Sydney Business Web – Finalists in the Bx Business Excellence Awards

We are honored and delighted to be finalists in the Bx Annual Business Awards - Marketing.

Thanks for the votes and consideration to everyone concerned. We are absolutely over the Moon with this. Congratulations to all the other entrants and finalists.

The awards will be made at a ceremony  in December.

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Small Business and Cold Calling – Some Cold Facts

cold calling

Cold Calling - Should We Be So Dismissive?

Cold Calling - Most of us hate Cold Calls - Should We?

Last week, I decided to place my finger on the pulse of small business by doing some cold calling. I'm an engineer and manager by profession and inclination, so I always find cold calling hard on my psyche. I always get through it though by using the following rules:

Rules for Cold Calling

  1. 1
    Always make sure to have a specific offer for a specific client type - never, ever call anyone blindly.
  2. 2
    Be brief, professional and to the point
  3. 3
    Research each lead so that you are familiar with the nature of the business and why it needs what you offer
  4. 4
    Always be polite and respectful
  5. 5
    Always be crystal clear - rehearse your call until a friend or colleague tells you it's good to go
  6. 6
    If you irritate someone - apologize sincerely and sign off. Never call that business again. 

My Cold Calling Preparation for Hairdressers

Choosing the niche for cold calls

I decided that instead of my usual customer base of professionals (builders, architects, tech companies etc), I would focus on one type of local business. To that end I chose hairdressers because they are often passionate about their business,  have a very localised operation and competition can be tough.

Choosing the Offer

We have currently offered a one-off set of 24 unique, custom built websites with hosting for a year, SSl and 4 pages all included. We will also install Google Maps, contact forms etc.  We think that this is  a great deal.

Choosing the subniche for cold calls

Clearly, we need not to call hairdressers who already have good web presence and websites - that's just being an unwanted pest. So we decided to call only hairdressers who have no website at all. We found 25 such businesses, all represented on GMB - Google My Business.

Getting the Business Information before cold calling

Before making each call, we extracted information from GMB - the address, the owner's name if possible, the number of reviews and star review rating, and how long ago the last review was made. Here's a typical display I work from (click for full size):

Cold Calling gmb business check

Cold Calling GMB Check Data

Warning for Wannabe Reluctant Cold Callers

Set yourself a time frame to make your calls. Like you, I find it daunting and my brain is enormously creative in the ways it gets me to delay starting - there's always yet another technical task to complete or some aspect of preparation not ready nand suddenly - 'I'll do it tomorrow'! remember - procrastination is the thief of opportunity.

Why We Hate Receiving Cold Calls

The fact is, we hate cold calls because the majority of them are concerned with something we never wanted, don't want and will never want. For instance, we are a reputable and experienced SEO provider and yet we get at least 6 calls and two dozen emails every week selling us services we sell ourselves- irritating.  That's why we do research before calling anyone!

The Cold Calling Scam Alert Radar

We remain receptive to calls offering things that might really be useful for our business - but because our scam-radars are always on high alert, whoever calls needs to be crisp, professional and fast to get back our automated response 'go away' (politely). The fate of a call to us or a call we make to someone else is decided inside two seconds.

Our Findings on a Sample set of  25 Cold Calls to Hairdressing Businesses

  • 25% of the business listed without websites had gone out of business (!!)
  • The mere mention of 'Website' or 'SEO' was toxic and caused very pleasant people to get rid of the phone as though it burned! 
  • Five percent of businesses told us they were 'very busy' and would never need online help

So - we weren't able to find any business on that round of cold calling, but having said that:

  • Normal success rates for cold calling activities are 1% to 2.5% so on a sample of 25 we were not likely to find any business
  • All the people were polite and open to talking until we mentioned the dread word 'website'
  • We had not pre-warmed these leads in any way - more on that later.

This quotation really says it all: 

"“Doing cold calls is like taking your suitcase and going door to door trying to sell something. There’s always someone crazy enough to buy, but most of the doors are not opened” - Leadfeeder

So Why did I make Those Cold Calls?

That's easy to answer. I wanted to get a feel for some local businesses that have definitely suffered through Covid, to see what their awareness of online business was. I did not expect much but  did convey my excitement at the offer I was making and how much they might benefit. The calls kept me in touch.

Will I be Making More Cold Calls?

Yes, but only about ten per day or 200 per month in various industries. That should give me two convertible leads per month from cold calling. It take a little time to prepare for each call, so as a main method of marketing, in the sector we are in, it's not the best investment in time.

Why Should I Tolerate Cold Calls at All?

Because a small percentage of those calls might be really useful for you and the people making the calls are also just trying, like you, to make a living.  Believe me, for some unknown reason that defies logic, it takes a deep breath and some courage for most people to pick up that phone and start calling. At least show a little kindness- and I am pleased to say that most people do.

I sincerely believe that the fact that 25% of the businesses we called were no longer operating had no website or SEO - they could have been helped at a very modest cost. This applies to many businesses.

Putting Cold Calling in Context

Cold calling is said to be 'dead' by many, but that really depends how you look on it. In many of our marketing activities, we use email and monitor the link clicks, which are often a good indication of interest - and only then do we cold call, so the lead may be said to be warm rather than cold.

The amount if time it takes to prepare properly for cold calling can be restrictive, and the more effort it takes, the bigger the psychological toll is taken when the methods fail. However, cold calling instills a sense of reality in the marketer, an experience that cannot be obtained from the detached process of emailing. As such, it's a very important training tool when it comes to understanding customers and the market.

