Your Business Website

Here are some general factors to consider when setting up a website for your business. They include:

1. Remember that your website can be accessed by over 100 million people world-wide. This means that you will have an international audience. Therefore, spell out all information on your web pages. Don’t assume people know what you are talking about. For example, all prices should include US dollars and don’t use abbreviations only locals will understand.

2. Establish some clear goals and objectives for your website. Exactly why are you setting it up and what do you want it to do for you? If possible, set some targets and be sure to have ways to measure your results.

3. Be sure you are on the Internet yourself. Don’t just give your web page to someone else to set up and run. Your need to be available to answer questions sent to you via e-mail, and monitor the responses to your website. If you can’t do it, train your staff, spouse or children to check the e-mail everyday.

4. If possible use your site to collect data. Include a counter to measure the number of visits. Also include a guest book, questionnaire or feedback form. The more information you can get back from visitors, the more effective you can make your site. Capture e-mail addresses for marketing.

5. Be prepared to maintain and update the site. If you are using your web page to sell products and services, be sure the data is current and timely. If you don’t plan to update it on a regular basis, then “time-proof” the site, e.g., don’t use “last updated.”

6. Provide links to other related and useful sites. Provide value added services to your Net visitors. Link to local, provincial and national sites and to other complementary businesses.

Let’s take a look at what good websites should look like for some of the applications discussed above.

1. Image website. Assuming you want to project a positive image, the website should have a professional look and feel. Types of information you could include are:

  • Description of your company and operations
  • History of your business
  • Description of location
  • About you and your staff
  • Each staff member can have a page
  • Any awards your business has won
  • Interests and plans
  • Useful business information and advice
  • Photographs of your staff and business
  • Employment or work opportunities
  • Association and business memberships e.g., Chamber of Commerce
  • Contact information including e-mail, phone, fax and mail
  • Links to other nearby businesses, attractions and the community

2. Marketing tool. The website is used as a marketing tool to provide information on products and services sold by your business. There are several different types:

a) Tourism. The business offers vacations, bed and breakfast, a campground or tours. The type of information that your Web page should have include:

  • Location of your business and how to get there
  • Nearest international airport
  • Dates and/or hours open
  • Available dates (will have to be updated regularly)
  • Prices and fees (local and US currency)
  • Descriptions of facilities
  • What’s included in the package
  • Things to do and attractions
  • Rules and regulations (for health and safety reasons)
  • Are pets/kids welcome
  • Things to bring
  • Things not to bring (e.g., guns)
  • Health care and emergency help
  • Photographs of the attractions
  • Links to local attractions (golf courses) and events (fairs)
  • Links to provincial and federal tourist information
  • Applicable regulations and dates (e.g. for out-of-province fishermen and hunters)
  • On-line booking (if possible)
  • A guest book and visitor counter
  • Contact information – mail, phone, fax and e-mail.

b) Food products. This type of operation would sell food products directly to consumers. It could be a berry farm, a pick you own vegetable operation, frozen/fresh pheasant, wild boar or other meat, bakery items, etc. Information for the Web page should include:

  • Description and photos of the products
  • Prices and payment options
  • Where to get and/or ordering information
  • Will you sell/ship out of province/country
  • Days and hours of operation (if applicable)
  • Product benefits and nutritional information
  • Recipes, cooking instructions and other suggested uses
  • Health and regulatory certification
  • Links to other similar and relevant sites
  • On-line order form
  • Guest book and customer feedback
  • Contact information including mail, telephone, fax and e-mail.

c) Arts and crafts. This business could sell any range of artistic items for the general market. Products could vary from paintings, quilts, wood carving, straw paper to wood furniture. The Web page should include the following:

  • Description and photos of the products
  • Prices and payment options
  • Where to get and/or ordering information
  • Will you sell/ship out of province/country
  • Are brochures and/or print catalogues available
  • Product benefits and applications
  • Materials or help wanted
  • Instructions on how to assemble or use
  • Customer testimonials
  • Refund policy
  • Links to other similar and relevant sites
  • On-line order form
  • Guest book and customer feedback
  • Contact information including mail, telephone, fax and e-mail.

d) Business and other services. Any business or professional services offered by your company fall into this category. It could include such things as trucking services, construction, electrical/plumbing, to specialized consulting services. This website should contain the following:

  • Description of services
  • Qualifications and experience
  • Machinery/tools available
  • Availability
  • Geographical area served
  • Prices and payment options
  • Employment or contract opportunities
  • Satisfaction policy/procedures
  • Testimonials and references
  • Links to other relevant, but non-competitive sites
  • Guest book
  • Contact information including mail, telephone, fax and e-mail.

