Tag: Business

How Much Does it Cost to Maintain a Website

How Much Does it Cost to Maintain a Website?

Website maintenance is important if you want to keep your business website in top shape. 

It’s kind of like owning a car in that maintenance on a regular basis helps you to avoid a costly fix if something goes wrong. But how much are those maintenance costs? Can you expect to pay as much in website maintenance costs as you would for maintaining your car?

The answer really is “it depends.” Your typical WordPress website with a few regular plugins and paid website hosting generally won’t cost you too much at all. On the other hand, a website design with a lot of custom coding or more expensive plugins will cost a lot more.

Here we’re breaking down the approximate cost of website maintenance under different scenarios:

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Regular website maintenance costs

There are certain things that you will have to pay for on a regular basis to maintain a website – usually paid monthly or annually. These costs will vary, depending on how you have set up your site.

Domain name and SSL certificate

You buy your domain, but it only remains yours so long as you keep paying for its registration. When you purchase from a domain registrar, you usually have the option of registering for a period of one year minimum and up to ten years maximum. This maximum depends upon the domain type – for a .com that’s ten years but for others it may only be one year at a time. If you renew annually, the cost is usually between $10 and $40, depending on the registrar and domain type.

Having an SSL certificate is a must for any small business website. It helps to foster trust between you and your customers and importantly, avert cyber attacks and protect your data. The maximum validity period for an SSL certificate is three years, so you’ll either be renewing annually, every two or every three years. 

There are different levels of SSL certificate depending on what you need. For example, a small business that has a very basic, informational website or blog may only need a Domain Validation SSL. A Business Validation SSL is the next level up and is ideal for any business website that takes payments online. This level of SSL certificate ensures you meet Payment Card Industry requirements (PCI). There are a couple of other levels of SSL that larger organizations may require, particularly as they will secure multiple subdomains. 

The price for renewing an SSL certificate begins somewhere around $10 for the basic level and goes up to somewhere around $4000 (think of a financial institution’s website for this top-end). The average for a business website tends to be somewhere between $40 and $60.

How Much Does it Cost to Maintain a Website

Web hosting

Web hosting is another essential part of owning a business website. Hosting is how your website is made available on the internet for people to Google or access directly. There are different levels of web hosting, so your hosting costs depend on how you have been set up. For example, if you’ve created a Wix website, you’ll pay the monthly fee attached to the package you chose, which will include your hosting.

If we look at WordPress websites, there are a number of different options. Basic hosting, where you look after website maintenance yourself might cost as little as a few dollars per month. However, this is something to be careful of when looking at hosting plans. Cheap hosting usually means shared servers and when a shared server gets too crowded, it can affect the performance of your business website.  You should also consider, do you as the website owner really want to be making any software updates, updates to security or installation of new features yourself?

Another option is one we offer with our packages here at One Week Website: fully managed hosting services. This means that the host looks after installing WordPress, security, speed, WordPress updates, daily backups, website uptime, and scalability. These are all things that are essential and that most business owners don’t want to take care of themselves. Our managed hosting starts at $149 per month, however that’s as part of a new website package along with regular updates. Basic managed hosting (where you take care of other website updates yourself) can be around $50 per month.

WordPress plugin costs

Plugins add essential functionality to any WordPress website. For example, you might use plugins for payment gateways, to set up an ecommerce store or to manage website content. Some plugins are free, but some premium plugins are paid, either one-off or monthly. How much will these cost you? Once again, it depends. Monthly rates tend to range between $5 and $100.

Less regular (but essential) website maintenance

Some website maintenance requirements will be more or less regular for you, depending on your preferences. For example, if your current website is looking dated, you may want a website designer to update its appearance. Design costs are generally a one-time fee (unless you buy a package that spreads the cost out) and can vary from a few hundred dollars to $10,000 or more. 

Here are some other important website maintenance items:

Content updates

There are many reasons to make regular content updates on your website. For one thing, the information you provide should always be up-to-date. Business websites that still reference a past event as though it is still coming up look as though they’re not being used. You might have essential people come and go, or other important information that requires an update.

If you operate a blog on your website, then usually you would update the content at regular intervals – weekly or fortnightly. Some business owners will do this themselves, but others would prefer to have someone else make those updates. The amount you pay is generally in line with how many updates you want the web agency, freelancers or whomever you use to make. We offer unlimited website changes as part of our two premium packages.

SEO updates

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is another area that needs to be looked at regularly. This is because the algorithms the search engines use are always being updated. If you left your website as-is, you’d risk that you might drop in ranking on Google because some essential element is missing (or causing you to be penalized).

How will you know you need an SEO update? There are a few clues:

  1. You learn of a major algorithm update
  2. You notice that your organic traffic has dropped or been stagnant
  3. You want to improve your overall search engine rankings and haven’t noticed any change, despite making an effort.

How much will this cost? You could take the DIY route, in which case it costs your time. You might also have these sorts of updates as part of a package with your web agency, or, you could hire an SEO specialist. That last option tends to be the most expensive one, usually costing $2000+ (which can be well-worth it if you get results).

New feature updates

With technology evolving rapidly, there can be any number of reasons that your website might need feature updates. For example, perhaps you need to add new payment options or integrations with social media. Maybe you want new add-ons or a more efficient way of getting clients to book appointments. Adding new features isn’t about “keeping up with the Joneses,” it’s about maintaining a website that is attractive to the user.

As technology changes, people become more discerning and have higher expectations about how websites should operate. If your business website is lagging behind, you may lose potential customers who look for a website that is easier to use. If you’re looking at feature updates, we’d always prioritize items that will make the user experience better. How much will this cost? It very much depends on the feature and its complexity. If you can’t buy it “out of the box” such as a plugin, then you’ll need it custom-coded which will cost you more.

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Final thoughts

How much does it cost to maintain a website? The answer is difficult to quantify – as you can see here, your costs will depend upon your needs and the complexity of your website. If we’re talking WordPress websites, I’d say anything from $500 to $10,000 annually.

I’d like to end with this: your website is like a window into your business via the online world, so it’s in your best interests to keep it maintained. You get your car detailed and maintained, and a website needs that care too. Not only do you look after the experience of your website visitors, but you keep “what’s under the hood” running well.

Copywriting examples

What You Can Learn From These Top Copywriting Examples

Even if your business currently employs the talents of a copywriter, you can still learn a thing or two from the top copywriting examples out there. 

Whether you are aware of it or not, your website copy will either attract or deter your target audience. The words you use really matter!

Good copywriting engages people. It entices them to want to learn more. On the other hand, bland copy will send them to snoozeville. We’re talking the kind of copy that just spits out data, or is written for the sake of SEO. While copywriting and SEO aren’t mutually exclusive, there’s an art to ensuring you’ve got the best of both.

Here we’re looking at some case study examples so you will know how some of the best do it. What can you learn and take away for you own business?

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The landing page

A good landing page has one job and one job only – to sell your customer on an action you want them to take. A landing page is a standalone marketing page that your target audience arrives at, usually by clicking on a banner or an advertisement of some kind. The goal action may be to get them to buy or to sign up for something.

With this important job, good copywriting is essential for any landing page. You need marketing copy in headlines, sub headlines, body copy and the call to action. It’s not easy to design a winning landing page, but you can learn a thing or two from some of the best:

Drip

Copywriting examples

What works well?

  • They clearly identify the value proposition, or what the target audience is going to get. “Double your leads” is an enticing prospect!
  • They highlight that the course is free, but has a value of $197. People always love to think they’re getting a steal.
  • They use simple, short sentences to highlight what the prospect will get out of signing up.
  • Use of bullet points makes the page easy to scan.
  • The layout is clean and simple with a clear call to action.

What else could they do?

  • Perhaps highlight the value proposition – “double your leads” – over and above “getting started with Drip.”
  • Some people might find the social media share buttons distracting.

MeetEdgar

 

Copywriting examples

What works well?

  • Very direct and effective headline. They address the objections of their target audience about social media (whether or not it will work for them) AND nail the benefit of automation.
  • The call to action is interesting and clear. Instead of something like “get it here” they say “see how it works.”
  • Very clear and succinct description of what the product is and does.

What else could they do?

  • Perhaps they could test saying a little more about what people are getting by handing over their email address in the copy. It’s not exactly clear.

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The social media accounts

Copywriting for social media isn’t as easy as it sounds. If you want to optimize how you use your accounts, then you need to be able to go beyond simple descriptions or sharing of GIFs.  There’s an art to engaging your target audience on their busy newsfeed and being able to combat any lurking trolls.

Here are some examples of social media copywriting done well:

Charmin

How does a toilet paper company keep social media interesting? Charmin’s Twitter account is one to behold. From pop culture references (Game of Thrones – get it? 😉 ) to subtle, yet witty sales copy, the brand has managed to engage good copywriting without being overly vulgar.

Copywriting examples

Lessons you can take from Charmin:

  • Where appropriate, find the humor in your brand!
  • If you can, make connections with pop culture.
  • Come up with your own interesting (and topical) hashtag. Charmin’s “Tweets from the Seat” hashtag series has become popular and again, highlights their sense of humor. 
  • Address any common questions or objections that your product or service might raise. For example, Charmin highlights their commitment to sourcing their paper from responsibly managed forests.
Copywriting examples

Away

Instagram is one social media platform where businesses often struggle with their copywriting. The platform is very much for the visual, but what you say and the hashtags you use matter too.

Away is a luggage brand that’s mastered the subtle art of sales copy on Instagram without appearing to be pushing a sale. Using the hashtag #travelaway, they highlight the possibilities and experiences that owning a suitcase can bring. Their images and copy aren’t just about the luggage, they’re about where that luggage might take you. 

Lessons you can take from Away:

  • Consider the benefits or experiences that your product or service can help enable.
  • Use high-quality images with your copy – that’s what people notice first.
  • When producing social media, consider how you might utilize user-generated content. Many of the pictures they share come from their customers.
  • Don’t write a paragraph when a sentence will do. If you can keep it brief, people are more likely to remain engaged.
Copywriting examples

Hootsuite

Facebook newsfeed advertising is a tricky thing to get right. Somehow, among all of that noise on the target audience newsfeed, you need to ensure that your ad stands out.