The Toxic marketplace for Cold Calling

If you are going to try cold calling for your business (and we recommend you do for the reasons given above), then do see if you can construct a narrative avoiding toxic words and modes of expression. 

Final Words

All we can say is - good luck and God Bless!

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Calculating Online Investment and Profit for an eCommerce Business Website

Right now, it seems that every man, woman and pet monkey wants to jump into eCommerce with an eCommerce Business Website and get their business online. And why not? Many of the changes caused by the Covid pandemic will be permanent. Are you ready for the challenge?

A Typical Business Moving Online

We have built online properties of various types, including eCommerce Business Websites for a range of companies. But we can't write an article about them all, so in this article, we'll focus on one type of company , and refer to others as helpfully as we can. We'll doubtless write full articles on other types of business soon.

Welcome To Julie's Home Jewelry

Julie lives in Sydney. She's been  retailing and making beautiful home-crafted jewelry for a few years and selling through local stores and a network of friends.  In particular, her moonstone bracelets are selling well. She wants to grow her business without the expense of opening her own store and to take a greater profit than she does from local stores. She has a reliable supplier  and wants to increase sales - the capacity exists but the sales channels are not sufficient.

The latter point is important -

 "...if you are selling product and do not have the capacity to supply more, then there's really no point in moving online, unless it will make a substantial difference to your profits - and it's the journey to profitability we are discussing today." - Keith Rowley

First Considerations for an eCommerce Business Website

Current Business Summary


Selling Price

Cost price

Gross Margin

Average product

$45

$10

$35

Let's say that July is selling 50 of these moonstone bracelets per month, and has the capacity to supply another 150/month. This seems like a good opportunity. But is it? At those prices, she stands to gross an additional $5,250/month (Gross Profit before advertising costs) if she can sell all of them. Let's take a closer look at this.

What Julia wants to Sell Online

Julia is selling a Moonstone Bracelet as shown here:

moonstone bracelet on an eCommerce Business Website

Image belongs to WISH - Follow link to buy! (We do NOT own this image or product)

Goals for Julia's eCommerce Business Website

  1. 1
    To sell 150 Moonstone Bracelets per month
  2. 2
    To plan and achieve a net profit of $20 per item minimum (allowing $15 per item for advertising costs)
  3. 3
    To sell the bracelets nationally across Australia, not just locally as she is currently doing.

Getting Business Started Online : The First Mistakes

This is where 99% of business people make a huge mistake and immediately lunge to buy an eCommerce Business Website. Then they make the second mistake and immediately search for the cheapest supplier.

"Do NOT Assume You Need an eCommerce Business Website - Do the Numbers First" - Keith Rowley

Things to Consider before an eCommerce Business Website

The only objective of a eCommerce Business Website is to get your product in front of customers. No matter which method you choose, you will face competition. Here are some methods of presenting your products online along with the main methods you can use to promote them. As you will see, we do NOT recommend all the options in the table, but they are there so that we can explain.

Online Sales Platforms and Promotion Methods

Sales Platform

Promotion Method 1

Promotion Method 2

promotion Method 3

eCommerce Business Website

Facebook Ads

Shopify Store

SEO

Google Ads

Facebook Ads

Amazon Store

Amazon Ads

SEO

Google Ads

Facebook Store

Facebook Ads

SEO

Google Ads

The Facebook Store

Here are the key points for selling products on Facebook:

"To sell products on Facebook, you first need a dedicated Facebook page for your business (not your personal page). Next, either connect your ecommerce platform to Facebook or upload your product category manually. Then, you’ll have to market your products and your Facebook Shop through ads, contests, and boosted posts."  - Fitsmallbusiness.com

So it's clear that you need an eCommerce platform (eCommerce Business Website or other options as noted below) to enable setting up a Facebook shop. We therefore consider that a Facebook shop is a great place to expand your shopping efforts to, but is not your first point of call to establish online sales. However, unless you live in the USA, you cannot accept payments on a Facebook shop, so even with a Facebook  shop, you need another platform. 

A Shopify Store Platform

This is a popular way to set up a eCommerce Business Website. We won't go into the technicalities here as our focus is on cost, save to say that we think that most people who are comfortable with computers should be able to set up a basic store without help.

The basic costs US$30 per month (AU$43/month). However, that is basic and as soon as you learn about other features needed to make your store more attractive and improve conversion, you start paying for plugins' that charge a monthly fee. We found that our monthly bill easily increased to around AU$75/month which is A$900 per annum.

Of course, there are other eCommerce  Business Websites stores like Shopify you can use, but for cost illustration purposes, we'll stop at that and move on. The key point is that Shopify will cost you around A$900 per annum - forever!

Selling on Amazon FBA and Self-Fulfillment

Selling on Amazon is a journey and requires considerable time to learn how to get products into the store, price them properly and advertise. A professional Amazon account costs US$40 or A$57 monthly - but that's just an admin fee so we need to take a closer look and at the FBA program and seller-fulfillment in particular.

The Amazon FBA Program means 'Fulfilled by Amazon' which means that once your items have been received into Amazon's warehouses, Amazon takes it from there and takes orders, delivers and so on. With 'Your Fulfillment' you sell on Amazon but ship yourself. 

