One of the things I do as a VA is manage websites for clients and I’ve built many too. I started to do this out of necessity for myself back in 1996 when it was hard to find a web designer and I’ve learnt along the way. Having transitioned from MS Publisher (yes, seriously!), to MS FrontPage to Dreamweaver and eventually WordPress (2006) there is still much to learn. I doubt I’ll ever know it all but I know enough to get websites up and running in reasonably short time and teach my clients how to manage their sites – if they wish. Clients started coming to me to find out who I was using as they were having problems with their webmaster, or the webmaster had disappeared, or they found they didn’t have control of their sites. I firmly believe the client should have control of their website and not be left to having no control or access to their site. What if something happened to me? Where would they be then? I still come across people who have no access to their sites, and some don’t even have their domains registered in their names but that of the webmaster. What the? That’s just not cool at all and bad business etiquette.
Have you viewed your business card and website with your prospective clients’ eyes lately?
Over the past year I’ve noticed a trend in business cards having minimal details. Websites are often the same. A name, perhaps a business name, an email address (or, on their website a contact form) and a mobile phone number. That’s it. Often the email address is not a domain address, i.e. they’re using their ISP email, gmail, hotmail or similar.
When considering whether I want to do business with someone I like to check them out. I’ll visit their web page (if I can find one), I’ll Google their name to see if they’re on Linkedin, Facebook or elsewhere and check to see what other information I can find out about them. Frequently I’m looking for services or resources that are local to me. The only thing that will make me know they’re local is that I met them at a local business event, but if I met them online, say via Facebook, LinkedIn, or elsewhere often I won’t know where they are located.
Recently I met a lady who told me she was interested in finding out more about Virtual Assistants. She did tell me her suburb and gave me her card. But when I looked at her business card, and her website, neither one gave a postal address or even her suburb. Although there was a phone number listed it was a mobile and that doesn’t give any clues to location either. And yet she comes to your home or office to provide her service. If I hadn’t met her personally but came across her website I’d have no idea if she was near enough to me for me to want to engage her.
Someone who contacted me recently via Facebook asked me to like her Facebook page. I was interested in finding out more about what she does as a portrait photographer. Lovely work. But nothing to indicate where she is located or how to contact her other than through a PM. If you’re running a business and have a presence on Facebook you should be giving people access to contact information, particularly if your service or product is something that’s ‘local’. And that includes the URL for your website.
A contact form on a website is not sufficient. Sure, you can collect people’s contact details but if you don’t provide yours on the website then people are often going to move on. Not everyone wants to fill in a form on a website. Sometimes they like to give you a call and ask questions, or if you have a business where your location is important, i.e. photography, people will move on if they think you might not be near them.
The above is not only important for Virtual Assistants but also their clients. And their VAs can do them a great service monitoring their contactability and ensuring that all forms of contact are available on their business cards and their online presence.
So, while the new year is still young, why not start reviewing the contact information you make available for prospective clients and update it quickly? Oh, and don’t forget to include your signature block for email too. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to email people asking for their phone number or address if we’re organising a meeting because they just sign off with a name and the email address they’re using doesn’t reflect their web address.
Sometimes it’s necessary (or worthwhile) to go and check the history of a domain to find out how long a business has been online, or in operation. It’s hard to tell the age of a site because technology and our age require that information is regularly updated. And if you want to verify some facts, a good way to do it would be to verify the age of the site or the domain. Plus you can have a giggle about how awful some sites were many years ago.
For example, if you were to check how long my domain has been operating using the Wayback Machine you’ll find that vadirectory.net has been in online since September 2002. In fact, I shudder when I click on the snapshots they have of what my site used to look like. Boy, it’s come a long way since then.
However, I was using another domain before then, which is an Aussie domain asecretary.com.au. Checking when that first showed up (and it still works today) you’ll find it was December 1998. Yuck, don’t look, it’s awful!
