1. Use a great template
There are so many templates out there now that have a professional look, and many of them are free. Themeforest.net has some incredible templates for sale, some for as low as $4. They also offer a free template every month. The tricky part is that you usually have to use an FTP site to upload these templates into a folder on your web host site. If you know how to do that, then search away!
An easier way to get a great look is to use a platform like WordPress to build your site. They now have hundreds of free templates available for your use. While your site will technically be a "blog", the templates that are available often have "sticky" areas that allow you to create more of a traditional web page look and feel at the top, while still having the functionality of a blog as the user scrolls down. And having a blog format means you will update your site more often with cool content .. right? Because that's what gets noticed, by clients and web crawlers.
2. Build your brand
Having a consistent look is important. If you are building your brand, then be sure and secure your company name in all major social media channels: Facebook Fan page, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. While you may not be using all these outlets right now, you want to secure your business name for the time when you do. Load your logo onto each site and choose the same color scheme so that if clients come across it, they can see a consistent look and feel of your brand.
3. Get your own email
This is one of the best tricks to make you look bigger. Most hosting services allow you to create an email for your domain. For example, if your domain is sesamestreet.com, you could create emails such as firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. This little trick makes it look like you own your own server and makes you look bigger than you are. You can also set up a "help" or "webmaster" account for the website - and the best part - have all of these emails forward to your home account. Check with your webhosting service to see if they allow you to create and forward email domains before you choose them as your provider.
4. Hook it up
The trick of social media is to create content where people "live" and then draw them to your site. Some people like to search photos at Flickr, while some like to cruise all of the new videos on YouTube. Some people are way into Facebook. What this means is that if you want them to come to your website, you need to draw them from those places first. So, if you have photos, you should load them onto Flickr and then link them to your website. If you have video, you should post it on YouTube and then embed it on your site. While this may be more work to create accounts and then hook up these sites (instead of just putting that content directly on your website), you are reaching people where they "live" and allowing them an opportunity to find you on the place where they like to hang out. Make sure that everything you do drives the people back to your website, so remember to include a link with every video or photo and on your profiles.
5. Become an expert
Posting on blogs, Twitter, alumni newsletters, and forums gives you one of the most important things in business: authority. So get out there and write, be interviewed, and provide content and make sure you to link back to your website. You will be happily surprised at how quickly you will come to be viewed as an "expert" and how all those links help to make you a darling on Google.
6. List yourself as a subcontractor for big contracts
There are several websites related to Requests for Proposals for large contracts. One example is BidSync.com which lists nationwide government contracts and government bids. It includes requests for everything from a website redesign for California State University at Monterey Bay (contract value of $67,500) to setting up an electronic debit card system for unemployment and disability payments for the State of California (estimated contract value of several million dollars). Once you sign up, you can list yourself as a "sub seeking prime" on each contract of interest. If you are chosen as part of the winning team, you will be able to add these large government agencies and multi-million dollar contracts to your website client list and appear bigger and better than your competition.
7. Take it Global
One of the benefits of social media is that it can open doors for small businesses to worldwide clients. Social media levels the playing field, so you are only one tweet, post or person away from almost any thought leader in the world. You can use LinkedIn to find the people you want to target and then use the LinkedIn system to keep stepping back person by person until you find someone that knows someone that knows them. Likewise, you can do research on almost anyone using the internet and social media tools. Does your target use FourSquare or Twitter? Follow them and find out where they hang out or spend their evenings and arrange a casual meeting.
8. Get the word out
Using sites that allow users to leave feedback, like Yelp or LinkedIn, can drive more people to your website. Print up a small card to leave on the counter at your business or hand out to clients asking them to give you feedback (be sure and include the web URL for your business reviews on Yelp). Likewise, reach out to happy customers on LinkedIn and ask them to write a testimonial for you. Studies show that people will trust other people over ads three out of four times.
9. Include video on your website
Creating video content may seem difficult and expensive, but it can be easier than you think and it is very effective. Depending on what your business is, you can use everything from a camera phone to hiring a professional video production company to talk about what you do and why you are the best. While the video quality can vary depending on what you do (ie a skateboard shop can use camera phone video, but a bank should pay for higher quality) - the audio should always be clear and understandable. If you have to invest money in anything related to creating web content, buy a good microphone. One success story is a small chair company that started doing videos about the chairs they offered. Within two months, their sales had quadrupled and the employees featured in the videos were asked for by name when customers called.
10. Link to Preferred Partners and vice-versa
One way to generate traffic and increase your offerings is to partner with "Preferred Partners" and work out an agreement on posting weblinks on each other's sites. You don't necessarily have to choose businesses that are related to you - instead, choose people with businesses or products that you like, trust, and would recommend. You can take it even a step further and set up events where you partner together: Lunch and Learns, Happy Hours, Meet-up groups - the possibilities are endless.
Overall, you can appear to be bigger than you are by having a professional website look, consistent brand, and by creating relationships using the internet and social media tools. Now, get out there and do something! As Herb Kelleher from Southwest Airlines once said: "We have a strategic plan, it's called doing things."
Last but not least
All of this professionalism won't do you any good if you don't have stable website. A website that is constantly down doesn't exactly scream professionalism. These three providers have a high uptime guarantee and include all the tools you need to setup and manage a professional website.
Steve E, 15 December, 2010
Agree with most of that from my own experience, except use a CMS rather than wordpress, Joomla is a superb way to build a site although a little more intricate to get started - there are simpler around. Definitely a longer term way of doing things though. I have a wordpress as well as joomla but it always looks bloggy.
Video doesn't really help much. Most people don't hang around that long, especially if they're reading on a smartphone or similar, and remember most people are impatient, if they don't get what they want fast they will move on unless your content is exactly appropriate to what they're searching for.
More important at the moment is finding something with a mobile accessible template, a lot of traffic now is coming from smart phones and that will only increase over the next couple of years. Unfortunately joomla fails there at the moment, hopefully there will be a plugin along soon to make that simple.
Just my thoughts from experience.
The Blog Templates, 18 May, 2010
These are great tips!
W, 17 May, 2010
Thanks for the great tips. Please, keep publishing articles like this!