3. A business web. This is a site that provides Internet services to other businesses or companies. It could be an “electronic mall” where certain classes of products and services are promoted. This website should include the following:

  • An electronic mall providing listings for clients including all the necessary information for each as described in the above applications.
  • Information to encourage other clients to use your website services. You would need to have:
    • Descriptions of the services you provide on your website
    • The costs associated with different levels of service
    • The benefits associated with using your service
    • Your qualifications and experience (optional if you are starting out)
    • Your marketing and promotion strategies to ensure your clients get maximum exposure
    • Any testimonials and references from satisfied clients
    • Contact information including e-mail, telephone, fax and mail.

4. Fun website. This is a website that is set up just for the fun of it, and/or to learn more about the World Wide Web. It could also be part of a hobby or set of interests. The type of content that could be on this site is:

  • Purpose and reason for the website
  • Specific information on topics of interest to the website
  • Lots of links to other similar websites
  • Innovative design and applications of the latest web technology
  • Feedback and/or discussion area
  • Contact information including e-mail, telephone, fax and mail.

5. Public information site. This site should have as much information, contact and links on the subject as possible.

Using the Internet for Marketing

Here are at least nine ways the Internet can be used to improve your marketing. These include:

1. Finding new customers. With millions of people on the Internet, it is an excellent place to market your products and services. The Internet’s global reach means that your can market your products and services worldwide from a single location on a network.

2. Educating consumers. Another application is to use the Internet to help your customers understand the goods and services you offer. This means providing helpful advice and information to current and potential customers. For example, the TD Bank has a site full of useful financial information including a help guide for new home owners.

3. Building credibility with potential customers. The Internet can help businesses build credibility among consumers. This can be done by publishing a mission statement or statement of operating philosophy to explain what your organization represents. Other ways to build credibility is to give the history of your firm, some of your big name customers, and memberships in business or professional organizations such as the Better Business Bureau and the Chambers of Commerce.

4. Building goodwill. You can use your Internet site to be a good corporate citizen. Use your Web site to promote community events, support non-profit and service organizations, and assist with fund raising for charitable associations.

5. Improving brand loyalty. This is usually done by establishing a site with information of general interest that relates to the core product being sold and by providing information that will encourage purchase of the product. If the items happen to be food, you can provide dozens of recipes, nutritional information and other information.

6. Encouraging brand trial. Some companies are using their Internet site to provide coupons and free samples of their products and services.

7. Membership programs. Membership programs such as “frequent-buyer” or “point” programs are used by airlines, department stores, bookstores, and credit card companies. These programs are seen as a competitive edge in attracting and retaining customers. These promotions could be put on the Internet. Members could check the number of points they have, request an award, view pictures of prizes, and read about the program rules and conditions.

8. Customers communications. Your can use Internet-based mailing lists to keep existing and prospective customers up-to-date on new products, sales and special events. This can be done very easily using electronic mail. Junk mail is not acceptable on the Internet. So use a voluntary electronic mailing list. Send information to only those customers who want to receive your information.

9. Creating customer mailing lists. The best way to do this is to have visitors to your World Wide Web site fill out a form if they are interested in being put on your mailing list. In this way you can easily build up a potential customer list. Also, consider sending a card to your existing and past customers asking them if they would be interested in being added to your electronic mailing list. They could respond by returning a post card with their e-mail or by registering on-line.

As direct marketers have learned, always give people on your mailing list the option, and clear instructions, on how to get off your mailing list. This courtesy will do much to improve customer relations, and avoid negative impressions of your company.

Using E-mail Signatures

Possibly the simplest and most powerful traffic driving tool that every person with an e-mail account has at their disposal is the signature file.

Those few lines that you place at the end of your e-mail message make marketing sense and although somewhat invasive, are not considered an offensive means of self-promotion. When you consider that sending unsolicited e-mail and posting unwarranted announcements in newsgroups are both considered lawless acts of online espionage, it puts promotion through the signature file into perspective

Nowhere on the Internet is it unacceptable to have a signature that simply identifies the sender. It is only proper to identify yourself with the acknowledgment of your name, title, phone - with voice mail or answering machine to get all incoming calls - fax, e-mail address, and web site address.

This simple courtesy provides ample avenues to make certain that recipients can always get a message to you without too much work, and can research your online presence at their own leisure. Disclosing this information assures the recipient that you are a real entity and that you welcome an open dialogue with them.

Adding a smidgen of self-promotion is not bad. Concisely mentioning a new product or service in the signature file can be challenging, yet rewarding. Your wording must be clear, inviting, and offer a hypertext deep link for interested recipients to click through.

What attributes make a well-rounded and effective signature file?

