There are a lot of people out there with at least a little knowledge of how to get a website up and running. Many can do it on the cheap — and if you’re family, they may even do it for the incredibly low price of free.
They may be able to hook you up with a free website on some shared service, cobble together a template and copy your brochure onto an online platform. But what you’ve got, despite low prices and possibly the fact that your ‘web designer’ can keep it all in the family, is not the website that can help your business grow online.
There are exceptions, of course, to the suggestion that you shouldn’t use a family member to do the design for your website: you may have some real gems in your family. But the typical situation is that if you stick within your personal circle, you’re going to face a lot of constraints. You have to bring your new website down to the level that you know that they can complete. That can start all sorts of problems, because not everyone knows how to set up hosting, how to do a website that isn’t based entirely on templates, how to get traffic to your website and so on.
The simple truth is that few of us would choose a relative to build the actual store that our business sits in. We’d be in much better shape and have a better chance of growing our businesses if we go to professional architects and contractors. The same is true for our websites. There are web designers that specialize in building sites that make it easier for you to sell your services or products online.
If family ties aren’t enough to help you choose a web designer, what is? Choosing one on the basis of experience building sites in your industry can be one of the best strategies available. Review a designer’s portfolio and actually visit the websites he’s built: Do they work well? Do they look professional? Would you trust that company?
You should also compare estimates, between professional web designers, rather than between a pro and a family friend who happens to know a little HTML. Comparing apples to oranges may, in this case, only get you worms. Rather, comparing numbers between professionals can help you get an idea of not only what your website is worth, but what you may need to pay for in the future, like hosting. Most professional designers are also willing to sit down with you and run through the numbers, explaining the value you’re getting.
It’s tempting to try to keep your business’ costs to minimum. Turning to a relative who claims that he can get you a website for free is definitely more appealing than cutting a big check to a web design company. But what you get for your money is a very different story.
A website makes an immediate and lasting impression on customers as to a business’ overall mission, personality and trustworthiness. A website that makes customers feel safe and welcome is a champion for a business’ reputation. Does your business website foster a sense of trust in your customers?
Whether your business is represented by your website or is an e-commerce venture conducted directly on it, there’s a lot you can do to make it a trusted destination for your customers. Nurture trust by providing an atmosphere that demonstrates respect and consideration for your customers. Like being a good resident of any community, the more approachable you are, the more neighbors are likely to drop by for a visit.
Here are four ways in particular to help your customers trust your website:
Is there any more important element than trust in your relationship with customers? Because your website represents your degree of commitment to your business, maintaining a site your customers trust is critical to your success and growth. Your website can be your biggest asset to demonstrating trust — or the biggest detractor from it. Incorporating these simple elements into your website will go a long way toward fostering customers’ trust in it — and ultimately in your business itself.
It’s not just the marketing staff who can reach out to customers these days: any one of your employees may have a Facebook account, a blog or a presence on various sites out there. Depending on your employees, that can be a very good thing or a very bad thing.
It’s very tempting to create draconian policies prohibiting your employees from using social media, or at least telling them never to mention your company’s name online. But it’s essentially impossible to enforce such rules. Even attempting to ban the use of social networks while at work is tough in the era of smartphones. If you’re serious about having and enforcing such policies, you have to be prepared to stare at every one of your employees every hour of the day in order to be sure that they’re following the rules. It’s not a practical situation.
The alternative is creating a social media policy that your employees are on board with, that they feel that they can live with and that satisfies you as well. Such an approach can also give you the opportunity to talk to any employees that might be interested in working on social media initiatives within your company.
The first step to a good social media policy is to find out how your employees already use sites like Facebook and Twitter. A survey of your employees can be a good starting point, along with an online search for their names. When you have a clear picture of what your team is already doing, you’re in a better position to identify what you do need to discuss with them and perhaps even spot where they can help you.
From there, you should consider what your own social media needs are. If you need employees to monitor social media accounts or look for online commentary about your company, that needs to be a key topic for your policy: rather than listing out the things that your employees shouldn’t do, go from a positive approach and discuss the goals you’re hoping to accomplish.
