How To Run An Information-Based Website as a Business (part 2)

This is part 2 of a post by Sarah Sharp of familiesrecommend.co.uk. You can read part 1 of How to run an information-based website here.

Adding information submitted by others to the website

One thing that people expect of the Internet is that everything happens instantaneously! If you receive user content and  moderate it before adding it to the site then be prepared to work at odd times of the day. We often work until late into the evening to make sure all the reviews we have received that day are on the site within 12 hours of receiving them. It can be a tiring process but actually pays off as reviewers see their review on the site in a short period of time.

Incentives

A good way to bring visitors to your site is to incentivise their visit. Offer them something for free or the chance to win something. If you can keep in contact with them, you can be letting everyone know what you have to offer via your newsletter, Facebook and Twitter.

Patience

Making money from a site that does not sell a product, takes time. You need to be patient and work at developing a following of users. Once you have that, getting businesses to advertise will be much easier. No advertiser is going to look twice at a site that has only a few visitors per day. This is too much of a risk for them.

Affiliate Schemes and Adwords

You can make money through adding adverts to your site through affiliate schemes or Google Adwords. Affiliates schemes generally pay you if a visitor clicks through from your site and then makes a purchase to the site they’ve clicked through to. We’ve used these on our site, but unless you’ve hundreds of thousands of visitors coming to your site immediately on launch then its unlikely you’ll make much money from them. We’ve never used Google adwords on our site, but I guess the same principle applies, and you will get paid per click, so if not many people are clicking through, you are unlikely to generate much income. Plus, through using both of these methods, you are then allowing the user to leave your site.

Take marketing advice

In order to attract advertisers, you need to provide them with all of the information they need in one go. This is called a media pack and will tell them all about the your site, the number of visitors you get on average, the options they have to advertise and how much it costs etc. Take advice on the right pricing structure as you do not want to price yourself out of the market nor do you want to be giving it away too cheaply. A professionally designed media pack will also help.

Getting offline and getting face to face

Sometimes it just helps to get offline and get face to face with either your target user group or with people who can help. I have found business mums networks to be the most helpful and useful forums to promote my business. I’ve also been to talk to the people in the industry, and have used their advice and expertise to get the name out there.

I hope I haven’t put you off setting up your own information based website business. It is worth it, but a little time, thought and patience will make it a successful venture. And finally, if you have an idea and it you keep thinking about even after a couple of weeks of thought and research, don’t dismiss it – just go with it.

Sarah Sharp is the co-owner of www.familiesrecommend.co.uk, an online review and information site for discerning families. She is married to Lee and is mum to Thomas, who is almost three years old. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Business Mums Conference: Early Bird Rate Ends 15th July

If you’re thinking of going to the Business Mums Conference on October 5th in Brighton, you have just 7 days left to get your ticket at 20% off the full price.

Your ticket includes:

  • An exhibition full of resources for your business
  • Talks from high profile inspirational businessmums
  • A choice of workshops to help you learn vital new skills
  • The chance to question a panel of successful mumpreneurs and hear their top tips for success
  • Coffee, cupcakes and a 3 course buffet lunch
  • Close-of-play champagne and chocolate networking reception
  • Goodie Bag
  • Speaker/Workshop Presentation Documentation

This is your chance to:

  • Get great support for your business
  • Learn the skills you need to break down barriers and see your business reach new heights
  • Learn the secrets of successful businessmums and see how they can apply to your business
  • To network, make new contacts and meet up with old friends
  • Enjoy an inspirational day out

You can find out more in this video:

Click here to buy your ticket to the Business Mums’ Conference.

Really Useful Website: WomansWork.co.uk

If you live in the East of England, check out womanswork.co.uk. Providing support for start-ups, the self-employed, those wishing to get back into employment or facing redundancy, established business women, mums in business and social enterprises in the Norfolk, Suffolk, Bedfordshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire areas. It’s also a place for anyone to find a women-based business in her local area.

