This is an article for consultants, entrepreneurs, industry experts and professionals—people who don’t do websites for a living, or even for those who do.
WordPress. SquareSpace. Wix. Along with many other big names, website construction has become turn-key in the past few years. Nobody is coding websites from a blank canvas anymore, not even seasoned web development agencies. They can’t afford to—it takes forever! As professional web development tools have evolved so have the consumer tools. Let’s talk about what that means for a small business. My hope is that this article gives you perspective for how you should think about your own website goals for 2020.
If you feel like you have a handle on how the web-building technology has evolved and why it matters, skip ahead to Taking Action.
Changes in 2019
Small business websites still have challenges in 2019 that time has not solved. Many of the purely-technical problems have been solved by a rapidly changing industry over the past 20 years. For example, it is now possible to design and launch an e-commerce website for yourself in a weekend without ever looking at a line of code, something that wasn’t possible in 1999 or even 2009, for the most part. I can do it in a few hours with nearly any feature you can dream of.
WYSIWYG editors, like Front-Page or DreamWeaver, have been around for a long time, but even in those so-called user friendly site-builders it was easy to get into the weeds as soon as you needed to accomplish something slightly more useful, like gathering information from your site visitors using forms forms, or writing blogs that could be categorized and archived and easily rediscovered through search. In 2019 these problems have largely been solved which means that small business owners who have their hands deep into their own websites can now tackle more meaningful problems that webmasters have been applying to large-scale, large-budget clients for years.
I remember, back in 2004 when I got my first professional web design gig, it was such a challenge for a small agency to build a website that there wasn’t time to ask more important questions like, “What should the website focus on in order to give our audience the best possible experience of our brand?” We just celebrated when the thing got built, it didn’t matter that it offered very little value. After working my way through larger projects and larger companies for many years website construction got easier and we started focusing on strategy, experience building, and solving industry marketing problems. These are the important issues that small businesses can finally start to tackle now that they, too, can quickly launch a website.
If building your website just to “get it out there” is your biggest concern for your online presence, you are not going to make much of an impact in your industry—I’m sorry to say. Everyone can launch their own website now.
Now that your small business website is potentially as powerful as the big guys…what should the website do?
On the surface everyone knows that websites need to attract an audience and get them to do something or buy something. The problem is that most small businesses are service-oriented and there isn’t a product to sell or a thing for customers to do on the site. Many people ignore the fact that service-based businesses require VERY DIFFERENT web strategies than product-based businesses. Frankly, the majority of advice, tools and features for websites is related to e-commerce and product selling.
Since there are about a bazillion blog articles out there all providing similar generic advice—I’m going to take a needfully different turn. I’m going to help you translate that advice into service-oriented strategies. I’m going to name each of the remaining sections according to the oversaturated buzz terms that you hear constantly and provide a clearer, service-based specific option or alternative to give you an edge.
Brand New Branding!
Yay. Branding. It’s numero uno, I guess. For obvious reasons. Branding is a cash crop for agencies so, OF COURSE, it is the most talked about advice you hear. Don’t get me wrong, branding is super important—web or print. But if your budget contains only enough pennies to cover a “New Brand Look and Feel” with your new site I’m afraid the ROI will leave you disappointed. I’ve seen the rebrand game play out into millions of dollars worth of missed opportunity for the past fifteen of my professional agency years.
My advice—instead of focusing on how your new brand looks, start focusing on what your brand does. What does your company (your brand) offer your audience that the others don’t? How does this offering differentiate you from the rest of the pack. How can you spend more time on your strengths and really hone in on an audience that can truly benefit from your particular skill-set.
For your website, find out exactly how those strengths can play out across the millions of web tools on the market. Perhaps you can offer a special online video course to your audience with advice, instructions, examples or people who have benefitted from your expertise. That is what REALLY makes your brand shine—not just the fancy new logo. These web-based offerings help to build a loyal audience that grows with you.
“You want a side of blogs with that website?” As ubiquitous as french fries, the obligatory blog has drawn countless small businesses into a very very shallow rabbit hole. I’m not a blogger. I have a blog. I’m writing a blog, right now. But it isn’t because I think this particular blog article is going to be a game changer. This article has a non-blog purpose. I don’t need a single search bot to point people to this blog post for it to be successful. There is a deeper strategy at play.
You see, I’m an industry expert in my area. That is a valuable strength that I can offer my clients. My clients aren’t the public—they are businesses, agencies, full of sophisticated marketing-savvy managers and designers. This article will (hopefully) help them to sell better websites to their clients which will, in turn, help me to get more web development business. This blog article will be passed out by hand, one referral at a time, to new or potential clients like yourself to help you (them) understand how to invest your (their) limited cash.
