you want to collect customer information and feedback? Do you want customers to be able to print off a coupon or a form of some sort? Do you need an activity calendar? Is your website simply to be an information source for prospective customers? Are you going to need regular weekly or monthly updates or will an annual maintenance contract sufficient? I could go on for this entire blog asking more questions! Questions need to be asked and answered before anything else can be done.

The second step in the process is gathering content materials. These may be provided by you or developed from scratch. If you have existing marketing materials you may wish to use them on your website as well. Even if you are not comfortable writing the actual copy you have to tell the copy writer what you want to be said. Graphics are a big part of modern websites so what those are and who provides them will be have to be considered.

Remember – you are not in this alone. Your web designer/developer will guide you through all this.

The third step will be fun. The designer will provide you with a couple “sketches” of what your website may look like and you get to pick which one you prefer.

The fourth step is actually building the website. Hopefully the designer will have all the information he/she needs at this point but there are always a few things that pop up in the design process that they may need to ask you about. At the end of all this you will have something that is unique to your business and that belongs to you.

The fifth step is your approval. The designer will show you the completed site and you will have the opportunity to make corrections and changes. Once you are happy with everything you will give your OK to go ahead and launch.

Step six is “GO LIVE!” Your web designer will launch your beautiful new website on the World Wide Web for all to see! It is time to celebrate!

Even if you are using templates from one of those DIY sites, you need to spend time planning your website. What do you want to say to your visitors? How do you want to present yourself? What information do your customers need to know? These sound like obvious questions but in fact they are hard to answer and need a lot of thought. I often find with new clients that they only have a general idea what they want. “I want something bright and clean and professional looking with lots of action in it”  or “I want something artsy”  That is a start but it doesn’t give me much to work with.

The first thing you might do is spend some time browsing around the internet entering keywords in your search box and seeing what pops up. A keyword is a word that you associate with your business. If you had a landscape business you might try landscape, landscaping, trees, lawns, gardens, shrubs, flowers, etc etc. Your choice of keywords is very important in helping people find you once you are live on the internet. If you have hired a professional they will do keyword research among other things to improve your SEO  (see my Blog about SEO ) Take the time to have a look at each site and note the URL (or web address) if you like the look of a specific website. There may be specific features of a website that you like so make a note of those as well. This will help you focus in on what you want your own website to look like.

The next thing you need to do is to make a “flow chart”. It will look something like this:sample of a simple flowchart

This will help you figure out how many pages you need and what content you will be putting on each page. This is quite simple with a small website but you would be surprised at how the number of pages can grow when you get right down to it. An important thing to remember is that you don’t want  your visitors to have to “dig” too far in order to get the information they need.  It is ok to have additional information and other non-essential facts buried  down a layer or two, but your primary tabs should direct them to what they need/want to know with one click of the mouse.

So – now you know what you want your website to look like , sort of, and you know what pages you are going to create. Now you have to figure out what you are going to put on each of those pages, what you are going to say  and how you are going to say it. Do you need graphics or pictures? Do you want feedback forms? Do you want a slideshow or other flash animation?  If all this is planned out before you begin, your entire process will go much more smoothly. It is always easier to do it right the first time rather than having to go back and correct it later.

Whether you are doing it yourself or getting a professional to do it for you, these are steps you should take the time to think through. After all, it is your business!

Increasingly, people are accessing the internet through a variety of devices. These include their Home Computer, their Phone or their new Tablet.  Have you given any thought to your target market and what device you think they will use? Does your business provide a service or product that people will search for on the run or is it more likely they will be browsing for something in the comfort of their home?  You need to know this when you are designing a website that is modern and will not need structural changes for a few years.  It will cost you a lot of money to change it if/when you find that people want to access your site on something other than a PC. They will probably find it too bothersome to have to scroll back and forth to read anything and may not be able to see an entire graphic at one time. Most likely they will go to another site and you will lose a sale.

