How to Build a Great Website for Less

That’s less time, money and aggravation.

Over 10 years ago, when I started to really delve into Website design it was nothing for even simple sites to easily cost five figures.  Not today.

WordPress is the Best For Us

I’m a huge WordPress fan and it’s hard to argue against its robust open source platform, ease of use and cost (free) for Website design. We “eat our own dog food” at BrandMill (so to speak) as our Website actually is a WordPress site.

I highly recommend WordPress to most all of our clients and for them to use a competent Web designer or firm (like BrandMill  – wink)  to create a custom-branded template (StudioPress is an excellent turn-key solution) and to train them to update the site themselves.

20 Free (or Inexpensive) Website Services

However, in my travels, conversations and research, I’ve come across a growing list of inexpensive and/or free Web services available these days that may make some sense for start-ups and SMBs such as:

  1. Big Cartel (eCommerce)
  2. Big Commerce (eCommerce)
  3. Drupal Gardens
  4. Empowerkit
  5. iMatrix
  6. Jigsy
  7. Posterous
  8. Powweb
  9. Shopify (eCommerce)
  10. SiteKreator
  11. SnapPages
  12. Squarespace
  13. Vendder (eCommerce)
  14. Vendio (eCommerce)
  15. Volusion (eCommerce)
  16. Webpop
  17. Weebly
  18. Wix
  19. Yola
  20. YP Website Solutions

I dig Posterous, Vendio and Shopify and I’m sure sme of the other Shop sites are worth exploring) however our initial research into most of the other vendors still look like vendor sites from 10 years ago.

We consult with a lot of SMBs and nearly all of them need a new web presence if they’ve dabbled with one of the above vendors because of the lack of SEO, customer support and much, much more. You get what you pay for in life and with Websites. And, no Website in the world will achieve its true sales potential without constant care driven by keyword rich content marketing, SEO and more.

For the past few years, we’ve been providing marketing consulting for SMB borrowers of our financial client that manages a redevelopment loan fund. Most of the businesses they lend to are ‘mom and pop’ firms and their marketing funds are tight to non-existent.

Certainly if these brands could not afford a Website, we’d recommend against doing so, however in our opinion they can’t afford not to have one.  In the most extreme cases, a social media presence (e.g., Facebook) could be the marketing beginning for them, but we’ve found WordPress to be a perfect solution – it has decent Shop plugins too.  Facebook is great, but it is a ‘closed garden’ meaning that you need to participate/join to benefit whereas, with a Website you’re open to the world. Again, you can’t afford NOT to have a Website.

5 SMB Website Building Steps

In short, here are the 5 steps we’ve repeatedly used to help build a cost effective Website presence for our SMBs:

  1. Start a Facebook page, create a content strategy, contribute, respond, listen and deliver value (apply strategy to Website too)
  2. Buy your own domain (register.com, godaddy.com, name.com etc. – and, just get a .com extension)
  3. Host your domain with a reputable, cost-effective hosting firm.  We like godaddy.com (search for a coupon code and use it) because it’s inexpensive, can scale with you, plays well with WordPress and has super customer care.  You can actually talk to LIVE people. What a concept.
  4. Hire someone to help you launch a WordPress Website (e.g., a smart college intern could help too). You want to own your site and control your own brand destiny. You’ll want to add themes, analytics (WordPress comes complete with back-end analytics, but add (for free) Google analytics code to your site). Consider Flickr to host photos/albums and back into your site social media plugins.
  5. Read/study/master/execute content strategy. OK, well you don’t necessarily have to master Web design and code, but you should strive to gain a healthy working knowledge of it. Start with the WordPress for Dummies book.  Learning this stuff is no different than learning about any investment you make.  You need to have expert help to some degree, but to maximize that help, you need to understand what you’re getting into and what to expect. Keep adding rich valuable content to your site on at least a weekly basis.  A Blog will help.

For my money these are the 5  steps to get a great Website up and running for little time and money.

I hope this essay helps you experience much good fortune. Good luck!

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Social Media is a Must for SMB Marketers

I stumbled across this article that proclaimed ‘Social media not a ‘must’ for SMB marketers‘ and had to laugh.

The research study the article references states that while 50% of their survey sample uses social media only 12% consider it necessary. The bizarre thing was that half of the SMBs surveyed said that word-of-mouth marketing was a key ingredient to their success. What?

Don’t these guys get the fact and make the connection that social media marketing is WOM on digital steroids!

Lots of SMBs miss out on exploiting all of the advantages (low cost communication channel etc.,) that Social Media Marketing can provide them. They’re too quick to jump into the next new shiny marketing thing and never take the time to improve their mastery of a particular communications asset such  social media.

If SMBs took the time to learn social media, put in place content marketing strategies, systems and processes, they’d reap an amazing amount of success.

