Before Choosing a Website Designer, Read This

Before Choosing a Website Designer, Read This

Before choosing a website designer to create or update your most valuable business asset, there is a lot to consider.

Your company website is too important to leave to chance. It should be treated with the care and consideration it deserves.

Sure, you can do it yourself, but should you? Are you adept at design? Do you understand the platform you will be using? Do you intend to manage your business AND your website with equal skill?

If the answer to any of these questions is no or even maybe, consider consulting a freelance website designer.

Are you hesitant to put this most vital business investment in someone else’s hands? Read about outsourcing successfully here.  And be sure to download our FREE guide for even more valuable tips.

You may decide that even if you plan to manage the site yourself, the initial design should be handled professionally rather than left to your own devices.

For your website to be as successful as you need it to be, it will have to stay relevant and attracting a wide audience of your ideal customers.

In the end, they will be persuaded to use your services or products based on how they see you online.

So your website is the perfect chance to impress visitors and keep them coming back for more. They might decide to make a purchase, or even patronize your storefront if you have one.

Don’t turn web surfers off with an old-fashioned site that doesn’t solve their problems. They won’t stick around if your first impression isn’t exceptional.

Before You Begin

You should know your objectives and goals for the site. If you have no idea about what your audience needs, your designer will not be able to magically provide it for you.

To attract loyal visitors, you will most likely want to produce a regular blog and use email to maintain their interest in your brand.

If you plan to sell products or provide services online you’ll need an e-commerce solution with shopping cart and secure payment options.

So review a variety of websites, including your competitors, and even some that are not part of your industry. Of course you won’t be creating a direct copy of anyone else’s site, but you can get a good idea of how to use yours to its best advantage.

Figure out how you want your website to connect with your target audience and be able to precisely convey that to your web designer of choice.

Making an Informed Decision

Accept recommendations from friends and colleagues, but also take a closer look at the websites you most admire. You’ll usually see a citation in the footer naming the designer and/or maybe the “theme” used to build the site on.

Follow up with freelancers or design agencies whose work you like by checking out their business websites. This is where you should find testimonials and a portfolio of their previous projects.

Once you’ve done your due diligence you will be able to clearly describe your goals for the website. Now you’re ready to interview a few prospective designers.

What to Expect from Design Consultants

Take some time to introduce the issues you want your website to address.  A good designer will continue asking questions about your business objectives and your ideal clients. This information provides a vivid image of the best ways to attract and convert your visitors into loyal customers.

Ask how they plan to solve your problems and evaluate their responses. Realize not every prospect is a good fit, for you or the consultant. And make your final decision based on the value to be gained rather than the cost of the initial investment.

Red Flags to Avoid

No contract. Don’t even consider working with anyone on a handshake alone. Your chosen website designer must be able to provide you with a detailed contract spelling out timelines, milestones, and deliverables. Otherwise, neither of you has an accurate idea of the project’s scope or goals.

No communication. It’s key to collaboration, and your design consultant should keep you updated on every phase of the project. You don’t want to be surprised, and the designer doesn’t want to make never-ending revisions.

Requiring full payment up front. You and your designer should agree to a schedule of payments that is spelled out in the contract. Typically you might pay 30% to begin the work, 30% at an arranged milestone, and 30% at delivery.

No defined development plan. The designer with the clearest concept of how to best serve your ideal clients using a variety of design and marketing techniques is the one you should consider. After all, serving your ideal clients is the ultimate goal of your website!

Working With Your Website Designer

Congratulations! You’ve narrowed down your choices and selected the best website design professional for your business needs. Now the collaboration will depend on regular communication and complete understanding of the project’s parameters.

Trust your site designer, but don’t be afraid to offer helpful insights to minimize revisions.

And be sure to provide any information & assets that may be required on a timely basis. Don’t be the reason your project is delayed.

To sum it up, start with a clear goal in mind for your new website or site redesign, and be able to communicate your needs effectively.

Do your research. Establish how you plan to connect with your ideal clients. Verify which qualified website designer will best bring your vision to life. And continue to communicate regularly to make the most of your collaboration.

Investing in your website is a proven way to increase your online presence and help grow your business. Here’s to your success!

This article is part of an ongoing series on how small businesses can improve their procedures and processes to maximize their growth. Are there topics you’d like to see in the future? Feel free to offer suggestions in the comments!

Next-Level Networking

Next-Level Networking

Networking is important in any business, and freelancers need it more than most. As independent contractors, we sometimes work in isolation for hours, maybe even days, on end.

