Building blocks of a healthy web presence for your thoughtful small business

I’m forever tinkering with my own biology. From what/when/how much I eat, to how much physical activity I engage in, to what sorts of chemicals I allow into my microbiome and home, I’m a fun-loving scientist using my own body as the test subject. (If I ever try to do something like graft on a second brain or install bionic hands, I’ll get permission from you guys first.)

I’m stacking up blocks, taking them down, stacking them another way. I’m experimenting, noticing, tracking, and adjusting. What works? What keeps me joyful and what weighs me down? What has no effect and isn’t worth the trouble, and what gives the most gratification and reward?

As you might guess, I often put on my Fun Scientist lab coat when it comes to websites for my self-employed kindred spirits too.

I’ve noticed over the years that, just as there are a handful of simple things we can do to make our bodies/homes/lives happier and healthier, so too there are a handful of simple things we can do that make promoting our work easier, more effective, and less likely to cause headaches and heartburn. Below are a few of them. I’ve divided them into “public facing” (the part the public sees) and “behind the scenes” (the part that’s mostly invisible to the public).

Basic website elements: Public facing elements

HOME/LANDING PAGE: As my teenaged friends would say, “No duh.” Yes, you need a home page. Make sure you have one that doesn’t take forever to load, and that acts as a warm, welcoming anteroom for all the wonderful goodness inside.

It should use colors, images, and language that makes people feel the way you want them to feel (calmed, excited, curious, hopeful). It should give them a topline view of how you can help them shift from where they are now to where they want to be. It should have clear next steps to reach you or get more information.

Oh, there’s a ton I could write about the elements of a successful homepage, but for now, just remember this mantra and make sure your homepage says it: I’m glad you’re here. I see you and know why you’ve come. Here are some things I can offer for that. Here’s what you can do next.

ABOUT: Include an About page that helps people know, like, and trust you. People visit About pages for several reasons, but it all wraps around learning whether you’re the best person for what they’re hoping to achieve, have, fix, or become.

Tailor your About page to your ideal client. If you’re offering a service to an audience for whom credentials=credibility, detail those. If you’re offering something where being a good-hearted, wise listener is most important, show me that. Show me your face. Show me your humanity. Show me that you “get” me.

A CLEAR VIEW OF WHAT YOU OFFER: Don’t just list what you do a Services or Products page. Give me the full details on what you offer, how much it costs, and how it’s going to change me. Let me see/hear the voices of other people who’ve experienced the service. Describe the “new story” it’s going to create for me. Give me a next step (buy button, ‘more information’ button, sign up button).

There’s a thousand mile difference between “Here’s what I offer” and “Here’s what I offer and here’s why it’s going to light up your day/life/work/health.” Make sure you’re putting the effort into creating the latter.

TIERED OFFERINGS: Many folks sell very expensive services and/or products, and they are usually worth every penny. But although your prices might be perfectly fair, when you’re starting out, you may find that you have trouble building a client base. It’s not that you’re not worth it, because you absolutely are; it’s just that many people need to be eased into feeling confident and comfortable enough to spend their dollars working with you.

Offer a variety of entry points to working with you or buying from you, at different price points that give them a staircase rather than a ladder. The easiest first step is to offer lots of free content (articles, blogs, etc.) that show you care about them. The next might be a free consultation. After that, a low-priced offering such as an ebook, workshop, or mini-session helps them to get a taste of working with you. Then a mid-priced offer…are you seeing the staircase now? If you offer all of those, your high-price-point coaching packages no longer feel like such a risky endeavor. They know you. You’ve proven your mettle and have been honest, helpful, and generous.

BE PAINFULLY CLEAR ABOUT NEXT STEPS (CALLS-TO-ACTION): Check and doublecheck that you’ve provided a path to a next step toward you on every page, perhaps one for every option you present to readers. (If you make readers burn calories trying to figure it out, they will assume you’ll also make them burn calories if you they choose to work with you.) Calls-to-action must be very clear and obvious – buttons of contrasting colors are particularly useful here. If you have any doubt as to whether your call-to-action is clear, have someone unfamiliar with your website walk through it and give you feedback.

DON’T NEGLECT CONTACT DETAILS: Be sure to provide clear and persistent contact information and a way for your reader to reach you if they have questions or want to explore further (such as a free consult). Persistent? Remember that, while they are meandering in your site assessing your offerings, the YES of inspiration can strike them at any time. Make sure there’s always something in view that aids and abets them in following that inspiration; don’t make them go hunting for it.

