THINK IT THROUGH
Setting up a Web site can be a major investment of time and money, and the pay-back illusive. From my experience in setting up a Web site, observing the workroom industry and continuing my education in Web marketing, there is still a big question in my mind as to whether a one-person wholesale workroom needs a Web site.
There is such a major shortage of workrooms nowadays that it's very likely you only have to seek the right market for your work and you will have it. The biggest reason for a Web site would be if you want to grow your business beyond your local area. Then, a Web site is the way to reach these new markets.
However, if you are going to set up a Web site, your first step must be to write down exactly what you want that site to do for you. For some, it may be merely a status symbol. There is nothing wrong with that, and it could be done for a minimal investment. This approach would be to treat your Web site as a storefront or an advertisement that encourages your visitors to contact you. Others may hope they can make sales directly from their Web sites.
For a wholesale workroom, it's very unlikely that you can successfully sell custom orders through a Web site. It might work if you are a retail workroom, but the retail public expects a lot. It may be difficult to please them unless you stick to standard styles, sizes and fabrics like ready-mades. Creating a catalog of these products could require a hefty amount of time and money.
You also need to keep track of the time your Web site costs you in upkeep and maintenance. I was never prepared for the amount of my time my Web site demands. Even hiring others to create, add to and change it always requires my time to provide the updated information, supervise the changes and check it to be sure it is done correctly and to my specifications. In the beginning, and anytime I make major changes to my site, it takes a phenomenal amount of my time. As all of you probably know, when you tackle a new project, it always takes much longer than anticipated.
Ask other workroom owners with Web sites for their experiences and how much business they get from their sites. Also, ask them about their experiences with Web masters and Web hosts.
If you want people to find you, you can't just put a Web site up and expect them to come. There are all kinds of strategies for bringing visitors to your site. You need either to hire somebody who knows how to do that—which is hard to find, but getting easier—or you need to do a lot of research on your own.
You might start with free newsletters such as Doctor eBiz (www.doctorebiz.com), which is short and to the point, and MarketPosition Newsletter (www.marketposition.com). I also recommend visiting www.sitesell.com, where you'll find Ken Evoy has a fabulous book called "Make Your Site Sell." It's a very thick book, but easy to read and very reasonably priced. I also highly recommend the set of audio tapes, "Making Money On the Web," by Seth Godin (co-author of the Gorilla Marketing books). You can get it from Nightingale Conant, (800) 525-9000, www.nightingale.com, or by following the links to D&WC's online Bookstore at www.DWCdesigNet.com.
The Internet is changing all the time, and search engines are constantly changing how they decide who will be at the top of their lists. It's something you constantly have to stay on top of if you want your Web site to pay for itself.
HIRE A PROFESSIONAL?
Many entrepreneurs enjoy the challenge of setting up their own Web sites. For many, it's like a hobby to be able to create a presence on the Web, and it certainly feeds the ego to be able to say you did it yourself. There is nothing wrong with that. Workroom owners are very creative people and have the ability to create some pretty fancy Web sites. However, there is much more to creating a successful Web site than creative adornments. You may come up with the creative design concept, then hire a professional to put it on the Internet and host it.
Those who are as technologically challenged as I am see the value in hiring a professional to design their Web sites. I haven't always chosen the right creator or host, but I've learned in the process. Even though I have obtained my Internet education the hard way, I have not regretted the decision to choose professionals to do the work for me. I do not have the time to learn the language and software to do it myself. That is not the best use of my own skills, knowledge and time.
Another thing I do not regret is jumping in and building a Web site when I did, even though it wasn't the most pleasant experience at the time. The longer you are on the Web, the more traffic you will get and the more you will learn. So if you are planning to build your own Web site, start working on it now! Don't put it off. The sooner you get your site up, the sooner you will learn how to realize great success from it.
Lessons Kitty Has Learned I am, by no means, even close to being an expert on setting up and maintaining a Web site. However, I do wish I had known what I know now when I first set up my site. Here are things that I have learned the hard way or by research.