However, Amazon also provides refunds to customers at the drop of a hat, and you have to factor in such losses. Here is a Amazon FBA and 'Your Fulfillment' calculation. The cost of the product to Julie is shown as $10 - the rest is self explanatory.

fba calculator

On the surface this looks great, either with or without FBA but here are the problems we found when selling on Amazon instead of of selling on our own eCommerce Business Website.:

  • The downward price pressure on Amazon from other sellers is relentless - absolutely relentless. You need really unique products to avoid this.
  • Amazon advertising costs are not  shown. They are not cheap and they eat into your profit. Looking at the calculation above, after paying Amazon, you have between $23 and $26 left to pay for advertising and make a profit, depending on which way you fulfil the order.
  • If your product is not in the 'Buy Box' then people won't see it let alone buy it - thus the Amazon Ads costs are inevitable.
  • Amazon has a 'no quibble refunds policy' that heavily favors customers over buyers.
  • There is no guarantee that if your product really takes off, that Amazon won't simply copy it and sell it under their own brand - although Amazon denies this very strongly. For very small sellers this is no issue. 
  • Amazon can disallow or restrict your product at any time and simply stop you selling. You then have to pay for the removal and/or disposal of your inventory. 

Amazon Ad Costs

The key point to note in this example is that net profit is now around $23 - $26 per item depending on FBS or non FBA sales. The profit target that Julie has is $20 per item, and before advertising, she meets this. But she will certainly NOT meet this target when Amazon advertising costs are added.

In this project, Julie wants to sell 150 items per month.  Let's assume that that's 5 per day. At five per day, and $20 profit each we see $100 per day total profit after Amazon costs. Our experience shows us that we would need to spend at least $50.  Here are some independent numbers from another cool site, shoppingfeed (converted to A$):

  • Average Cost Per Click: $1.38 (For a High Volume Seller - So real costs will be higher) 
  • ACOS - Average Advertising Cost of Sales: 34%

Those figures are critical. A click does not mean a sale. Let's say you get 10% conversion from clicks to sales (which is very good), then each sale will be costing you $13.80. Julies's net profit has now dropped to $6.20. If the conversion rate is 5% (which we think is normal for most products) then Julie is running at a loss.

We've been through this with a $10k branded product investment and despite working the numbers quite assiduously, we lost money.

The Upside of Amazon vs an eCommerce Business Website

  • You don't need a website
  • You don't need SEO
  • Every person on Amazon is there to buy - not to get information or anything else - just to buy
  • FBA takes all the delivery tasks off your hands at a fair cost and frees you to look after your business
  • The communications with sellers is excellent - they will always let you know what's going on and the records of stock and sales is superb.
  • Once you are used to it, selling on Amazon is fun!

The Downside of Amazon

Amazon vs eCommerce Business W
  • Intensely price competitive - many vendors have auto-software that will undercut your prices automatically. Many don't mind making a loss for a while just  to get rid of competition.
  • You can be banned at any time
  • All the fees together + advertising costs make it tough to make a profit
  • You must budget for customer returns beyond what you might expect. Amazon tries to be fair but their customer comes first always. 
  • If you are very successful, some people have claimed that Amazon cloned their product - we do not know if this is true and Amazon denies it. Do your research.
  • You will need to learn how to get stock into Amazon's warehouse. The system is actually excellent so this is not really a down-point - just learning. 
  • If your stock does not sell fast enough, Amazon will charge you storage fees.

On our first attempt at selling a branded product from China, we invested around $10k and lost about 25%. We were novices and we could have done better. We also entered the most competitive niche on the whole site - Essential Oils and Diffusers.  Try it with a slow start if you go this route! We suggest an initial investment no greater than $500 for newbies - and write that off as school fees just in case!

Your Own eCommerce Business Website

This is often, and quite naturally, the first port of call for those starting off their eCommerce adventure.  We're going to start by referring you to our article on what an eCommerce Business Website is so that we don't repeat ourselves here. Just click on the image to catch up if you need to:

ecommerce Business website

A PAGE FROM OUR ECOMMERCE SITE MYSTICAL BREATH

eCommerce Business Website Cost

A competently built eCommerce Business Website will cost around $4000 from most reputable and capable design houses.  This is a capital cost that you can write off against taxes over three years. The design house may include hosting, logo design and support or may not - be sure so that you don't have unbudgeted costs. Here's a list of factors that will determine costs:

  • Number of products to be listed
  • Number of product images needed
  • Type of payment mechanism
  • Level of SEO on-site implementation
  • Logo design if required - Budget around $250
  • Hosting (good hosting essential  (budget around $20/month including basic support)

So you have your website up, and the running costs are known. What are the other expenses and how do you make a profit? These tables will help and should be  self-explanatory. First though, some typical data if we advertise on Facebook:

  1. 1
    Facebook Ad Cost per Thousand Views (CPM): $25 (which is reasonable for a good ad despite what others say - we've been running ads for years. our ads usually start at a CPM of up to $80 which decreases over a couple of days for our best ads.)
  2. 2
    Facebook Ad Clicks per Thousand Views at 5% Click Through Rate (CTR) - this is good. The average CTR for all industries is 0.9% 
  3. 3
    Daily Ads Budget $50 (work up to this and more after finding an ad that works. In general start on $10/day)
  4. 4
    For our daily budget, we get 2000 views per day and 100 Clicks 

So we have purchased 100 clicks per day to our product on out website. But what is our website conversion from visitors to purchasers?  Across industries, the average landing page conversion rate was 2.35%, yet the top 25% are converting at 5.31% or higher (Wordstream). We'll work on 2.0% for convenience. 

This gives us 2.0 sales for our $50 daily budget. At a pre-advertising GP   of $35 per product we have a profit of $70-$50 = $20. 