Blogs aren’t just fodder for search engines, and they are not just for experts like me. They offer you a chance to take action, to DO something, and then to talk about. This is Public Relations. Do something good and then write about it. It all starts with taking action on your part. Some of the best blogs I’ve read from small businesses are just about some cool service project the team (or individual) took part in; or a pro-bono client they took on. Do something good, then write about. Don’t just write about topics and think you’ve done your best.
Look, I’m going to level with you. If you’re a small service business who does your best when you are 1 on 1 with your client…DO NOT just jump into SEO. If your service, by contrast, is a chair that needs to see a constant rotation of people paying cash, sure, SEO can be a worthwhile investment. But if the quality of your clientele is what drives your best dollar for the hour—skip it. Here’s why. The purpose of SEO is to bring you traffic. Traffic implies busyness and lots of turnover, items flying off the shelves. But when you are a one to one service you don’t have time to deal with revolving traffic. You need better traffic. You need higher quality, higher paying clients. Imagine having only a handful of clients to service, clients that pay all your bills and whose problems you can focus your energies on rather than spreading yourself too thin across many (low paying) problems. I know that all may sound like a dream that I can’t rightfully promise you, but I can tell you that SEO is not the way to get there.
Instead try Pay-per-click advertising with very targeted keywords—not popular keywords, but specific industry keywords. If you are comfortable writing, write a blog with expert-level articles that only you can speak authoritatively on. Or, if you’re ready for the next level, write a book! Offering a book on your website gets you to that e-commerce offering that your product-based business friends are dealing with. Don’t worry, that’s never been easier to accomplish with a modern web builder.
Service-based businesses live and die by leads. There are so many lead-generating strategies out there that all the content in the first five-hundred pages of google search results won’t ever begin cover everything. So many people get bogged down in the tools and strategies of lead generation that they tend to overlook the simple things. Lead Generation is so often just a simple question: Are you having a problem with X? X is what I do. Let me know if I can help. Here is an article. Here is a downloadable file. Here is a video tutorial. All of these tactics are so simple and free and only require a basic name/email form. You can accomplish these things on any of the platforms—you don’t need to spend thousands a month on lead-gen tools. Instead, invest that money into a good writer who can help you speak to your audience more effectively.
If you can’t articulate exactly what on your brand new website is generating leads then you probably aren’t spending your money as well as you could be. To help you articulate this let me give you a couple of key phrases or questions that help define it.
- What is (are) your call(s)-to-action?
- What are you offering your site’s visitors?
- What can you give to a visitor that will help them in their daily life and will help them remember who you are in your industry?
- Why would your perfect potential client call or email you?
These days social media seems like just another unavoidable sinkhole, I know. A marketing-budget hell-scape that promises the world even though everyone sees its emptiness from a mile away. I recognize that there are many businesses who have not even bothered with a website and instead just focused on social media and had great success. Chances are, if you have found that this article is a good fit for the problems your business is facing, then you should probably also focus on professional social platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter over facebook or instagram.
Okay, maybe you already know that. But did you know this: LinkedIn gives more attention to articles that are written on their platform rather than articles that are merely shared from your website’s blog. If you really want a professional article to make an impact, put all of my previous advice to work on your existing website and then bring potential customers to your site by writing fresh LinkedIn articles from time to time. Don’t forget that most people interface with LinkedIn from their email when they get a daily/weekly summary of who in their network is active and posting on the platform.
In 2019 video is far and away the best bet for attracting more and better contacts for service-based small businesses. Not a lot of advice here, just do it. I need to do it, too. Video looks pretty unstoppable right now, and worth a whole blog about that alone. Don’t forget that every video you post on youtube is also a cross-linking connection with your website. Use your video to bring people to your site. Post your videos as blog articles on your site as well. As your website budget decreases from taking all of my rockstar advice, increase your video budget to suit.
Okay, Now Go Get ’em
I’ve just given you six major website-related considerations that you could potentially accomplish on your own without an agency to pay. Taking this advice to next level probably does involve paying an agency to help you out on quality and timing. But taking this article to your agency and saying, “Hey, what about this?” would be a wise next step if you are trying to get the most value out of your turn-key 2019 website.
By all means, feel free to contact me if you want more insight on any of this. I am happy to talk with anyone about my experiences—that is my real value. I want you to utilize me to the best of my ability as I’m sure you want your customers to do the same with you.