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Building a Better Website

To create a great website, focus on user experience.

Monique Verduyn

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Imagine not having a telephone number that customers can call when they want to reach you. It’s unthinkable. Equally ridiculous in today’s information age is the fact that some small and medium size businesses still do not have a website, or at best they have a stale online presence that is never updated.

“Customers perceive a business to be more established and professional when it has an active website,” says Leigh-Ann O’Hagan, owner of website design company LIT Creations. “It’s a great way to market your business.”

Indeed, business owners who insist they do not need a website will soon find themselves going out of business, according to Rob Stokes, CEO of digital agency Quirk eMarketing. “Whether you provide investment advice or plumbing services, people must have the ability to find you on the web. If you’re not there, you will lose out to competitors who are online.”

Even cost-conscious SMEs have to acknowledge that times have changed. The Internet is now the fastest growing advertising medium and it has to be embraced by businesses of all sizes. An informative, well designed website enables a business to break through any local barriers and become accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Think about that — your business is reachable to people 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The convenience factor is huge, and can help to boost customer satisfaction from the word go. Your customers and potential customers can visit your site from the privacy of their home or office to find out information about the products or services you offer, making it possible for your business to reach a wide audience with a relatively small investment. And because you can change the content on your website, you can keep it looking fresh and tailor it to what your visitors are looking for.

What does it cost to build a website?

What should you pay for a website? That’s a tough question to answer. For SMEs looking to develop an online presence, O’Hagan’s company, which focuses on SMEs, charges as little as R200 per web page. “A website with four pages — a home page, About Us, services and contact — will cost R800 including all design. We also offer additional functionality for an extra fee. B&Bs may want a gallery for instance, while another business may want a shopping cart or a content management system.”

For start-ups, web design company Media Etc offers logo, letterhead, business card, email signature, a four-page website and your own domain for R8 100.
Interexcel’s web design package costs R7 600, which you can also pay off monthly.

Jasper Consultants web developer Gideon Oelofse, says business owners should budget between about R1 500 and R5 000 per page depending on the programming needs.
“Artwork is fairly standard at R1 500 per hour, but it’s the programming element that’s key. A weighing system or a catalogue that sits on the web page runs in the background and has to be added on to a standard design.”

At the higher end, Stokes says websites which typically provide About Us information and list the products and services available can cost from R20 000, up to R100 000. This type of site is perfect for businesses seeking to have a presence on the Net, but which do not transact financially with customers.

“You can employ a freelance designer to create a website that will cost you in the region of R20 000 to R50 000,” says Stokes. “Where companies make a big mistake is that they will fork out R100 000 on a website when they should rather spend 70% of that budget on actually marketing the website, and only 30% on creating it. The point is to get people to your site.”

Paid search is key to achieving this. It’s an advertising strategy that involves the purchasing of web traffic from search engines. Your ad appears in the search engine’s ‘sponsored links’ section and clicking on the ad will redirect visitors to your landing page. Google’s version of paid search is called AdWords.

Cost per click is the amount your company pays for having that link clicked on within a search result page. Also important is the click through rate, the rate at which a keyword listing is displayed against how many times it was clicked. For example, if an ad is displayed 10 times, and clicked on twice, the click through rate is 20%.

It is easier to determine the return on investment in this type of search engine marketing, because the data reflecting activity around your ad is generated instantly. “The advantage of this type of marketing is that it’s very controllable,” he adds.

Conversion rates are key

Stokes points out, however, that the conversion rate for South African websites — a critical consideration — is as low as 10%. The conversion rate is the ratio of visitors who convert casual content views or website visits into desired actions based on subtle or direct requests from marketers, advertisers, and content creators.

It’s defined as follows:

Conversion rate =

number of goal achievements

visits

A successful conversion may be a membership registration, e-newsletter subscription, software download, or other activity that occurs due to a request on the site that directs the visitor to take action. To an online retailer, a successful conversion is usually the sale of a product to a consumer whose interest in the item was initially sparked by clicking a banner ad.

While paid search brings people to your site, you must ensure that the site is designed to achieve certain goals and makes use of the appropriate visual and textual cues.

Relevant content

When it comes to website development, a great amount of emphasis is placed on design. Equally important, however, is the content. Too often, copywriting is an afterthought in web development. No matter how attractive, clever or interactive a website is, its main purpose is to convey information. A great website is designed around the content. User experience is what it’s all about. When people visit your site, is it worth their while? This has nothing to do with size or impressiveness. It’s simply about relevance.