The important thing about this result is that you have an ad that is at least profitable and as such it can be scaled up. A good Ad with lots of comments and likes will drop the CPM a lot - maybe down as low as $8 when it really gets going. 

Free Ads Profit Calculator (Use for Facebook or Similar CPM Ad Platform)

This should be useful for you. Just enter data as you would for any calculator - it's live and it works.

So let's see where we are with Julie now and enter the following numbers into the calculator above:

  • Gross profit on product $35 (selling price - cost price)
  • Ad Cost CPM $25
  • Ad Click Through Rate 5(%)
  • Website Conversion Rate 2.5 (%)
  • Daily Budget: $20

Done it? What the numbers show is that at these performance levels, Julie is selling one product a day at a cost of $20 in advertising.  So her net profit is now $15 reduced from $35 and she's only selling one per day.

Reducing the Ad CPM and Increasing the Budget

Now let's assume the ad gets better and better over a few days and the algorithm learns, and keep the budget the same but drop the CPM cost to $15.

What we now see is that sales are two per day, with a net profit each of $26.75 or $53 per day.

Your eCommerce Business Website profitability is hugely dependent on the quality of your ads and the resultant CPM on Facebook!

But Julie needs to sell 5 per day, so we need to increase the advertising budget - now that we know the ad is profitable - not before!  Using the calculator with the  daily budget set to $50/day.

We now see the following:

  • Daily Sales: 5.2 Units
  • Net profit Daily $132 or $25 per item

NOTE: IF YOU USE FACEBOK ADS ONLY INCREASE THE DAILY AD BUDGET ON AN AD THAT PEFFROMS WELL BY ABOUT 10% - 15% PER DAY. IF YOU INCREASE TOO MUCH TOO SOON, THE AD WILL START IT LEARNING PHASE ALL OVER AGAIN AND SALES WILL DROP - ANFD MAYBE NOT RECOVER.

That's enough on Facebook!

Using SEO Profitably on an eCommerce Business Website

SEO profitability calculations are a bit more involved but still essentially simple. We use arithmetic not mathematics! Here is the starting sequence of activities before Julie or you should spend anything at all. bear in mind that SEO campaigns take 2 to 3 months to show results - just the first movements in your ranking.

  • Decide on local SEO or National SEO
  • Determine the keywords that people are searching for using search volume and intent to purchase as the key factors 
  • Determine how competitive those keywords are
  • Calculate how many visitors a month you need to create the volume of sales you need for the conversion rates to expect. 
  • Look for your competitors and analyze their websites - how authoritative, location of business, links etc. Benchmark your own website and see where you stand in the search engine rankings 
  • Look for low-hanging fruit in the keywords
  • Decide if this is for you! If you are not confident or do not intend to be in the business in a year's time then rather use advertising than SEO. You may wish to use advertising anyway at the beginning until you are getting enough organic traffic from your SEO efforts.

Let's look at some examples.

Example SEO Calculations for Profitability on an eCommerce Business Website

Keyword

Search Volume (Semrush)

Difficulty/

Competition

Cost Per Click A$ (Google Ads)

Moonstone Bracelet

210

High (82%)

0.45

Georg Jensen Moonstone Bracelet

90

medium (50%)

0.0

Moonstone Engagement Ring

50

High (80%)

0.0

What we have here is a very competitive, very low volume keyword. It's competitive because it's a definite product that people search for and it has no geographical anchor for the seller, so the competition is nation-wide. Furthermore, the search results page are an absolute nightmare for a seller using normal SEO. look at this:

Australian Search results

The whole top of the page is dominated by ADS. After that, the top ranking site is etsy -  a major player that's very, very hard to beat - and simply not worth the effort with this product. 

In a nutshell, this product will simply not make money from SEO investment and it's hard to see how the advertised products do either! Remember - those search numbers are monthly nationwide for Australia!

What Should Julia Invest her SEO Spend in then?

Unless she has a highly profitable product with high search volumes, Julia needs to go both local and generic. She should not be spending money on SEO for this product, but rather using advertising to profit from impulse buyers. If she wants to benefit from SEO she needs to define:

  • A Niche in the jewelry  market with multiple products e.g. Christian Jewelry, Indigenous Jewelry etc
  • Keywords for the national market - volumes, competition
  • A 'expert niche' blog so that she can gain Google's trust as an expert in the niche and provide customers with background information on products

Having done these things, Julie should plan an initial six month SEO exercise, using the methods shown above, planning costs and profit every month. 

Conclusions

Never 'jump' into an eCommerce adventure without a full-on business plan that includes investigation into the sales channels available. It's that simple - and that hard. Have fun.

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Email Marketing – Is it suitable for your business?

Email Marketing: In one guise or another, we've been in business a long time, and we're pretty damn sensitive to how people feel when they receive unsolicited calls and emails. In our current business, the problem is acute. Just about every business owner in Australia, including us of course, receives a torrent of unsolicited, time-wasting, low quality offers of websites and SEO' every single day.

We really do know how you feel about this. We try hard - really hard - to be polite to the people who call us as we're having dinner and ask us yet again '...am I talking to the owner of "Sydney Business Web ?" Would you like to be on first page of Google?" (sic). 

We try hard because we know that the poor sod on the other end of the line is just trying to make a living, as we are ourselves. However, as a justified exception, when we receive scam calls, we have endless fun asking "where's my free toaster?" and "do you realize you are speaking to a police officer?"! But that's a different although very funny story (we love winding up scammers!).