Hootsuite does well at grabbing attention (after all, their brand does specialize in social media!). Take the advertisement shown below; what you can’t see here is that it’s actually a brief video. The video shows a few sentences and points (all written) about why you should pay attention to the product:

Copywriting examples

Lessons you can take away:

  • Spice up copy with a multimedia format. This advert is made more interesting by the fact that you need to pause and watch each sentence come up.
  • Keep copy short, sweet and benefit-driven. “Effortlessly execute social campaigns with Hootsuite Planner.”
  • Dangle a carrot where you can. “Try it free for 30 days” is an excellent hook.

The homepage

Homepage copywriting is arguably one of the most important aspects of your website. As we always say, your target audience needs to immediately be able to grasp what you do and what it has to do with them. Otherwise, they’ll probably depart.

Your messaging should be central to your homepage copy. You should tell what you do and describe your value proposition. Here are a couple of good examples you can “borrow” from:

Perfectly Placed

Copywriting examples

What you can take away:

  • Check out how simple and benefit-driven that headline is! It very succinctly states what they do and what the benefit is. Always think in terms of “what’s in it for me?” (your customer) on your homepage.
  • They clearly state who they offer their service to. If your business is restricted by geography, make sure this is stated upfront so that you don’t waste anyone’s time (or your own).
  • Clear call to action with a prominent button – “Get organized now.”

Fitness Builder

Copywriting examples

What you can take away:

  • That headline is pure benefit in as few words as possible – “get ripped.” In case anyone has any confusion, it is backed up by the image of the muscular guy next to it. How briefly can you state your primary benefit?
  • Give people the numbers where possible – we are attracted to them! “With over 1000 workouts and 7000+ fitness videos to choose from.”
  • Give people an option to sign up above the fold (although we wonder with this one if they’ve tested having the headline above the signup form, rather than the other way around).
  • That is one slick value proposition: “work out anytime, anywhere with your portable, affordable personal trainer.

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Final thoughts

Your social media, landing page or web copy should speak directly to the target audience you aim to attract. While top copywriters spend years honing their craft (and tend to be expensive to hire), you can still pick up a few good tips from the companies we have highlighted.

If we were to boil good copywriting down, it would come to messaging and simplicity. All businesses should have clear and consistent messaging and copy should be written as simply as possible. Don’t be tempted to waffle on when a sentence or two will do!

Storybrand brandscript

Why Every Small Business Needs a StoryBrand Brandscript

Do you know why many small business websites are ineffective?

One of the prime reasons is their messaging. They either fail to convey what they’re about clearly, their message doesn’t “hook” their intended audience, or both. You’ve probably seen this yourself – how many websites do you visit where it’s not immediately clear to you what they do?


A StoryBrand Brandscript is here to be a game-changer for small businesses. Your messaging is important and clarity is key. Let’s take a closer look at how building a Storybrand marketing roadmap can help:

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The problem with most website messaging…

When a website isn’t performing as expected, it’s often not that the products or services are substandard, but that the messaging is not well-communicated. You have to remember that the average person is bombarded with marketing messages daily – that’s a lot of noise to contend with!

You might have the best website design on Earth, but if your messaging is an afterthought, it will rarely be effective. This means you can waste a lot of money on marketing materials and activities for little return on investment. The website itself isn’t what sells your products or services, it’s the words, or copywriting that you use.

As Donald Miller, founder of Storybrand says: “the answer to confusion is always no.” When a customer has to work too hard to understand what you offer, they switch off. On the other hand, if you use a simple communication format, it’s much easier for people to digest.

A second motivator that Miller talks about is things that help your customer to “survive and thrive.” It’s an inbuilt human instinct that our brains will promote first – moving from our most base survival instincts to more advanced techniques once those basics are covered.

One of the most basic forms of communication is the story. It’s a mechanism humans have used for generations to make sense of the world around us and to clearly impart some kind of message. As part of the Storybrand message, Miller highlights the importance of being able to tell your story to engage your customers.

Storybrand brandscript

What is a Storybrand Brandscript?

The Storybrand Brandscript is a framework that helps businesses to better engage with their audiences. It is based upon the philosophy that basically all great stories follow a similar “formula.” You see this within the movies that you find memorable and among the most popular novels.

Here’s how Miller explains the flow of every good story:

“A CHARACTER who wants something encounters a PROBLEM before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a GUIDE steps into their lives, gives them a PLAN, and CALLS THEM TO ACTION. That action helps them avoid FAILURE and ends in a SUCCESS.”

Those seven highlighted elements are in nearly every popular fiction book or movie. The formula works and people are used to engaging in this way. For businesses, this means that the further you stray from this predictable formula, the more difficult it will be for prospects to engage with your brand.

Simple messaging

When you have too much to your messaging, or parts that confuse such as rambling or extra copy, the website visitor can be both confused and overwhelmed. This includes the use of jargon that people may not understand.

Miller gives an example from his own customers. Kyle Schulz runs an online photography school. His first launch netted him $25,000 in sales but he felt he could do better. After taking a Storybrand course he replaced photography jargon (such as f-stop) with simple language such as “take those great pictures where the background is blurry.” When he sent a revised round of emails to the same list, he netted $103,000 in sales.

It’s not that you should never have any longer stories, but you should ensure that first communications are straight to the point (Miller suggests you could use a “read more” button on home pages where you want to tell a larger story).

At a basic level, when a visitor arrives on your website, three questions should be answered very quickly to motivate them to engage further:

  1. What do you offer?
  2. How will it make my life better (or What’s In It For Me)?
  3. What do I need to do to buy it?

This is coming back to that “survive and thrive” mechanism. Being concise helps to communicate that message better.

The framework

Keeping this idea of simplicity in mind, here’s a quick outline of each of the seven key elements of the Storybrand framework:

  1. Character. A key piece for businesses to understand is that the CUSTOMER is the hero of the story, not the brand. Your business needs to define what the customer wants and do so in their words. This helps to implant a story question in their minds.

    When you can successfully engage your audience with a question, they want to resolve the plot. The idea is that there is a gap between the customer and what they want, one that you can help them to resolve.

    Defining the customer ambition is critical because it is the source of the story gap. Having a single focus is important because this in turn ensures the solution is simple and specific. Storybrand themselves are an example with “we help you clarify your message and grow your business.” Growing your business is a “survive and thrive” issue…

  2. The problem. Miller’s philosophy is simple: companies tend to sell solutions to external problems; customers buy solutions to internal problems.

    When you can talk frequently about a customer’s problems in their own language, they grow to trust you and believe that you truly understand them. It comes back to that framework too – every good story has a “villain” that must be overcome and the customer’s problems can be personified as such.

  3. The guide. As Miller puts it, customers aren’t looking for another hero, they’re looking for a guide. Your brand is there to offer the role of a trusted guide that offers them the tools to overcome their problems.

    Your messaging should be focused on your customer’s success rather than your own. When your customer wins, you both do.

  4. Have a plan. The bottom line is that this is about trust. People trust guides who have a plan.

    For example, in your business customers are unlikely to commit to a purchase without a plan. You can lay this out in a clear series of steps that helps to guide them to your solution. This helps to bring the customer to that climactic scene in the story where their problems are resolved.

    The plan helps to avoid confusion. If you don’t clearly answer “what do I need to do to buy it?” the customer will probably disappear.

  5. The call to action. As Miller puts it, customers don’t take action unless they are challenged to do so. The hero in a story is often challenged to take action when they are having doubts – the same goes for that customer story. Put simply, calls to action should be simple, clear and repeated.

  6. Avoidance of failure. As the Storybrand principle goes, every human being is trying to avoid a tragic ending. In fact, psychological studies tell us that humans are more powerfully motivated to avoid pain than to seek pleasure.

    As part of your story, remind customers of the potential consequences if they don’t take action. Emphasize that following your plan helps them to avoid that pain.

  7. Success. Be sure to tell people how your brand can change their lives. When you position success, there are three main psychological desires that may be used as appropriate. People want to:


    • Win some sort of power or position/status.
    • Be unified with somebody or something that makes them whole.
    • Experience some self-realization or transcendence that makes them whole.

These seven areas form the basic template of a Brandscript that any small business can use.

Storybrand brandscript

How a Brandscript benefits small businesses

The basic benefits to small businesses of using a Brandscript include:

  • Better use of marketing spend. As Miller puts it, “marketing shouldn’t be a ripoff.” The bottom line of clarifying your brand message IS your bottom line! People buy when the messaging is clear.

  • Better overall results with or without marketing spend. A clearer journey to the conclusion of a purchase helps more people to make that “buy now” decision (just look at the photography website example we mentioned).

  • An engaged audience. The Brandscript format invites people into your story and encourages them to stay. This is a great opportunity for brands to develop long-term, loyal customer relationships.

  • Develop brand evangelists. When you give customers a great overall experience, they tell others about it.

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Final thoughts

We recommend the Storybrand Brandscript for small businesses because it is genius in its simplicity and it gets results. In our experience with website development, messaging is most often the area that needs work. You can hear more from Donald Miller and Storybrand on their podcast here, their website, or by attending a Storybrand workshop.

When you follow the framework Miller and his Storybrand lay out, you develop a story formula that resonates with people. Storytelling and responding to stories is in our DNA – it engages audiences and it improves their understanding.

Market research

How to Conduct Market Research for Your Business Idea

Great business ideas often hit in the spur of the moment. An idea strikes you while you’re taking a shower, or chatting with a friend at a bar.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and go full-steam ahead, but how do you really know it’s a great business idea?

Market research is one of the first steps you should take, well before you invest a whole lot of time and money into development or manufacturing products. The most successful businesses tend to understand their market very well and position themselves to operate successfully in it.

Here are a few tips for doing your market research:

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Use primary and secondary research

There are two main types of market research businesses can use; primary research and secondary research. Here’s what they comprise of:

  • Primary research – This is all the research activities you can conduct where you gather first-hand information. For example; focus groups, phone interviews and online surveys.

  • Secondary research – This is all the research activities you can conduct where you gather public, commercial or internal data. For example; government records, data from research agencies, market data your organization has gathered in-house (if you already own a business).

Both types of data can be useful for your market research. While primary data can allow you to get more specific, micro-level data, secondary sources are good for analyzing market trends and potential size.

Market research

Clearly define who your buyer is

The best business ideas tend to solve a problem or fulfill a need better than what any other option on the market is offering.  You need to have a clear idea of who your target buyer is that needs that problem solved.