Social Media isn’t a silver bullet, but it is a big bullet that more SMBs need to load more frequently into their marketing guns.

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A Demonstration of Brand Leadership

The juvenile political goings on in Washington D.C. these days is an embarrassment to Brand America and all Americans.

If you’re an American – as I am – regardless of the political party you belong to, you can’t tell me that you’re not sick of the lack of leadership by President Obama, the hatred that pours out of the Republican party (amazingly the entire party is divided between Boehner, McConnell, McCain and the Tea Party) and the sense that the Democratic party doesn’t get the fact we have a ton of debt!

The Republican Party appears to be so divided, hateful, juvenile and crazy that their behavior might be the catalyst to get Obama re-elected!

Remember the old saying, “The devil you know could be a lot better than the devil you don’t know.”

Uneasiness, uncertainty makes everyone upset – and no one wins.

The bottom-line is that the American people have little to no confidence in our top political leadership because there is none.

No one is leading and respect for elected officials – starting with the president – is at all time lows.

And, respect for Brand America around the globe has been diminished and there is not a lot of confidence in our Brand Promise.

The American people (Brand America’s) customers aren’t buying and it’s being proven everyday in unemployment figures, the stock market (down nearly 500 points in the last 5 days).

When it comes to the Federal budget, the overwhelming majority of American people:

  1. Want the debt ceiling to rise (and it will – we all know that)
  2. Want America to pay its bills on time (like most of us do)
  3. Want America to spend within its means (like most of us do – especially in tough times – balanced budget)
  4. Want America to reduce its careless and frivolous spending (like most of us do – especially in tough times – e.g., pork)
  5. Want less (and a more effective) government (reduce spending, benefits etc., – need term limits)

Why isn’t anyone listening to their customers? Why isn’t anyone leading?  Why do we feel that we can’t believe anyone?

Now, here’s a true brand leader and a great example of how they should communicate – Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

The following video is from his first address about the recent senseless bombing in his country – I love this guy.

And, here’s a link to a video and text of his memorial address (he rocks it out) for the Norwegian bombing victims on July 24th at Oslo Cathedral.

In both instances, Stoltenberg is sincere, authentic, real, comforting, believable and trustworthy. A credot to his country.

He knows the essence of Norway’s brand and I’m confident that he will lead his country to be an even better example of what it was before these tragic bombings.

He says that Norway will, “never give up on its values” and at the same time, I question whether America has.

Our politicians should be ashamed of themselves.

Question for you. Is your brand’s value system clearly understood and demonstrated frequently?

My thoughts and prayers go out to the good people of Norway and to those who passed away far too young. May God bless all.

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How High is Up

True nobility is not about being better than anyone else, it’s about being better than you used to be.”

The halfway point of the 2011, was at noon on July 1st, exactly 182 1/2 days left before we ring in 2012.

So how are you doing on your New Year resolutions?

Personally, did you lose the weight you were trying to lose?

Professionally, are you hitting your sales goals?

Have you taken a hard look at your results to date and put a plan in place to finish what you started or are your goals out of whack, meaningless and unimportant?

It’s never too late to late, to improve, to succeed.

You have plenty of time, it’s just that you’re not using it properly and majoring in minor things.

Think (and do) about setting clearer goals for the rest of your year and think about (and do) easier ways to achieve them.

For example, if you’re like me and don’t always have time to go to a gym to workout, do you just give up?

Or, do you find an easier way to accomplish your fitness goals by working out at home using your own body weight, doing pushups, situps, skipping rope etc.?

If you’re not hitting your sales goals, do you know why? Do you know your sales ratios (e.g., how many calls/communiques lead to appointments to contracts)? Is it a simple matter of just making more contacts?

My goals are quite simple and they’re based on improving my own situation and being better than I used to be, not better than someone else.

“IT” should always be about you!

In short, my overarching simple goal is to improve my states of peace, love and happiness and I look at making plans for each many roles as a small business owner, marketing professional, husband, son, brother, uncle, friend, community member and most important ME (spirit, soul, being) and craft simple strategies, objectives and tactics to follow to improve my states of peace, love and happiness.

And, how to I get there?

I work on ‘getting there’ via several ways such as:

  1. Being in the moment and focusing on being fully engaged
  2. Delegating to great people
  3. Working in process improvement (checklists – group similar activities together)
  4. Waking up early (not watching much TV etc.)
  5. Saying ‘no’ to things that don’t help me achieve my goals (like lots of meetings when a phone call would do)

And lots more, because this is a journey!

And, hey I don’t always get there, but my batting average has increased over time with practice.

Focus on your being better than YOU used to be and your happiness because when you’re happy you’ll find that it’s contagious.

Don’t waste your time.

Learn to let go of – and don’t sweat – the minor things and focus on what’s really important to you, to your business etc., and see your happiness soar!

How high is up? As high as YOU want to make it! It’s always been about YOU and no one else.

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