Why do People Use Email Marketing?

Like me, you probably go through your email pile every morning and delete everything you don't recognize, unless it has a really striking headline relevant to you and your industry  (and even  then it almost always disappoints you anyway). You also delete everything with a heading like 'SEO proposal', 'Pay for results only', page 1 of Google', and 'free webinar will make you millions'! I can't even write these things without laughing.

So why do people do it? Why oh why oh why? Well here's the thing:

The Upside of e Email Marketing

  • On average, across all industries, marketing emails have an open rate of 16% and a click-through rate of  7% (You can verify these numbers here. So if you send out ten thousand emails, you are going, on average, to get seven hundred sets of eyeballs on your offer. At a conversion rate of only two percent, that means 14 sales. if you are selling high value items at  $1000 each, then this is a money-making strategy. Obviously the numbers differ for low value items. And if you are a clever marketer, targeting customers who might really need your product with a genuinely great offer, the conversion will be far higher - maybe as high as 7%. 
  • Email marketing is cheap. A SMTP (don't worry about that if you don't know what it is  - it's geekspeak) account can give you up to three hundred free emails a day (we're thinking of our own new account with Sendinblue). Of course, you need to set everything up and may need some help with that.
  • A good SMTP account allows you to use mailing lists, add to them automatically, track clicks and upsell and resell. It's a very useful tool for business! 
  • It's not as brutal on the marketer as cold calling
  • SMTP accounts can be linked securely to your own email addresses and to many superb marketing tools such as competition platforms, lead generation platforms and more. The graphical and tracking facilities are not something you want to reinvent!
email marketing

New Email Marketing Panel on Sendinblue

The image above of a Email Marketing  Stats Panel at Sendinblue (click for full size) shows:

  • Contact ID Details
  • Email Open Rate %
  • Email Click Rate %
  • Unsubscribe Rate % (ALL marketing Emails must have this option)
  • Complaints
  • Bounce rate (emails that do no longer exist usually)
  • Date of Email sending

You will no doubt have noticed the SMS facility in that image, but as we haven't used SMS for marketing (yet?) we offer no comment. 

The Downside of eMail Marketing

Email marketers use SMTP email integration ( and other geeky methods) with providers such as Sendinblue and MailChimp because they need website infrastructure that's  set up to send thousands of emails a day, and they need the additional features for list management, sending downloads for newsletters etc. 

It's also safer to work through an SMTP platform than through your own domain, because mass email always runs the risk of getting your IP blacklisted - and suddenly none of your business emails are being delivered because the Spambots are blocking them.  Getting your business IP off a blacklist can take days or weeks, which can obviously damage your business and brand. 

If you get your email provider's IP (web address) blacklisted with your low quality emails they will often shut down your account after a couple of warnings. But they can see it coming - they count the number of rejected emails, bounced emails, complaints and unsubscribes and their tolerance levels are very, very low and they all keep a constant measure of your 'reputation' that you must act on.

Which Businesses Should Use eMail Marketing?

The answer to this is any and every company. As proof of this, 

business types for email marketing

Businesses Using eMail Marketing: Data available at Smartinsights.com

Conclusions and Remarks

if your business is not using eMail marketing, you are almost certainly losing out. However, you will need to identify your customers and not blindly spam every address you can find. You need an ethical code of conduct, genuinely good offers and a tight control over the whole process.

Your spam complaints need to be kept to less than 0.5% and you must never contact those customers again, or the ones who unsubscribe. Your follow-through must be immaculate and your website must have a well designed sales funnel.

This has been a very, very light overview or Email marketing and we will provide a much more in-depth viewpoint when we have time. Hope this gave you a little insight. We have more articles on online marketing for you to explore. Happy Selling!

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Flat Design or Skeuomorphic Design? Strategies for Business Websites

Flat Design or Skeuomorphic Design for Business Websites - The Choice is Yours

Flat vs skeuomorphic design

Flat vs skeuomorphic design - Credit Thrive Themes

What is Flat Design?

Flat Design is the technique used to design  websites and their image artifacts without trying to make them look as though they come from the real world.  You can see in the image above that the Flat Design on the right hand side literally does look flat. The original design (on the left)  is a beautiful 3D skeuomorphic construct with color gradients that looks like a porcelain ball. Which do you prefer? Which ones will impress your customers more? What would the adoption of this technique mean for your business website?

What are the features of a Flat Website Design?

flat design example

FLAT DESIGN EX

The above image shows a quintessential example of flat or minimalistic website design (Please take a look - it has many interesting features). These are the key features:

  • The only 3D or Shadowed elements are the buttons
  • All the images are simple, flat PNG files
  • The carefully selected colors (see below) have no gradients applied
  • There are no 'background images' (such as we have on our own landing page

What are the benefits of Flat Website Design?

Speed

The biggest single benefit of Flat Website Design has to be speed. The simplified construction contains a lot less information than complex pages, but of course there is a price to pay (see below).

Simplicity

A Flat website design website is much easier to maintain and change than a normal/complex/realistic skeuomorphic design.  It has strong appeal to people who enjoy minimalism.

What is the Downside of Flat or Minimalistic Website Design?

These designs, if not precisely crafted with attention to detail, color choices and User Interface (UI) can look amateurish, old-fashioned and cheap. they have limited applications in websites that sell products, but can still be used to good effect with a balanced approach.