1. Distinguish it. Whether you separate your signature from the body of your message with a horizontal line or enclose it with a box of asterisks is a personal matter. Just be sure to delineate it from the body of your message giving it its own presence. Don’t go to the opposite extreme. Some have gone so far as to turn their signature files into attempts at artwork, or are misguided by the belief that abundantly applying dollar signs ($) to your signature file will make a lasting impression. In reality, these tactics, even though applied with the best of intentions, act to quickly categorize you into the spammer category, and your email will be thrown away. In extreme cases, future mail from you may simply be filtered directly into the trash.

2. Keep it short. If you can supply all of your contact information and a short self- promotional blurb in five or six lines than you have a winning combination. You have only a limited amount of time to make an impression, so use it wisely.

3.Think lowest common denominator when building your layout. Most businesses are equipped with Netscape or Eudora mail packages. You must fashion your message to be acceptable to both of them. Most importantly, keep your signature width to within 65 -70 characters wide. This is the default setting on Eudora.

4. Make it easy to get more information. Provide a hypertext link to both your email address and to your web site address, or URL. Believe it or not, many people forget to add their URL or don’t add the http:// necessary to make the link clickable. Even if the suffix of your email address corresponds to your URL, you should not leave it to chance that the recipient of your message will go to the trouble of finding your online location. Make it simple by providing a clickable link to your web site. Be certain that no punctuation is placed in front of or follows your URL. This will render it unclickable.

5. You should make your email address clickable simply by placing mailto: with your email address directly following the colon. If your message is forwarded, it may be helpful for the new recipient to be able to send correspondence to the original author. Be certain that no punctuation is placed in front of or follows your URL. This will render it unclickable. Provide your postal address, phone, and fax, since some of your recipients will want to hear a real person’s voice or prefer to communicate through traditional means.

6. As mentioned earlier, minimize your self-promotional or soliciting comments, called your tag line. You cannot literally attach a sound, color, or gesture to your signature file, so you must be creative. Think like Nike when crafting these lines. The strong-willed individualism that emanates from the triumvirate call to action, “Just do it,” builds a powerful emotional link between a product and consumer. You must use their philosophy to get the best results.

Ensure that your email signature file works properly by sending yourself a test message with the signature file in place. If you don’t know the recipients e-mail software programs, it is best simply to use the test link.

Using the Internet for Business Research

Whether or not your company ever uses the information highway, it will have to deal with the new realities that the Internet represents. One of those realities is the critical need for dependable knowledge. Companies seeking to remain competitive in international markets must constantly re-engineer in the pursuit of innovation. To create viable new products and services, companies need to know more than they do.

For example, the Internet can help companies conduct market research in two ways. First, it enables companies to strengthen their own knowledge bases by incorporating insights from widely varying perspectives and coordinating how that insight can be crafted into viable business strategies. The Internet not only spans old bureaucratic boundaries, but also bridges the gulf between industry players, allowing companies to learn hard-won insights and most humbling mistakes of their worst competitors.

Second, the Net enables companies to pay attention to their markets at a level of detail never before possible. Are people complaining about your product or service? Better listen. These folks are not longer dialing your 800 complaint line to get put on hold. Instead, more of them than you might guess are electronically posting their experiences to thousands of others all over the planet. What are they saying about your competitors? Opportunities abound if you are in tune with such conversations. Simply intelligently responding could be worth more than multi-million dollar ad campaigns.

The various on-line services can provide you with access to census and other data for purposes of market analysis.

There are a number of ways the Internet can be used to conduct research:

1. Read discussions from the appropriate user groups. If you can’t find the answer, post a question.

2. Many website have libraries. Check these out.

3. User groups and libraries are useful in identifying the “experts” in each field. Send them an e-mail asking for their assistance. Be reasonable in your request.

4. Commercial services have on-line magazines and databases that can be searched. There is often an additional cost associated with these, but may well be worth it.

Here are 10 tips on using the Internet as a research tool:

1. Don’t focus on a single information source. The information is never complete. Cross-check the information from as many sources on the Net as possible.

2. Don’t be lazy. The send-a-lot-of-e-mail-messages approach to information gathering gets you poor-quality information and a lot of angry correspondents. So do your homework and ask specific questions of qualified people.

3. Use the right tool for the job. This means you’ve got to use newsgroups, discussion forums, mailing list archives, websites and on-line databases.

4. Keep your own databases. Web browsers let you add bookmarks when you find a particularly useful spot. Build a database with pointers to websites, mailing lists and other useful information.

5. Change your perspective as you search. Be flexible in approach your problems and be willing to change directions to accommodate different viewpoints.

6. If you need to ask for help, ask the right person. Find out who the important people in are in a field in which you have questions. Then send them an e-mail, write or call them. Don’t assume all people on the Internet have the answers.

7.Give it some time. If you need an answer by tomorrow, go to the library. For any serious research effort, plan to spend at least two weeks, preferably a month. There is nothing ruder than going into a new mailing list and demanding a response ASAP.