You will likely find that there are at least some behaviours that you need to describe as not fitting the image you want to establish for the organization as a whole. Including such problem areas in your policy is a start, as long as you’re specific enough that employees don’t feel like they’re being faced with a long list of ‘can’ and ‘cannot.’
Don’t just send out a memo to your employees, telling them the company’s new policies on social media. Train them so that they can handle those policies. The more training you can provide, the less likely you are to have problems — or even need policies. An employee who knows that you want to use Twitter to seek out and address problems is more valuable than an employee who you have to monitor on Twitter on a regular basis, after all.
Everyone is excited about the power and influence of social media. Technology has facilitated a way for people to conduct real-time conversations from across the room and across the globe. Social media represents the opportunity for you to spread the word about your business to a huge and interested audience with ease and at your convenience at a relatively low cost. Social media is an advertising dream come true — when, that is, it’s used intelligently and responsibly.
Like all technology, social media is constantly evolving. And true human nature, people often become excited and overzealous at the prospect of using technology to connect with an even larger audience. It seems there’s a new social media site or trend coming down the pike every day. Some may enable you to connect more effectively with your audience, while others are merely gimmicks that will ultimately waste your time and that of your social media community. How do you know which trends are worth your time and effort to investigate further and which you can safely ignore? Here are some ways to help you filter out which to heed and which to let slide by:
While it’s important to remain agile and current with your social media efforts, it’s of equal importance to avoid seeming flighty by jumping on every new trend. The wisdom is in knowing the difference between a substantial, useful, social media tactic and one that becomes a popular trend because it’s new and shiny. Careful consideration of your overall social media strategy and your online community will help you safely ignore those trends that won’t benefit your marketing efforts and adopt the ones that will.
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An email newsletter can be one of the most effective methods of online promotion — but you have to get names on your list for a newsletter to be truly useful. Many businesses go to extreme lengths to convince visitors to their websites to join their email lists. If you take the time to get sign ups in person, though, you’ve got a clear advantage.
The truth of the matter is that if you’re dealing with someone face to face, especially if they’ve already decided that they want to do business with you, it’s much easier to convince them to join your mailing list. Customers, even before they hand over money, already have a personal connection with you that will make them more interested in hearing from you in the future. You’re likely to see email recipients who you’ve signed up for your list in person be more responsive to any offers you send out.
We have seen some drastic differences between purchased lists and in-house lists that our clients cultivate themselves over time. While it is possible to purchase email lists, their quality is usually terrible and their open rates are worse. When we have a good in-house list, we typically see open rates between 12% and 17%, sometimes as high as 22%, depending on the audience. With purchased lists, the open rates are typically less than 5% to a much less targeted list.
Depending on the size of your staff, it may seem like asking them to do even one more thing can be tough. But any employee that regularly interacts with customers — current or prospective — needs to be aware that you want to get people signed up to your newsletter. It may be enough to just establish asking for the sign up as one more step in what your team does, but you may find you need to take it a step beyond.
If getting newsletter subscriptions are a priority, offering your staff an incentive can make sense. Even something as simple as a dollar for every completed subscription can get your team interested in getting names and email addresses down. However, it is important to be clear about the types of people you want on your email list, especially if you’re offering your employees some sort of incentive. Getting plenty of email addresses from their friends and family won’t help you out if you don’t have a hope of selling anything to those individuals.
You can keep the process of signing up new members of your email list to a sheet of paper and a pen but, depending on the newsletter management software you use, you may need to consider how you’ll get those email addresses entered. Many such tools use double opt-in (requiring not just the submission of an email address but a confirmation, usually by clicking a link in an email, from the recipient) to avoid issues related to spam. But such systems can confuse new recipients who simply gave you their email address in passing. At the bare minimum, you’ll want to warn folks that a confirmation email is coming, if not edit the confirmation email entirely to make it clear that they signed up in person.
Taking the time to collect and enter email addresses, however, can be very worthwhile. It gives you a way to build up repeat business — and selling to someone who has already bought from you, or at least agreed to receive your email newsletter, is always easier than going in cold.