Archives for posts with tag: home business

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

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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.

Olwen

Sandstone Studios Web Solutions

olwen@sandstoneweb.ca

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 http://www.sandstoneweb.ca) 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.

March 28, 2012

Getting Started

Ok. So you have chosen and registered a Domain Name (or placed a “hold” on that name) . You are going to need a Hosting Company soon but it might be better to wait for that decision until you have decided exactly what services you need from them before signing a contract. Not all Hosting companies are equal! Cheaper is not always better. Expensive is not always better either.

Whether  you design your new website yourself or you hire professional,  the first thing you have to consider when planning your website is your GOAL!.

What is it that you want to accomplish with this website?

  •  Do you simply want to let people know that you exist and how to get in touch with you?
  • Do you need a map?
  • What services you offer?
  • Do you want to sell products online? Will this will require a shopping cart?
  • Do you want to have a forum where people can discuss various topics, give feedback or opt-in to a newsletter or special promotions?
  • Will you need constant updates, or will it remain more or less the same over time?
  • Who is your target market?
  • Will you need a gallery or portfolio?
  • Will you need a calendar?

 

These are some of the questions you must ask yourself. The answers will determine  if you need a static or a dynamic website, what services you need from your Host and whether or not you will be able to build it yourself.

If you want a dynamic site you will need a hosting company that can provide the security you need and a reliable interface with both the programming language you use and the type of database you use. For online sales you will need a merchant account and either a gateway for credit card transactions or a payment processor like Paypal to accept payments. It can get a little tricky so if you need a dynamic site perhaps your best choice would be to hire a professional although there may be hosting companies that will walk you through it. Either way, make sure they have excellent customer service!

I would say that at least half of the total time spent on a project like this is spent on the planning. That is not unusual. The better you plan, the easier the execution of the final project.

You have to decide what you want your website to look like. Is it modern or classic? formal or familiar?  Do you want to project a professional  image? or do you want a smoky, artsy, and moody site? or maybe you want it bright and happy. These are very important things to consider.  One way to focus your thoughts is to find samples of sites that you like and make a note of them.

It is also important to give some thought to the copy. What you say will have a huge impact on your potential customers. If you can’t write it yourself you may consider hiring a professional copywriter. A successful online store has copy that makes the product leap off the page. Your customers can’t pick something up and hold it in their hands so the words must make it seem real to them and help them decide this is the item they want to purchase. Similarly, they can’t walk into your office and meet you face to face so the copy on your webpage must convince them that you are trustworthy, knowledgeable and the kind of person they want to do business with. Do you plan to educate? Who will write the articles you want posted? Most likely you will have to do that yourself but if you use someone else’s you must have permission.

Another factor is the graphics. Do you have an existing Logo? Do you want photographs or other images ? Do you have your own pictures or do you need a photographer to take them for you?

The layout of your website also needs to be thought through. You need a clear and logical layout so visitors can find what they want easily. You will quickly lose them if they have to hunt all over for what they are looking for. Don’t bury your contact info and hours of operation 3 layers down. Make it easy for them to get in touch with you if they have any questions or concerns. Assure them of your security and privacy policy and find a place to introduce yourself and your company to them.

I hope this is not overwhelming. As I said, the planning if half the effort. If you have someone designing and building your website for you, they will ask the questions and propose solutions and all you have to do is give them your answers. This website will represent you to the world! isn’t that worth the effort?

I have used a lot of question marks this week. Sorry about that, but you must do the same in the planning stage of developing your new website. You are welcome to contact me directly if you have any questions you want to ask me. (olwen@sandstoneweb.ca)

Next time I will talk about templates vs unique design. See you then!

Olwen

Sandstone Studios Web Solutions

 

 

 

 

Choosing a Domain Name

A Domain name is basically the title and address of your website.  For that reason it is  very important.  The first consideration when deciding on a domain name should be to think of something that is representative of your company. Your company name may be perfect but it may be too long. You want the name to include  something  that indicates what your website is all about. If you provided accounting services for example, the word accounting could be in the domain name. If the name is  too long there is the chance of typing errors which can send your clients off into the vast labyrinth of the internet and you may never see them again! Keep this in mind:

“Short. Sweet. To the point. Easy-to-Remember.”

For example, my business name is Sandstone Studios Web Solutions but my domain name is simply sandstoneweb.ca.

Once you have decided on a name you will have to register it with a designated registrar. This is important because someone has to keep track of all the names out there and make sure each one is unique and you want reassurance that the company is authorized to do this. There are stand-alone registrars, but often the bigger and more reliable hosting companies offer this service as well and that is handy because you then don’t have to transfer the name to that company when you are ready to GO LIVE.

You will need to  spend some time researching if your choice is available online.

Here are some domain names you might be familiar with:

Choosing a suffix for your name

The most common endings for domain names are .com, .net, and .org.

There are also country codes such as .ca (canada), .uk (United Kingdom), and .jp (Japan). There rules for registering these country code extensions specific to each country or territory but generally they are reserved for citizens of the corresponding country. If your choice of a name is not available as a .com you may decide on one of the other endings. Keep in mind that .net is usually for large corporations and .org is often a non-profit organization.

Next time I will talk about getting started developing your website.

See you then!

Olwen

Sandstone Studios Web Solutions