You have a Facebook Page, a Twitter feed and profiles on LinkedIn, Xing, Ning and Groupsite. That's fabulous, but if you believe that being socially networked from here to there is a substitute for maintaining a professional website, you may be bypassing potentially lucrative clients and contracts. Many businesses block access to social networking platforms on their on-site computers, which means your company or consulting practice Groupsite or LinkedIn profile will not reach their employees -- or the decision-makers who contract consultants and vendors to work with their companies.
In addition, many individuals don't "do" Facebook. Privacy concerns have generated a significant backlash in recent years. An increasingly vocal segment of the population just plain doesn't get the fascination with posting personal and semi-private doings on a public venue. These people will never "like" you on Facebook because they will never see your Facebook Page.
Make no mistake, a properly maintained social networking strategy augments and enhances your reach, especially among younger and more Internet savvy individuals, organizations and companies. The operative words in the previous sentence are "properly maintained." Social networking done right is not something you can set aside for every other Wednesday afternoon. It's yet another marketing and promotional task to which you must attend, most likely daily, in all your spare time. Nonetheless, if you are willing to devote the necessary effort involved, an active, engaging social networking strategy can provide an excellent complement to a professional website.
Do you have a website? Well, do you? These days, it's impossible to attend any sort of networking or business social function without being asked for a business card (which every professional should have) and, increasingly, especially for an independent entrepreneur, the website URL for his or her company. Not having one can put even a solo practitioner at a definite disadvantage.
While the website for my consulting practice is hardly a work of art, and is in fact, a work in progress, when I'm asked if I have a website, I can respond in the affirmative. Does this fact alone secure clients for me? Of course not. However, I have no doubt that more than one would-be client would have developed serious misgivings about doing business with me if I didn't have a website.
Of course, as a consultant or entrepreneur you have (or should have) established a professional-sounding e-mail address for business related correspondence, whether it is related to your own name or the name of your company. Even if you don't actually "sell" anything more than your expertise, a web presence is simply one more aspect of a professional image. There is very little excuse not to have a website, especially for an independent consultant.
Why? Like it, don't like it, a web presence is taken as a given, especially for entrepreneurs or independent consultants. However, setting up a website is a good idea for any professional, especially when seeking work. Having a website in place can make job hunting that much easier, for the reasons listed below.
1) It enhances credibility
It's true. Especially for consultants and entrepreneurs, without a website presence, credibility takes a hit. Prospective clients may wonder how seriously you take your work. Worse, they may think your business or practice is defunct. Even for job hunters, would-be employers will often conduct an Internet search on a job candidate. While those employers might be searching for mentions in the press, a posted résumé or portfolio puts you one step ahead.
2) It demonstrates basic computer literacy
Nearly all professional level positions (as well as many support level or even menial jobs!) require basic computer skills. Constructing and maintaining a website shows that you are not afraid of computers. It can also serve as a means for mature workers to dispel one stereotype that lies behind age discrimination.
3) It provides a showcase for portfolio or work samples
Much easier than carrying a portfolio sleeve or even sending copies of your résumé or writing samples by e-mail, having a website allows you to display your best work and have it readily available. Even if you carry business cards for networking events or in case of impromptu meetings, being able to refer potential professional contacts to your website is a big advantage. In fact, your business cards provide a perfect means of promoting your website!
4) Once in place, it can provide effortless promotion
Especially for individuals who are skilled in search engine optimization, and even for those who are not, having a website, especially if it is updated regularly, can help you or your business or consulting practice rank highly in Internet searches of your name or your company's name.
If you have concerns about the expense involved in constructing a website, worry not. There are a number of free and nearly free web-hosting, site-building and content management systems available, including Wordpress, Drupal, Byethost and others. As for the time and effort involved, it is possible to put together a perfectly credible, if static, website within a few hours. With not as much money as one might suspect, albeit involving the investment of more time and perhaps obtaining the help of an IT specialist or web content professional, it is possible to create a very impressive, dynamic website showcase.
