Like many people, you've decided that going online with your home business will be the most effective way to reach new customers – and you're absolutely right. If you want your online store to succeed and to represent your business professionally, you will need to make the right choices in setting it up.
If you know how to make a website on your own, that's great! Just keep in mind that the more professional your site looks, the better for your business. Many home based businesses choose to buy fully designed, managed website solutions. These prepared websites give you everything you need: a professional design, your hosting and domain name, and often include professional site updates. This type of solution allows you to do what you do best – run your business – while providing you a functional, attractive showcase for your products. Once you've chosen a website provider, use the following three common-sense business examples to make the most of your site.
Maximize your content
When deciding what to put on your site, keep in mind what you are trying to do. You want to entice people to have an interest in your product or service, and you want them to contact you or buy from you. You want a visitor to understand why buying from you is better than buying elsewhere. Be focused, and have good descriptions of your products or services written up to place on your website. Pictures are important, but be honest about your photography. Don't fill your site with blurry, dark, or otherwise marginal quality photos, or repetitive images that don't show anything new or different. And remember, this is your business – leave personal items off the site.
Paul started a small gardening business when his neighbors told him he had a way with a flowerbed. Paul built a website and put up 67 pictures from the 4 flowerbed projects he has currently done, some information about himself and his family, and his email address. After considering the real purpose of the site, Paul decided to re shoot some of his photos to get better lighting, and he choose the twelve very best images to put up, 3 views of each project. He left out the pictures of his 2-year-old daughter and his classic model car collection. He wrote up a paragraph or two about the special mix of fertilizers he uses and the way he chooses plants and colors based on the location of the garden. He listed his base prices for work, along with all his contact information for customized quotes. These were good, solid business choices for his website content.
Plan your work schedule
Work schedule? Isn't the website supposed to do the work while you sleep? That's what Jenna thought when she decided to sell her ceramics online. Ceramics started as a hobby for her, and developed into an online store for extra income. She advertised same day shipping on all her products, and free shipping on orders of three or more items to entice more people to buy full sets of her work. Unfortunately, Jenna found that with all her other commitments, she simply wasn't able to check her online orders every single day. Customers began to complain when items weren't shipped on time, and decided to buy elsewhere next time. Jenna found she was losing money on the Chubby Garden Gnome set – the cost to ship the set of four figures safely took almost a third of her profits, since any order over three items was shipped free. Jenna had not planned her “online work schedule” very well.
Make an honest assessment of how much time you have to spend on the computer, and be sure you don't make promises about shipping or email responses that you can't keep. Set aside a certain amount of time on planned days to check and update your site, and answer emails. Package and weigh each product in advance, so you know how much postage to charge. Shop around for your packing materials and have them on hand to save time. You can often find places to buy shipping supplies in bulk, at a discount. You will save money and time by being prepared, and your customers will be pleased with your service and follow-through, and will become repeat customers.
Promote, promote, promote
If you build it, they will come, does not apply to websites. If no one knows your site is there, you won't get the kind of traffic and returns on your investment you might expect. Many prepared websites offer optimization services to get your site noticed, but there are some basic things you can do to help promote your site as well. Building links to your website, promoting it in print, joining online groups, and writing articles about your business are just some of the ways Lisa promoted her online jewelry business.
Lisa makes jewelry with polymer clay, creating beads and pendants, even transferring full-color photos onto the clay to make necklaces. To help the search engines find her site, Lisa pursued link exchanges, or reciprocal links with people she knew and regularly did business with. She approached the company where she buys her beads, the photographer who takes her photos, and the shop where she teaches clay work. She also approached others clay workers she had met online, people who made different uses of clay and had nice business sites. She placed links to their sites on her own site, while they did the same by linking to hers. The more quality, relevant links a site has pointing to it, the more likely it is to place high on the search engines for related terms, and the easier it is for people to find it.
When Lisa went to craft shows and swap meets, she normally handed out business cards from her booth. Once her website was built, Lisa made sure her business cards all contained her web address, as well as any other flyers of advertisements she used. She also placed a link to her website in the signature file she used for her online forums and groups. Lisa belongs to several groups online that trade tips and techniques for working with polymer clay, and placing the website link in her signature there not only advertised her site to others in her group, but created more links on the web pointing to her site. Joining and posting on random forums just to get your link out there is a bad practice and can penalize you, but do add the signature link for things you already participate in normally. Lisa then wrote several short articles on her clay techniques, and submitted them to polymer clay websites and article directories – again, including a link back to her own site.
Your home business website can open up great new opportunities and bring new customers to you, and making your site the best it can be will maximize your chances of being profitable online. Just remember to keep your website focused, professional, and give the customer the information they want. Budget the time you will need to fulfill your online obligations, and prepare as much in advance as you can. Promote your website at every opportunity. Getting the word out, having a great site, and providing good service are the keys to your online success.
Debbi works with complete, managed web site solutions and web hosting | domain name clients, and specializes in assisting the beginning website owner.