Each month Womans Work publishes a book full of  news, events, web sites,  training, networking and anything else women in the East would like to share with the WomansWork community. You can download the book for your county (or any of the counties) each month. Sign up at womanswork.co.uk and you’ll be sent an email when the books are published, then you can download them from the website.

Best of all, it’s free to include your news, events and websites.

How To Run An Information-Based Website as a Business (part 1)

Running an online store is a popular business choice for mums because you can work from home at any time of the day or night. Another option is to make an income from offering information online, but it’s not as easy to understand how it works.  If you’re not selling a product how do you make money? Sarah Sharp of FamiliesRecommend.co.uk to tells us how.

When Helen asked if I would write a short article on starting and running an information-based website, I jumped at the chance. There is often a misconception that running anything online is both quick and easy money. From my experience it’s not quick and it’s certainly not always easy. However, there are opportunities out there, but they take effort and patience to achieve.

Let me give you some background…

I set up and launched www.familiesrecommend.co.uk with my husband in early 2009. The idea for the site came about following a family holiday in 2008, just before I was due to head back to work following my maternity leave.  On our holiday we spent days out in lots of little towns in North Yorkshire and before each we would search the web for things to do and found lots of sites with lists of venues. What we couldn’t find were real life reviews from families outlining if it was suitable for getting a pram in and out, feeding, baby change etc. There didn’t seem to be anything we could find which did this whole review element on a site by itself that focused on families. Then on a trip to Pickering, we attempted to have lunch in a pub. After finding a seat and getting a menu we were told that children were not allowed in the bar. (Fair enough – but there were no signs to say this.) We were told we could eat in the restaurant but couldn’t bring the pram into the restaurant. Now this is entirely fair – the owners made a decision and we respect this – but it wasn’t for us. We decided to leave. However, had someone recommended a place in Pickering where we could be accommodated for our needs we would have headed straight there.

On the way back to our cottage we talked about a review site where we could read real life reviews from families about recommended places to go. After much searching, we couldn’t find a website that exactly met our brief; we decided to set up our own.

We got a local web designer to develop a bespoke site and once it was launched we set about trying to get it populated. We wanted (and this still remains the case) the content to be user generated and user led. This lead us to a dilemma, how do you get people to take your site seriously when it has very little content. And why would advertisers want to pay to advertise on your site when you have little content and little traffic? So, in the last 12 months, we’ve worked hard, generated a following and now the advertisers are starting to come to us.

If you are thinking about setting up an information based website here are some things to consider.

Domain names

If you have a business name or a name for your website, then buy the domain names as soon as you can. At the very least buy .com and .co.uk versions of your name. If you can buy the other top level domain alternatives such as .info and .me this is a good way to retain your brand. When your site becomes successful no one can try and steal your thunder with the same name but another address. It also allows those who do not know the exact address to still find you. Also consider misspellings for example people often misspell recommend and so may type ‘reccommend’ – we therefore have a domain called familiesreccommend.co.uk

Content

Think long and hard about how information will be added to your site. Will it be your own content? Will it be user generated? Or a bit of both? How will you get external (web visitors or commissioned writers) to write for you?

Then think about the type of website you need to answer the question above, and if it involves user generated content, then how will this be done, through email / web forms / other? And will the content appear immediately? Will it be moderated? Will you need to do work on the content before it appears on the site?

Budget

We used our entire budget on getting a great looking custom-built site. We really didn’t think too much about marketing it. As such our marketing strategy has been built about what we can do that is free and inexpensive, although perhaps this has made us slightly more innovative in the approaches we have taken. However my advice is to put aside a little bit of your budget for marketing and PR. Do you need a custom built site? Could you develop your site through an off the shelf package or online resource such as WordPress? These can be cheaper and effective.

