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Home Resource Centre Business Fact Sheets Sales, Marketing and the Internet

Business Fact Sheets

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Sales, marketing and the Internet

Websites and Internet security

Do I need a website?

The short answer is yes. Even if it’s just a simple description and contact details, having a website is as essential as having a phone number. Without one, many potential customers may simply never find you.

A website can be a full online brochure with all the bells and whistles, or a basic page with an email address and phone number. It can be as cheap or expensive as you like, but it’s always worth remembering that a professionally-designed website is a better reflection of a serious business than a DIY effort.

There are three basic types of website:

  1. Simple homepage – like a shop window for your business
  2. Showcase – like an online brochure or sales pitch
  3. Webstore – allowing your customers to buy your products online.

Simple homepage

If you opt for this simple form of advertising, approach as an opportunity to get across a little more information than normal, with the objective of getting the potential customer to call or request more information. You should include:

  • Business name and logo
  • A summary of your products or services
  • Contact details including an email address – if they’re using your website they might want to communicate online
  • Opening hours if applicable
  • Relevant photographs of your products or services to bring the site alive.

You could also include a web form which allows customers to submit their details to you with a brief description of their query. They press submit and an email is sent to you with the information for you to follow up.

This is the most cost-effective type of website and ideally suited for companies with simple products and services.

Showcase

An extension to the homepage style of website, a showcase site acts as an online brochure, giving potential and existing customers in-depth detail about your products or services. However, you should be wary about making it too wordy, as Internet attention spans are much shorter. Keep the navigation simple and allow the user to get back to their start point easily.

Don’t recycle the wording from your brochure. Web copy needs to be snappier than printed copy, so invest in a professional rewrite or look at other websites to see what works.

Webstore

If you and your customers want to do business online then you will need to set up an online store. This will also enable you to become involved with electronic supply chains.

You will need to consider three key issues:

  • Can you fulfil a customer order within a few working days to anywhere in the country?
  • How will you deal with problems, late deliveries, refunds and exchanges?
  • Can you accept debit and credit card payments in a secure environment?

As credit and debit card details are confidential information, it is vital to consult professionals to set up a secure server environment for trading. You may be able to make cost savings by outsourcing your secure payment facility to a separate website supplied by a third party.

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Your website is your greatest selling tool

One of most important sales and marketing tools a business can have is a good website. However, a bad website can have disastrous effects, losing you potential business and even ruining your reputation. Your website is the public face of your business, and should reflect the standards of professionalism and customer service you would give face to face.

First impressions count. If your website looks good, is easy to use and informative, your potential customer will gain a positive impression of your company. Of course, the reverse is also true, and if your website is slow, badly designed, hard to navigate or contains errors like broken links or spelling mistakes, you will put off prospective customers faster than the click of a mouse.

The basic questions that most website users want answered are:

“who are you?”

“what do you do?”

“how are you different from the next firm?”

“why should I care?”

and, if you impress them enough,

“what do you want me to do about it and how do I do it?”

Make sure your website answers these questions. As long as you include a company description, your key services or products in the form of features and benefits, and plenty of signposts to contact details, then you will have answered most of the basic queries a user will have.

Know your users

To improve the usefulness of your website as a selling tool, you should gather basic data about who is using it. Web statistics software, such as Google Analytics, will provide you with information that can help you improve your sales and increase your reach. Your web host or site designer should offer regular reports on visitor numbers, most popular pages, referring sites (where your visitor came from) and which search engine phrases they used to get to you. In addition, you can also find out where in the country they are, and how often they visit you, plus a lot more. You can usually access web statistics as part of your hosting packaging for little or no extra charge, or use one of the free tools available online.

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Building your website

Unless your business is a web design company, you might want to consider employing a professional web designer or agency to create your site. It might seem a simple undertaking to put a few pages together yourself, but if they don’t look the height of professionalism, your customers will notice and it could reflect badly on your image.

If you do decide to go the DIY route, you will need to know some basic DOs and DON’Ts of web design.

