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Top 5 content writing mistakes business owners make (part 1)

Writing Mistakes

Avoiding mistakes 1 and 4 will save you dozens of hours and countless headaches. Crappy, painful-to-read content is eliminated if you just avoid mistakes 2, 3, and 5. But, how bad could a mistake be…

The founders of Apple are Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. But, do you know there was a third partner?

On April 2, 1976, Apple was incorporated, and Ron Wayne was named, alongside Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, as one of the three founders. Each had an equal stake in this up-and-upcoming venture. However, just 12 days after the startup—feeling like he just couldn’t keep up with his much younger co-founders—Wayne decided to sell his shares for just $800.

Today, it’s estimated that his equity would be worth several billion dollars. That’s billions with a ‘b.’

It’s unlikely that you’ll make a billion-dollar mistake. However, there are a handful of mistakes people make when writing content for their small business that are quite expensive—both in time and money.

The writing process can be frustrating and borderline painful—even for accomplished writers. This report is broken into 5 parts, covering 5 mistakes. In the process, you’ll learn some simple strategies for making it faster and easier to write compelling website content.

Mistake #1 – Writing too soon

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.Gene Fowler

You will save a tremendous amount of time and frustration if you do some research before you even start writing. Specifically, you’ll be researching the websites of other businesses in your industry. This process will help you choose the main topics to cover within your site.

Who to research

Mainly, your research will be focused on your local competition. Beyond the benefits related to content creation, it’s always useful to have a clear picture of who you are competing with.

In addition to the local competition, it’s a good idea to research sites in your industry within larger markets. This is especially true when you are doing business in a small community. Large markets are likely to have much more competition, and therefore, likely have better websites.


How to research

The video above, as well as the text below will give you a step-by-step process for researching and documenting websites. This process will give you a great foundation for creating your own content.

STEP ONE: brainstorm a list of 3-5 keyword phrases

Your main research tool will be Google. To get started, we need a list of keywords people will use when searching for a business like yours. For example, a roofer might have a list like… Roof repair, roofing contractor, roofer, new roof, etc.

STEP TWO: make a list of sites

In order to create a list of sites, we’ll use the keywords from above, along with a location. For example, a Beaverton roofer would search, “roof repair Beaverton Oregon.” We’ll Google this keyword + location combination.

To find the best websites, you’ll look at the first page or two of Google. You are looking for actual businesses (not directories like Yelp), who are listed in the natural search results. Generally, the top listings will be ads (marked as such). After that are often map listings (with a map and markers). After those are the ones we’re after, the natural listings.

For now, just copy the URL of each site into your preferred tool for making notes on your computer (i.e., Word, Notepad, Excel, etc.). If you use Excel or Word, the URLs will turn into clickable links, making life a little easier later.

Once you’ve collected the URLs for the first phrase, start again with a second phrase. You’ll find that some of the same URL’s will show up multiple times. It’s a good idea to note this, as these sites are likely to be especially effective.

Depending on the number of sites you have now, you may also want to do the same process, except swapping your location for a larger one. In other words, instead of “Roof Repair Beaverton Oregon,” you might use, “Roof Repair Seattle Washington.” This will give you results for an area with more competition, and therefore, more robust websites.

STEP THREE: create a master outline notes

A master outline is one of the tools you’ll use to help you convert your research into ideas for your own content. In the end, it’ll contain the following:

  • A list of the pages you want to include
  • Under each page, the general topics to be covered
  • Under each topic, potential subtopics and notes

To get started, just spend a couple of minutes and create a rough list of the pages you think you’ll include on your site.

You will also want to have a blank document, or even a physical notebook for general notes. If something strikes you as important, write it down. When you are on the third or fourth site—trying to remember your takeaways from the first one—you’ll be glad you have notes.

STEP FOUR: start researching

For each site, you’ll first want to note what pages they include. If they have a page that you think may work for your site, add it to your master outline.

Now, let’s look at the actual content. Start with the home page and visit every page. For each, answer the following questions:

  • What are the key points?
  • What problems are discussed?
  • What facts are shared?
  • What kind of photos/graphics are used?
  • Is there anything else you like about the page?
  • Is there anything you don’t like about the page?

You don’t need to write down the answers to each of these questions. The idea is to read the page (or skim it), with each question in mind. Certain info will stand out, and you can use that within your master outline and your notes.

Playing Jeopardy

Another trick for digging into content is to pretend a specific paragraph or statement, is an answer to a question. What is that question? If you convert the content into questions, you can turn around, answer those questions for your business, and create truly unique content. For now, you’d add the questions under the specific page or topic within your master outline.

Document the questions you create, topics, facts, points, and other notes. Don’t leave a website until you are confident you’ve recorded any and all valuable insights.