“The key consideration when it comes to content is what your user is looking for, not what you want to tell them,” Stokes says. “There are some really great looking sites out there that just don’t deliver on that. If you’re a fast food company, for example, make sure your website is optimised for use on a mobile phone. It’s when I’m driving home from work that I’ll want to call and place, so I must be able to find your contact details on my phone.”

Email marketing

Business owners must not underestimate the power of email marketing. It’s become the forgotten child, but it can be extremely effective in driving people to your site. Take a décor business as an example. People who visit your site are interested in decorating their homes.

That provides you with an ideal opportunity to send out a regular newsletter that gives them an update on the latest trends in décor and design, rather than merely sending out an email about your products. Maybe you can include a discount coupon in the newsletter. By providing information and value for your newsletter subscribers, you can convert them into active supporters and customers. n

Critical Considerations

Professional design or DIY? Paid or free hosting?

Make these choices based on the needs of your business.

Content management

The publishing platform WordPress is a full content management system (CMS) which comes with thousands of plug-ins, widgets, and themes. An open source CMS, it is the most popular one in use today. It simplifies the publication of web content to websites and mobile devices in particular, allowing content creators to submit content without requiring technical knowledge of HTML or how to upload files.

Free websites

There are also a number of free website options available. Among the most popular is Yola, which offers three levels of service. The most basic website is free, while a professionally designed site from Yola Premier will cost $349,95. You simply let the designers know what you want and they’ll make a custom five-page website for a one-time fee. You’ll have full control of the completed website, and you can make changes or updates at any time at no cost. The website is also hosted for free and comes with technical support.

The bespoke route

If you have R100 000 or more to spend, and you want more than an online brochure, you may opt to have a custom-built website. These are usually created with programming languages like ASP and PHP. Unlike static HTML web pages, websites built with ASP and PHP are more dynamic and can allow users to interact and exchange information using the website’s databases. This route is ideal if you want to build an e-commerce site, or any other site where there is a lot of interaction between the business and the website users.

When it comes to costing and expenses, ASP costs more, while open source PHP can run on a Linux server which you can get at no cost. PHP is also more flexible when it comes to database connectivity and it can connect to several. If you are particular about speed, then choose PHP. It runs much quicker than ASP.

Hosting options

Just as a free or low-cost website may be ideal for your business needs, both free and professional web hosting have their benefits and downsides. For a simple website, a free hosting service will provide what you need.

The biggest problem with a free service, however, is that the amount of traffic to your site may be limited, as may the size of the files. You also have to ensure that the hosting company does not experience downtime as this will impact the number of visitors to your site. Avoid sites covered in sponsors’ banner ads as these look very unprofessional.

Paid services provided by a good web hosting company should come with far better customer service. They will also offer ample web space and disk space. Often large amounts of uptime will be guaranteed. So yes, they cost more, but the service is far more advanced.

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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Innovation

R&D: Compulsory Homework For Your Business

Why Research & Development are critical to your company’s future.

Greg Morris

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It’s one thing to develop a technology that everybody wants. It’s a completely different thing launching it, if the legislation or environment aren’t encouraging. Often, the result is companies who have grand ideas and little influence, and this is why it’s essential that you carry out in-depth Research and Development (R&D).

Defining market research

Market research is the gathering and analysis of information, so that organisations can better understand the market, environment, and demand for a new product.

The purpose of this data is to:

  1. Understand and advise on existing and upcoming business plans
  2. Develop new products and innovations
  3. Forecast new developments that could disrupt the industry.

This kind of insight helps business leaders to be educated on factors that can impact their businesses, ensuring robust, up-to-date bases for their decision-making.

Related: Alan Knott-Craig’s Answers On Selling Internationally And Researching Your Idea

The reason you need R&D

The success of a new product depends heavily on its impact on people’s needs. If it doesn’t add sufficient value, it’s not worth the investment. Because of this, your innovations must be in line with the legislative, economic, political, technological, environmental, and social requirements of the people you hope to sell them to.

How R&D has evolved

R&D ensures that your organisation stays viable and sustainable. You can approach it through organic growth, innovation, or a mix of the two.

However, in this new era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Internet of Things, we’re seeing some significant changes to R&D spending. Because these days, people aren’t alone in their connection to the Internet – machines are there too.

In the future, the success of a product is likely to be determined by its ability to connect to the Internet; without that, it will become obsolete. Smart devices will also create new challenges for organisations, as they’ll require entirely new skills and approaches to business, if they are to grow and evolve.

Innovating through R&D

Innovation is not just supported by R&D; it’s also enhanced by it. It’s also affected by:

  1. Understanding consumer needs
  2. Your ability to innovate sustainably
  3. R&D partnerships that allow you to collaborate with others, so you can share the risks and costs of innovation, and speed up the various processes.