BLOG: Hey! Come back here! I know all the reasons why this word makes you recoil (see my blog post “10 Reasons to consider writing a blog, even if the thought of it makes you cringe“)

But I can’t overstate the value of including something on your website that has new juicy material added to it regularly. If it helps don’t call it a blog. Call it Articles. News. The Latest. What’s Up.

It says several things about you: I know my stuff. I am out here paying attention. I am always thinking of how I can be helpful to my people. I am generous with my time and wisdom. I am trustworthy and I show up for you. I am someone valuable to have in your life.

Basic website elements: Behind-the-scenes stuff that’s still super-important to have:

A SECURE CERTIFICATE that lets you have “https.” Google has already started to scare the heck out of your site visitors by warning them away from any sites that don’t have this, and it will become fairly universal in the coming month. Please don’t postpone. Learn more in my Facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/websitesforgood/posts/2155915141307233

A PRIVACY POLICY that includes your cookie policy, information on what data your site collects from them (GDPR stuff), and terms of use of your site. Contact me if you need to have this created for you. Not only does Google use this as a factor for search engine listings, but you really don’t want to run afoul of the GDPR/data privacy laws.

If you use WordPress, PLUGINS FOR SECURITY (such as Wordfence or iThemes Security) AND FOR AUTOMATIC BACKUPS. Unless you relish the possibility of throwing your website investment of time and money down the drain due to hacking or system failure (plus the cost of having a new one built), you really can’t go without these any more. And there’s no reason not to. They are free, and just need to be installed and set up with basic settings.

GOOGLE ANALYTICS (or other systems of tracking visitor statistics): This is very simple to set up, free, and allows you to receive reports showing who’s coming to your site, how they found you, where they go, where they DON’T go, and a lot more.

AT LEAST A LITTLE SOCIAL MEDIA: Basic presence on at least one social media channel can help most of us, and it’s nothing to fear. A Facebook business page (NOT your personal page) or a LinkedIn profile are natural choices for many. The ability to reach millions more of your people for free is not something to dismiss just because it sounds hard. But because it DOES sound hard, I’m working on two bite-sized private training sessions to just sit down with me for an hour on Zoom and get it done. We’ll have fun. There will be music and poetry and cold drinks 🙂 Write me if you’d like more information on that.

There are many more things I can list, and of course I could wax poetic about telling your story, being a changemaker, choosing the right photos, etc.

But like the basic building blocks of keeping your body healthy, we’ll start with these…then experiment, notice, track, and adjust.

Enjoy!


P.S. Remember, if you don’t have these things, you can always drop me a line and ask me questions about anything. I’m here.

Ten bite-sized things to do now that will reap benefits in 2018

Like many of my clients, my office will take a break this year for rest and reflection. I’ll be away from December 22 to January 3 for my annual year-end retreat. Most emails will wait until I return (apologies in advance for that annoying holiday autoresponder). The phone will go to voicemail. I’ll get more than six hours of sleep per night. And I’ll sink into planning What Comes Next.

It’s a great time of year to make sure our online marketing stuff is working and tidy and ready for a new year. Here are a few things you might consider doing now. If you would like instructions or direction on any of these things, drop me a line and I’ll happily guide you.

1. Make an offline backup copy of your website and store it somewhere safe to be ready in case of emergency. Most sites built by us will have the plugin Updraft Plus Backups installed which makes this a one-click job. Email me if you need to know where to find that.

2. Update your website’s guts (WordPress and all the bits and bobs that make your website ‘go’) to be sure they’re up-to-date and healthy. Those who have a maintenance agreement with us don’t need to worry about this–we will do that for you. For others, when you go into your site’s dashboard, you’ll see the left column littered with red dots indicating what’s out of date. Be sure to back everything up (see 1 above) first.

3. Run a malware scan on your home page. Just go to this link and plug in your domain name: https://sitecheck.sucuri.net/

4. Type up a new page with all of your online marketing details on it. This would include the logins & passwords for your website, for the company where your domain name is registered, for your website hosting company, and for your social media logins. Keep a printed copy and give another copy to someone you trust.

5. Change your website’s password (the one you use to get into it to edit). Make sure it registers as “strong” when you type it in…you’ll see what I mean when you do that. Hacking is a huge problem these days, but simple things like this can help avoid 90% of the problems.

