Designing an engaging and high quality website is very important to the success of your small business. Not only does your company’s website serve as the “first impression” for prospective clients, it will serve as a launching pad for many other promotional and marketing strategies that I’ll cover in later chapters of this series on promoting your small business.
Even if your business already has a website, there’s a good chance that it is causing more harm than good due to poor design and/or functionality. Especially if your website hasn’t been updated in the last year or two.
In my opinion, creating (or relaunching) your website is the single most important thing you can do to improve the marketability and awareness of your consulting business.
Designing your website:
Trying to describe the “ideal” design of a small business website is a tricky endeavor, especially when your web design abilities are as limited as mine are. After all, each website should be as unique as the individual company or service that it represents. Unless you’re a seasoned web design pro, I’d leave the development of your website to professionals. But make no mistake about it, your involvement is crucial in ensuring the website has the features you want and need to grow your business.
Most of the web design experts I’ve spoken with over the years highlight three key adjectives when describing a successful blog; the website needs to be “clean”, “targeted” and “fresh”. Here’s a look at each of these three elements.
Clean: Whether you’re designing your website yourself using a pre-made template, or you’re paying a professional web developer to design the site for you, your website should have a “clean” and uncluttered appearance. It shouldn’t have any unnecessary information on the home page that could distract a reader from finding out what they really want to know about your firm. When a prospective client visits your website, you’ll increase your chances of developing a lead if your site has a clean appearance and information is easy to find and navigate to. The example above is of a marine safety consulting website I worked on. As you can see, the landing page is very simple with a visually appealing series of pictures that scroll every 5 seconds.
There is no unnecessary information on the landing page that might distract a potential client from what they are looking for. If you’ve read anything about web design over the years you may have heard of people discouraging the use of “large format” pictures on web pages since they take “forever” to load and may affect the user’s experience. Remember, most of the prospective clients you’ll be targeting with your fancy new website are already using fast broadband internet from their office computers so “slow performing” websites are not nearly as big of a concern for your consulting blog.
Another important aspect of this consulting business’s website is its simple to use navigation menu area which offers more specific drop down options as shown in the image below.
Having a ton of information on your homepage can work if you already have an established consulting business, but if you’re just starting out and you haven’t built up much of a client base, you’ll want to avoid having a homepage on your website that looks something like the following.
Not only is the above webpage look like it was made in the late 1990’s, it is also too busy and confusing for a prospective client to find what they’re looking for.
Targeted: The design or “theme” of your website should be targeted to the niche or industry that you’re practicing in. Every element (picture, font, logo, etc.) used on your website is an opportunity to make a connection between your firm and a prospective client. For example, if you’re a human resources consultant specializing in recruitment of C-Suite executives, it would be significantly more effective for your website to display images of people shaking hands and smiling (conveying unity and teamwork) than it would to show an image of a person sitting by himself behind a computer screen (which could potentially trigger a less positive response).
In the above example of the marine safety consulting website we designed, the main picture we chose for the design of the site is obviously directed at the maritime industry. On the other hand, if we were developing a website for a client who offered consulting services to manufacturing companies then we would have chosen a more appropriate photo. Let’s say that you wanted to offer consulting services to clothing manufacturer and retailer L.L. Bean (makers of the world famous Maine Hunting Shoe). You could include an image of a factory worker manufacturing a similar product as we have done in the following example. This image would go a long way in making a potential connection with a prospective client as it demonstrates your familiarity with their particular industry.
Fresh: Your website must be free of stale and dated images, logos and graphics. Unless your consulting practice focuses on implementing 1990’s business strategies, you probably don’t want to have stock pictures that were taken in the 1990’s. Work with your web developer to find modern photos and graphics that provide an edge and sophistication to your site. There are a variety of commercial image companies available that provide beautiful photos and graphics for relatively modest prices. The same goes for the words or “copy” that are used on the various pages of your site. Make every attempt to avoid using cliché’ and/or outdated terms or expressions when describing your firm’s capabilities and successes. The following is an example of what I would consider an “outdated” and cluttered consulting website. Keep in mind that the consulting business owner, John Rust Consulting, has built up his practice over the last 25 years and hasn’t needed to rely as heavily on a “fresh” website.
John Rust Consulting has been in business for over 25 years and has built a tremendous reputation in the state of Maine providing quality consulting services. He hasn’t had to rely as heavily on internet and social media since he started his business long before these mediums where mainstream. Unfortunately, you won’t have this luxury. If you want to maximize the results of your marketing campaigns, you need to invest the time and money in designing and developing a modern website for your firm.