Once you’ve finished the first site, you follow the same process for the next site, and so on and so forth. The first site will take—by far—the most time. Once you’ve finished a couple of sites, much of the content will be repeated. Each additional site will go faster and faster.

STEP FIVE: stop researching

When researching, there’s a concept called, “paralysis by analysis.” It’s important not to let research take over all of your time. It’s a mean to an end—creating your own content.

While you’ll need to use your judgment when deciding how long to spend, it’s a good idea to limit set an arbitrary limit. Instead of setting a time-based limit, use number of sites researched. A good number of sites is between three and ten.

Once you’ve researched three websites, it’s time to look at your master outline and see how complete it feels. If there’s a specific hole (i.e., you need more topics for the about us page), you can start researching in high speed, looking for information related to that specific hole. If you don’t feel like it’s complete, go ahead and research another site.

Another consideration is the number of pages you currently have time to create for your own site. If you only have time to create the content for 3-5 pages, documenting fifteen pages may not be the best use of your time. In this case, you are probably better off using your research to decide on the 3-5 pages and targeting your research on the topics within those pages. You can always come back to the process when you are ready to beef up your content.

Quick Tip: If you are going to start out with 3-5 pages, and are planning to add more later, put it in your calendar. In other words, make an appointment with yourself for a specific day and time that you’ll start the process again. Without this step, if you are like most people, it’s never going to get done.

That’s it! You made it through part one. Was the information helpful? Is anything unclear? Please don’t hesitate to email me (Justin) if you have any questions or comments.

Part 2 is coming soon

The second part of this report will be about the most common mistake people make when they actually start writing. If you want to create content that turns prospects into customers, you won’t want to miss this one. If you want to be notified as soon as it’s posted, join my email list below.

5 hidden costs of a free website

Would you cash a check for 13 cents? Trump did.

In 1990, Trump was one of 58 ultra-wealthy Americans who were unwitting participants in an experiment run by Spy Magazine to find out, “Who is America’s Cheapest Zillionaire.” First, these high-net-worth individuals were sent checks for $1.11 and 26 of the 58 cashed those checks. The reporter sent progressively lower value checks. When the dust settled, Trump was 1 of only 2 participants willing to cash the smallest check sent (13 cents). The full experiment was surprisingly involved and the article is worth checking out.

Maybe you wouldn’t cash a 13-cent check. I know I wouldn’t. Then again, maybe that’s why we’re not part of this elite group of zillionaires.

Now, back to the 5 hidden costs of a free website…

1) The cost of upgrades

Upgrade costs are the least hidden of the hidden costs. Most free website builders are based on what’s called a freemium model. The word freemium is a mash-up of the words “free” and “premium.” It’s the strategy of giving away a free, limited, version with the expectation that people will upgrade to a premium version. Most or all of the profit comes from people upgrading, so the main focus in a freemium model is upselling you.

Often, there are premium features that fall into the must have category. As an example, the free version often has advertising. It may be something as small as “build your own free website with…” However, this will instantly hurt your credibility. “Removing branding” is an upgrade that you’ll always want to choose, as is using your own domain name.

The monthly costs of upgrading ranges from $5 – $30. If you do decide to build your own site with a builder, you should plan to spend some money on upgrades. You will want to do some research, so you understand what features they charge for, and how much, before investing a lot of time in building a free site on a platform.

2) The cost of your time

Considering the TV commercials, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you could build a website in 10 minutes and it’s “as easy as 1-2-3.” As a developer, these commercials crack me up. They always breeze over a step that actually represents hours and hours of work. Imagine a commercial about building a car, “Build a car in 3 easy steps: step 1, pick the color; step 2, customize the car; step 3, drive it off the assembly line.”

If you are committed to building an effective and professional website, a good chunk of your time will be devoted to learning. You are probably starting out at the don’t know what you don’t know level of understanding. It’s a long slog to build from that level to knowing enough to do a halfway decent job.

PRO TIP: If you get stuck or need instructions on how to do something specific, try searching on YouTube.

The worst part is when you get stuck. When you run into a problem that you can’t solve, it can eat up an unbelievable amount of time. It could even be something that literally can’t be done within the builder you’ve chosen. If you are a perfectionist, building your own website will take exponentially more time. Sometimes, building your own site is about accepting, good enough.

Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.Jim Rohn

You are likely to spend 10, 20, 40 hours or more between educating yourself and actually designing the site. If you only spend 10 hours, you are likely to suffer additional costs because of mistakes and hits to your reputation.

