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In spite of the fact that small businesses are the engine of our economy, in the past they have had to operate at a huge disadvantage. Small businesses almost invariably have to run on a very tight budget, with cash flow being the major concern and a constant battle. Cash is king! As a result, small businesses have had to rely on their local market and word of mouth to advertise their capabilities. They could not afford the rates to advertise in major newspapers, magazines and certainly not on TV. In a marketing sense therefore, larger companies have had an enormous advantage. They had the resources to reach the global market and to reach your local market in a more powerful way.

In the last few years, the pendulum has swung towards smaller businesses. The Internet age and the tremendous growth of electronic communication have altered the balance of power in the market place, forever. Suddenly small businesses have at their disposal a means to reach a much broader market, at a fraction of the cost of conventional advertising. They can compete with large companies in a way that was never possible before. Anyone can have a web site!! The general public are increasingly accepting and turning to the Internet to research and browse prior to committing their money.

Of course, it is not cheap to set up a web site and there are ongoing costs to host and maintain the site. However, unlike an advertisement, a web site is a permanent fixture, in use all year round. As a method of advertising, web sites are incredibly flexible. They can display an infinite variety of design, in as many colours as you can invent and with as much animation as you can afford. Web sites can be personalized in a way that no advertisement could ever achieve and they can carry as much, or as little, information as you desire. The only limitation is your imagination and that of your design expert.

The accessibility of web-based advertising to small businesses is a revolution in the world of commerce. Millions of subscribers are taking advantage of this revolution, making the early part of the 21st Century the era of small business. I encourage every small business person to seriously consider taking advantage of this exciting opportunity. Your local market and word of mouth will remain very important to your business success but they are no longer a constraint. The World Wide Web is literally your oyster.

However, here are some words of caution to the wise. As I mentioned there are millions of web sites out there in cyberspace. It is like the classified ads in your newspaper, multiplied thousands of times over. So it is important that you do not just fling a website together and launch it. You have to reach and be noticed by your target market.

We offer you the following ten tips:

(For more detail, please click on the tips.)

Owning a website will give the World a new window
through which to notice you

1) Take advantage of the opportunity that the WWW offers you.
In the past, except at the local level, advertising was far too costly for small businesses to compete. The broader market (regional, national and international) was a domain reserved for large corporations. Today with the growth of the World Wide Web and its acceptance in everyday life, the balance of power has changed in the business world. Small businesses can reach audiences we could never have dreamed of in the past. We are no longer confined to local ads and networking meetings where we hand out brochures and business cards. Our ability to market stretches well beyond word of mouth and out into cyberspace. It is an incredible revolution in business, be a part of it!

2) Business strategy comes first.
A website is your advertisement, your electronic brochure – it must be a reflection of you and your business. Just like any advertisement, a website will benefit from clear and concise messages. Such clarity is impossible if you are not yourself very clear about what business you are in, what services you will offer and what is your unique competitive advantage.

3) Really think about your website before you design it.
Do not be tempted to just fling a website together and launch. Like any key element of your strategy, a website will make significantly greater impact if you take the time up front to really think it through. There are so many websites out there competing for attention, make sure yours is notable. Too much detail that is badly organized will drive visitors away. Be clear from the start about your main thrust, your strategic messages, your unique strengths and organize your website layout accordingly.

4) Be clear from the outset about your target audience and their needs.
As part of your business strategy you will have picked your target market. They are the audience for your website. Think about their needs, preferences and what makes them “click”. Look at some competitors’ websites and see how they are framing their messages. Speak to some clients and potential clients and ask them what they most want from your website. Give them what they want and need BUT do it YOUR way.

5) Take care to create a website that is unique.
With so much competition out there in cyberspace, you have to be noticed. You can’t and won’t achieve this by copying your competitors. You are a unique human being, you have strengths, style, personality and tastes that, as a package, are unique to you. If you are able to translate your uniqueness into a website design, while still keeping the clarity of your messages, you will have created something truly unique. Try to make your website visually (in appearance and words) as unique as you are in person. Make the visitor feel that they are actually meeting you.

6) Find the type of clients you really want.
Business relationships are often about trust and trust develops by getting to know one another. To know you is to trust you – through your website, give your clients and potential clients a chance to get to know you. By doing that you will have a better chance of attracting the type of clients that you really want to work with. After all, even though we are all in business to make money, we also want to enjoy ourselves and enjoy coming to work everyday.

7) Keep your design simple, yet eye-catching.
We find that complexity turns website visitors off. Try to create a “look” that is simple, and yet it still serves two masters – it is eye-catching AND it reflects you personally. Appearance isn’t everything, the content of your website must be relevant and powerful too, but websites like advertisements are part of the visual media - so please take advantage and make them attractive. Please also avoid the use of template designs. For the most part they are obvious, they are by definition not unique and in many cases they are unattractive!! Yes, they are cheaper but it might well be an example of “getting what you pay for”. When your friends look at your website and say – “it’s really you” – you will know that you have arrived!

8) Ensure that your messages are simple, yet powerful.
While visual image is of vital importance in website design, it is also very important that your message is clear. To achieve this clarity, your design must take advantage of the flexibility of the web. The combined use of words, images and motion to convey your message gives the web the same flexibility as TV advertising, except that you are not constrained by time.
Your main messages should be delivered in concise, clear language – even in headline format. Those messages should be reinforced by the use of images or photos that are “real” – i.e. directly related to your products or services. “Movies” can be used to attract attention, either emphasizing the words or giving visual examples. The important thing is to be clear about what message you are trying to convey and not to try to convey too many messages at once.
Paradoxically though, a website has the beauty of being expandable. Potential customers who have a passion for detail, a desire to truly understand your business, need not be constrained. By clever design and the liberal use of “bookmarks” and “links” you can provide on a website an amazing amount of detail. Remember though, that you have a varied audience - those who like detail versus those who want to quickly understand and decide. Your design needs to carefully consider both by providing the information in layers of increasing detail – brief clear messages to convey the essence of your product/service offering, on the one hand; but on the other hand, you also provide access to detail for those who want to know more. Do not force those who want quick understanding to wade through all the detail to get your point.

9) Take care to ensure that your website is user-friendly.
We have all heard the expression “user friendly”. This is particularly important with website design. There are so many websites out there, so many competitors, that if your website is hard to use, the visitor will quickly get frustrated and move on. It is very important that in the design process you spend time to put yourself “in the shoes of the user”. Ask yourself what it is they most need to know, ask others to tell you what they expect to find, get friends and family to navigate around the site. Make sure that your site has none of those infuriating “dead-ends”.

10) Submit your website to maximize your exposure.
Even once you have designed your very own, unique and noticeable website, you still have to “park” it in the right place. You need to choose a reliable web hosting company, one with a strong reputation for quick response. Most of all, you need to take care to register your website carefully with all the major search engines. Search engine registration is a very important step that is often underestimated. My advice is to seek professional help to get the registration of your website right. It is really worth the effort.


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