Taking a Balanced Design Approach to Business Websites

When our customer decides to use this specifically minimalist website design approach, we do the following:

  • Select a color scheme that matches the brand - use complimentary colors (see below)
  • Design all user interactive artifacts such as buttons with shadow and other features to make the stand off the page
  • Match the color scheme to the logo
  • Use the same flat, minimalistic design throughout the website, but compromise where real images are needed - this will make them stand out beautifully. 

The Role of Color in Website Design

Color is always important in web design, but in flat design, it's downright critical! That's because the low complexity of flat design focuses the mind on color as a key factor:

"One benefit of using complementary colors is that the opposing color naturally draws the viewer's eye. So, if you want to really make a CTA (Call to Action) pop and capture the reader's attention, you should use the opposite color on the color wheel for the CTA. " - Brand Dignity

Color Wheel

Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. You can learn more about the use of colors on this cool site.

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Website Chatbot – Does Your Business Website Need One?

What Happens on Your Business Website Moment to Moment? - Does  Website Chatbot Help?

The first thing we are going to say here is that...

There is no substitute for website speed and organization - which provide a great user experience. 

if  visitors can find what they need on your website within a few seconds and with minimal clicks, then you probably don't need a website chatbot. But how many business websites satisfy those criteria?  When visitors don't find what they need - fast - they simply leave.

Fix Your Business website Speed and before even thinking about a Business Website Chatbot

If your website takes longer than a handful of seconds to visibly load, then don't even think about fancy enhancements like website chatbots - fix your business website first. if it takes your visitor more than two clicks to find what he/she is looking for on your website - again, forget the enhancements - fix your business website first.

What Do Customers Need on Business Websites?

Requirement

Solution

Eye-Magnets that get customers to the information they need

Purposeful, eye-catching  visuals with links to content

Fast access to information

1) Website speed, speed and more speed.

2) Professional topology design - never more than 2 clicks to get to what you need

Information not on the website

Chat line (live) or Business Website ChatBot, contact button with form or email link - EASY to see.

Quotations / Estimated costs

Ticky-box form with price calculator; 'request quite' button, or Business Website Chatbot to leave email or phone.

So Why Use a Business Website Chatbot?

Because many people who visit a website don't even want to click once - they want to talk to someone or even something NOW! A business website chatbot can fulfill that need if designed well. Furthermore, a good business website chatbot will be based on AI (artificial intelligence) and will learn and develop more natural dialogue as it is trained by the data generated by customer interaction.

Consumers undoubtedly prefer talking to real people, but when you are not available, a business website  chatbot is a pretty good substitute and it will improve your conversion of visitor to buyer. In other words, it fills a niche on your business website and as such it can be very useful indeed.

"The companies that have failed to integrate chatbots into their business could be missing out on not only pleasing their customers but also growing their sales. By 2023, chatbots are expected to drive more than $100 billion in sales, according to an estimate from Juniper Research. - Mobilemarketer

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Why a Business Website Specification is Vital

Always have a business website specification before work begins

Business Website Specification: This brief post should bring vast amusement to experienced website developers and business owners and managers. We've all been there - right? Well, almost all. A customer wants a website. As he discusses it with his/her developer, a wealth of hitherto unknown requirements and capabilities are exchanged, and notes are made.

More importantly though, an even bigger volume of business needs are simply not raised because the customer has not yet formulated and expressed his/her ideas. 

At this point, the website developer thinks he understands the customer and proceeds with the design. he/she may even include a couple of prototypes for the customer to choose from, and that helps a bit but not a lot for a complex business website -there's more to online business than looking good.

What is a Business Website Specification?

A Business Website Specification is a document agreed and signed off by the developer and the customer as the description of:

a) How the business website will look
  •  Colors: Corporate colors should complement logo
  • Layout: An example website may be used as an approximate guide
  • Images: quantity per page, supplier, customer supplied
  • Menus
  • Header content 
  • Footer content
  • Product images, price presentation, shipping methods and interfaces
  • Social media links
  • Blog options
  • Sidebar content
  • Galleries and sliders
  • Mobile specific changes e.g. omit some large items
  • Additional customer requirements
  • Special content sections - concertinas, sliders, delayed content and whatever the developer may offer or the customer requests.
  • Fonts


b) Business Website Pages
  •  Topic specific pages 
  • Page content (user content or commissioned content)
  • Page images
  • Page internal links to other pages and posts for SEO purposes
  • Page external links for SEO purposes
  • Additional customer requirements
  • Blog requirement - categories and display


c) Business Website Functions (User Business Website Specifications)
  • Shop functions - payments, similar products display
  • Contact forms and contact methods
  • Clickable links to other pages and other sites
  • Popups for email capture 
  • Popups for brochure and data sheet downloads - where and when these popups happen and how they look
  • Clickable contact links
  • Voice search options
  • Document download functions
  • Event Calendars
  • Appointments systems
  • Document uploads
  • Competitions


d) Hidden Website Functions (Technical Business Website Specifications)
  • Fast Caching options 
  • Image optimization
  • Security Options including SSL certificate
  • Google Pixel
  • Facebook Pixel
  • Other pixels


e) Onsite SEO
  • Meta data options for posts and pages  (snippets) and products
  • keyword optimization for content
  • Local or national business structure
  • Name Address Phone options for business structure
f) Training and Documentation and Support
  • User manual contents
  • Training hours
  • Warranties
  • Support contract.
f) Off Site Services and  Products that every website needs in some measure
  • Hosting - the host is where your website exists
  • Domain - your website domain is where it all begins
  • SEO - if you need your business website to rank on Google - you need SEO - links, guest posts, press releases and much more. Caveat Emptor! This is a field replete with scams so be really careful.
  • High quality Images
  • Social media pages and servicing
  • Social media advertising
  • YouTube Channel
  • Google my business page

At first, this looks like a lot to some customers who 'just want a website'!  But that's the problem, even a relatively simple business website is ultimately complex beneath its surface. Color is important, correctly placed buttons are important, content is important,  good servers are important, website speed is important, meta data is important - and so on. 