Buyer personas are a great tool for clearly defining who your business idea will be targeting. These fictional “characters” are outlined with as much detail as possible so that you can even make an assessment of any subgroups. You’ll want to define demographic, geographic and psychographic points about your persona/s.

Doing this helps you to visualize your audience and determine who you should be researching and talking to as you continue with your market research.

Determine the size of the market

Determining the size of your market is critical. You and any partners need to understand how much business is potentially out there. If you’re going to pitch investors, this is something they absolutely will want to know. In fact, market size is one of the most basic measures that every VC or individual investor requires.

Market size is determined by the number of potential customers (those you defined in your buyer persona/s) or the number of transactions expected in a year. For example, if you are selling something that almost everyone uses (soap, toothbrushes, sunscreen…), then a forecast of transactions per year is appropriate.

If you’re going to pitch investors, an expectation will be to show projections out to three years. In doing this, account for organic growth and for any expected roll-outs into other geographic areas.

No startup should expect to gain 100% market share, which is why determining your niche or addressable market is important. Expecting to capture somewhere in the range of 1 – 5% of the addressable market usually suggests a realistic outlook. 

Get data on your potential market size from:

  • Census and Labour Bureau
  • Local real estate data
  • Local demographic information
  • Surveys and focus groups.

Importantly, when you gather primary data you really want to understand whether there is demand for a solution like yours. Aim for a mix of participants to engage in market research activities. Ask open-ended questions so that people are free to give their own full answer. (HubSpot gives a great list of examples here).

Market saturation is a situation where the volume of a product or service has reached a maximum in its current state. One way to determine whether a market might be saturated already is to look at its growth. Any market that is fast-growing typically has room for new suppliers, but if it remains steady or has stagnated, it can be a sign that the market has reached saturation (unless your solution is radically different or solves problems that competitor’s solutions do not).

Conduct competitor analysis

A competitive analysis is the process of analyzing and categorizing your competitors’ relative strengths and weaknesses as compared to your own. You need to be able to make an honest determination: can we really compete?

Here are a few steps to go through:

  1. Determine who your competitors are. Remember that these might be direct competitors who offer similar products or services to the same target audience within the same areas, or indirect competitors – companies who are similar but perhaps targeting a different need or purpose.

    You could start by listing any who you already know of, then search Google to find any others. Use specific keywords that describe your proposed company such as “project management software,” “marketing agency in Atlanta,” or “donut shop in Des Moines.” Look for the results that come up on the first two to three pages, as well as any paid ads.

    Other ideas for determining your competitors include; asking target customers, looking at the advertisements in trade publications, checking social media and online forums, looking at member lists for trade associations.

  2. For each competitor look at points such as:

    1. Revenue
    2. Customer numbers
    3. Size and location/s
    4. Products and services
    5. Their USP (Unique Selling Proposition)
    6. Number of employees
    7. Websites and social channels
    8. Company history
    9. Financial reports
    10. Marketing messaging (website, social media, content, advertising, product copy…)
    11. Company reviews
    12. Pricing
    13. The audience they are talking to
    14. SEO – keywords, ranking, links and domains
    15. Brand awareness among target market.

      Determine strengths and weaknesses for each of these points.

  3. Honestly compare with your own product or service and the resources you have available. For example, maybe you have some kind of proprietary technology that will make your offer solve the customer problem better. Maybe you have features that competitors don’t yet have.

    Remember too, just because there are some big players in your market doesn’t mean that there’s no hope for you. Many startups have had success because they were able to be agile, to move quickly and solve a problem more efficiently than a behemoth competitor.
Market research

Test your idea

There are many ways to test a business idea without spending a ton of money on setup, coding or manufacturing. For example, we know of a local donut shop that started out by creating social media pages that showcased their marvelous creations. They got an inexpensive permit for a home kitchen and offered deliveries of their donuts. They also setup at local farmer’s markets and craft fairs. The popularity of their product first lead to renting space at a popular hotel, then moving on to a bigger stand-alone store once their business established a strong following.

With other types of products or services you may be able to setup a landing page to gauge potential interest (remember that handing over an email address doesn’t mean they’ll automatically buy!). Drive targeted traffic to the landing page to gather interest. We know of a monthly subscription box service that did this, converting about 18% of their initial email list into buyers later. Part of their secret was to keep up communication once people signed onto the list. They kept them updated with what was happening so people knew to expect a launch.

If yours is a technology startup, you can invite beta users to give you feedback, right from the first couple of features being coded. This helps you to get good feedback before you’ve gone too far into creating the product.

You may even be able to test inexpensively through an activity that you are going to do anyway. In his book 100 Side Hustles, Chris Guillebeau features Peg Donovan, an operations manager from Portland, Maine who makes at least $2k per month from her side hustle. Where she lives, IKEA is popular but is an almost five-hour round trip. Deliveries are expensive, often costing more than the item ordered.

Peg’s idea was to charge a delivery fee for picking up people’s orders. This way, she makes a profit while they save money on delivery. How did she test this? Simply by telling colleagues at work that she was going to IKEA and asking if they needed anything picked up. Several people did and her business was born.

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Final thoughts

Market research is an essential part of setting up your business for success. It’s important to do and to do thoroughly, but don’t get so caught up in it that you end up with “analysis paralysis.”

Here’s a thought on that from SCORE:

“Once you start researching using free resources online, it’s so easy to get carried away. Set a timer for each research session to keep you on task and prevent you from getting overwhelmed.”

Be thorough and know the key data points, even if you’re not seeking investors. Lastly, if you feel like you’re too close and attached to an idea, seek a third-party mentor to help you sift through the data. It’s often helpful to have that third-party that has no “skin in the game.”

Social media marketing

The Small Business Guide to Successful Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing has become a necessity for small businesses.

You may already have a website and a local customer base, but social media helps to further boost brand awareness. In fact, 44% of local businesses rely on social media for brand awareness, while more than one in three internet users say they go to social media to find more information about a brand or product.

Many small business owners hesitate over social media because it’s one more thing to manage in their vast to-do list. However, investing some time and effort into social media can pay off, especially if it helps to draw more customers to your business.

The key is to do social media strategically. As a small business, you don’t have the resources of the big brands and their massive social media operations, but you can take a targeted approach to reach “your” people.

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How to choose the right social media platforms

Start by clearly defining your goals for social media, your target audience and identifying the best platforms to choose that will meet those criteria. You might choose to be on multiple platforms, but as a general rule, don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you find yourself trying to juggle too many social media channels, you can end up doing none of them effectively.

How do you choose the right social media platforms? There are two main factors we would take into account:

  1. Know the purpose of each social media platform
  2. Know which platforms your target audience is most likely to use.

You need to understand the underlying purpose of each social media platform to know how you could use it to meet your business goals. Just because a platform is popular, doesn’t mean it will be a good fit. The graphic below from CNBC gives a short and sweet summary of each platform (although it is a little dated – Google+ was recently taken down).

Social media marketing

You may already have an idea of the types of content you’d like to post to social media, so this can be a consideration for platform choice too. For example, if your content is big on visuals, you’ll want platforms that show visual content well. Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook are all channels where users look for hot visual content.

Another factor is the resources and skills that you have at your disposal. For example, if you aren’t great at video and don’t have the means to have quality videos made, then YouTube probably isn’t the best choice for you.

As far as knowing which platforms will be the best fit for your target audience, there is data widely available to show you who is using each platform. You may not be able to get an exact profile match, but you’ll be able to find key demographics.

For example, take a look at research into social media platform usage and demographics from Pew Research or Smart Insights. You will also find information on social media penetration across different countries and benchmarks for engagement.

Social media marketing

You can see that YouTube and Facebook are the most widely used online platforms among U.S. adults, but here is where it’s important to have your own audience defined. Among millenials and Gen Z, Snapchat and Instagram are more popular.

What to post and when

A universal rule across social media platforms is that businesses shouldn’t be “salesy” all the time. In fact, some of the most effective content for driving business goals doesn’t appear to “sell” at all. For example, content that is designed to provide useful information or to be entertaining. The bottom line? Based on your target audience profile, post the things that are interesting and valuable to them, NOT posts that are primarily based on your business interests. (Although of course you should occasionally post about new products or sales you are having).

Getting to a more granular level, it’s about understanding what is most appropriate for the platform you are using. Facebook is multi-purpose in terms of types of content you can post. You might choose pictures, text-only, text and pictures or videos. The aim is to build up a fan base on your business page and get people liking, sharing and commenting.

Twitter is much more fast-paced with home feeds updating a constant flow of tweets. It’s about sharing quick pieces of information or imagery enticing enough for people to notice and click on in the moment. The audience tends to skew older than platforms like Snapchat.

Below, we’ve put together a table of suggested content types for different social media platforms, along with a recommendation for how often to post on each. This recommendation is taken from research published by CoSchedule, but as always, it’s important to test for your own business to figure out what suits your audience. Mix up your content and frequency until you have found your own rhythm.

Social Platform:Content Type/s:How Often to Post:
FacebookCurated content, videos, photosAt least once per day
TwitterNews, GIFs, snippets from and links to blog posts15 tweets per day
InstagramHigh-quality photos, quotes, stories1 – 2 posts per day
PinterestPhoto guides, infographics, “how to’s”11 pins per day
LinkedInProfessional content, blog posts, company news, jobs1 post per day
SnapchatEngaging stories (video or photo)At least daily (stories last for 24 hours)

There aren’t any hard and fast rules for social media, as long as you use the platform as it is intended. One tip if you’re stuck for ideas on content is to look around at what top business accounts on the platform in question are doing. There are always studies being done into which posts are the most effective that you can do a search for.

Alternatively, try setting up alerts for keywords or topics related to what you do. This will keep you abreast with what is being posted and you will be able to see which content gets good engagement.

How to get engagement on social media

The whole idea of social media is to be “social.” If you can get good engagement on your social media channels, it tends to beget further engagement. Good engagement means that your posts get shown more often to more people and you have the potential to reach new customers.

To begin with, you need to make sure you are delivering content that is worth following. The old post-for-posting’s-sake approach won’t do for the overall profile of your business. Make sure all posts are well-thought out and conducive with the messaging that you want to send as a brand – you’ll confuse people otherwise.

Think about the types of content that get people responding. A simple one is to ask a question. “What was your first car?” is a post that is much more likely to get a response for a car dealer than simply a picture of a car.