But we can go even further back than that as my original first site was with an Ozemail user address, before I got my first domain. And the first snapshot they have is dated December 1996. I can see they didn’t capture my first attempt at a site in April of that same year. Evenso, what is available to view there is really horrid. My own ability in web development (having progressed from an online do-it-yourself to Microsoft’s FrontPage, then Dreamweaver and now WordPress) has progressed considerably since those first days and I’m sure you can have a lot of fun looking at how your own site looked in the beginning versus what it looks like today.
So, if you’re looking for a bit of fun, or simply to verify or check the longevity of a site or domain, then using the Wayback Machine is a very useful tool.
My husband is a ham radio operator. He was perusing websites recently looking for some equipment to further his hobby. He was looking at sites here in Australia as well as overseas. He found one based in Sydney that had what he wanted BUT, they had no shopping cart set up for their long list of accessories and once you were on the list, there was no link to get back to the site itself. The list was in a PDF format. Some Australian businesses are complaining about customers shopping overseas via the web, but if they make it hard on their customers, why wouldn’t the customer go elsewhere?
Another site my husband saw was from the US but it was hideous to look at, working with frames (a very old concept of web design) that didn’t work too well and the colours clashed. He went on to find another site.
This brings me to think about our own websites for our industry. Do we make it easy for our customers to buy from us? Perhaps we don’t have product so therefore don’t have a shopping cart. But what about accessing the information they want to find out? And how easy is it for them to move back to a previous page? What if they want to contact you? Is a phone number visible? What about a contact form or even a postal address? Don’t make it hard for people to make decisions – give them the information they need and make it easily accessible. Otherwise they’ll move on to someone else’s site.
Periodically there will be requests on the Virtual Assistant forums asking about free advertising. In fact you find requests for free almost everything.
I’m a believer of that old saying ‘you have to spend money to make money’ and the fact is if you’re in business, you should expect that you’re going to have a number of taxable expenses. It goes with the territory. However, given that, there are a number of low cost or free options for a number of things in business and if you can save money, then that’s a good thing.
One VA recently posted this question at a forum:
Does anyone know of any free internet advertising services for my secretarial service?
Answers included the following:
http://www.ebayclassifieds.com is a great place to advertise and it’s free. I have ads running all the time in my local city.
Register your website with Google, Yahoo and other search engine. Also, register with Google Places. Blog and update it frequently and use Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter too. Participate in online groups or forums where potential clients may be too.
My response was:
Do you have a website? If so, add it to your signature at the bottom of EVERY email you send out.
If you don’t – then get one. Domain names don’t cost much these days and webhosting can be quite low too. What you want (if you don’t know how to design a site) is WordPress – not wordpress.com as you can’t use that for commercial purposes but wordpress.org. To use that you need your own paid hosting (not free hosting as it will carry adverts on it that detracts from your site). You can get a domain name + webhosting for a full year for around $150UAD or less per year. You’re in business so this is a taxable expense and one you should be considering.
Now, if you have a website already that’s great. Develop a signature block, add your phone number, web address and anything else you want to add.
Are you on LinkedIn.com? That provides a facility for an online bio/outline of your experience and will give you a profile page web address you can also use – particularly if you don’t have, or don’t want, a website for now. That is free. You can participate in forum discussions there that will bring you in front of potential clients. It’s the participation that’s important as people won’t know you exist if you don’t speak up.
There are tons of forums at yahoogroups.com. Look for forums that have your hobby listed, or topics of interest and join. For example I’ve joined authors groups as I’m interested in writing but that has also provided me opportunity to gain work with authors. Same for professional speakers and business coaches. I’ve joined local networks (local to where I live where I go and meet them face-to-face) and participated in online forums.
Networking is a really important and often overlooked form of marketing which is a very effective way of getting people to notice you.
Look for local networks close to your home where other business people meet and congregate and make sure you always have business cards with you.
Business cards are important offline and your signature block is your online business card.
When you participate at VA forums you can learn a lot about what others have done to successfully get the word out there about their businesses, whether free, low cost or at higher cost. They’ll let you know what has worked and what hasn’t worked. It makes sense to learn from the experience of others.