Clearly, a simple two page website is nothing like as complicated, but a business website can be very complex and without a business website specification the job will sometimes be half done to the client and completed in the eyes of the developer - "another 45 products? -  a popup to capture emails? - a maintenance manual? -  an email reminder for abandoned carts? - GST? Shipping system? logo? - the list of what can be overlooked is endless. 

Designer Reticence 

One of the problems in this field is designer reticence to specify a website properly. Many want to use cookie-cutters to keep costs down and others just assume they know what the customer wants. these are avoidable problems.

Customer Reticence

The owners owners and managers of medium to large sized businesses are most often the most informed and easiest to negotiate with. They understand that more functions cost more money and will pay for competent business website specifications, competent project management and a high quality end product.

Start-ups and solopreneurs often need a good deal of convincing that the website they need will cost a lot more than they imagined. Then, a small, hungry agency that needs the business sometimes makes a dreadful error and promises a website that cannot be delivered for the money available - and spends weeks developing and losing heart, developing and losing heart, killing his/her own business in the process. 

Over-Promising

This is a serious problem when it occurs.  On occasion,  due to a lack of a business website development specification, the developer promises to deliver something which  he / she (and sometimes no one else) cannot deliver! The descriptions are vague and and the implementation is difficult or not realizable.

One example of this might be an interface to a diamond supplier. There is software available to implement this, but it is complex and beyond the scope of what many designers feel comfortable with. A business website specification is essential.

How do I Simplify a Business Website Specification?

If you are a customer, you simply make a detailed list of all your requirements, get some example websites and then discuss it with the developer. It is up to the developer to offer you more options and write the specification which you both sign off at the agreed price. 

To Help You to Prepare

We prepared a downloadable document, '16 Questions to Ask a Web Designer'. You are free to download and use.

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Google Featured Snippets

Google Featured Snippet

What Are Featured Snippets?

Google Featured Snippets - we noticed ours for the first time today and obviously, we're delighted. The image above shows our snippet, the result of a Google search for 'Business websites Sydney', which is what we've optimized our website for. But what is a Google Featured Snippet and how did we get it?

"Featured snippets are selected search results that are featured on top of Google's organic results below the ads in a box.
Featured snippets aim at answering the user's question right away (hence their other well-known name, "answer boxes"). Being featured means getting additional brand exposure in search results." - quoted from MOZ

Do Featured Snippets Help Business?

Yes. Featured pages have a far higher click-through rate than unfeatured pages. According to research by Search Engine Land, featured snippets get 8% of all clicks for the search term in question - and that can be a lot of business.

How do I get  Featured Snippets for my Business Website?

  1. Have some results in Google's top 10 i.e. page one.  This seems to be the first filter.
  2. Make sure you website is free of penalties, has unique, high quality content and is properly structured for SEO internally. This means consistent and correct use of meta data - meta descriptions, titles, headings, and alt text, titles and captions on images. Be Meticulous!
  3. If appropriate, use question and answer formats on your target pages. 

The whole purpose of Google Featured Snippets is to provide searchers with fast, simplified and clear answers to queries - so make sure your target page is fast, to the point, properly structured and ranking somewhere on page 1.

How Does Google Read The Data for the Featured Snippet?

I must admit that this surprised us a bit! The data you see in our Google Featured Snippet is from two three separate sources on the landing page of our website:

  1. The page meta description (snippet)
  2. The new slider we'd placed on the page just a  few days ago (our slides of business websites we have completed)
  3. A Bordered block of text and images below the slider (the photo of me)

This is one of those cases that a slider really benefited us in more ways than one!

Wishing you well in the online wars for business!

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What Does a Small Business Need Most – Business Development or Just Plain Selling?

business development

What Does a Small Business Need Most – Business Development or Just Plain Selling?

During my years in the corporate world, I witnessed significant misuse of the term ‘business development’ and of the people who carried the title associated with this activity – business development manager.  I really thought I knew my way around such corporate-speak terms and to an extent, I suppose I did, but when I entered the world of small business on my own, my understanding changed quite radically.

The lessons I have leaned these past few years have had a profound effect of my understanding of business and business processes. In this post I’m going to focus on Business Development vs Sales.

Starting a Business and Needing Leads

Unless you are positioned to receive leads from your previous employer’s, then no matter how needed and how good your offering is, no matter how well you have differentiated your products and services, the most critical task you face is acquiring  customers. Once you have an established customer base, opportunities multiply, but until then, you NEED SALES ABOVE BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT.

Many of you may disagree with me, but I speak now as the owner operator of a small business, where gaining a sale this month means paying the rent this month! All start-ups and young business go through this phase unless they are prepared to experiment and use up the founders’ savings (which we know all about!).

Sales is not synonymous with Business Development

When we started our business, we did appreciate this, but we made mistakes anyway. Our plan was to pay for leads and win work to cover current costs while we were busy with business development by spreading the good news about our products and services online. And here’s the problem:

Paying for leads in some businesses is the fast road to hell!