You can design a webpage that automatically adjusts itself to different screen sizes.  You need to have it in the code to show one design if the screen is up to 1126 pixels wide, another if the screen is up to 768 px and a third for screens up to 320 px (like a phone).

There are so many companies that offer inexpensive DIY websites using templates etc.   I can’t comment on whether or not they offer this feature, but it is one that you should consider before you sign on. Ask the question! If you don’t get an answer go to a different company.

It is my suggestion that you start out with a website that is compatible with all three screen sizes right out of the gate. It may cost you a tiny bit more initially, but makes sense in the long term.  Who knows what wonderful new products they will come out within the next couple of years? It doesn’t make sense to start out with something that is out of date before it is even launched.

I am happy to answer your questions.


Sandstone Studios Web Solutions

April 18 2012

Do a search in almost any search engine with the words “website” “build a website” “or anything else you can think of when looking for help setting up a website for your small business, and you will find lots of titles telling you they can give you a website for free.  It sounds great …and FREE! Why would you pay someone to do this for you? They make it sound so simple! You don’t have a lot of money, right? It can’t be that hard, right?  Well …perhaps.  But I caution you not to jump right in without doing a little research first.  I have a few thoughts to help guide you while you browse through these offerings.

First of all – if you don’t understand their terminology and only have a general idea of what they are talking about, then perhaps doing it yourself is not a great idea. At least not the first time you get your feet wet.

Next – read every detail of what they say to you. It won’t help you if you are unhappy later and they come back and tell you they told you all about that feature on page one.

As a general rule, they are offering something ‘free’ but you still have to pay for everything else. It is a good idea to look at the bottom line or final actual cost before committing to a contract. Compare apple to apples; term to same term.  It may be the domain name that is free, or the templates etc to build the website (yourself) or even the first year of hosting – but you are locked into subsequent years at an inflated price.

Similarly, offerings at greatly reduced prices may actually be exactly what you want; minimal pages, no support, no changes, no custom graphics, no email, no help with your visibility etc… However, what usually happens is that you sign on for a basic package at a super rate and then you find that that it doesn’t actually do the job for you.  Then you are stuck (at least for the year) with an inadequate website that does not promote your business, club or service the way you want and it is either going to cost you a lot of money to get it up to par, or you waste a year or more before you can start over by hiring someone to re-design the site.

Here are a couple things to watch out for when you are deciding how you are going to proceed:

1 – Make sure the company provides good support. You want to be able to talk to an actual person right now. You want 24/7 service if possible. At the minimum you want them to get back to you, in person, within 24 hours.  If your site is down or if there is a major problem you don’t want to “close your doors” for longer than that.  Confirm what type of support they provide. Is it just for specific problems? Or all problems. Do they charge extra for support?  Are they limited to 9-5 Monday to Friday support?  Are they well trained?  Does their support team even exist? Do they ‘farm out’ their support service?

2 – Take a good look at the templates and procedures needed to set up your site. Are the templates interesting and varied? (Sometimes they all look basically the same) Is there one that might be a good fit with your business? Are they easy to use? Do they include the features you want? I have tried to follow some of the instructions for some of these “build it yourself” websites and find them very complicated and confusing. I’m not saying that I couldn’t have completed the exercise but if I wasn’t already trained in website construction and several programming languages, I would be lost. It is possible you might be too.

3 – Watch out for hidden fees.

4 – Make sure that the “Free” product will actually fit your needs. I think that 5 pages & 1 GB of memory, no dedicated email, and no help (support), is not going to work for anyone.

In the end, after you have you have spent a few days doing research and looking at different companies, you may decide to give it a shot and tryout one of these “Get it cheap” or “Get it Free” offers. If you have enough computer knowledge and experience, it could be fun. (So long as you understand that it is NEVER FREE) On the other hand, perhaps it would turn out to be cheaper and less hassle for you to hire someone who knows what they are doing. It will still require your involvement, but you will be able to rest assured that you will get a website that will represent you and your business in a unique way that you can be proud of.

I hope this helps. The decision is yours and I wish you all the best in your choices.