Make a sitemap in advance

The worst websites to navigate are usually the ones which have evolved over time, starting as something simple but with pages and sections added as the business grows and generates more content. By creating a site map – a plan of your website and its navigation – you will be able to keep it clear, uncluttered and easy to use. When you want to add new sections, plot them on the site map first so you can see how they will fit into the overall site and where they need to link to and from. This could save you a lot of time and money rebuilding your site to make it user-friendly again.

Navigation

The navigation is the menu system by which users will find their way around your site. It should consist of a menu bar across the top and an optional menu at the side (known as a sidebar) depending on how much content you have. The navigation should be the same on every page so users can get back to where they want easily and predictably.

Colour scheme

Your website colour scheme should reflect your brand identity and gel with your logo. Don’t use garish colours that will cause eye strain, and don’t assume that a loud colour scheme has more impact. The type of business you have will dictate what colours are appropriate. A bright yellow website with chunky red graphics might be great for a children’s entertainer but would not give the right image for a firm of solicitors. Avoid strong contrasts like white on black. Ideally your text should be black on white space with colours restricted to design elements like buttons, menus and logos.

Fonts

You have little control over what font your user sees, as that will be dictated by what they have installed on their machine. The best font to use is a universal sans serif font like Arial. Unlike printed material, serif fonts like Times New Roman do not work on the Internet. This is because they are harder to read on screen. A clear, uncluttered font will show up better and be easier to read. Avoid ‘funny’ fonts like Comic Sans, as these are generally considered unprofessional and corny. If you use an unusual font, the chances are it won’t show up on most users’ screens and will just default back to Arial, so it’s best to stick to the simple stuff. Avoid using italics as these are hard to read onscreen, and never use underlined text for anything except links. Web users expect underlined text to be a link, and will get annoyed if they hover over it and discover it’s not.

Use photographs and descriptions of staff

Faces sell, and without face to face interaction, it’s much harder to persuade someone your company is for them. Putting pictures of your staff will create a friendly, personable environment on your site and will let users see who they are dealing with. Try and use a professional photographer if possible, or save some money by using a good quality digital camera to take your own snaps. And remind your staff – a smile costs nothing!

Write for your audience

Don’t fill your side with wordy, jargon-filled descriptions if all that’s needed is a short overview of your core products and services. You only have a few moments in which to sell your company to a prospective customer, so get straight to the point and keep it simple. A website does not demand the attention of a printed brochure, so avoid using the same wording for both. Create snappy copy for your site or employ a professional copywriter, and remember to have it proofread to avoid spelling, grammar and punctuation errors!

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Choosing a domain name

Your domain name is your unique Internet address and should be a reflection of your company name, products or services.

Choose your domain carefully, as it will be costly to change at a later date if you have already printed stationery or bought advertising.

What makes a good domain name?

Domain names may only include lower-case characters, numbers, and hyphens. You can choose a domain type based on the sort of business image you want to portray:

.com – a global corporate suffix, this is the ideal domain for international or larger businesses. It’s also likely to be the first domain your customers input if trying to guess your web address.

.org – usually a non-profit organisation

.net – often indicates an Internet or computer-related organisation although it is sometimes used when the .com is not available

.co.uk – the principal designation for UK-based commercial sites

.biz/.tv – these newer suffixes are often used by entertainment companies and fun sites.

It can be worthwhile registering a few domains types and having them redirect to the one you want to use. This stops other companies or individual using them and causing confusion in the marketplace.

Keep your domain name short and sweet as it will be easier for customers to remember. It’s OK to abbreviate your business name, the Internet is all about being quick and adaptable. Check to see if your chosen name is available using a WHOIS search. You can do this easily online through your domain registration company.

As with choosing your company name, you should do a bit of homework before paying to register a name. Check out similar domain names to ensure they don’t lead to unsavoury sites that might impact on your good reputation!

Registering a domain can be as cheap as a few pounds, or you can pay a bit extra and have server space included (which will allow you to host your website on the Internet). Dot coms are typically more expensive than other domain types but usually the first choice for commercial enterprises.