1.Web designers are "techies." I apologize if I step on any toes here. It has been my experience that many lack artistic layout knowledge, even though their technical knowledge is outstanding. Ask if your Web designer has any background in the arts.
2.Be sure your Web designer or host knows how to market your site. Ask for references. Be prepared for not finding someone who is knowledgeable about marketing on the Internet beyond building the Web site. You may be on your own to research books, tapes and the Internet for help.
3.You also must market your Web site through traditional non-Internet venues to let people know you have a site. I now find myself looking for Web addresses when I read ads. If they don't have a site, I'm not likely to investigate any further, even if they have an 800 number.
4.Generally the average Internet surfer does not like Web sites with frames. Thank goodness I didn't either and didn't use them.
5.Surf the Net and find sites you like and sites you don't like. List the reasons before you move on. That's what I did, although I wasn't exactly sure what I was looking for.
6.Metatags are very important. They are hidden within Web sites, but they are what search engines look for to list a site. They are the keywords surfers enter into search engines to find information. However, I have learned there are right ways and wrong ways to do metatags as well as the text on your Web pages. I depend on my Web master to know that part of it, but I try to keep myself educated as well.
7.Know not only what you want your Web site to do for you right now, but also in the future. When you interview Web designers and hosts, be sure they have the capabilities or the desire to take you where you want to go.
8.Be sure your Web master will promptly make the changes you need. When I'm late at updating my site, somebody is bound to ask me why.
9.Set up your pages so they download quickly. Photographs or images can be a real problem here as Web visitors are very impatient and will not wait long for a page to download.
10.Be sure your Web master tries your Web site pages on all available browsers. Some have different ways of viewing pages that really can make a difference.
11.If you accept credit cards on the Internet, be sure you have a secure site. I just received a notice that one major credit card company is going to start checking this. Besides, a secure site is safer for you and your customers.
12.Use WebTrends to get statistics from your Web site. It will give you a weekly report on the number of visitors, where they came from, when they came, what they were looking for, which search engines they used to get there and more. It is a very detailed report that you will find invaluable. Your Web host can make this available to you.
13.Post your photograph and maybe a picture of your workroom or storefront. Also, tell something about youself and your business. Doing this makes people trust you more because they can actually see a face. That was one thing I did right and didn't know it!
14.Make your site easy to navigate!
15.Create something on your site that will keep visitors coming back.
16.Create an e-mail list by asking visitors to your site to join or just sign a guest book and get permission to contact your visitors periodically. They have to get something in return for your contact. Newsletters are a great way to stay in touch, and they don't have to be lengthy. Of course, this does require your time so don't commit to something for which you don't have, or aren't willing to make, the time.
17.Don't use fancy fonts and graphics. Most visitors are not impressed with these. I do have a running banner that keeps my visitors posted on the changes on my site. I think this is a service so they don't have to go to each page to see if the new updates have been made.
18.Be careful with backgrounds and colors. Sometimes, it makes it very difficult to read text on the screen as well as when printed out. Be particularly careful when putting text in red if a visitor is likely to want to print that page. It's very hard to read.
19.Link to as many other sites in your industry as possible. This increases placement rankings with some search engines.
20.Keep your site updated!
21.Be sure you have chosen the right host for your site. Price should not be the first consideration. Instead, look for service, dependability, education and experience in what your needs are. Changing hosts can be a real nightmare! Having had to change my host two times now, I have had both good and bad experiences, but the bad was bad. Usually a host does not want to give up a client and may be uncooperative.
22.Most of all, analyze just how much of your time will be required to maintain your Web site. Your time is valuable and if you aren't getting enough pay-back from your site, your time investment is not worth it.
If you have any questions or comments about this article, previous articles or any topic of interest to workrooms, please contact me at:
Draperies & Window Coverings
666 Dundee Rd., Ste. 807
Northbrook, IL 60062-2769
Fax: (847) 498-0231
Web site: www.workroomconcepts.com
Kitty Stein, WCAA, is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 18 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings.