SmallBusiness.co.uk compares two webiste providers that allow you to get your business online for free and speaks to entrepreneurs that use them.
For small business owners the cost of having a site designed and maintained is often too large a hurdle. Yet in today's market, an online presence will greatly increase the likelihood of reaching your target customers. SmallBusiness.co.uk compares two examples of free services that enable you to get your business online and speaks to the entrepreneurs that use them.
Microsoft Office Live
Annie Trayhern runs Norwich-based Pink’s Green Cleaning Service (www.pinksgreencleaningservice.co.uk), which uses environmentally friendly cleaning products. She used Office Live to create an online presence using the free set of design templates offered by Microsoft.
‘I have had a website professionally designed before but that obviously came at a cost. The problem was that whenever I wanted even a minor change made, there were additional charges,’ she says. ‘With Office Live you get a free business email address and the free technical support usually gets back to you within 48 hours.’
Office Live offers a free basic package that includes a domain name and 500MB of space for your site. You can add photos, logos and text by following the on-screen instructions. You can also track the performance of your site to see how many people are visiting it and include online payments.
‘The only problem,’ says John Duffy, owner of delivery business JDC Express in Glasgow, ‘is that the templates on offer tend to be quite limited unless you upgrade to the paid service, but it’s very straightforward to do and you don’t have to be an expert.’ Duffy used Office Live to set up a site that allows his customers to track the location of deliveries and pay online.
‘Like most people, when I’m looking for a service I type something into a search engine, so I think it’s important to have some way for your customers find you online. I had spent money on listings in business directories that simply hadn’t achieved the responses I wanted. Unless I renewed my listing quite frequently, it would slip down the order in search results, but I’ve certainly noticed a difference in unsolicited enquiries from customers since I set up my own website, in fact they’ve more than doubled,’ he adds.
Example Office Live websites include:
Gary Ion, co-founder of natural skincare products company Daisy Diva, created his site on the business community BT Tradespace. He explains: ‘My background is in search engine optimisation so I have a certain amount of technical knowledge, but I think anyone could use it.
As well as allowing you to set up a website, Tradespace acts like a business community, where company owners can set up groups with similar or complimentary businesses, write blogs, post videos and include up to five product images.
‘I’ve tried a number of different ways of establishing a presence online. Some providers tend to dictate to you and control how you work and there’s nowhere to go if you have a problem. BT Tradespace gives you the freedom to change aspects of your page when you need to.’
Ion now gets around 1000 hits a month thanks to his BT Tradespace profile and says that it has allowed him to make contacts with other complementary businesses in the community: ‘We found a business in the same sector as us and have reciprocal links to their site – they sell our products and we sell theirs.
The main drawback, notes Ion, is the limited number of products you can display when using the free service, but acknowledges that it is a developing service: ‘For instance, they have now introduced online payments and you can also change your metatag descriptions – that are the key words which lie behind the page for search engines to pick up and improve your search engine ranking.’
Example BT Tradespace sites include:
A few tips
There are a few tricks to making your website appear higher up in the search rankings. Choosing a domain name that relates to your services certainly helps. The keywords that you use in the content on your site will also help to boost your ranking.
Try to use words that are specific to your service and that you think potential customers may search for. For example, Duffy chose the name www.glasgowdelivery.co.uk.
Updating your website regularly will also help. If you have a blog, try to keep it fresh as search engines will scan your pages for new content and place you higher in search results.
To have a look at these examples yourself, go to:
See also: How to set up your own website