If you are convinced of the value of a website for your company or consulting practice, but you're not sure where or how to begin, the suggestions below can help. Keep these ideas in mind as you consider having someone construct a website for your company or consulting practice, and especially if you decide to tackle the task yourself.
1) Have an idea of the purpose the website is supposed to serve.
If it's just to establish an Internet presence, fine. Make sure potential clients learn about what you or your company can do for them and how to get in touch with you. If you have a specialty, describe it. The idea is to inspire a phone call, an email message or a letter of inquiry.
2) Remember the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Sarah (or Samuel).
Sure, flaming logos and streaming video are cool. If they pertain to what you do for a living, definitely have samples of your work on your website. Otherwise, such features can be a distraction, and too much can make your website look junky, not to mention very slow to load.
3) But provide visual stimulation to keep visitors' attention.
There is nothing more boring than blocks and blocks of dense, solid text on a website. Even if you are a brilliant writer, potential clients won't wade through endless online text. Of course, there are exceptions. If you're posting an e-book, ignore this suggestion. Blogs will also require fairly substantial text blocks. But let the website visitor know this up front.
4) Include extra features that are relevant to the website.
For instance, the Knowledge Empowerment website includes stock art, a video newsfeed of headlines pertaining to international social issues, a weather banner, external links to published work samples and downloadable PDF documents. Looking at the list, it seems like a lot of busy elements. However, all these elements are designed to highlight and enhance the website theme of focusing on social issues and emphasizing an international perspective. Even the weather banner includes links to check domestic and international destination weather and potential flight delays.
5) Update the website regularly, and let visitors know it.
Many website building utilities will include an automatic update tool that can be included in the website, which will inform visitors when the content was last updated. It's an easy way to assure visitors and potential clients that your services are readily available! It's not necessary to update every day, but if months go by with no changes to the website, repeat visitors may begin to believe your company is defunct, or worse.
6) Clearly and prominently display contact information.
A personal pet peeve is wading through an entire website in a futile search for hide-and-seek contact information. Although Knowledge Empowerment features a separate contact page, this really isn't necessary, as long as the contact information is clearly displayed. A mailto: link is a nice feature, and again, is often included as one of the tools of a website building utility.
7) Watch the ads and pop-ups, and clearly label live links.
It may not be possible to avoid ad content, but if it is not glaring or overbearing, website visitors and potential clients will be much more tolerant. On the Knowledge Empowerment website, the three page hit counters feature links to an online travel service coupon, an auto rental company and an online tech supply store, but the links are so inconspicuous as to be barely noticeable. Also important to note: the counter provider used for the Knowledge Empowerment site, AmazingCounter.com, is free, does not sell personal information and allows the account holder to choose sponsors that are as relevant to the website as possible.
8) Obtain a personal or business domain name for your website.
Be sure to purchase the top-level .com domain name for your site if you can, even if you actually use .net, .org or something else for your website. Services like GoDaddy.com will check the availability of a domain name and provide the domain for a very reasonable price. Once you have completed the construction of your web page, you can migrate the content over to the domain so that potential clients or visitors will enter your easy-to-remember domain name, rather than the lengthy and often unwieldy actual URL assigned by the hosting site. This process sounds much more complicated than it actually is, and there will probably be step by step instructions provided along with your domain name.
9) Include a copyright notice on each page of the website.
You don't want to find yourself the subject of a plagiarism claim. If you provide downloadable content, it should also carry a copyright notice, even if you are offering it for free. Sad but true, someone, somewhere may have the bright idea to claim your original content as his or her own. Worse, you may be sued for it. A copyright notice is not foolproof, but it does provide some measure of legal protection. Even if you include non-original content such as stock art on your website, the compilation of your website constitutes an original work, and can certainly (and should) bear a copyright notice.
None of this is hard and fast, or even definitive, but simply (hopefully useful) wisdom gained through the first-hand experience of developing a website. Feel free to adapt any or all of these suggestions to suit the needs and purposes of your business or consulting practice.
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