Another strategy is to tell interesting stories. Look at Humans of New York on Instagram as an example. They tell the stories of real people and the audience always responds. Why? Because we are wired to pay attention to stories. We’ve used storytelling for thousands of years to form connections with one another.

There’s an obvious strategy that many businesses often mess up – actually being social. This means starting conversations, joining in conversations and responding when people take the time to comment or send a message. If you don’t reply to questions on your posts, for example, people notice and soon lose interest. They figure that you’re not really active on the social media channel anyway.

Furthermore, there is data to show that social media has become a vital platform for customer service. 80% of customers engage via social media while 54% prefer social messaging channels for customer care. If you’re not responding quickly, it just may cost you the customer.

How to effectively use paid social media marketing

Most social media platforms now have their own paid marketing options. This means you can run advertisements that appear “native” to the channel, such as sponsored posts on Instagram.

Effective use of paid social media marketing means having a good understanding of the platform you are using first. You need to understand your audience and know the types of posts that they engage with. You need to have clear calls to action that help drive people toward the end-goal that you have.

Paid social media can have some great advantages over other types of paid advertising. It can be very cost-effective, particularly because the social platforms offer you ways to narrow down your target audience. This means that your ads only get shown to users who meet your criteria, rather than shown to just anyone.

Our best tips for getting the most of your paid social media are:

  1. Go in with a very clear audience definition
  2. Have well-defined goals for your advertising
  3. Take the time to craft engaging ad content
  4. Test, iterate and re-test.

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Final thoughts

Your small business needs a presence on social media if you want to boost awareness of your brand. Increasingly, consumers are turning to social media as they search for products and services, and they’ll often buy from businesses they trust from following on social media.

One of the major challenges for small business owners tends to be the time and resources to do social media well. We suggest that if you are limited on those things, you choose the one or two platforms that are most likely to put you in front of your target audience.

From there, it’s about learning the particulars of your chosen channel. Understand the intent and the desires of the audience using it. Post regularly and do what you can to encourage engagement. Supplement with paid social media campaigns.

It may seem like a lot of work, but social media has become essential for businesses. Don’t let yours be left behind!

Brand strategy Brand strategy

7 Steps for Creating Your Brand Strategy

Think of a strong brand that you know – what makes them stand out above the rest?

It might be their brand story, their emotional impact, their social media presence, their products or any of a number of other factors. What it all adds up to though, is an effective brand strategy.

A defined strategy helps you to tell your story, to market your brand effectively and to attract the right target audience. Your long-term growth prospects may hinge on your ability to craft a strong branding strategy.

Small businesses often look at larger brands and think “but I’m not like them.” Of course you’re not, and that’s part of what makes your particular brand unique. Brand strategy is just as important for you as it is for the big guys, so how can you develop one effectively?

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What is brand strategy?

A brand strategy encompasses several different elements that go into creating a brand identity for your business. This means crafting the perception that your target market has of you and differentiating your brand from competitors.

A strong brand strategy is memorable and attractive to the target audience for your products or services. It defines what you stand for, your voice and your value proposition.

When people think of a brand, they often consider memorable logos, such as the McDonald’s “golden arches” or Apple’s fruit logo. While logos, colors and slogans are part of branding, they are simply the creative elements, not the entire branding story. A strong branding strategy goes much deeper, through the steps we look at below:

#1. Start with your target audience

Who is the target audience you need to reach with your brand strategy? A successful business generally starts with some kind of problem that they can solve better than others – that problem is solved for someone who represents an ideal customer.

If you were to skip considering your target audience before defining your brand strategy, you are unlikely to reach the right people. What if Apple had said something like “play music anywhere” instead of the iconic “1000 songs in your pocket” when they launched the iPod? The first statement is much less impactful, while the second is likely to grab the attention of a certain market.

It’s a matter of understanding who you are targeting and what will appeal to them. This means you need to define:

  • Audience demographics – Age, gender, marital status, religion etc.
  • Psychographics – Values, beliefs, personality, lifestyle…
  • Their industry or business
  • Geographic areas.

A successful brand knows their target audience very well first because they can then craft the brand strategy for that audience.

Brand strategy

#2. Look at competitors’ branding strategy

In most cases, even companies with the most innovative ideas will have competitors. Understanding how those competitors operate is an important part of market research for your branding strategy.

First of all, you need to identify who your competitors are. They may be direct competitors (selling something substantially similar to what you sell), or indirect competitors (they sell an alternative method or product that will satisfy the same consumer need). In any case, their target audience will be substantially similar to your own.

One thing to pay attention to in your market research is the keywords that brands are targeting and getting found for. Who is targeting the same keywords as you? One clue that you need to re-evaluate is if companies that have nothing to do with your industry are winning on the keywords you’re using. This can indicate that the language you’re using isn’t a match for what your customers search for. Also look for keywords that your competitors use that you’ve never thought to target.

To assess your competitor’s brand strategy, look at their overall:

  • Brand positioning – How their brand is perceived in the marketplace
  • Marketing strategy – The channels and strategies they use to engage an audience
  • Brand messaging – The language and messaging style they use.

You’re not doing this to copy competitors, but to make an overall assessment of what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong, and how you might compete as a brand.

It’s also worth noting that this shouldn’t be a one-time exercise – “competitor audits” are often a regular exercise for successful brands. You might conduct competitor research when you have a new product coming out, or when there have been significant industry changes, for example.

#3. Establish your brand identity and values

Now that you understand who your target audience is, what will appeal to them and how you might develop a brand identity to be competitive, you can establish what that identity and your brand values will be.

To borrow a definition from HubSpot:

“A brand identity is made up of what your brand says, what your values are, how you communicate your product, and what you want people to feel when they interact with it. Essentially, your brand identity is the personality of your business and a promise to your customers.”

Your brand values help you to make an emotional impact and establish customer loyalty. People like to support brands that share values they identify with. These could be almost anything – quality, integrity, value, innovation… Choose your top five that you’d like to communicate in your messaging.

#4. Define a voice for your brand messaging

Brand messaging is about what you say as well as how you say it. Your brand’s tone of voice might be professional, fun, irreverent, classy, casual, passionate, quirky… The point is that your voice needs to be consistent in all of your marketing channels and appealing to your target audience.

Your voice determines the type of language you will use on any branding materials. For example, let’s say a company with a professional voice and one with an irreverent voice share the value of quality:

  • Professional – “We take pride in delivering the highest quality widgets.”
  • Irreverent – “We take quality widgets seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously!”

Consider some of the most enduring brands – Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Apple… They all have a strong brand voice that is delivered consistently in their messaging. Over time, they have developed “brand equity” – value derived from a recognizable brand name. Consumers will gravitate to them because they know the name and recognize their branding. If they had changed their voice or branding constantly, they wouldn’t have developed that brand equity.

#5. Develop your value proposition

Successful brand strategy requires a clearly defined value proposition (or propositions). These are the main selling points of your brand that help to distinguish you from everyone else.

An effective value proposition should:

  • Tap into the needs of your target audience
  • Describe how the benefits of your product or service are valuable
  • Differentiate your business as the best/preferred choice.

Your value proposition taps into the problems you want to solve for people. It is different to a slogan or tagline because it identifies why you are better than the rest. It may even hint at the reasons why your competitors are lacking. Here are some examples:

  • Uber – “Uber is the smartest way to get around. One tap and a car comes directly to you. Your driver knows exactly where to go. And payment is completely cashless.”

  • Unbounce – “Build, publish and A/B test landing pages without I.T.”

  • Target – “Expect more, pay less.”

#6. Set brand management guidelines

Your brand guidelines help to ensure that you maintain order and uniformity in your marketing messages. These can encompass every aspect of your brand identity, including visual guidelines (images, colors, fonts and logo usage), key messaging and the platforms you will use. It helps to have these guidelines documented so you can easily share them with others who need to understand them.

Here are some of the things you might include in your guidelines:

  • Examples of the types of images that represent your brand
  • Guidelines for where your logo should be used and in what size
  • Your brand story – a simple summary that gives people insight into your brand
  • The users of your brand and how they are to use it (for example employees, partners and agencies)
  • Your key messages and voice
  • Your color palette
  • Your typography
  • Your voice
  • Your website guidelines.
Brand strategy

#7. Cultivate a consistent marketing strategy

With your overall brand strategy and guidelines in place, it’s important to cultivate a consistent marketing strategy. This includes any online marketing strategies along with what you do offline.

Every business needs to be seen consistently – if you’re a small business establishing a brand identity, it’s probably even more important for you than for the big brands. Developing a marketing calendar and sticking to it can help. For example if you’re producing content marketing, this should be on a very regular schedule. The same goes for your social media marketing efforts.

Plan out campaigns throughout the year that will help your brand to cement your positioning. You might not be a large company, but you can generate good growth by staying on-message and being consistent.

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Final thoughts

As a final note, while it’s important to maintain a consistent brand identity as a whole, that doesn’t mean that everything should remain static. Keep an eye on what’s happening in the market as well as any customer feedback you get – you may need to tweak certain elements as you go (your value proposition/s, for example).

Brand strategy should be clearly defined by businesses large and small. It may be your competitive advantage – not all companies have gone through this exercise. What may your competitors be missing?

Starting a business blog Starting a business blog

9 Essential Tips for Starting a Business Blog

Have you thought about starting a business blog?

Many small business owners do this as a way to help them achieve their goals. A small business blog that shares great content can help to attract potential customers and promote your personal brand.

The trick is knowing where to get started. When you look at the volume of content some companies are producing, it can seem daunting setting up your own! Here we’re tackling the basics – if starting a business blog is your goal, where should you start?

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#1. Identify goals for your business blog

First thing’s first, what are your goals for starting a business blog? Content for content’s sake is never a great idea – it can lead to your blog content being misdirected and unsuccessful. The only real way to know if your blog is on target is to set clear goals to drive the content.

For example, a small business blog can be good for:

  • Enhancing your personal brand
  • Reaching potential customers
  • Improving your website’s search engine results through search engine optimization
  • Sharing your know-how and delivering value to a defined target audience.
  • Transitioning a website or side-hustle from a hobby to a full-time business
  • Giving your current business a wider audience

A business blog is an excellent marketing tool, but it must be done well to be successful. Your goals should define the types of content you need to post and the structure of your blog. Importantly, you need to have sufficient blog content ideas that will keep it going. Blogs work with consistency – otherwise you’re unlikely to see your goals met.

