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The web for tiny businesses

If you run a small business, you’re probably bored and frustrated by advice for bigger businesses regarding how to use the web. You don’t have a dedicated webmaster or ‘social media guru’ but you do value the online world for you, your staff and your customers.

If you run a tiny business, even the modest resources of a small business may not be available to you, and who ever writes advice for you? You can’t afford consultants, and as a one-person orchestra you’re up to your neck in administration and sales and just trying to keep everything going.

And unlike the small business owner, you don’t even make a decent salary. No, you’re doing something you love and you’re certain that in a year or two you’ll be able to double your profit and finally inform Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs that you have a second income, aside from your main 9-5 job.

So as the owner of a tiny business without the luxury / necessity of ‘working capital’ how can you ‘leverage’* the web to increase your exposure and profit, without spending anything?

Get a web presence

These days, you no longer need to spend thousands of pounds on a website. It’s easy to find a freelancer or a ‘tiny business’ web designer who can whip you up a decent site for less than £500.

Don’t do this. Keep that £500; you might need it for a more valuable investment in your tiny business some other time (like shopping cart solutions, conference fees, travel costs, food etc.).

Instead, find some cheap web hosting from a reputable company (read .net magazine and find a decent, stable, established host) and whack up a website yourself using a template.

Templates don’t make web publishing easy; they just make it easier and quicker. You will have to learn a lot to get going.

Choose a free Template from Free Templates or whatever.

Get a decent WYSIWYG web page editor (if you’re a Mac user, you’ll be in heaven with Rapid Weaver and Sandvox) and learn to FTP your website to your host.

Write great content for five pages of your website; do this in a Word document and have other people review it for you. Don’t sit down to design your website and decide to ‘write it on the fly’. And you know I think it’s crucial that you write well (see most of my blog).

Alternatively, if you can understand the requirements for WordPress.org, just get a WordPress blog and install it on your server. The server must match the WordPress requirements, i.e. your host must provide you with a database. Technical stuff, I know.

Don’t do this.

If you’ve dabbled with web design for fun and profit in the past, then getting a host and FTPing into it might be fun for you, but I don’t blame you if you don’t want to learn so much. You’ve got other stuff to do.
So, don’t do all the above, instead, do one of the following.

The almost totally free solution to getting a web presence

Get a free website from Google Sites

Just learn how the Google Sites online website creator works and make sure you choose a decent address directly related to your product or service, or at least use your tiny business’ name. Nothing could be simpler than Google Sites.

Get a free blog from WordPress.com

You don’t actually have to use WordPress.com as a blog, you can use it as a static website, and you don’t have to download and install anything. With WordPress you can be building a site instantly. Make sure you choose a sensible address / name for your site.

(WordPress.org provides the DIY Blog Platform; WordPress.com provides the total service, with no need to have your own server.)

Don’t do all that.

Ask me to whip you up a simple 1 – 3 page website (I love one page websites these days, they’re the bomb!) for a few quid. Hosting, email, design, domain name – let me take care of all that for you.

You might think I’m writing this entire article just to promote my web design services, but you see I’m a copywriter and editor more than a web designer; I just happen to know how to get stuff done online real quick. I’d help someone get an online presence if they were absolutely serious about their tiny business, like my friend Jules.

Jules runs JoolzAnneX Erasers over on eBay and eBid. She’s the largest novelty eraser shop in the world (we think); Jules sells fantastic erasers from all over the globe, and the best ones are those that you remember from your childhood; y’know those ones shaped like T-shirts and lipsticks that smell edible! She has them all, and they’re the original ones.

To provide a decent online presence to complement her auctions, I whipped up an identity solution for her in a matter of days. First we decided on a brilliant domain, then we got a little logo sorted, then we chose a template for her website, then we sorted her out with a free blog from Blogger. Finally I integrated them all together with RSS so that the website has live content from her blog and her eBay shop on it.

It’s a one page website, with a blog running behind it and a direct link in to her eBay auctions. It gets traffic and makes people email her to share their thoughts and eraser stories. (Yes, people have stories; collectors are like that!)

Through her blog and colourful website, Jules can drive traffic to her auctions and increase her sales. By providing a fun and professional online presence, Jules is able to build relationships with new people, and her customers come back to buy time and time again.

Original Erasers is a tiny business that has to make use of simple online tools that cost nothing, or at least very little.

Jules says:

“The Original Erasers website Wedge created for me may be small, but it’s had a big impact! My website has allowed me to add a very personal touch for my customers. They appreciate being able to email me directly and ask questions about my stock and they love seeing the pictures from my own collection. Sales have definitely increased as a result and the attached blog is a great marketing tool that always generates increased traffic.

“Through my website I’ve been contacted by new customers from all over the world, and I’ve even been asked to provide a valuation service – something that would never have happened without the website. I would definitely recommend one of Wedge’s websites to anyone running their own little business; and not just because he’s my friend, but because it really does make good business sense!”

Next steps

Could your tiny business benefit from a Twitter account? A Facebook Page (not a Profile, but a Page) or would they just languish and be neglected by you and your customers?

Too many people rush to join all the social networks and then spam away, blabbing about their business, assuming that marketing is all about ‘getting heard, getting seen’. A month later, everything is dead and dormant. Waste of energy and a bad look for anyone who does stumble across your defunct Bebo Group.

Instead of jumping on the latest fad, or looking for ways to ‘reach thousands of people’, concentrate on the content on your 3 page website, and get blogging three times a week.

By demonstrating your commitment to your tiny business in such a public fashion, potential customers will come to trust you and believe in you. You’ll become real to them; you might even matter to them one day.
Get to work; make your online presence a living breathing extension of yourself and your tiny business. You don’t need to spend money, you need to spend time. You’ll reap the rewards next year I’m certain.

[Wedge]

Photo Credit: ecstaticist

* I avoid ambiguous business jargon in all my communications, but I can use them with a sense of irony can’t I?

P.S. Tomorrow (15th October) is Blog Action Day, and the theme is Poverty. I’ve already written one blog post, check it out, it’s my life story.

About Wedge

I’m Wedge, and this is my website! I’ve worked within internal communications since 2004, managing intranets and digital comms. Now I’m a freelance comms and intranet specialist - I help organisations plan and improve their intranets. I work with other agencies, and write a lot of blog and magazine articles. I founded the Intranet Now conference. You can catch up with me on Twitter - I’m @Wedge.