Duquesne University’s Entrepreneurial Growth Conference

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 7.40.51 PMIf you’re an entrepreneurial led small/medium sized business you should be heading to Duquesne University’s Small Business Development Center’s Entrepreneurial Growth Conference tomorrow, Thursday, June 5.

If you’re going, please connect with me.  As a sponsor, BrandMill will have a demo table and I’ll (Steve Wayhart) be moderating a lunch table discussion about, “How to Profitably Build Sales” and leading a discussion about “Shortcuts to Social Media” at 3:30 p.m.

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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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