#2. Understand your target audience

A business blog isn’t written for you (as a personal blog may be), it’s written to attract a target audience. You’re hoping to attract potential customers and achieve any of those goals you defined at step #1.

Your blog topics need to be developed so that they entice the right people to stop by and read. This means you should know in detail who those people are.

One great strategy for defining your audience is to create customer or buyer personas. These are detailed descriptions of individual personas that make up your desired audience. Most businesses have more than one clear persona, although usually one or two are the most prominent. Defining any more than five starts to get messy when it comes to directing small business blog content.

A buyer persona contains details like:

  • The age and gender of the person (where relevant)
  • Where they are located
  • Their “life stage” (e.g. single, married, divorced, college, empty nesters…)
  • Their job role and level of responsibility
  • Key problems they have that your business can solve
  • Key goals
  • Key areas of interest.

The image below shows an example of buyer persona, borrowed from HubSpot:

Starting a business blog

#3. Set up your new blog

Are your starting a business blog from scratch, or adding a blog to a current website? If it’s the latter, many website platforms allow you to easily add a blog to your site. For example, WordPress websites have a blog built in as a standard part of what they offer.

If you’re starting completely from scratch, for example when you’re starting a side-hustle or wanting to monetize a hobby, then there are a few things you need to get organized:

  • Domain name – this is the web address for your blog or website. For example, our domain is oneweekwebsite.com. The simplest domain name is your own business name.
  • Web hosting – your website requires a host in order to be found on the internet. (We offer fully-hosted packages, found here).
  • A blogging platform. WordPress is one of the most common, but there are other options, such as Joomla or Weebly.
  • A theme or “look” for your business blog. If you have a WordPress website, then you will look for a WordPress theme. This provides design elements for your website. (Try Themeforest for WordPress themes).

#4. Plan your blog topics

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”

Yogi Berra

Now that you understand your goals and who you are targeting, it’s time to plan your blog topics. Great content starts by being relevant and useful – even if you write very well, no one is going to read it if it’s not aimed at them.

Sometimes people struggle with post ideas, while other times they come in a flood. We recommend keeping an “ideas” sheet (or Trello board – however you like to do it), so that you can quickly note blog topics down as the idea strikes.

We also strongly recommend that you keep an editorial calendar, scheduling out regular blog posts. Many business blogs have started with good intentions, then petered out as busy business owners run out of time or ideas. An editorial calendar keeps you on the straight and narrow, and also helps with an important factor for blogging success – consistency.

Blogging on a consistent schedule trains your audience to look for your posts at certain times. It also helps with search engine optimization. If you need ideas to kick-off your blog topics, look at some of these:

  • The key problems you identified among your target audience
  • Keyword research – this will sometimes reveal related topics
  • Competitors’ posts – can you write a similar topic but do a better job?
  • How your audience can achieve key goals that they have

#5. Create policies for your blog content

There’s a good chance that you won’t be the only one who ever creates your business blog content. For the sake of consistency and keeping up the appearance you want to share with your audience, having a few policies that govern your blog can help. For example:

  • Specific standards for your blog entries (grade level, grammar, spelling, keywords…)
  • The voice or tone that you want to use
  • Any style guidelines
  • The rules for any links that are added to the post
  • Whether you will accept guest posts and who from
  • Core topic categories that should be addressed.

Even if you’re the only one writing the posts for now, it’s good to think about these things for your own guidance.

#6. Optimize your blog content

Search engine optimization helps to ensure that your blog gets found. These days, there is so much content already online, you can’t assume that people will simply find you. Optimization needs to be intentional.

To begin with, look at your target audience and the blog topics that will be of interest to them. Conduct keyword research to work out the best combinations of keywords to get your posts found.

Remember, keywords are no good to you without targeting and context. This means you have to think of the related words that provide context, to ensure that you get the right target audience showing up. For example, “football” means different things in different countries. In the U.S. it’s the NFL, in the UK and Europe, it’s soccer, in New Zealand, it’s rugby.  Find keyword combinations that make sense and clearly denote what your blog content is about.

The idea is not to “stuff” blog posts with keywords (this can get you penalized by Google), or to use them unnaturally for the sake of adding keywords. Great content should read well, no matter what. Put your main keywords in a few strategic places, for example:

  • Headlines
  • Sub-headlines
  • Metadata
  • Opening paragraph
  • Image alt text
  • The body of your content.

#7. Promote your business blog

Search engine optimization helps with organic traffic, but you also need to actively promote your business blog. Be prepared that it tends to take a while to get some momentum going and build an audience through content marketing – it’s a slow burn. This is why producing consistently great content is important.

There are several different paid or free methods for promoting your blog:

  • Share on social media. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter tend to be the key platforms to share on, but again, know your audience. Perhaps your audience and business type are suited to Instagram.
  • Share on sites like Medium or Reddit.
  • Engage in some email marketing. Let your list know every time a new post goes up.
  • Take out some paid advertising, such as through social media or Google Ads.
  • Include links to your blog in social media profiles and email signatures.
  • Re-share old content. Social media posts have a short lifecycle – schedule posts to re-share at a later date.
Starting a business blog

#8. Measure your results

Every successful business measures their results against their goals. The same should be done for your business blog. The key is knowing what you should be measuring – it needs to make sense for the goals that you have.

For example, if your goal was to improve search engine results against a certain set of keywords, then you need to measure how well you rank over time. If your goal was to drive more traffic to your business website, you need to look at how blogging has impacted traffic. Beyond that, you need to know whether that traffic is taking other actions that you’d like, such as signing up to your list or buying a product.

You might also want to track engagement on social media, especially if improving the visibility of your brand is a goal. Look at comments and shares of posts and whether or not you are growing your audience.

Importantly, are you attracting the right audience? There is no sense in driving a lot of traffic if most of it is not your target audience. One way of tracking this is looking at comments on your blog posts and looking at those further actions visitors have taken. Are you improving sales and can that be attributed to your blog?

Track results for individual blog topics too. When you begin a business blog, it’s often a case of trial and error to work out what the most popular content will be. Look at the blog posts getting the most traffic, shares and engagement – these are what you want to write more of.

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#9. Get help with your blog entries

Lastly, we know that starting a business blog is a big commitment, and keeping it up is challenging for small business owners. If you’re at the point where even the editorial calendar isn’t keeping you on-track, it’s probably time to look for help.

Whether you have someone else internally or can find a writer externally, it’s important that great content continues to flow. If you’ve set the foundations, you can introduce a new writer to your content policies and what you need for your business blog.

It’s up to you whether you want to have someone “ghost write,” where they write on behalf of a credited author, whether the writer gets the byline, or whether you post as “admin” or some other anonymous poster. Consider your business goals – if improving your own personal brand is part of it, you probably want the byline and to have the posts ghost written.

The bottom line for starting a business blog? Make it relevant, interesting and consistent. Always write for your target audience and have some clear goals in mind. Great content doesn’t happen by accident.

Social media marketing Social media marketing

How to Create a Social Media Marketing Plan for Your Small Business

Does your small business have a social media marketing plan?

Over the last decade or so, social media has become a key part of marketing strategy for most businesses of all sizes. Those who tend to do well from their marketing efforts are the businesses that have strategized and planned their approach.

Your social media marketing strategy should paint a clear picture of what you want to achieve with your social channels and how you’re going to do it. It’s easier to execute well when you have a plan, right?

Let’s take a closer look at what the core elements of your social media marketing plan might look like:

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#1. Know your current social network status

Before you put pen to paper on a social media marketing plan, you’ve got to know where you’re starting from. If your business is already on social media platforms, do a self-audit to understand how they are doing.

You can look at:

  • The social platforms you are on. Are you posting regularly and are you getting engagement?
  • The audience you are attracting (if any). Are they a good representation of your target audience?
  • Your business presentation on social media sites. Are you communicating what you’d like to be, in the way you’d like to say it?
  • Which social networks (if any) are bringing you the most value?
  • How does what you are doing compare to any competitors?

Gather and hold this information to help you make decisions during the planning process. Importantly, you should also run a check for any “imposter” accounts – those operating under your business name that pretend to be you. If there are any, these can be reported to the relevant social platform.

Social media marketing

#2. Set goals for social media marketing

What exactly does your business want to achieve from social media marketing? Everyone wants some sort of return on investment, what do you consider that to be?

Now that you know your current position, you’re at the first step for beginning a social media strategy. Goals will help you to know what to measure and how to measure it. We like to use the SMART method, indicating that all goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound.

An important part of setting these goals is that they will help you to define the most meaningful metrics for tracking them. There can be a lot of “noise” in social media and it’s easy to get caught up in it, losing track of your real business goals.

Take Facebook “likes” for example. What do they really mean? It’s easy for anyone to quickly click “like” as they scroll by, but this doesn’t tell you that they’re actually engaging with your brand or even that they’re part of your target audience. “Likes” and metrics such as retweets tend to be “vanity metrics” – they feel good to get, but they don’t provide you with anything of substance.

It’s important to stay focused on the things that are meaningful and contribute to your core social media goals. You may even have different goals for different channels – that’s fine, as long as you articulate and measure them.

Some common goals for social media presence include:

  • Driving brand awareness
  • Positioning your business or its people as thought leaders
  • Using social channels to drive traffic to a website
  • Engaging your specific target market
  • Improving customer retention
  • Driving leads and sales.

#3. Know your target audience

“Customers are your best teachers. Learning about your customer’s beliefs, values, and priorities teaches you which selling points you should emphasize.” Mark Goulston

Defining and understanding your target market helps you to hone your social media strategy. Why is this important? Well, there are millions of people on social media and probably just a fraction of them represent your ideal customer. You can waste a lot of time on social platforms, or with curating content that doesn’t attract the right people.

Sometimes people worry about being “too narrow” with their approach. They think that they’ll lose business by ignoring particular audiences. This isn’t usually the case though. For example, if you sell binders for snowboards, why would anyone who is not interested in snowboarding buy them? It’s the sort of product that people who know snowboarding buy for themselves.

From a social media marketing perspective, it’s important to know your customers well so that when you share content, it is selected to be of interest to them. One key part of doing social media well is that you don’t just try to “sell” all the time. You need to be putting up regular content to drive engagement. Without both regularity and engagement, social media platform algorithms start to throttle your organic reach – they assume the audience isn’t interested.