You might be surprised how little it costs to build a beautiful and engaging website to promote your consulting business. Competition among web designers is fierce as new software and web applications have dramatically lowered the barriers to developing clean and modern web layouts. With the right approach, most small consulting firms can have a fully featured and well-designed website for less than $500 (in additional to modest monthly hosting fees) using preformatted template website packages. For a more customized website package, designed exactly the way you want, a more reasonable price may be between $2,000 and $5,000 depending on the amount of features and content and how much of the content you write yourself. Remember, it will cost you significantly more to have the web developer write the actual content for your website like your “about” and “personal bio” pages. If you have any writing skills at all, you’re far better off writing your own content for your website and have your web designer incorporate it into your design.
Research some of the larger consulting firms in your practice area to get a sense of what they’re doing with their websites. Larger consulting firms have entire teams of employees that do nothing but develop and maintain their corporate websites utilizing the best design and engagement practices. Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective customer and evaluate what grabs your attention on these competitor websites and work with your web designer to incorporate these features into your own web design.
You’ll also want to read the remainder of this book for a variety of other marketing ideas and tips that can be integrated with your firm’s website. For example, you may like my ideas about creating unique videos or blog posts and you’d like them to be prominently featured on your website.
Once you’ve collected a few ideas, sit down with your web designer and start putting the pieces together of how you want your website to look and function.
Should You Include a Blog on Your Small Business Website?
Another important way of demonstrating your consulting expertise and marketing your consulting business is to establish a blog on your website.
What is a business blog, you ask?
A business blog is nothing more than a place where you can publish articles online that you’ve written for current and prospective customers to read (think of an online newspaper). In the case of a consulting business, you can write articles about current trends in your area of practice and how you can help your clients capitalize on them. You could also write articles highlighting some of your past projects with clients (with their approval of course). There are many things you can write about including but not limited to the following.
• Trends in your industry.
• Recent success stories.
• Case studies.
• Rules/regulatory changes in the industries you practice.
• Professional accomplishments.
• Mentions of your firm in the media.
• Special promotions offered by your firm.
• Community service performed by your firm.
• And the list goes on…
Not only is a business blog an excellent way to showcase your expertise, a blog is a great way to improve your website’s rankings in internet search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing (web designers call this Search Engine Optimization or SEO). The more quality content you have on your website, the higher your website will typically rank in internet search results. The higher your website ranks in internet search results will directly affect how many visitors you have to your site which will ultimately result in more prospective clients contacting you about your services.
Blogs are also an excellent way to connect with other consultants in your field for sharing advice and promoting each other’s services. For example, it’s a good idea to follow the blogs of other consultants in your practice area. If you find a particular article of theirs that you like, don’t be afraid to link to it in your own blog posts. They’ll appreciate this and may even return the favor by linking to one of your articles. The more you interact in the consulting community, the more likely you’ll be to generate additional referrals and business leads.
Example business blog.
A modern example of successfully integrating a blog into a consulting business website is the maritime safety website we discussed in the previous chapter. Here is a screenshot of what this looks like.
In the example above, we had a special section created in the “News & Insights” tab where all new blog posts would be shown with the most recent posts appearing first.
Most of the articles published in our example blog site deal specifically with how to improve safety and performance in the maritime industry which parallels exactly with the firm’s practice areas. The site is designed with a pop-up subscription window offering readers the ability to easily sign up for future blog articles.
A decent web designer can easily add a blog feature to your website and show you how to upload new articles. And remember, the more articles you post to your blog, the more likely you are to make a connection with a potential client.
Blog subscription options.
Having a blog on your website also offers prospective clients the ability to subscribe to your latest blog articles through email. This is an incredibly valuable tool as it gives you an opportunity to continually make a connection with a client who may otherwise not come back to your website every time you publish a new article to your blog. For example, let’s say a prospective client finds your website while doing an internet search for “improving employee morale” because you recently published a blog article about that exact topic. The prospective client may read that article and never visit your website or contact you gain. Now, if you gave that same prospective client an option to easily sign up to receive any future articles you publish, you have significantly increased your chances of that client contacting you in the future about your services.
Additionally, you can use that same email to disseminate other relevant information to prospective clients such as company news, referral programs, and incentives for new clients, etc. You could even email a teaser for the upcoming book you’re about to write (more on that in a later chapter).
Remember, only write articles that are positive and relevant to your particular business or industry. Do not make your business blog a place where you share personal stories about your family dog or write about bad experiences you’ve had with previous clients. Keep your articles short and to the point (a good rule of thumb is less than 500 words unless you’re writing about a very complex topic) and include a good quality picture or graphic if applicable. Last but not least, make sure you proofread your articles for grammar and spelling. This is very important (even though I often struggle with it myself sometimes).