3) The cost of mistakes

As previously eluded too, you are probably starting out without a clear concept of all the different factors that you need to understand in order to create an effective website. Did you know that you can build a website that looks great and has one or more fatal flaws? This isn’t an exaggeration. A site that looks great on your computer may be literally useless for some of your visitors.

Example Mistake 1: Poorly optimized images

A common mistake is to not properly optimize your images. This leads to very slow load time. In this high tech world, people stand in front of their microwave, muttering, “Come on… I don’t have all minute.” If your site takes too long to load, people will just back out without even seeing your site.

Example Mistake 2: No or bad meta tags

You may not even know what a meta tag is, right now. One thing that isn’t even obvious when you learn about them is how you can use them incorrectly and potentially get penalized by the search engines. Without getting too deep into the subject, you mainly need to understand that the text in the meta tags should match the exact words on the page. The keyword tag is the biggest culprit, and it is widely recommended not to use it at all.

The more time you devote to learning, the fewer costly mistakes you’ll make. Therefore, time spent on learning lowers the cost of mistakes.

4) The cost of lost reputation

As the saying goes, “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” No matter how someone hears about you, the first thing they are likely to do is to look you up online. Your website represents your chance to make that first impression.

When considering the effect of your website on your reputation, there are a few levels. Having no website—or one that people can’t find—is the worst. The second most problematic is having a site that’s obviously built for free—thus, the advice about upgrading if you do use a builder. Even if you clear both those hurdles, you don’t want your site to look like one you built yourself. A professional website is a signal to your prospective customers regarding how seriously you take your business.

As with mistakes, the more time you devote to learning, the better chance you’ll have of creating a professional looking website. If your site doesn’t look professional, fewer people will convert from visitors to customers. In other words, you’ll lose sales.

5) The cost of lost sales

As you probably expect, you’ll make fewer sales from a DIY website, versus one that is professionally designed by a developer. Both the amount of people who find your site, as well as the number of those people who convert into customers, are likely to be better with a professionally built website.

The value of lost sales can be considered an opportunity cost and should be part of your calculations. While it’s virtually impossible to calculate an exact cost, it is useful to consider the value of one lost customer. From there, you can make an educated guess as to how many sales you may lose each month based on how confident you are about building your own website.

PRO TIP: When calculating the costs of losing a sale/customer, you want to use the lifetime value of the customer. This is calculated by multiplying the average number of times a customer will buy from you, by the average profit you make from each purchase. Example: A hair stylist has customers who come back an average of 6 times per year, and remain a customer for an average of 2 years. The average ticket is $35, and of that, $25 is profit. The lifetime value would be 12 (total number of haircuts) X 25 (profit per haircut) = 300. This is important to keep in mind for all of your marketing expenditures.

You get what you pay for

Now, you have a better understanding of all the costs related to building a free website. It might surprise you to learn that this article wasn’t created with the intention of talking you out of building your own site. Yes, I am a professional website developer and I strongly believe that the sites I build offer an exceptional return on your investment. However, my main goal is just to help you understand the actual costs so you can make an informed decision.

I’m thinking of creating an article about the top mistakes people make when building their own website. If you think that’s a good idea, shoot me an email and let me know.

The last 5 websites I built

I’m often so busy building websites that I don’t get around to updating my portfolio. The last 5 sites I built have been an interesting mix, so I figured I’d share them with you.

RoadNames

Custom E-Commerce Site
Gretchen & Vance run a cool little business customizing parts for certain motorcycles. Beyond the standard e-commerce features, they have a multi-step ordering process that affords them the flexibility they needed. See the site

RoadNames

RoadNames

OM REO Managers

Basic Website
Greg at OM REO Managers needed a professional website up fast. I was able to put this one together in record time. See the site

OM REO Managers

OM REO Managers

Boost My Fundraising

Basic Website
Ron needed a direct response style site to sell his unique, interactive, telemarketing service. As you can probably guess by the name, he’s focusing on people who do fundraising. See the site

Boost My Fundraising

Boost My Fundraising

Commercial Cleaning Investment

Basic Website
Lashanette has started a commercial cleaning business in the Portland area and needed the credibility and additional marketing benefits of a website. See the site

Commercial Cleaning Investment

Commercial Cleaning Investment

A1 Realty Photography

Basic Website
Doyle runs a real estate photography business and needed a website to show off his portfolio and work as a virtual brochure. See the site

A1 Realty Photography

A1 Realty Photography

Should I get an app for my small business?

phone-1601Every once and a while, someone will ask me if I can build them an app. Depending on how complicated the app is, this is something I can do; however, it’s not always a good idea.

In order to decide if it makes sense for you to get an app for your small business, it’s a good idea to consider the following questions.

What extra value will this app provide to the end user?