An open approach to R&D

One approach to R&D collaboration is through open innovation, where an organisation partners with another party. An initiative like this works well for technological advances, globalisation, and changes to comms technology.

A closed approach to R&D

The more traditional closed approach to R&D is where one company funds and contains the R&D initiatives. And it can be successful too, as long as the initiating company has well-defined and measurable input, throughput, and output.

Related: 3 Ways You Can Innovate And Improve As A Franchisee

R&D in an investment company

Sometimes the subsidiaries in a holding company experience poor communication, resulting in divided direction and unhealthy competition. Because R&D can be expensive and resource-heavy, an organisation-wide strategy must be implemented.

Then, when all stakeholders understand the potential ROI and the operational process involved in R&D, healthy competition and an educated understanding of customer needs can be maintained. This is, of course, the ‘win-win’.

R&D is essential to making relevant, strategic, and educated business decisions. And in our global economy, it’s a competitive advantage you can’t afford not to have.

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Innovation

3 Strategies To Implement A Culture Of Innovation In Your Business (Without Blowing Billions)

Learn to think differently, encourage your team to do the same, and innovative disruption could become a part of your company’s DNA.

Douglas Kruger

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You’re seeing it everywhere. Disruptive innovation is becoming the new norm, and you’re concerned that your business is merely going through the motions, missing opportunities.

How can you join the Elon Musks of the world, without the corresponding bulging budget?

It turns out that many of the techniques of today’s top innovators don’t require vast outlay. They’re simply about different ways of thinking.

Here are three strategies for enhancing the culture of innovation in your organisation without blowing billions.

1Use ‘Ignorance as strategy’

You’ve encountered the aphorism, ‘To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ Similarly, to a banker, the only imaginable approach to banking is ‘the way banking has always been done’. When bankers try to think of innovative new ways of banking, they invariably think of greater complexity.

Along came PayPal

In the April 2016 edition of Harvard Business Review, Reid Hoffman, one of the founders of PayPal, said, ‘All the banking people knew the rules. That prevented them from trying anything that looked remotely like PayPal.’

PayPal was not invented by a bank, just as Uber was not invented by a taxi driver.

Related: Demanding Customers Are The Ones Who Motivate Innovation

To make use of ‘ignorance as strategy,’ try this. Gather a group of strategic thinkers and set the rule: ‘The old way of doing it has been outlawed. How else might we serve the same need?’

Or: ‘We are now our competitors. We have half the budget, but our hearts and souls are invested in one purpose: To topple the original company. We can’t do it the way they do it. So how could we go about it?’

Or: ‘The company has burnt to the ground. We’ve lost everything. We need to keep serving our customers but we need a new, cheap, fast way to do it right now that doesn’t rely on any equipment or systems we used before. What have you got?’

2Use commander’s intent

military-commander

Imagine: You’re a military commander. You need to move a convoy of trucks through a dangerous canyon. Your intelligence tells you that there is a sniper on one of the escarpments.

There are two ways you could issue an instruction to a soldier:

The first way: ‘Go take out that sniper.’

That’s very clear, and very good. But there’s something surprisingly important missing from it. The ‘why’ is not overtly stated, and for that reason, the mission could actually fail.

Let’s try it again the second way: ‘Go take out that sniper because we need to ensure safe passage through the canyon for our convoy.’

That may sound like a ridiculously obvious addition. Here is why it’s not: In a real, dynamic scenario, things change constantly.

Let’s say your soldier breaks off from the convoy and heads up into the mountains. Very quickly, three things go wrong:

  1. He can’t find the sniper
  2. Enemy forces start firing at him, making it difficult to look for the sniper
  3. His own weapon fails to fire so that he can’t shoot back.

If our soldier thinks only about the literal instruction — ‘shoot the sniper’ — he is now unable to carry it out. But if he bases his actions on the commander’s intention — ‘secure our convoy’ — other options open up to him.

Related: Reel Gardening Warns That Innovation Is Never Easy

He might draw their fire. He might set a bushfire. Or he might cause a commotion in a different canyon, disguising the movements of his convoy. He might, he might, he might… But only if he is absolutely clear on Commander’s Intent, and not working according to an explicit tasked item only.

Managers love to create detailed rules and procedures. But these can actually stifle innovation. Commander’s Intent is the life hack by which we get the upper hand again, freeing up leeway for creative potential.

3Instead of rules: Imaginative debate

Organisations accumulate rules over time. Problematically, rules can become a form of culture. And there is a better way.