6. See how fast–or not–your home page is. Google is getting very touchy about slow home pages, so knowing where you stand is a good start. Visit https://tools.pingdom.com/ and plunk in your domain name. Let it run, then click “Share Result” to share it with your own email address. If you have concerns, forward it to me and we’ll make plans to help it in 2018.

7. Have a friend visit your contact page to send you an email as though they were a client/prospect. If you have a form, have them use that, or just use an email link. Make sure that no glitchy things are keeping people from being able to reach you!

8. Find a few new photos or illustrations: Visit one of the free photography banks like unsplash.com or pixabay.com to find some fresh imagery that better represents where your business is now. This blog post on finding images without pain & suffering might be handy.

9. Revisit who you’re trying to reach with your business. I know that my definition of the perfect client for me has changed significantly since I started my business. Take a few minutes and a piece of paper and sketch out in words the traits of the person most likely to benefit from working with you—and vice versa.

10. Read your home page out loud. Yep, I said that. The best way to make sure your website doesn’t have the personality of a glossy online brochure is to be sure it sounds like you: Human, welcoming, helpful. Reading it out loud (bonus points if you record yourself reading it, then play it back) helps identify where your language is too formal, too stiff, too impersonal.

 


 

Thanks for stopping by!

If you have a small business and this message resonated with you, I’d love to have you keep in touch (in times like these, having a community of people who ‘get’ us can make all the difference between a great day and “I’m just going back to bed”). Here are some ways:

  • I send out a monthly email missive with stuff of interest to people like us – from non-geeky tech tips, to new resources for small businesses and freelancers, to feelgood stories of what’s working out there. Give it a try and see if it’s of interest to you.
  • I’m on Facebook at https://facebook.com/websitesforgood and we have some great conversations there. It’s also a great place to see new writings of all kinds.
  • Think about a free 30-minute consultation with me to tell me what you’re up to, talk through new ideas or directions for your work, or talk about how to better tell your story online.

 

Tools for tiny businesses: I heart you, Boomerang

The email tool for “inbox Zero” at the end of my day. No, really, it works.

In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,  Cal Newport talks about his end-of-day “shutdown ritual,” and the importance he puts on clearing his mind of lingering distractions from projects-in-progress and from unanswered or unread email.  His advice is that we do everything we can to “…ensure . . . every incomplete task, goal, or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either (1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or (2) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right.”  For me, part of that is the holy grail of “inbox Zero.”

Are you overwhelmed with email sometimes?  I know I am, regardless of my attempts to stay off junkmail lists and direct my subscriptions to a separate email address just for them. That just means I’m inundated with email that I actually WANT to read, which is arguably even harder to cope with.  I honestly don’t know what I’d do without Boomerang.

Boomerang lets you schedule the redelivery of emails back to you, schedule outbound emails, set reminders for yourself to respond to an email or look for a reply, attach notes to yourself to an email, pause your inbox for a while, and a lot more.

This is what is looks like in action:  I open my inbox in the morning to my bazillion emails, am immediately overwhelmed, and go back to bed.  No, not really. I just check the checkbox next to the ones that don’t need an immediate response (notifications, for example) then click “Boomerang” and choose whether I want them to be redelivered to me in an hour, or four hours, or four weeks.


That brings up a pane of possibilities for times (and conditions) to return the email to your inbox…

 

…and they are out of my hard-working brain until I need to address them. You can even write yourself a note or a reminder about some aspect of the email:

 


On the sending side of things, Boomerang lets you schedule outbound emails, so if you need to write someone first thing tomorrow morning and are worried you’ll forget, you can simply schedule it. Note the groovy new red SEND LATER button for setting a time and date you want the email to go out:



….as well as the ability to ‘boomerang’ the email back to the top of your inbox if a particularly important email doesn’t receive a reply:

 

There is also a “Pause Inbox” feature that lets you stop emails from arriving in your inbox for a set period of time so you can focus better, and a new feature called Respondable that helps you write better emails—emails that are more likely to get a good response—by scoring the language you use on factors like positivity, politeness,  and more.

For years I thought that whole “inbox Zero” aspiration would always be out of my reach.  But by managing the function of my poor tormented email inbox, I’m looking at a clean slate almost every night, and am able to enjoy the brain-mending rest of turning off my computer/mobile and taking some joyful downtime. This is the most indispensable $5 I spend all month.

Anyway, I’ve gushed enough. If you think might help you focus and get more mental rest too, you can learn more and get your own Boomerang here: http://www.boomerangapp.com/