For any small business, it is the owners that define the company’s voice and vision. It is their quirks, passion and expertise that inspire staff and secure customers. Yet far too many innovative, inspiring businesses mask their true nature by opting for a generic website. The misalignment between the energy of the business owner and the blandness of this essential business portal is stark.
The drive, energy and sheer brilliance of the business owner should be the most important aspect of the website – and that simply cannot be achieved if responsibility is devolved to someone who was not part of that initial business vision. Marketers have all the skills and techniques required to create an engaging website, packed full of social media feeds and content – but they don’t have the love.
If a website is to reflect the true essence of a business, it is the voice of the business owner that needs to be heard.
The website is now utterly central to business success. In an era when every prospect or supply partner will Google both company and management team before even considering any further interaction, the website and associated social media content are more than a shop window: they are the chance to display the essential vision of the business.
Today’s websites are a world apart from the original static brochure style sites, with their lists of products and services. Such sites did little more than demonstrate a company’s existence and basic area of operations. They prompted one off visits and had minimal impact in defining a company’s vision or building a reputation. That has changed: sites now are live, dynamic and interactive. They are designed to bring customers, prospects and partners back to the company again and again through the use of innovative content and thought provoking discussion to build long-term engagement.
As such, it is essential that both the design and the content truly reflect the essence of the company – from the quirks of the business founders to the experience gained to date. The website should be a lens into the company; a way not only to attract the perfect customer but also, to be frank, a chance to deter those organisations whose culture and approach simply would not fit.
Mechanics + vision
There are a number of essential components of a website – from responsive design to ensure it looks good from any mobile device, to up to date, fresh visuals that reflect current fashion. Even more important is the integration with social media – with live links to active profiles – as well as content marketing to drive that continual engagement. Blogs, eBooks, white papers and newsletters full of innovative, challenging and insightful content have fast become an essential component of the overall marketing mix.
Most businesses that recognise the need to embrace this dynamic website model – and, unfortunately, far too many do not – assume the entire process can be delivered by marketers, either in house or third party agencies. But this is not an out of the box, one size fits all solution. Marketers are fantastic at putting the right mechanics in place, ensuring the design is responsive, that it reflects current trends, and that social media feeds are integrated and link back to fresh content. But does the marketer have that essential business vision or understand what led to the creation of the company in the first place? Not unless the marketer was the founder.
It is only the owner who understands why the business was set up, the problems it was designed to solve or the customers it wants to help. And it is a failure to communicate that message through the website that is a real missed opportunity.
Capturing the voice
An interactive, engaging website with active social media, blogs and content marketing needs to be the voice of the company – and that clearly demands input from the person who is that voice, the business owner. But it is also important to gain input from across the business – even the youngest intern will have more understanding about the company than any third party marketer.
Coming together in a workshop to discuss the company voice is invaluable. A number of key questions can prompt new insights and make it easier for a marketer to harness the essential nature of the business. Questions such as: What do people always get wrong about you? What do customers most frequently ask? What is it you wish people would do differently if they were to be the perfect customer? What information should prospects just know? The process of answering these questions will inspire the right kind of content that reflects the company ethos, matches the needs of the audience and provide ideas for the creation of content, from blogs to eBooks.
Following on from the initial discussion, business owners need to stay engaged with this key aspect of business success. It doesn’t need to be onerous – but an hour every month discussing ideas, from customer issues to market change, is essential. And it is also pretty important to dip into the social media presence now and then to confirm that messages truly reflect the essential nature of the organisation.
It is time for small business owners to re-evaluate the company’s public presence. This is the portal to the business, a way to drive engagement with prospects and customers, suppliers and business partners – and it needs to be as good as possible. Is the website presenting a true taste of the business vision? Do the company’s tweets represent the business owner’s views and ideas?
If not, it is time to take back control. A misaligned website can do more harm than good by creating a barrier that the company will have to work hard to sell past. Business owners are typically driven, opinionated and focused – that is what underpins success. So harness that uniqueness. Don’t accept a generic website that completely masks the true nature of the company – make sure that this critical business lens is a true reflection of the beliefs and passion to attract more of the best possible customers.
By Keren Lerner, founder and managing director of Top Left Design
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