Is a website worth it? Can you shine online?

 
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Whether you are running a small plumbing, heating, electrical or installation business or you are a sole trader it is likely you have considered the question, “is it worth having a website?” . This looks at whether the effort and cost make it worthwhile.

The dilemma

The value from having your own website isn’t always clear. That’s especially true if your business has been running smoothly without one. While a degree of cynicism about additional costs is a good trait for anyone in business, it’s also worth giving new things a thought. After all, if we never tried anything new we would all be in caves.

A website not only provides an online presence. It also lets you set out your stall on what you do and how well you do it. It’s under your control, rather than some third party.

If you are an established business your details are almost certainly online now. The question is simply whether you want someone else deciding what is said about your business.

Websites vary hugely in size and cost and many installers can benefit even from a one or two-page site, which should come in at the bottom of the cost scale.

The benefits

Recently, Powered Now, my company, surveyed more than 1,000 home owners about their relationship with tradesmen. One of the questions asked was how they found trades companies to do work for them. Not surprisingly, more than 70% had used companies they already knew or that had been recommended by a friend.

Interestingly around 18% had simply searched on Google or another search engine. Search engines mostly find companies that have their own websites. If you do the maths, that means that on average if you used both word of mouth and search engines to generate business, around one in five jobs would come through search engines. Since lots of companies either don’t have websites or have poor ones that they fail to promote, there is even more potential. You are obviously much more likely to win a chunk of this business with a high-ranking website of your own.

With your own site, you can make sure that everything is accurate and you can promote your business to prospects by providing testimonials from customers, pictures of you and your team and more.

When someone searches specifically for you they should find your site and your details. This shouldn’t be found in a long list with lots of other competitors. As Matthew Stevenson, who runs a fast-growing landscaping service, The Landscape Company, says “We get a lot of our business through our website but we have had to work hard at promoting it”. That’s one of the key points, to make the most of your website you need to promote it. Simply putting it there doesn’t mean that prospects will come.

The cost versus benefit of a website

We’ve discussed the benefits but the best way to think about having a website is to weigh the hassle and cost in contrast to those benefits.

The cost side probably consists of either enlisting a professional to build the site or the hassle of doing it yourself. In both cases you will also have to take time writing text and gathering pictures, as well as the work to keep it up to date after that.

Then there’s the effort to promote it. At the basic level this means putting the website address on everything like your van, any signs you put up at premises where you are doing jobs, in the signature at the end of emails and on business cards. Beyond that you might do some “search engine optimisation” which either means paying an expert or going through a steep learning curve yourself. Then there’s even more that you can do, such as advertising on Google and Facebook.

When it comes to it, the decision on a website is fairly simple. If you always have enough work and don’t wish to grow your business, you have no need to get your own website. A simple Facebook page should do, especially as it’s free, just to ensure that people can connect with you with your latest contact details.

If you are ambitious and want to drive up sales, your own website becomes a must. Sure, you may be growing purely from recommendation, but you are throwing away quite a lot of additional growth if you don’t make a decent website a priority.

What should go on a website?

The first thing to think about is the questions that potential customers are likely to be asking, as this is what you need to bear in mind first and foremost:

•Can you provide the service I am looking for? For instance, if you are an installer, do you do domestic or commercial installations? Do you do emergency out-of-hours call outs?

•Can you provide the service where I live or work?

•Can I trust you to do a great job at a reasonable price?

The first two call for facts, but the last will be decided mostly by the emotions that your website creates. That’s where pictures and testimonials come in.

So, most websites should have as a minimum:

•Something to try to establish the feel of your business. This should be on your home page. For instance, are you small and friendly or big and ultra-professional (and maybe ultra-expensive)

•Be specific about what services you provide in what areas

•Provide clear contact details

•Have customer testimonials

•Mention trade associations, qualifications and any warranties that can be provided with your work

•Show pictures of your work illustrating how tidy and professional it is, preferably with before and after pictures

Some example sites of trades companies

The following are some sites of real trade companies. These may provide some food for thought:

Sole Trader - http://handyguybuilds.weebly.com

Ten-person gas company - http://www.town-gas.co.uk

A moderate sized landscaping company - http://thelandscapecompany.org.uk

Big boys - http://www.pimlicoplumbers.com I have to say that I think that Charlie Mullins who founded this company is a genius at self-promotion.

Putting your website together

The best result for your website is likely to come from a recommended local web designer. After all, every installer fully understands the difference between an amateur and a professional.

There will be a cost, and you will still need to gather high quality pictures of you and your team, previous jobs and so on to pass to the web designer to use on the site. Of course, you could use a professional photographer if you are really serious.

It’s also possible to do-it-yourself using services like Wix.com, Wordpress.com, or Moonfruit.com. These are remarkably powerful at building websites but you will have to learn how to use them. Note that you will only get the best results if you have a good eye for design.

An alternative to a website is to create a free business page on Facebook. This provides some control and you can still give full details of your company. Customers or competitors may post disparaging comments so you have to stay on your toes to delete them quickly.

As a recap, it’s important to think about what your prospects will want when they arrive at your site. I believe that you need to answer these questions:

•What size of business are you? Are you a big firm (and possibly expensive) aiming at complex commercial projects, or are you small, local and friendly aiming at homeowners? Try to make this clear.

•Do you provide the service I need? Make sure you list any specialisms that you might have with more detail. Specialisms are likely to sustain higher prices.

•Do you provide service in my area? Remember that anyone in the UK (or overseas) may find your site so be clear about where you will and won’t work.

•How do I know you will do a good job for a fair price? Customer testimonials, before and after photos of your work, a decent picture of you and your team (at work perhaps) and the design/feel of your website will help here.

•How do I contact you? Give your phone numbers and an email address as a minimum.

Please make a decision

The internet has radically changed our world and the rapid fall from grace of Yellow Pages provides one good example of this change. It’s vital not to let things just pass us by. It may be right to decide not to have your own website, but please make this a definite decision rather than letting it happen by default. All the best.

Emma Dyer