But the truth is, we all need interaction and support, not to mention clients and trusted partners.

And networking is a sure-fire way to build relationships that can lead to opportunities throughout the course of your career.

Let’s take a look at some strategies and techniques to make the most of your next networking event.

When is Networking Important?

Even if you’re not looking for a career change or entering a new job market, there are always good reasons to network.

Whether you’re at your child’s basketball game or a neighborhood block party, one of the first questions you’re asked when meeting someone new is some variation on, “What type of work do you do?”

This is the perfect time to introduce yourself and find out how you might add value to the relationship.

No, you’re not trying to “sell yourself.” Just have a genuine conversation with a new contact and be open to opportunities that may arise from there.

Frequent networking is key to making and maintaining connections with valuable contacts. You want to follow up with the people you meet to build and maintain relationships that can be useful to both parties.

Expanding your professional circle is one of the best business building strategies because you never know where a connection might lead.

Be Prepared

Think about why you are attending this particular event and what you can do to get the most out of it.

Are you looking to meet trusted partners in your field or do you need contacts to assist with specialties outside of your skill set?

Brainstorm your biggest reasons for attending and figure out the best ways to go about achieving the results you need.

Learn about the format. Will there be speakers? Is there an agenda? What’s the dress code? Research online before the event.

Make a plan. Have your elevator pitch and business cards at the ready. Practice a few key questions and responses out loud in the days before the event so you’ll feel comfortable and the conversations flow naturally.

Tips for Shy First-Timers

Take or meet up with a colleague if you’re really nervous. But don’t stay glued to their side, though.

Remember that the point is to make new connections, so start by planning to and actually having conversations with two people you don’t know. If this is your first event, there’s no need to overdo it and make yourself even more uncomfortable.

Make it a point to introduce yourself to others, especially if you’re shy. Give a good handshake, keep eye contact, and repeat the person’s name aloud to help fix it in memory.

Smile, and be friendly and forthcoming.

Try to avoid giving in to nervous habits! The other person will feel uneasy in your presence and try to quickly make an escape if your body language displays your discomfort.

Stay at least long enough to get a feel for the organization and its culture. Are they boisterous and outgoing or reserved and professional? Where do you fit in, and what can you bring to the group?

In the end, just be yourself. Don’t try to put on an act that’s hard to keep up and easy to see through.

Stand Out, Make Connections, and Maximize the Experience

Have meaningful conversations with those you meet instead of boring chit-chat.

Ask good questions like, “So what do you like best about what you do?” People get really excited when given a chance to talk about themselves and their interests. And you can learn more about their pain points and business needs.

Asking questions and really listening is much easier than rambling on about yourself anyway, especially if you are shy. So really listen! And ask more questions!

To get yourself remembered, try to be sure the people you are connecting with are enjoying the conversation.

By being a good listener, asking good questions, and giving your undivided attention, your connections will feel good about you. That will make them more receptive when you share information and follow up as promised.

A Few Do’s and Don’ts

Do think about any connections you can make from within your existing network to new people you meet at events. Make introductions to someone else who might have a solution, rather than only promoting yourself and your services.

Don’t just rudely insert yourself into conversations. Listen for a while, and join in with a relevant question at an appropriate time.

Remember, asking a question will be easier than making a comment that you then have to justify, possibly to a hostile audience. Ask first, and let the group or maybe even your ideal client take the conversation from there.

It goes without saying that you should never ditch a conversation to go chase after someone else you’d rather be talking to.

That kind of behavior does not go unnoticed and does not speak well of your character, much less your professionalism.

And NEVER drink too much in an effort to get “relaxed” because it always backfires!

Do be courteous and thank the organizers on your way out. Knowing that they have produced a successful event encourages them to continue making these opportunities available.

Plus, it’s just simply polite to let them know their efforts are appreciated.

Do take notes after the event while it’s still fresh in your mind. Who did you promise to follow up with and why? Do you have an associate who might benefit from the expertise of someone you met at the function? Is this a group you will be joining or attending more events with? Were you comfortable with the atmosphere and the group’s purpose/mission?

Best Places for Networking

There are literally hundreds of opportunities for networking through local and national business groups, industry associations, and professional organizations.

These and many others hold conferences, trade shows, fundraisers, training/classes, meetups, and other functions.

No matter the size of your community, there will certainly be networking opportunities available to you. But don’t neglect to expand your reach whenever possible.

