Being a small company

Small businesses, they say, have a personality, flavour and sensibility that big businesses have lost. And when it comes to what you put on your website, we urge: Don't be afraid to tout your smallness.

Small businesses can have more fun with their sites, more so than large corporations. A small-business site needs to include something that reflects the creativity and personality of its owner.

Maybe you're a couple working side-by-side in a spare bedroom or a fourth-generation entrepreneur working to someday hand it over to a son or daughter. Maybe you're putting yourself through University, or you operate from a remote site in the countryside and you use only recycled materials. Presented well on a home page and/or an "About Us" section, all of these may have unique selling points to customers.

Whatever your industry, "Tell your story online". Customers want to know who you are and, if you lead a team, who is on it and what they do. Describe your team, talk about the inner workings of the group.
When there is nothing on your site about who you are or who's on your team, people wonder about whether you are a good company to buy from.

How your business is unique
Answer the question "Who are you?" as interestingly and compellingly (and honestly) as possible. This includes writing management bios that mention your expertise, years of experience and any unique attributes or details that may set you apart from others.

This is missing from many business sites because the owners haven't done the strategic thinking necessary to figure that out, she says.

A clear sense of what your company offers
It's incredible how many sites you visit and you're not sure what the company offers. Make it a priority on your home page to provide at least general information about your products and/or services, with links to specifics on a Products or Services page.

Many service-oriented companies are concerned about divulging too much information about their offerings, for competitive reasons. Some also feel that consumers will have no reason to contact them by phone if they get all they need from the website. There's a balance that needs to be reached in giving the potential customer enough info to make a buying decision. More often than not, consumers will not contact a company for the missing product information--they'll just move on to a competitor.

Contact information, including a phone number and physical location.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but many companies are purposely vague about their location. Some prefer to do all of their business online and see no need to publish an address or phone number. Others are home-based or they worry that giving an address will somehow hinder them.

This is a must, and its one small way of building credibility and trust with the consumer. A phone number, a street address and even pictures go a long way toward building credibility.

Showing a physical location, even one that no one will ever visit, comforts a customer that your business is real and legitimate. Provide a phone number that maps to that location, rather than just an 0800 number.

Third-party validation
This means customer testimonials, client lists, case studies, awards and recognition you've received, positive news clippings and the like. Potential customers indeed want to know who you do business with, and what current customers have to say about their experiences. Such items forge the underpinnings of trust.

Client lists are especially important if your customers are businesses. If you've got some big-name customers, people like to see that. But make sure you get approval from those you list as clients.

Having a presence on social networking sites and blogs, especially those serving your industry, is an increasingly popular form of validation among customers. Social networking now has strong validation.

Secure Socket Layer (SSL)
SSL is an encryption system that helps protect the privacy of data exchanged between a customer and a website. If you have an e-commerce site that takes credit card information, customers want to know that their sensitive data is encrypted. Get SSL if you don't have it. If you do, let customers know that and about any other safeguards you pro-actively take.

Ease of use and navigation
If people can't find it, they can't buy it. Keeping sites "crisp, clean, and easy to navigate" but also for site owners to study traffic and usage patterns to adjust their sites based on what visitors are visiting for.
The ability to search a site is very important. Businesses should study their search data to see if there are trends and what to make front and centre.

Clear guidance on your processes
Let customers know, step-by-step, important things such as how to order--and where to go and what to do should something happen out of the ordinary. Customers also want to know of any potential additional costs and procedures.
Last but not least, customers want to know how you handle complaints and problems and whether you have a money-back guarantee.

Your processes can be described in a FAQ (frequently asked questions) page or separate "how to order," shipping and/or confirmation pages. Include a way customers can contact your business or have an order status tracking process.

An ability to give feedback
Encourage feedback about your products and services, your ordering process and your site in general, by providing a feedback mechanism--either feedback forms or e-mail links. Not every small business prefers to offer this, in some cases because of resource constraints. You definitely want to look at how and what feedback to gather, and you should consider offering an incentive or perk to the customer. You might get some good stories to feature on your site or in your blog.

Clear calls to action
Customers want signs or buttons in order to act, be it "Buy now" or "Sign up for our newsletter" or "Click here for more information." But many small-business sites don't provide calls to action or they don't present them clearly enough. If you have a captive audience, this is the time to grab them!

Special offers and personalization
By personalizing a sale with a special offer, incentive or coupon, small businesses can gain an edge on their bigger counterpart. This can be as simple as a hand-written thank-you note, free gift wrap services or a special offer for repeat business.

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