As a business owner, it’s appealing to have your app installed on your customer’s phone. The real question, however, is “Why would someone install the app?” Many of the most basic and affordable apps, to create, provide little or no more value than a mobile website.

Do you have the kind of business that is a natural fit for an app?

If you are running a restaurant, you could use an app for things like notifications of specials and a virtual punch card. If you are a plumber, it’s much more difficult to find those things that make your app useful. (See the previous question).

Is this a good use of your money?

It’s uncommon to spend less than $1200 on an app; even the inexpensive ones are regularly more than $2500. If you have a brilliant idea for a custom app, it might even cost 10’s of thousands of dollars or more. Considering the other, more cost effective, ways of accomplishing the same things, an app is mostly a poor investment for a small business.

This is just a quick post because the questions came up again recently. What are your thoughts on it? Do you still have questions or are unsure? Please let me know. I’m happy to update this with further information.

Busy Bee Daycare Aloha

2016-07-30-Busy-Bee-SS-01I just launched a website for Busy Bee Daycare in Aloha, OR. This is an example of one of my basic website package websites, and it’s the second preschool/daycare site I’ve built in the last month or so. The other one is Little Scholars University in Forest Grove Oregon.

Company Info:
Busy Bee Daycare
URL: www.BusyBeeDaycareAloha.com/
Phone: 503-915-7554
Address: 718 SW 215th Ave, Aloha OR 97003

Little Scholars Preschool in Forest Grove, OR

2016-07-30-Little-ScholarsI recently launched a website for Little Scholars Preschool in Forest Grove, OR. This is one of two preschool/daycare sites I’ve setup in the last month or so. The other one is Busy Bee Daycare in Aloha.

Company Information:
Little Scholars University
URL: www.ForestGrovePreschool.com
Phone: 503-430-0482
Address: 2217 16th Ave, Forest Grove, OR 97116

Local Web Designer

US-MapA local web designer is someone who builds websites and is geographically close to you, right? Maybe, but let’s look at an alternative concept of what local might mean in this context.

Serving small local businesses

Perhaps it’s about who you serve and your expertise, instead of physical proximity. Since inception, the focus of Justin’s Web Design has been serving small businesses who are local in nature. In other words, if you run a small company with local customers (i.e. roofer, plumber, carpet cleaner, etc.), you have specific needs. Developing the expertise and systems to serve those needs is a big factor that separates JWD from the competition.

Buying local is almost as important as…

…selling local. As a local business owner, one of the best things you can do for your local economy is to sell. Just as buying local helps bring money into the economy, the flip side of the coin is selling local. In order to do that well, you need an exceptional web presence. If you can find a trusted adviser to help you with that locally, great! If not, or if the local solutions aren’t affordable, it’s important that you not let that keep you from doing your part–selling local.

The Beaverton connection

This company was founded and run in Beaverton, OR for the first five years of its existence. Even now, a large percentage of my customers are in the Portland area. A big reason for this is that most of my business comes from word-of-mouth. Additionally, I rank well in the search engines for keywords related to Beaverton web design.

Current location

Currently (as of 8/15/2015), I’m in Reedsport, OR. Reedsport is between Florence and Coos Bay on the Oregon coast. I moved here to be closer to family in order to help with a medical situation.

Logistics

In this day and age, most people are comfortable with working primarily over the phone and by email. That said, I have some other great tools that allow me to work from any location without compromising customer service. I can do screen sharing, and video conferencing for those who want the face-to-face experience. Overall, my systems allow me to get more done in less time and therefore save you money.

Long-term relationship

This is a good place to explain another key difference between JWD and the competition. Most developers are focused, almost completely, on the ‘big ticket’ initial sale. If your initial budget is too low, they don’t even want to deal with you. If you clear that initial hurdle, it can be difficult to get support once the project is complete. More importantly, those developers are no longer actively involved in helping you keep your site up-to-date and secure.

My packages are configured with a long-term business relationship in mind. The key principle is the necessity for you to have a trusted professional to continually help you with your web presence.

To summarize

While my physical location varies, I am always here to help you with your local business, and in turn that will help your local community. If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Organizing Consultant Website – Suzanne Lehman

Originally posted on Google+

Justin led me through the process of creating a new website for my organizing business with incredible skill and patience. He made clear all my options, and shared valuable suggestions about what to focus on in terms of content and graphics. Reliability is super important in this process. He was quick to respond to my many emails and he met every single deadline we set. In addition, the aesthetic quality of the new website truly exceeded my expectations. He designed a beautiful site, with great functionality, at an amazing price. Justin is a real pro. I would hire him again in a heartbeat.

Suzanne Lehman
Suzanne Lehman Personalized Organizing Solutions

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