What do you need to know about your audience? Here are a few key items:

  • Their demographic information
  • Any geographic information if relevant
  • What their main interests are (including pages they might be following)
  • What their main problems are.

If you run Facebook ads or any other kind of social media advertising later, this information helps you to segment your audience for those ads. This is a much more efficient use of your marketing spend.

#4. Research competitor social media sites

Do your competitors already have a social media presence? This is a good opportunity for you to learn, not so you can copy them, but so you understand what might work for you. After all, you will have similar user bases, right?

Here are a few tips for researching your competitors:

  • Find which social networks they are on. Look at the numbers on their pages – this can be an indication that the social platform is a good match for the target audience. (Not all platforms will be – you are much more likely to find a 22-year-old on Snapchat than Facebook, for example).
  • How quickly is their following growing?
  • What sort of content are they posting?
  • What is their social media engagement like?
  • How often do they post?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?

To help you out with your analysis, there are some tools you can use for further insights. For example, BuzzSumo will show you the number of social shares they receive, while Brandwatch provides some deeper insights.

#5. Choose your social media channels

Based on your goals and your target audience, decide which social media channels will be the best for your business. As a small business, you tend to have some fairly hard limits on time and resources. This means it’s important to choose your social platforms wisely.

Sometimes people try to do all of them at once, but find that they are overcommitting themselves. What ends up happening is that they’re spread too thinly to conduct any one social platform well. It’s better to pick one or two that you can commit to. The best choice is simply to choose where your target audience can be found.

How will you know? The research you’ve already conducted should have revealed demographic information – this is easily checked against statistics from data companies for social media platform usage. Try Smart Insights or Pew Research, both of whom conduct annual studies.

Importantly when you make your choice, you should also consider the types of social media content you are willing to produce or curate. Different platforms work best for different types of media. For example, there’s no sense in committing to Instagram if you won’t be able to regularly post high-quality images.

Social media marketing

#6. Document your social media strategy

We’re fans of documenting your social media strategy, along with any other business processes. This helps greatly to create a cohesive and consistent marketing plan, no matter who comes and goes in your business. It’s important to keep everyone on the same wavelength.

Your social media plan should be the governing document for “how we do things around here.” You don’t want someone going rogue and posting things to your social accounts that aren’t a good fit for the business.

You can include any or all of the items we discuss in this post, and you should definitely include:

  • The tone or voice to be used in your posts.
  • A description of your audience and what interests them.
  • Post types that are acceptable, or unacceptable.
  • Any policies that you have for engagement. For example, when someone private messages or mentions your Twitter account, how quickly should a response be made? What are the rules of engagement? Are there some things that must be escalated? Are there some types of messages that will get the sender blocked? (As public platforms, ANYONE might be commenting or messaging you!)
  • The goals for social media marketing and the metrics used to analyze them.

#7. Optimize your social media presence

Whether you’re starting from scratch or revamping your current social media presence, it’s always a good idea to optimize your social media accounts. This means setting them up to give the best possible impression, deliver what your audience will need, and get you noticed.

Sometimes this looks different for each individual social media channel. For example, many businesses use Twitter or Facebook for customer service queries or issues, whereas they might be using Instagram stories or Pinterest for sharing company culture or product information. If you have a preference, let followers know how to contact you for help or any other reason. Optimize your social profiles based on your goals for the platform.

At a basic level, optimizing social media platforms means:

  • Ensuring all information fields are filled out. Have you noticed the number of businesses that haven’t included a website link in their social profiles?!
  • Using high-quality images that are sized correctly for the platform. Make sure you have a good profile picture and any other common pictures, such as cover images.
  • Conduct keyword research to find what terms people will use when searching for businesses like yours. Use keywords in your available fields, such as “about.”
  • Using any calls to action you have available. For example, a Facebook Page allows you to have a button CTA – what will you ask people to do?

#8. Share content that engages your audience

In the end, the success of your social media marketing plan is all about your content. If it doesn’t grab your target audience, you won’t get very far. To do this, you need a good understanding of your audience and their intent when they’re using your chosen social media channel.

One of the first things to do is to develop a content calendar for your social media channels. There are tools that can help. For example, use Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule out posts into the future. Just remember that you need to be checking in and responding regularly. You can’t automate engagement!

While there have been questions as to whether using a third-party app for social media posting impacts reach, there have been multiple studies (including this one) to suggest this is not the case. Again we’d emphasize that the point of social media is to be social. You can’t set and forget it if you want to generate audience engagement.

You can look for inspiration from what other successful businesses are doing. For example, check out the Shorty Awards, or look for posts about “the most successful social media campaigns.”

If you’re relatively new to social media, or if your business hasn’t been particularly active, what you post may be a case of trial and error. You can use your best guess based on the data you have collected as to what might engage your target audience, but otherwise, test out different types of posts.

#9. Drive traffic to your social accounts

These days organic reach can be a bit of a lottery. We’ve entered an age when social media platforms are maturing and “pay to play” is here to stay for businesses. It’s still important to post regularly on your social media channels, but if you’d like to drive traffic consistently, you will probably need a bit of help.

A key part of your social media marketing plan should include any paid strategy that you have. Most social channels now have their own paid marketing tool, giving you the chance to reach a wider audience and gather important insights along the way.

Facebook advertising allows you some complex segmentation tools as well as deep analytics for your ads. You can view results during your ad campaigns and make adjustments as necessary.

Besides forms of paid social media marketing, share your social accounts everywhere! You can include “follow us” links for each channel on your website, put links in email newsletter footers or signatures, include them on your business cards, and even share across your personal accounts.

Lastly, we really meant it when we said your content can drive your social media success. If you’re regularly sharing strong content, you start to get people engaging and sharing. This draws more people to your pages, to continue a cycle of drawing traffic.

Social media marketing

#10. Invest in social media tools

As a small business, you have a huge list of responsibilities that fall on you. It’s nice to have social media tools to take care of some of them, right?

The best social media tools help you to stay on top of important data so that you don’t miss anything. They help you to automate key tasks and free up your time to create more of that great content.

It can be a little overwhelming when you start to look for marketing tools. There are now many options and mixes of features. We’d suggest that you start by looking at the little tasks that you need managed and take it from there. Some tools will automate tasks completely, while others will make them a lot easier. Some are purely for social media, while others are for content marketing of all types. For example, there are tools for:

  • Checking on marketing trends and influencers
  • Finding popular content
  • Tracking in-depth analytics (more than social platforms offer as a standard part of their features)
  • Social listening – tracking trends and mentions of names or topics
  • Scheduling your posts
  • Creating or editing images
  • Creating animated videos
  • Setting up “rules” for tasks

The aim is to have your social media marketing plan running as smoothly as possible. You’re human and you get busy – it’s nice to know that doesn’t have to mean dropping the ball with your social media channels.

#11. Stay on top of social network engagement

A big part of improving your organic reach is being consistent and timely with how you engage on social media. We’ve probably all seen those social media accounts where someone asks a question or says something in the comments that really requires a response, only to receive crickets.

What is acceptable in terms of response? Consider these statistics:

  • 45% of consumers turn to social media first for questions or issues
  • 21% would rather message on social media than contact the company over the phone
  • 21% of consumers are more likely to buy from brands they can reach on social media
  • The average user waits just four hours for a brand to respond on social media
  • The average brand takes 10 hours to respond.

Timeliness on social networking sites is critical. Let’s just say you have a potential customer who doesn’t know you very well yet. They message you via one of your social media channels and wait for a response. And wait. Eventually, when they haven’t heard back within a few hours, they check out a competitor and send them a message. The competitor responds within a couple of hours… You get the idea – having a service level agreement (SLA) for responding is important. Even if you can’t respond within a couple of hours, letting people know what to expect helps.

Facebook provides impetus for brands to respond quickly to messages by having a badge which indicates how responsive you are to messages. In order to get the “very responsive to messages” badge, you need to have achieved both of:

  • A response rate of at least 90%
  • A response time of less than 15 minutes.

If you have the “very responsive” badge, all visitors to your page will see it. If you don’t, only page administrators will see your responsiveness statistics.

Besides the messages you receive that require a quick response, it helps to stay active in the comments of any posts too. If someone has something to say, respond and keep the conversation going. When people see that you respond, they’re more likely to engage.

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#12. Test your social media strategy

For most small businesses, your first run at a social media marketing plan won’t be perfect. You’ll learn things along the way that help you to guide your marketing strategy and make changes where necessary.

Tracking your results with your metrics tools (such as Google Analytics) is critical so that you understand objectively how you are performing against your social media goals. It’s also worth noting, sometimes you need to be prepared to wait for results. Established pages with larger user bases see results from posts or campaigns more quickly. It can take a bit of time to build up a regular following – commit to consistency.

Another strategy for gathering useful data is to split test (or A/B test) your campaigns. This involves testing small elements to see what works better. For example swapping out images or text. The Facebook Ad Manager allows you to do this.

Once you have gathered some solid data, analyze it and look for where you can improve. Re-evaluate, re-test and update your social media strategy regularly. Over time, your social media channels can form a key driver of traffic and a valuable asset to your business.

Clear Website Copy Clear Website Copy

How to Make Sure Your Website Copy is Clear and Not Confusing

What does your website copy say about you?

Your web copy provides text or messaging that visitors to your website read to find out about you and what you offer. It has a vital role to play in attracting potential customers and hopefully encouraging them to buy or sign up with you.

Given the crucial role of website copy, you’d think it would be a priority for businesses to do well, right? Unfortunately, poor web copy is a common mistake. We often see businesses more focused on having a “pretty” website than on clear website content.

There’s a saying about how “a confused mind never buys” and this holds true for your web copy. Data from Crazyegg suggests you have less than 15 seconds to capture attention on your website, before visitors leave. If your copy is confusing or doesn’t provide enough useful information, they’re not going to hang around for more.

So, it’s worth taking the time to get your messaging right (and it’s something we are big on at One Week Website!). How do you make sure website copy is clear?

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Define your ideal customers

The first step is to know exactly who your message is for. Your aim is to attract not just anyone, but “ideal customers,” those who are best suited to your product or service. You need to identify these buyer attributes, including:

  • Demographic information
  • Where they are
  • What they do/ their job role and level of authority
  • Their problems and goals.

Collating this information helps you incorporate some key components into your web copy, designed to attract those ideal customers. If you understand their needs and what appeals to them, you can craft your copy to suit.