Next week I will talk about considerations regarding the newer platforms for website viewing like the PC, Laptop, ipad, SmartPhone etc. and how that may affect you.

Thanks for visiting,


Sandstone Studios Web Solutions

April 12 2012

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization but what does that really mean? When a web designer/developer tells you that they offer SEO, they are telling you that they will do whatever they have to do in order to get your website to pop up when a prospective customer searches for your product or service. There are entire companies that specialize in nothing but SEO – it is a huge topic.

If you haven’t made any effort to improve your “findability” on the internet you may never have any visitors to your site. Being easy to find is extremely important but there is massive competition for those first few pages of a Google search so you need to make a bit of an effort.

The first consideration is the name of your website.  If there is some clue as to what you are promoting in the name you are one step ahead of the game.

Next you will need to do some research for “keywords“. What will people type into their search boxes to try to find you? Start with the obvious and search yourself, then get creative and try to think like your customers might think – all possibilities. Write these down. You will be inserting these into the “meta-data” on your WebPages.

Then you need to think of a short but descriptive sentence to describe each page of your website. These sentences will appear on the search list and encourage visitors to your site so make them interesting and to the point. These also go into the “meta-data” section of your webpage. It is also helpful to name each page in a descriptive way because it will appear at the top when a visitor tabs through your site so they will know where they are and what to expect on the page.

In addition to all this you will need to consider things like the keywords when deciding on what text/copy you have. You will also have to keep SEO in mind when choosing Headings for different sections and Labels for images. It all helps and some people have made a science out of it.

Another major way to improve your standings is to have a lot of other people and websites linking to you. It improves traffic if you link out as well. Ultimately, the more times someone goes to your website, the higher it will rise on the pages until it is near the top. The trick is to make this happen pro-actively instead of waiting (and hoping) that it will happen all by its self – because it probably won’t.

You can always be found by someone who has your URL (for example but it is more desirable for them to be able to type in a couple of general words about your product or service and find you that way.

Please understand that this is a very simple outline of the entire process just to give you a bit of understanding of what is involved. The details of how to accomplish top standing day after day, on a search engine like Google, would take months to discuss. What you need to know is that SEO is valuable and very important to your online business success.

Blog #5

A template is a page layout prepared by someone else. If you do not have experience designing and building websites a template may be the way to go. Many hosting companies offer free template designs if you buy their hosting services. Most of these have pre-set colour palettes and even stock photos to choose from. They are professional looking designs and will work quite well. You need to be aware that there are some companies that offer free templates but they turn out not to be free at all. They nickel and dime you, or demand a large fee in the second year. By then you have invested a lot of time and  effort raising the profile of your website and you don’t want to appear unstable to clients so you continue with it even though you are not happy. If this happens to you, remember – your domain name can be transferred to a different host. As long as you pay the annual registration fee for your domain name, you can do with it as you like. The look of your site can be easily changed with the help of a designer so don’t be afraid to opt out, if you find yourself in a situation you do not love.

There are also many templates that charge you anywhere from $67 to $8000+ dollars. They do provide modern and dynamic designs. The problem is that you may need to know a lot about building a website and the various programming languages used, in order to actually use them.

Another drawback of templates is that they often require you to display their ads   on your page. This can distract from the professional appearance you are trying to project. The biggest problem to my mind though, is that they are templates. Who knows how many other sites out there look exactly the same? You can’t customize it to be 100% your own. You want your own colours, your own photos and your own layout and your own logo. Landing on your website is similar to walking through the door of your store or office. The impression you make will reassure your prospective clients that he or she wants to do business with you. You want to build trust and familiarity. That is difficult if you look like every other slick business out there.

I think the best way to get what you want is to work with a website designer/developer . As a small business owner that just wants to have a personalized  website, presenting your own unique  business to the public and that promotes your product in a clear and straightforward manner, your best bet is to hire someone that can do the job for you at a reasonable price. Why should you waste your valuable time learning a whole new science when there are folks out there that can do the job for you in a more efficient, quick and cost effective way?