Rik Lomas is an entrepreneur, co-founder of Steer, founding member of VoucherCodes.co.uk, coder, teacher, start up advisor and public speaker. Well known in Tech City, Rik has the inside scoop on all things digified. He talks to us exclusively about websites, digital marketing and his fear of flying.
What are the most important things to consider when creating a website/blog for your business? What are the must haves?
What you need for your business depends on what your business is. If your business is solely online then the most important thing is how you’re going to make money. If your site is promotional, then it needs to be easy for your customers to find the information they need.
However, there are some common things that all sites need. Ease of use is high up the list. This is called user experience in techy circles – you want to make sure your users have the best experience possible when they visit your website.
Another is focus – it’s natural to want to cater for customers but you have to be decisive about what you do. It’s impossible to be a one-stop shop for everyone. Focus on exactly what you’re doing and who for.
Once you have your shiny new site, how should you drive people to it and raise your profile online?
The best tactic I’ve discovered is partnerships – work with complementary businesses to offer deals and hopefully you’ll turn their customers into your customers too.
Also, try advertising on different sites. Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Spend a few pounds seeing how well each advert converts into customers and if the advert does well, increase your spending, if it doesn’t, drop it.
Do trackbacks and pingbacks actually work at driving traffic to your site?
They do but only to a small degree. Any other site that links to you is good and will help you increase your ranking in search engines. A good way to promote your site is to talk to people who run other blogs and offer to write a guest blog post for them.
There’s a lot of information out there regarding SEO; what are your key SEO tips?
The biggest tip I’ve learnt regarding SEO is learning how to write for what people are looking for. We have tendencies to fluff our site’s copy with industry jargon but if our customers aren’t searching for that, they won’t find you. If you’re an accountant in London, call yourself an accountant in London on your website as that’s what potential customers are searching for.
Yes, it is. Knowing HTML and CSS – and how they work together – will help you budget your site more accurately, understand what’s possible in a particular time frame and understand the process of how websites are created.
Do you think it’s important to be heavily involved in the web development rather than leaving it all to the developer?
The number one reason why developing a website can go wrong is that the website wasn’t fully planned out to begin with. This leads to confusion between the owner and the developer.
The more groundwork you do, the more the developer will understand your idea. Write as much copy for the site as you can. Make sure you have all your site’s pages planned out, even as sketches. Know exactly where each link on the site goes.
How do you go about finding a good web developer? So many of our readers have had problems finding reliable developers to work with.
The best way to find a good developer is through recommendations. If you have friends who have websites, ask them who they would recommend. I get all my freelance work through recommendations, I don’t advertise or actively promote my services. Clients email me and if I’m too busy, I recommend friends.
Make sure you have a decent budget too. Building a website can be expensive – think of it like starting a real world shop with a worldwide audience. The more you’ve planned your site, the better a developer can give you an estimate.
What is the best way to convert visitors to your site to sales? What can we be doing on our sites to help us convert?
User testing is key. This is making sure that your customers know exactly how to buy your products or services. If a customer gets confused by your site, they will not buy.
There are online services such as www.usertesting.com that you can use to show how a new customer would interact with your site. It’s always fascinating to watch and will give you insights into how to improve your online business.
How do you promote your own business? Do speaking engagements work for you? Do you do any PR?
Promotion varies massively on the business. For my previous business, we did a lot of promotion such as partnerships and advertising, but for my freelance work, I need no promotion. Thinking about how a potential customer would hear about you is key. It’s easy to just assume. If you’re aiming your business towards teenage girls, talk to them about what sites they use.
Public speaking does work well for promotion. I used to be scared of standing up and speaking in front of more than five people. The thought of it would stress me as much as my fear of flying would. But I promise you that it gets easier and easier the more you do it and it’s well worth it for your business.
Some companies love running PR campaigns and sometimes it’s more to do with the founders egos rather than actually to promote their company. Be careful about doing PR, it’s great for brand awareness but it’s harder to validate compared to online advertising.
Do you think it’s important for all businesses to have apps in this day and age?
You probably don’t need an app. Most businesses don’t need to spend thousands to get one built and that’s fine. Remember that the average iPhone user only uses 15 apps a week so you’ll need a compelling reason for your business to be the top 15.
The best way to test is to build a website that works well on mobile (look up ‘responsive design’) and if after a few months, your users are still asking for an app, only then would be it worth considering.
A recent example of a company not wanting an app is Monocle Magazine. They don’t have an app because “on an iPad, no one can see you reading Monocle”.
What are your top tips for those starting a digital business?
Planning is the key to having a successful digital business. I constantly sketch and write things down on paper whether I’m on the bus or in front of a laptop. Start to network and talk to people who’ve done it before, they’ll be able to give you the best, tailored advice.
Unfortunately most businesses fail within the first three years and digital businesses are even more susceptible to failing. Even the trendy ones you read about in the Metro or on Techcrunch fail. There’s only one thing that will make your business survive – if your revenue is consistently more than your outgoings.
Failing is the scariest part of starting anything. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person if you fail and a lot of successful people failed at the first, second, third attempts. It’s better to have started something and fail, than to have never started anything due to fear. Start making plans, start looking for developers and start thinking about how you’re going to turn your interests into a profitable, sustainable business.