Know what your audience wants from you

What does your target audience want from your products or services? Clearly understand this from the perspective of the buyer personas you have identified. This way you can highlight those benefits in your web copy and other online content.

There’s a quote from copywriter and sales expert Dan Kennedy that fits well here:

“Get a fix on the prospect/customer/client and on his or her desires; failing to do so will undermine all your other efforts.”

Agitate the problem

A core reason that people buy is because they have a problem that needs solving. They might have tried something else before they came upon your website, and maybe that other thing didn’t work for them.

Agitating the problem is about being able to clearly articulate the issue and how it makes your ideal customers feel if it goes unresolved. What emotions does it evoke? Why is your product or service a better solution than others? This helps you to deliver website copy that is clear and appealing.

For example, if you are an accounting business, agitating the problem might look like this:

  • Problem: Are you trying to plan ahead to minimize your tax obligation?
  • Agitation: The new tax code ushers in the biggest changes in over 30 years. How do you interpret the complexities and ensure you’re not paying too much tax?

Note how agitating the problem can also involve suggesting what might happen if it remains unsolved. Highlighting the potential impact to your audience’s lives helps create some urgency.

Be succinct and upfront

How many websites have you visited where the product descriptions or other marketing materials lack basic, useful information? There are a lot of websites that are not clear upfront and when this happens, you can almost guarantee that visitors aren’t going to hang around trying to figure it out.

You need to be able to succinctly communicate what your business does through your website copy and within seconds of someone landing on your website homepage. People don’t like to click around trying to understand what you do – in fact they probably won’t.

“Keep it simple” is a good rule of thumb to follow. A common mistake is to try to be “clever” with copy, ending up with something that no one else understands. It’s great to let your personal voice shine through, as long as website visitors know what you mean!

We have a couple of strategies that we use with website copy in an effort to keep it simple and effective:

  1. Show website visitors a simple three-step plan to get what they want. So you’re addressing the problem upfront, but immediately giving them some easy steps to resolve it. Take a look at the example below, from our own website:
    Website copy
  2. Take the position of being a guide, rather than a hero. This means positioning the company with empathy and authority, as a more relatable entity than one which takes a “supreme” kind of position.
  3. Make it clear who your business is for. This might be included in a USP (Unique Selling Proposition) statement upfront. This is a statement of why your business is the best choice, perhaps hinting at why you’re different from others.
  4. You might include who your business is for by saying something like: “We take the stress out of tax planning for small businesses.” A statement like that immediately says that the company is not serving individuals or large businesses – their ideal customers are small businesses. Sometimes it is worth including somewhere who your business is NOT for too – this helps to avoid “tire kickers” – those who might take up your time with enquiries, but are never going to become customers.

Have consistent branding

Your branding involves all the elements of your website and other areas (such as social media) that make your business unique. This includes elements such as the logo and color scheme you use, and the overall voice and tone of your website copy. It all adds up to the overall messaging you want to communicate.

Consistency and congruent messaging is the key. If we were to go back to our example of an accounting firm, it would be an unusual move to take an “edgy” sort of voice in your website content or marketing materials, or to go for loud colors. Perhaps it would work for some firms, but overall, people would like to be reassured that their CPA is professional and takes their business seriously.

“Brand voice” encompasses things such as the words you choose, the attitude of your content marketing, and the values and personality that you convey. It all adds up to creating clear messaging. It is confusing when a company tries to borrow elements of different branding voices, for example switching from edgy to reassuring and sensible.

Why is this all so important? Developing consistent branding carries over into everything that you do. It includes press releases, social media, content creation, website copy and every other marketing effort you make. Consistency leads to better brand recognition over time. We could write an entire article dedicated to branding alone, but for now, it’s important to see how it ties in with clear website copy.

Have strong CTAs

What do you want your website visitors to do? You might think it is obvious, but more often than not, it really isn’t to the average website visitor. This is why having strong CTAs are important. The CTA (Call to Action) is the part of your website copy that tells potential buyers what they should be doing. Some very simple examples include “click here” or “buy now.”

As a general rule, an effective CTA includes more information than those last two examples. Your target audience needs a compelling reason to heed your CTA, so clear messaging is important. For example, “click here for your free copy” or “subscribe to receive deals in your inbox” are clearer and more compelling reasons to do as you ask.

If you’re able to evoke strong emotions, this can be another excellent way to get people following through. For example, “click here to start planning your dream vacation today.”

Giving the audience a clear reason to act or take the next step is a key part of effective CTAs. You should answer the questions “what’s in it for me?” within your CTA and the surrounding web copy.

If you’re writing sales copy for anything that might be limited (such as products with a finite supply), you can take advantage of this to leverage the natural FOMO (fear of missing out) that most people have. For example, “Limited supply available. Buy now before they’re gone!”

Your calls to action can be tested over time to assess their effectiveness. For example, you might monitor actions via Google Analytics or even through split testing different CTAs. It’s important to test and figure out what works best for your ideal audience.

Show the customer what success looks like

You’re addressing key pain points that your customers have, you’re ensuring your website copy and your branding are consistent and that your CTAs are clear. Another important technique is to show potential buyers what success looks like with your company.

This is important for helping the customer to visualize their own success through buying your products or services. For example, you might include testimonials from happy past customers within your web copy, or imagery to highlight that success. As a website-building company, we highlight images and testimonials from the websites we have created.

Website copy

Test your website on users

You know what your company does and who your ideal customers are that you’d like to attract, but is that really clear to website visitors? Often we are too close to our own businesses to see where there might be any confusion over website content, so it’s a good idea to take a step back and view it through the lens of a complete outsider.

First-time visitors may not perceive your website content as you do and it’s important to understand this early if so. One way is to go through independent user testing (as is offered by several companies), but otherwise, you might simply seek feedback from various people who don’t already know your business. You’re looking for any confusion they might have over your website, so that you can make it as clear as possible.

In the end, your website isn’t there for you, it’s for your potential buyers. As such, we suggest that you keep an open mind for the sake of clarity. Don’t be so attached to any particular thing on your website that you’re not willing to change it to be clearer.

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Final thoughts

Your website copy may be the first point of contact with you that your potential buyers have. It must be clear so that there is no confusion left in the minds of your audience. This way they are more likely to take the actions that you desire on your website.

If we were to leave with one final piece of website copy advice it would be this: a professional-looking website is important, but your messaging needs to come first. When you know what you want to say and how to say it clearly, a more effective, professional website can be built with that in mind.

How to Start a Business How to Start a Business

How to Start a Business: A Step-by-Step Guide

Do you have the ambition of starting a new business?

It’s an exciting idea, running your own business, but people often find it tricky to navigate the steps from business idea to business reality.

Building a strong foundation is critical when you’re starting out. It makes a big difference in terms of developing a successful business. In fact, according to the Small Business Administration, about two-thirds of businesses with employees survive at least two years, while about half survive to five years. There are all sorts of reasons for business failures, but having a thorough and regularly-revised business plan can help to mitigate the chances of it happening to you.

In this article, we’re breaking down step-by-step how to start a business. Yes, there are a lot of critical steps, but if you follow them, you’ll find yourself better-prepared to tackle the world of business ownership.

#1. What do you need to get out of your business?

First of all, have you given thought to what you actually need to get out of your business? This helps you to narrow down the type of business that you should go for.

As an example, many business owners refer to the fact that they’ve “never worked so hard in their lives” or that they’ve been too busy or tied up to take any vacations. If this sort of scenario sounds like a nightmare to you, then you need to plan carefully to avoid it.

You might have goals to be the next global giant, but it’s also okay to have relatively modest goals for a business. Some common ambitions include:

  • Wanting to make a bit of extra money (perhaps achieved through a side-hustle)
  • Wanting more freedom and autonomy with work
  • Wanting to free up more time for family or other things you’d like to be doing
  • Wanting to build something you can use to give back for philanthropic purposes
  • Wanting to be a market or industry leader
  • Wanting to build something in the hopes of acquisition in a few years
  • Wanting to diversify your income stream.

You also need to consider your personal preferences. Does it suit you to turn up to a bricks-and-mortar location for set business hours? Or, do you prefer to be less tied-down? Perhaps the flexibility of an online-only business works for you over any sort of physical location.

Consider where your skills and passions lie too. No one wants to work on something that they don’t find stimulating. You might be interested in doing work that is a stretch for your current skills, but if you identify this early, you can work on ways to build up the skills you need.

Finally, think about the lifestyle you would like to lead. Would you like to be checking in every day with your business? Or, would you like to build something that keeps ticking along, even if you’re in the middle of a mountain range for a couple of weeks? Do you have ambitions of being mega-rich? Or, would you simply like a business that pays for your basic needs, or enough to be comfortable?

Write all of this information down, as it will help to guide you through business ideas. You will notice that some options are quickly a “no” because they won’t meet your bottom-line requirements for a business.

#2. Brainstorm business ideas

We’re including this section here because many people have the idea that they’d like to own a business, but don’t yet know what that will look like. If you already have an amazing idea, that’s great! You may like to skip ahead to the next section.

There are dozens of ways in which people have come up with winning business ideas, and brainstorming is a great technique to generate a flood of ideas. The key is to try to evaluate ideas based on the business preferences you have already identified.

Where do good ideas come from? Here are a few questions that can trigger them:

  • What is something that really bugs you? Many good ideas start as fixes to a problem that the business owner has encountered.
  • Is there a better way of doing something that is currently a product or service? Not all business ideas are entirely new, but sometimes you can reinvent them in a way that gives a competitive advantage. For example, look at what subscription box companies have done for things like razors, make-up, snacks or pet food.
  • Is there a way to harness a new or up-and-coming technology? Some great business ideas position the company as a pioneer of change in the business landscape.
  • Can your current skills or hobbies be monetized? For example, you might have a passion for salsa and a secret family recipe for making it.
  • What problems or concerns do other people often voice? Could managing these concerns be the start of a business?

Once you’ve brainstormed a few ideas, highlight your top two or three contenders for further investigation.

How to Start a Business

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#3. Conduct market research

For a business idea to succeed, it needs to solve a problem, fulfill a need better than current solutions, or generally be something the market wants. Your next step is to run your shortlist of ideas through a validation process (pick your most likely idea first).