Here’s why:

1. Paying for leads to survive becomes a major preoccupation because you write a quotation for every lead which takes a lot of time. So, business development comes to a grinding halt.

2. On websites where you pay for leads, many, if not most the leads come from people with little intent of buying (from anyone) – they are tyre-kickers.

3. On websites where you pay for leads, almost all of the customers are looking for the lowest prices and so even when you spend a great deal of time analyzing their business needs and presenting a professional quotation, they go straight to the bottom line and your effort is wasted. There are strategies for dealing with this, such as including options that only add to the visible cost when ticked, but for generally low value clients, this is simply a waste of time.

We did acquire one very valuable long-term industrial customer over 12 months during which we paid for approximately 100 leads. We also acquired a few more companies and charities who we love working with and who have provided some referrals. But as an overall exercise, the whole period can be written off as a 95% waste. Which brings me to my next point:

It all Depends on what type of Business You Are

At Sydney Business Web, our products and services are for the long term and require close cooperation with our customer. For instance, when we provide SEO services (just one of our offerings) we do an analysis of the competition that our customer’s business faces, how strong or weak its on-site SEO is and where the company needs to grow.

This is complex, but we are well equipped to deal with it both by experience and academic qualification. We don’t sell these solutions to companies that require a $250 miracle’ – and that pretty well describes many of the customers we’ve encountered on paid leads site.  But that doesn’t mean that paid leads are useless for every business or that evrything should stop whie you pursue your business development program.

Companies That Can and Should Use Paid Leads

There are many businesses that are needed by customers in a hurry. For example:

  • Plumbers
  • Electricians
  • Glaziers
  • Locksmiths
  • Gas fitters

These businesses have common factors:

  • To be found on the web at all, they need to rank very high for their category, or they need continuous expensive advertising online.
  • Once they are found, they must be extremely fast and easy to contact
  • The work is short term and often there is no repeat business unless the business manages itself online extremely well and stays in touch with customers throughout the year,
  • To some extent, urgency can overcome price sensitivity
  • The intent to purchase for most searches on the web is very high – often, people don’t search for a domestic electrician unless they need one now.
  • The work is generally B2C rather than B2B.

This is quite different for an architect or a web designer, as should be apparent because these companies simply cannot rely on price-driven short term leads - their business development program and networking should not be delayed for short-term gain. 

What Paid Leads Offer – and what they really do

The company we contracted with presented us with leads that we were promised only went out to five companies.  In practice, we were told by several persons that as soon as they pressed the ‘Go button’, their phone rang and rang and rang! We leave you to draw your own conclusions!

The next problem was that every single lead that popped up on or phone for work in Sydney was simply gone before we could press the response on our phone. This caused endless frustration. When we complained about this, we were offered ‘auto-submit’ on some quotes but then found that the quotes submitted for us were generally for jobs that no one else wanted.

Shortly after that, we abandoned ship and terminated the service – almost a year after we should have done. Mea culpa! Now we are undertaking a focused business wevelopment programn in the manner we should have from the beginning – building relationships and providing value continuously to our customers and contacts. This was an expensive lesson for us. As an aside, here are some notes on the services we have used We won’t name them, but if anyone needs to know confidentially, we will assist – just call or email us.

Paid Listing Services – what they offer and what they really do

When a company is not ranking on Google and needs orders fast, a listing site can fill the gap for a while. Thus, when someone types in ‘builder Caringbah’ it’s possible for your company to rank on a listing site that is highly ranked.

The trouble is that most listing sites, even the best-known ones are just not trusted, and people skip over them. These sites tend to be general purpose listing sites that accommodate everything from architects to zoologists. We’ve broken that pattern with this and set up a new geo-referenced site for the building and  trades industry only.

We did this because we found that despite a professionally designed placement and high ranking on Google, we did not gain even one inquiry in six months from our listing.

Part of the problem for local business is that when somebody searches for a ‘plumber near me’ – they want a result now – not the privilege of reading a list of local providers (to an extent).

Other Solutions to the Ranking Problem

We have analyzed a good deal of data and found that local businesses with related activities are missing out greatly through lack of interconnection. For instance, if a customer needs a plumber, finds a plumber’s website and also needs a local electrician, why can these two businesses not cooperate and make each other visible on each other’s sites? Why can local builders not have a contact forum where they can speak with local architects where they can exchange project information? The answer is – they can – and we have made that possible.

Conclusions on Business Development vs Paid Leads

1. If your business needs business development because your products and services are designed for long-term relationships then paid leads will mainly waste your time.

2. If your business is for urgently needed services, and you are not ranked on Google, then test a paid lead service for a month. If the return is not worthwhile, dump it. Even if the cash ROI is positive, ask yourself how much time you are spending on quotes for ‘tyre kickers.’

3. In our experience, paid listings on general purpose listing sites do not work, at least for businesses such as ours. Others may differ and I am extremely interested to hear your experiences and opinions.

4. Ranking high on search engines, and particularly on google must be a business priority – control your own fate.

5. Don’t sacrifice business development for lead-chasing. Business development will bring you a sale pipeline that is at least partly self-filling, whereas paid leads will eat your time and slow down the growth of your business.

Warning:  This article describes our experience and opinions honestly and openly. Nevertheless, other equally honest and experienced people will doubtless disagree with us in some ways.  So don't take this article as advice - Please consult a range of opinions before acting on any of our statements and do the best job you can of deciding which solutions are best for your business. If you would like to ask us questions, please start the discussion on Linkedin or Facebook. We welcome all your inputs.

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