8. Be critical. The Internet is full of misinformation. Do not accept any information as fact until you verify it, preferably from non-Internet sources. This is particularly true if you’re going to use the data for something important.

9. Be grateful. If someone does provide data, advice or assistance, be sure to send them an e-mail thank you. They will be more willing to help you in the future.

10. Give up if necessary. Everything you ever wanted to know is not on the Internet. If you make a good effort to find something and can’t, give up and try other sources.

Remember that the various government run on-line services can also be a good source of information either via their databases or through e-mail.

Profiting from Discussion Forums

I am a big fan of networking and discussing issues in online discussion boards – or forums. I’ve frequently been asked if this is a really profitable way to spend one’s time. My answer is that, if done properly, it can be. In fact, it can be VERY profitable!

Done wrong, you can spend many hours chatting away unproductively when you could be building your business. Let’s look at the difference.

One of the things that makes discussion forums so popular is that they reduce the coldness of the Internet. You get to connect directly with another PERSON and no longer feel locked away behind a cold computer screen. It’s forming those bonds/those connections that makes forums and discussion boards a medium with such powerful potential.

If your time online is intended primarily to build your business, then you need to make sure that you use it most productively. That means you need to balance building relationships with generating new business. Incidentally, forming new relationships IS how you generate new business. That means:

  • You need to join the online discussions that showcase your expertise and generate leads.
  • You need to join the online discussions that help to solve your business problems and allow you to help others.
  • You need to join the online discussions that like-minded people participate in.

My specialties are “Internet marketing” karate, and also cooking. So I frequent discussion boards/forums that focus on these topics. Since the audience that I wrote this article for is “Internet marketing” let’s focus on that.

First of all, not all Internet marketing discussion forums are equal. Some get very few visitors, spend too much time dealing with non-productive issues, and generally won’t benefit YOU. Others get millions of page views a month, are very helpful communities, and have the potential to allow you to generate a lot of business and “connections.” Only you can decide which forums are right for you. 

I’ve been using online discussion forums since 1997, so let me share with you a few time-tested “secrets” to getting more out of them. Just a few quick tips that will make your posts more likely to be read and responded to:

1. As a rule, you want to post to forums that get a lot of traffic. Naturally that increases the odds of you making the right connections. The exception is that sites which aren’t moderated and are full of spam, are generally a total waste of time.

2. When posting to forums, you generally want to let people know who you are. If you are trying to build business relationships, you don’t want to hide behind a cute username. Instead, I advise using your own name and even posting your photo or logo where allowed. You should be branding yourself and this is a great way to do it.

3. Posting your photo or a graphic generally has been proven to increase response to your posts. They make you seem more “real” to others who read your post and that allows them to connect more. You allow them to feel that they know you and they respond.

4. To increase the chances of your post being read, or responded to, it’s better to post to popular or “hot” topics. When other visitors see that very few people have responded to a topic, they tend to ignore that thread. Post to threads that you have something useful to contribute to, but popular threads are better than ignored threads.

5. When posting or responding to a topic, use keywords that people using the search engines would use to find that topic. Put those right in the subject line since the search engines do index many popular discussion boards.

6. Where allowed, use a signature file or include a link to your site/product. This pulls double duty by helping your search engine link popularity/rankings and by letting fellow users of the forum know how to find out more about you. Some seem to frown upon posting links to your site for some reason. Done tastefully, I see absolutely nothing wrong with it. Most of the users of the forums that I visit are in business after all to generate MORE business. You can’t do that by not telling people how to contact you.

7. Contribute to the community rather than just feeding off of it. By that, I mean, offer useful comments, suggestions, and feedback. Don’t just post only to promote your products. Don’t disguise the real purpose of your posts - most people can see right through that. If you contribute to the community and offer genuine value, others will notice this and be more open to make purchases from you. It is in accordance with the inviolate natural law of reciprocity!

8. Be civil and polite. Too many people attack others and their products without sufficient justification. Too many people are much ruder on the Internet than they would be in a face to face interaction. Rudeness and lack of civility are noticed on the discussion forums and those who behave this way drive away a lot of business without even realizing it. People who see this type of behavior just make mental ... often subconscious notes not to deal with people who behave inappropriately!

Those are just a few of my thoughts on how to use discussion forums profitably. I post regularly to over 20 discussion forums. I also help to moderate several. Being a part of these online communities can be very helpful to the growth of your business when you adhere to just a few rules. Start applying these today and you may be very surprised at the results.

[Willie Crawford has been teaching others how to build an on-line business since late 1996. Frequently featured in radio, magazine and newspaper articles and interviews, Willie teaches the average guy what the top marketers are doing but seldom talking about.]

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