The time and money you spend on a domain should be proportionate to how important your website will be to your business. Keep your business plan in mind, and if your goals include developing your business using marketing techniques, be aware of how vital the Internet has become.

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Be search engine friendly

There’s no point in having a wonderful website if no-one can find you. To be seen on the net, you must become search engine friendly. There are several strategies you can employ to get your site further up the rankings.

  1. Identify the keywords and phrases you want to be associated with your business. These should include your business name, your key products and services and your geographic area.
  2. Ensure your website text uses these words and phrases as often as possible. This is called your keyword density and is a major factor in search engine optimisation
  3. Get linked. The more places on the web you are linked from, the higher up the ranking you will appear on search engines like Google.
  4. Avoid all-Flash content. Search engines can’t read the content of Flash pages or graphic items unless they are tagged, so keep trendy content to a minimum.
  5. Use a professional. Although you don’t need to pay for regular search engine optimisation, having your website written and designed by a professional will ensure it has the best chance of being ranked at the top by search engines. You can also pay for one-off search engine registration.

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Building website traffic

Once your website is built and online, start promoting it everywhere. Have your stationery and business card reprinted to include the web address, and add it to your email signature so people can access you with one click.

Search engines

Being search engine friendly is an important part of having a visible website. Many people go straight to their favourite search engine to find a company rather than rely on old-fashioned methods like the telephone directory.

Search engines use software called a spider to read your site looking for keywords known as metatags or meta descriptions which are then used to build your search engine ranking.

For more information see factsheet “Be search engine friendly”.

Advertise

You can advertise on other, relevant websites by using a banner ad. This is a graphic with an animation or information about what you do, which takes the user to your site when clicked. Banner ads are best used on sites with an appropriate target market.

Email marketing

Used with caution, email marketing can be an effective way of publicising your website. See factsheet “Is email marketing spam?” for more information.

Creating reciprocal links

Ask for a link to your website to be put on a relevant website, and offer a link in return. This is a very effective method of driving traffic to your site and increases your search engine visibility.

Tell the world

Don’t just talk about your website, shout about it! Make sure the address appears everywhere that your business name does, including your newspaper advertisements, flyers, signage and directory listings.

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Is email marketing spam?

The horrors of spam – we all get annoyed by unsolicited emails selling products or services of no interest to us, but email marketing is also a legitimate and useful business tool. The key is to only email groups who may have a requirement for your business. One way of finding them is to purchase email lists, although these go out of date very quickly so caution should be used.

If you want to send marketing emails, do a bit of research about the person or company you are mailing. This is essential for business-to-business emailing, and you can be cheeky enough to say you have identified them as a potential customer and would like to supply a quote.

If someone has come to your company via your website, they have already demonstrated that they like to communicate via the Internet, so by including a simple form whereby users can input their email address for further information, you can build a mailing list and keep in contact. Email provides a fantastic opportunity to reach customers on a regular basis for minimum cost. For example, a quarterly or even monthly newsletter, emailed to customers first and uploaded to your website a few days later, is a great way of ensuring consistent communication and delivering news about new products, services or company achievements. A newsletter adds value and keeps your name in the radar. Even a basic “hello, remember us” every six months could turn into a sale.

Data protection law states that any marketing email you send must include an opt-out facility, so make sure you include a link or instruction on how the recipient can stop your emails if they choose. It is vital to act immediately on any opt-out request you receive. Remove the customer’s email address from your mailing list database or address book. You can add it to a ‘do not mail’ list if you want to keep the details for reference, but make sure you do not contact the customer with marketing emails again once they have opted out.

In conclusion, the answer is no, email marketing is not spam if done in a considerate, relevant manner. Respect your customers’ privacy, don’t bombard them with emails, and ensure it is easy for them to suppress any mailings from you, and you can take full advantage of the useful and cost-effective tool that is email marketing.

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The basics of Internet security

Firewalls

Almost all businesses utilise the Internet in some way, whether it’s for research, e-commerce or email. Yet many of them leave themselves vulnerable to security breaches, a hazard when computers often contain sensitive information like customer details. If your computer system was hacked, how would you cope?