Industry conferences, for example, usually provide a chance to add to your skills and learn new things in addition to being great networking resources.

The growing popularity of shared office spaces opens additional possibilities for networking. These “coworking” environments can be rented by the hour or for a monthly membership fee.

They are especially attractive to tech startups, freelancers, and creative types, so you might find that the independent contractor in the next office has the very solution you are looking for.

Online you will find LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms; various user groups; and a multitude of virtual events.

Unconventional Networking Opportunities

Don’t limit yourself only to business associations, though. Joining groups devoted to your hobbies and personal interests gives you additional outlets to express yourself and grow outside of your usual working environment.

You’ll also be opening yourself up to opportunities that otherwise might be missed.

Although social gatherings are often overlooked, they can be valuable resources if you take advantage of them the right way.

Even in a non-professional setting, you are likely to meet someone who needs your services or products or can help one of your associates with their problems.

In conclusion, don’t think of networking as a dreaded, degrading act of “selling yourself.”

It’s really a proven way to make connections and grow relationships by sharing your knowledge and abilities with those who need them, and accepting the helping hands of colleagues when they are offered.

Truly connecting with others is rewarding in so many more ways than just professionally, and is a key resource in any business strategy.

Take the time to develop an action plan for your next networking event, and learn from each experience.

Practice your networking skills to get the biggest payoff in the end. And before you know it you can go from being a nervous wreck to a competent, confident networking pro!

This article is part of an ongoing series on how small businesses can improve their procedures and processes to maximize their growth. Are there topics you’d like to see in the future? Feel free to offer suggestions in the comments!

Blogging Done Right

Blogging Done Right

Blogging has evolved into the highly profitable form of Internet advertising known as content marketing. That’s because the Internet has an insatiable appetite for information.

Billions of searches are conducted every single day, looking for everything from how to bake an apple pie to why zebras have stripes.

For anyone who conducts business online, these searches represent a steady flow of potential customers who are looking for what you have to offer.

Blogging is an easy, cost-effective method of being found by the exact people who most need, want, and are willing to pay for your services. But only if you have a good content strategy in place first.

Know Your Keywords

These are the search terms your ideal client is using to find answers to her questions. When you know what your keywords are, you can easily create blog posts that will:

  • Attract the right visitors to your site
  • Position you as the expert in your niche
  • Make it easy for your ideal client to find—and get to know—you and your services

Write for People

While it’s important to know and use keywords in your blog posts, it’s even more important that you write your content with people in mind over search engines. Your blog should be engaging, informational, and even entertaining — but above all else, it must be readable.

Be Consistent

Content marketing — and blogging, by extension — is very much a numbers game. The more content you produce, the greater your results will be. That means setting — and sticking to — a content production schedule is a must.

For most websites, a weekly schedule is both attainable and sufficient to build a steady stream of traffic.

Keep Long-Term Goals in Mind

Blogging is not a fast business-growth strategy but it is excellent for long-term sustainability. Those posts you write this month will continue to work for you many years from now, bringing in more and more traffic and potential clients.

Use Good SEO Practices

Aside from keywords, great bloggers know there are many techniques you can use to bring in more readers, including:

  • Link out to authority sites from within your blog
  • Link internally to other, related content on your own sites
  • Use graphics and sub-headlines to break up long text passages
  • Take the time to write compelling meta descriptions
  • Create content that other sites will link to

Get the Word Out

Each new blog post is an opportunity to be seen, so take the time to share your content socially, and encourage your readers to do the same. Share your post on your Facebook page, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and anywhere else your ideal client is likely to see it.

Mix It Up

Not every post has to be a 3,000-word article. Include other types of content as well, such as:

  • Video
  • Infographics
  • Curated content
  • Short opinion pieces
  • Audio

Have Fun with It

Above all else, have some fun. Inject your personality into your blog. Not only will you more easily attract your ideal client but you’ll enjoy blogging a lot more if you use your authentic voice. And the more you enjoy it, the more likely you will remain consistent as well.

Need a little help?

Whether you’re over the whole blogging thing or just need a little help every now and then, our content strategy and management services can help you out of your rut and get you back on track.

We work with you to create and manage the content your audience will look forward to reading, as well as sharing on social media and beyond.

Take a look at our current offerings here, and be sure to let us know how we can best meet your blogging support needs!

This article is part of an ongoing series on how small businesses can improve their procedures and processes to maximize their growth. What topics would you like to see featured? Feel free to offer suggestions in the comments!