First of all, is there a big enough market to justify the business idea? If you’ve determined that there is, you can then get even more specific and figure out how saturated the market is and whether there is room for your idea.

You might conduct focus groups or surveys to find out exactly what people are looking for, what bothers them, or any suggestions they have. Importantly, you’ll want to analyze competitors – is anyone else doing what you want to do already? If not, could there be a good reason that they aren’t?

It’s important that you identify what makes your products or services different from competitors. What will your business strategy be and will it be viable? For example, competing on price in the highly competitive ecommerce business can be a race to the bottom. If you have large competitors, you will almost always lose because they have the resources to fund loss-leaders.

Determining a USP (unique selling proposition) helps you to define what will make you different and why customers should choose you over competitors. As part of your research, you need to understand what will appeal to your target market in terms of a USP – what makes it worth it to them?

Another part of your market validation absolutely has to be the financial side. What will it cost to get your idea going and can you charge enough to turn a profit within the time that you need to? If you need to charge more than competitors, what makes your business worth choosing for customers?

#4. Write a business plan

This is the point where you’ve narrowed down to one business idea you’d like to go ahead with. You’ve validated that there is a market for the idea and that it’s possible to make it work financially, so it’s time to write a solid business plan.

At some point in here, you’re going to have to come up with a business name – something that is easy to remember and catchy to your desired customer base. Google is a useful tool here – check that no one else is using your desired business name and that the URL you will need is available.

Your business plan should be a written description of how you plan to evolve your business from start to finish. There are many different ways to write a business plan, but we suggest finding a template that makes sense to you in terms of level of detail. A tip here is that if you’re going to require investors or a loan, then you’ll probably need to make it as comprehensive, yet clear as possible. Lenders and investors want to see that details are well thought-out.

Most business plan templates either fall under the category of “traditional” or “lean startup.” Traditional plans are hefty and detailed, beginning with an executive summary, potentially including a funding request and ending with appendix.

Lean startup business plan templates are suitable for businesses that are able to start very quickly with few required resources. For example, if you are branding yourself as a consultant and making use of your own skills and experience, you may not need a whole lot of “extras” to start up on your own.

These templates are very high-level and tend to focus on value proposition, infrastructure, customers and finances. One of the most common versions (which you can find free if you search online) is the “Business Model Canvas.” Note that if you are seeking lending or investment funds, these plans may be too lean to satisfy requirements.

No matter what type of business plan you choose, be prepared to treat it as a living document. As time goes on, your business matures or there are changes in the market or with technology – you’ll probably need to adjust your plan to account for those.

#5. Plan your business finances

Do you need to organize financing to get your business started? Or, can you self-fund, or start with very little funds?

If you do need funding to get going, there are many possible avenues you can take to get it. You need to make some calculations to work out how much you will need, as this may play a role in how you decide to get the financing. Consider what you need for startup costs to set up and get going, as well as what you might need to cover ongoing expenses before you turn a profit.

You will need to consider expenses such as:

  • Licensing, permits and subscriptions
  • Legal fees
  • Equipment and inventory
  • Trademarking
  • Leases
  • Marketing
  • Utilities

It’s a good strategy to create a spreadsheet or similar document so that you can keep track of expenses. One of the core reasons that businesses fail comes down to finances – you don’t want to run into any surprises!

The question now is, how will you get the finances you need? Here are some of the most common avenues small businesses take:

  1. Small business loans
  2. Credit cards (a risky prospect if interest rates are high)
  3. Business grants (Check out Grants.gov for a searchable directory of federal grants)
  4. Loans from family or friends
  5. Crowdfunding campaigns such as through Kickstarter
  6. Angel investors
  7. Bank loan or line of credit
  8. Own savings

The option that is best for you will depend upon your unique circumstances, available resources and appetite for risk. Also consider how much input you’re prepared to take from others. Angel investors may expect a certain level of input in decision-making.

How to Start a Business

#6. Make your business official

A key mistake that many small businesses have made is to skip getting all of the official permits or registrations that they need. Things such as not getting insurance for the business can come back to bite, even if that’s at a later date.

One thing to consider is setting up the business in the manner in which you intend to continue. There is something to be said for the psychological shift when someone goes from being a sole proprietor to an LLC, for example. It’s a sign to yourself that you’re taking the business seriously.

There are several potential sub-steps to making your business “official,” here are a few:

  1. Setting up your business structure. You may want to seek advice from a qualified accountant or lawyer about this. Different business structures have different tax and legal implications. For example, sole proprietor vs. partnership vs. LLC vs. S Corporation.
  2. Your business name and registration. You might need to get a license to operate in your state or county as well.
  3. Federal and state tax ID for your business
  4. Any required insurance
  5. Any permits needed
  6. Setup of bank accounts
  7. Application for any trademarks, copyrights or patents
  8. Any legal agreements, such as supplier agreements, non-disclosures, or employee contracts. This may also include vendor agreements for things like shipping
  9. Reserving your preferred website URL.

#7. Develop your product or service

The details of how you develop your product or service will vary depending on the type of business. For example, some sell physical products while others offer digital services. Nevertheless, it’s important that you don’t skimp on the product development area. Ultimately, this is what is going to represent your company.

Here is where you iron out the details, including how you might package up your products or services. As an example, consider a “productized service” (much like we do here at One Week Website). The nature of this type of service is that you bundle services together into a package, which you then charge a rate (usually monthly) for. It’s important that these packages have clearly defined parameters in order for the business model to work. If not, you can easily end up down a rabbit hole of extra work.

For physical products, you may need to find a supplier, or a manufacturer for something that you have designed yourself. You need to finalize designs and materials and work on areas such as quality control and risk management.

An especially important part of any product or service development is consideration of the customer. You should have a clearly defined target market, as they’re the ones you hope are going to buy what you’re selling. Your development might include activities such as usability testing on people who represent your target audience, or surveying when you’re developing a service. You need to validate that your product or service is meeting the needs of customers as intended – remember that sometimes this will take a few iterations. You’ll need to consider this when you are budgeting.

Lastly, if there are any certifications or educational requirements for your chosen field, get these taken care of as early as possible. For example, some types of businesses need FDA or ISO certification – they may need to inspect your products or facility. If you’re using particular types of vehicles, you may need additional licenses.

#8. Develop your branding and messaging

How would you like your business to be perceived? What “voice” do you want to convey to the customer and what will your brand represent? These are important questions to answer early in your business setup, because it helps to ensure you present cohesive messaging.

In fact, when we build websites, one of our major tasks is to ensure we work with clients to get their messaging clear. This helps us to build a site that speaks to that target audience and emphasizes the most important things first. You only have a few short seconds to grab the attention of a new customer, so they need to “get” you very quickly.

So, how will you develop your voice and messaging? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Look to your competitors – what are the gaps or flaws in their messaging? What types of customers are they attracting with their messaging? Consider how your brand might differentiate. For example, you might have an edgier voice compared to a more conservative competitor.
  2. Describe your products main advantages and why they are so important. You could also seek this information from the voice of the customer, by asking any test users.
  3. Think about the values of your brand. How will these be communicated by your overall messaging? Some brands have even created manifestos to help express what they care about and why the do what they do. (See a good example from Red below).
    How to Start a Business

What sets your company, your product or service apart from others?

Your brand messaging might include things like your value proposition, mission statements and manifestos. Importantly, it’s not just those specific elements, it’s an overall tone and feel that knits everything together into a cohesive unit. For example, people who see your brand on Facebook and in print media shouldn’t detect any difference in how you are presented.

#9. Set up your website and back-end systems

See what we did there? Yes, we strongly believe that it’s important to get your messaging down before leaping into creating your website. This will help you to select an appropriate design and layout.

Of course, you also need to consider website functionality and overall setup. There are so many different options you could go for, but you need to consider things like budget, expertise required and your desired level of management of the website. For example, some DIY website platforms don’t allow you to customize how you’d like or they limit functionality. They may also build everything onto their own platform so that, if they were to shut down, your website will potentially go with them.

One way to narrow down and find your desired setup is to list everything that you must have for your website. For example, you might need payment gateways, a shopping cart function, portfolio features and content sharing. You might want to integrate certain key tools, such as accounting software or CRM (customer relationship management) tools.

Besides your website, you may need any or all of these back-end systems:

  • Project management software
  • Accounting software
  • Email management tools
  • CRM software
  • Payroll software
  • Booking systems
  • Inventory management systems
  • Chat or customer support systems

Again, list your must-have features to help you narrow down your options. We also like to look for tools that integrate well together, as this tends to avoid a whole lot of manual data-handling.

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How to Start a Business

#10. Promote your business

With all of the systems, products and paperwork taken care of, it’s time to promote your business. Make sure that you’ve budgeted for marketing among your startup costs! In today’s world of noise, you’re going to have to promote yourself to be found by your target market.

There are a myriad of potential ways to promote your business, so let’s look at a few that are common for startups. Some will cost you money, but others are free or quite inexpensive. Create your own marketing plan based on what your resources and needs are:

  1. Devise a launch strategy. Make a big deal of launching your business as a way to attract customers. For example, bricks and mortar stores often have opening parties, while online businesses might have launch deals.
  2. Start building an email list. Email marketing is an inexpensive route to take, but you need to have a list aimed at your target audience. You might do something like create a pre-launch landing page and invite people to sign up for opening deals or to be kept informed.
  3. Build a social media presence. To narrow it down, find out which channels your target audience is using and go to those places. Aim to do one or two channels very well rather than spreading yourself thinly across several.
  4. Use paid advertising. You might choose online methods, offline methods or a mixture of both. Again, the key is to have figured out where to find your target audience. For example, you might use paid social media or search advertising. You might take out ads in local newspapers, local directories (on or offline) or industry publications.
  5. Be present at relevant conferences or trade shows. Strategic booths or sponsorships can help to boost your profile.
  6. Join networking groups. For example, your local business association, Young Professionals groups or meetups. Have business cards available to hand out.

Final thoughts

Whew! There are certainly many steps to take when starting a business, but don’t let that put you off the business ownership dream. Every journey is different, but the most successful businesses have almost always had a plan to get that way.

A good business always begins with a firm foundation. You need to understand your market and be clear about the need your product or service fulfills. Differentiating from competitors is important, as is coming up with clear, compelling messaging.

Stick with us as we look at the sections in this article in more detail in future posts. There’s a lot to organize, but you’ll never regret taking a thorough approach to developing a profitable business.