One of the best ways to avoid unwanted, undetected intruders is to install a firewall. A firewall is an invisible shield which filters the information going out of and coming in to your computer via the Internet. It’s not infallible, so you will still need to employ common sense and avoid suspicious websites, but an Internet connection without a firewall is like a wallet left on a dashboard. Why take the risk?

Hackers use sophisticated systems to scan for unprotected machines and steal valuable data, hijack hard drives and cause damage that you may well be liable for – for example a breach of confidential customer information or the loss of a credit card number.

Windows has a firewall option which you can switch on from Internet Explorer>Tools>Internet Options, but you should also consider purchasing additional firewall software to protect yourself. You should configure your firewall so that it won’t send any information out without your express permission on each occasion. You set up automatic permissions for trusted sources so you aren’t constantly bothered by messages.

Viruses

A virus is a self-replicating computer programme that is designed to damage your computer and the data it holds. It can also tie up your system by sending emails to everyone in your address book (thereby spreading the virus) and in some cases, deleting Windows or the contents of your hard drive. Imagine the cost to your business if that happened!

Viruses are spread by emails, from the Internet, or via documents. You should install a virus scanner to automatically scan anything you receive. Run a regular virus scan of your hard drive and ensure you update the software daily. New viruses are made every day so you should keep your database updated.

Spyware

Another type of malicious download is spyware or adware. This is a self-installing programme that hides on your PC and monitors your activity, reporting back to an individual or exposing you to unwanted advertising. You should install a separate spyware scanner and run it alongside your virus software.

A common sense approach is best when dealing with Internet security. Only install legitimate copies of software for which you own the licence, don’t open chain emails or anything that looks suspicious, and virus scan any incoming documents before opening. You should also implement a policy to ensure your staff adhere to safe and sensible web surfing and make regular backups of all data.

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Top tips for IT security

No business is safe from hackers, but you can take some simple steps to reduce your risk.

1. Keep passwords unguessable

Don’t use the same password for everything, and avoid obvious things like names or birthdays. Instead, pick a combination of letters and numbers, for example a favourite holday destination and the year you were there.

2. Update your software

If you are using any standard software such as Microsoft Windows you should look for software updates online. Most new versions of Windows, such as XP, will automatically prompt you when an update is available. These are called patches and fix any known bugs or holes in the software which might allow hackers access.

3. Build a fortress

Invest in anti-virus and anti-spyware software and update it regularly to ensure it can detect even the newest nasties. It is not expensive but could save you a fortune in lost data, customers and hardware.

4. Make regular backups

In the unfortunate event of a security breach, the theft of a laptop or even a fire, your business will not be able to operate without the contents of your hard drives. Make backups to CD ROM daily or weekly and keep them offsite, or use a backup service for a small fee.

5. Emails are not always friendly

If you receive an unsolicited email and you are unsure, delete it immediately. Emails are the most popular way of spreading viruses, but you can install anti-virus software to scan incoming mail for viruses and spam. However, you should regularly check your spam folder for legitimate emails which may have slipped through.

6. Install a firewall

A firewall builds a barrier between you and potential hackers while you are online. Use the Windows standard one or install a purchased package.

7. Don’t input private data on public machines

Internet cafes or other public machines are a handy way of surfing the web while out and about, but are also vulnerable to hackers who can log and steal your passwords or credit card details. Avoid using data like that on a public machine and stick to simple surfing.

8. Use the latest versions of operating systems

Older versions of Windows are very vulnerable to attack, so you should consider upgrading to Windows Vista to ensure you have the most up-to-date protection.

9. Encrypt your files

You can encrypt files through Windows or through specially-purchased software, which makes sensitive data safe from prying eyes.

10. Call the professionals

If in doubt, get a professional out. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and there are many highly-skilled IT consultants who can help you set up and maintain a secure online working environment.

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For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.

© Copyright JE Consulting 2011. All rights reserved.

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