When NASA faced two separate, well-known challenges, their culture at each stage was very different.

In 1970, Apollo 13 was two days into its mission when an explosion knocked out one of their oxygen tanks. The ensuing creative scramble to get the astronauts safely home is the stuff of legend. The creative trial and experimentation that went into rescuing them was formidable. New procedures were made up back on earth, then tested in the simulator, then relayed to the astronauts 200 000 miles away, almost in real-time.

Through this process of creative trial and experimentation, of collaborative inter-disciplinary debate, one by one the issues were resolved and the crew was brought home safely.

At this point in time, NASA’s culture was ruled by imaginative debate. It was an exploratory culture, an experimenting culture, a culture based on learning and evolution.

By contrast, at the time of the Columbia disaster of 2003, the culture of experimentation had given way to one of formalised rules, regimented procedures and rigid hierarchy. NASA had stopped being a learning organisation. It had become a bureaucracy instead.

As Columbia re-entered the earth’s atmosphere, a large piece of foam fell from the shuttle’s external tank and broke the wing of the spacecraft. The shuttle broke into pieces. NASA recovered 84 000 pieces from a debris field of over 2 000 square miles.

The investigation revealed some damning insights about the culture that led to the problem.

Related: Howard Blake Stays Hungry With His Innovation Strategy

During a post-launch review, a group of engineers actually saw this foam dislodge from the rocket. They tried to pass on this information. NASA’s management, which by this stage liked to manage everything ‘by the rules’, had seen dislodged foam before, and, according to their institutionalised perceptions, deemed it to be unimportant.

The engineers tried to argue that it seemed like a lot more foam than usual. It was a qualitative argument, based on human insight and intelligence. But NASA was unable to listen. Dislodging foam was a known quantity, and the voices of dissenters went unheeded.

NASA by this stage was so bound in rules and procedures that, in important ways, it had ceased to be a learning, experimenting culture. And that made it incapable of hearing an idea, to its great detriment.

Situational awareness

Imaginative debate allows situational awareness to pass up and down the chain of command. It promotes the opportunity to see innovation possibilities. It shows up problems that fall outside of the capacity of norms and guidelines.

The Israeli Defence Force uses an examination of these two cultures within NASA as a way of perpetuating a learning culture within its own organisation. In Start-Up Nation, Israeli air-force pilot Tal Keinan is quoted as saying that if NASA had stuck to their experimental culture, the way his own air force and military do, they would have identified and seriously debated the foam strikes at the daily debrief.

Debating everything isn’t tedious. It’s illuminating.

Putting rules in place of debate isn’t clarifying. It’s dulling.

Rigid rules enforced by unlearning authority are a recipe for real danger. The use of strenuous debate helps to overcome these blind spots.

Cultures of learning are far more idea-friendly than bureaucracies. And it costs nothing to become one. Merely a little willingness.

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Innovation

To Have An Innovative Company, Let Your Employees Take The Reins

‘In order to clean, they need to get messy,’ serial entrepreneur Justin Klosky tells Entrepreneur’s editor-in-chief Jason Feifer.

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Related: Demanding Customers Are The Ones Who Motivate Innovation

An innovative company starts with an innovative team. And what’s the best way to innovate? Give your employees the freedom to run with their own ideas, then manage the chaos later. At least that’s what Reid Hoffman believes.

“If you want your company to innovate, your job is to manage the chaos,” says the co-founder of LinkedIn, partner at VC firm Greylock and host of Masters of Scale, a podcast series examining counterintuitive theories to growing a company.

Hoffman’s theory doesn’t seem too far-fetched either. In fact, he’s not the only person who thinks giving employees the freedom to think and create on their own triggers innovation.

“When [people] have that ability to explore and innovate without the pressure of failing, you’re setting yourself up for a ‘win’ situation, because you’re going to get the best out of somebody,” Justin Klosky, founder of professional organizing company O.C.D. Experience, tells Entrepreneur’s editor-in-chief, Jason Feifer, in a video.

Although, when you’re empowering employees with this much freedom, you’ve got to be hiring people you trust. This can be easier said than done. Rather than dissecting a person’s resume, Klosky recommends digging deeper and asking prospective employees questions that will really open them up – anything from who they are, where they’re going and what brought them here.

Related: Beyond Innovation – it’s Innovation Velocity That Really Matters…

After you’ve hired a group of honest, intelligent employees, now what? Don’t tell them how to innovate. Instead, let them figure that out on their own. Allow employees to do what they do best, return to you with their results and from there manage the chaos.

“In order to clean, they need to get messy,” says Klosky.

For more insights and advice about managing an innovative culture, check out the video.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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