By SHERRY HINMAN, Special to Sun Media
“You’ve got to be where people are looking.” That’s one of the primary reasons for businesses to have a website, according to Sue Sutcliffe, owner/manager of AWEBthatWORKS.com, a company that has been offering Internet marketing products since 1993. “A website gives your company more credibility and a professional image,” she adds. “There are other reasons to have a website. It’s important to have an Internet presence if you do business globally.”
Of course, a website allows you to reach prospective clients, to sell goods and services, but it also allows you to provide information to anyone browsing your site; hopefully they’ll remember you when they’re ready to buy what you’re selling. As well, clients can use your website to refer new clients to you.
Your website is not only for attracting business, though. It’s also a way to look after current clients, provide better service and support, and present your business to prospective employees. It allows you to generally stay ahead of the competition.
Don Tulett is a partner and portfolio manager for Tulett, Matthews & Associates, an investment management firm that’s been in business for 15 years. “Our business is 100% referral-based,” he says. “Prospects already know about us, so our website is where they go for more information before they make their decision. It’s more for due diligence and confirmation.”
Tulett says they also use their website to service their current clients. “Clients have an area where they can access their own portfolio. They can see how we are building their portfolio, and look at which security strategies we’re using for them.”
The company’s approach to its website sets them apart from their competitors, because they provide a lot of content. “Some companies don’t do this,” Tulett says. “A lot are very generic and the information they provide is ambiguous.” They also use their website to differentiate their methodologies and products. “We are the leaders in Canada in a specific product we sell, so we use our website to show how we’re different.”
Sutcliffe says some businesses opt to create their own website and look for someone to host it, but it’s often better to go with someone with experience. “You can do it yourself and meet some of the objectives, because that’s all your business can afford. But if you take shortcuts, it shows.”
Tulett agrees. “It’s a big mistake to think you can do it all. I learned early in the business that you need to hire people to do the things you’re not good at. We hired a marketing firm to do all our updates. We create the content and then we discuss it with the web developer. They also do the editing, and other advertising and marketing. That makes everything consistent.”
When it comes to budgeting for a website, Sutcliffe says there’s something that can be done for any budget. “For $2,000, we would create a hybrid — a website plus a blog — that clients can maintain themselves. What they get is the brand. If money is not an issue, for a $4,200 budget, we would include social media, training and so on.”
Most businesses are on a fixed budget, though. Sutcliffe says, “Even if they only have a couple of hundred dollars to spend, they can get a domain name, hosting, an email address and a Facebook page. This gives them their brand, for a start.”
Sutcliffe points out several common mistakes people make with their website. “The first is when the website doesn’t post the contact information front and centre,” she says. “This is about design. You have to think like the customer. It’s poor customer service, for example, if web pages are slow to download, or if you haven’t anticipated the questions customers might have. You need to be able to say what you do clearly and succinctly. Also, spelling and grammar mistakes make a bad impression; work with a writer.”
She also talks about the code on websites, something many people don’t understand. “The code must be perfect,” she says. “It must be valid, and be able to display on different browsers, even on phones. If the code is incorrect, it might not print right or search engines won’t be able to index it. And you need to consider access to people with disabilities.”
Sutcliffe offers one final piece of advice: use social media. “Make sure you have links to social media on your website and do web promotion on sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Tulett says, “Do it and do it right. Think about the message you want to convey and the type of detail. Then hire someone good to do it.”
— Sherry Hinman is a freelance writer/editor and owner of The Write Angle.