Making people aware of your website

There are millions of websites out there. The chances of people finding you by accident are quite slim unless you work at getting people to visit you. Search Engine Optimisation is a must, but is a labour intensive process. Your website needs to have the right search terms included in the right places in order for the search engines to pick it up and list it. If you don’t get SEO right, you’ll not appear high up the search engine rankings and people will never find you. We employed an SEO specialist to tackle part of our site for us, and it’s starting to show good results. But SEO takes times to do and to show results – it’s not a quick fix. We have to SEO every new review and every new page on the site in order to make it visible to the search engines, which can be time consuming.

Keeping in touch with your visitors

You need to get people to your site and keep them coming back again and again. As you are not selling a product you need to keep reminding people you are still there.  We ask users to register with us when they want to submit a review and to subscribe to our newsletter, this means we can keep in touch with them at regular intervals. Even if they don’t read the newsletter, just the fact your name appears in their inbox may trigger a visit to the site.

We also use social media to engage with our users everyday. By using Twitter and Facebook we actively tell our followers about what is new on the site and encourage them to visit us. This way the site is always being promoted but in an uncostly way. Also, we have a blog. We write about the things that we don’t cover on the site, like the decisions behind the colour scheme of the site to our own recent family trip to Butlins.

Go to part 2 of How to run an information-based website as a business.

Sarah Sharp is the co-owner of www.familiesrecommend.co.uk, an online review and information site for discerning families. She is married to Lee and is mum to Thomas, who is almost three years old. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Nasty Shocks

There can be a nasty shock just around the corner when you run a small business.

  • Copywriter Sam Thewlis had a client who published Sam’s work on his website but didn’t pay her for it – you can read the details on her blog, Mumazing.
  • Karen Sherr, owner of Musical Minis, is regularly contacted  by people who say they want to sign up to her franchise. In fact they are gathering information so they can copy her. (You can read how she feels about this on her blog, Learning Made Fun).
  • Then there’s Natalie Lue’s posts on Self Employed Mum entitled She’s trying To Destroy Me, giving advice on what to do when your admirers go too far and shamelessly copy you.
  • Back when I was a freelance trainer, I lost quite a bit of money when a training company I worked for went bust. They cheerfully let me run training sessions at their centre, knowing full well that the chances of them being able to pay me were remote. I got my letter saying they’d gone into administration the next week.
  • I’ve never had any clients stolen from me by other freelancers, but I know it happens.

Why would you want to know about this? Well, if you’ve gone from employment to being your own boss, you won’t have encountered these shenanigans before.  It can make you feel quite lonely and maybe even a bit of a fool. As if you should have seen this coming and done something about it. The truth is that usually, you just don’t expect this kind of thing to happen to you. Not unless you’re a total cynic.

Honesty is the best policy wherever you work, but having a good reputation is even more important if you’re self employed. Which is why I’m always stunned when I see self employed people using these types of tactics. I hope that makes me the decent, trustworthy kind of person that you’d want to work with ather than a naive fool!

If you were able to corner one of these people and ask how they could justify copying, ripping off, not paying up and generally putting their own needs miles ahead of other people’s, I’m guessing they’d argue that it’s nothing personal,  just business. I don’t agree. The dog-eat-dog style of business is out-dated. These days we have a much more collaborative, relationship-based way of doing things. Thank God.

So here’s a few things you can do:

  • Start with clear expectations – If you’re working  for another business, ask them for a contract or their terms and conditions. If there is no contract, confirm in writing what you’re going to do, when, for how much and when you expect to be paid. See Business Link for more about writing your own terms and conditions.
  • Read the small print – If you are given a contract to sign, read all of it. Challenge any points that you’re concerned about before you sign.
  • Have some savings – If you lose work or aren’t paid until well after you were expecting it, you’ve got a cash cushion to keep you going.
  • If it’s looking a bit iffy, keep a record of what you did – when you sent letters or emails, who you called and what was said. It’s easy to forget the details and the information could be useful if you do need to talk to a solicitor or go to the small claims court.
  • Be careful where you let off steam – It’s tempting to share your frustrations on social media, but you never know who’s reading. Future clients might think twice about hiring you if they’ve seen you slagging off a client in public, even if you were in the right.
  • Be careful about taking on very big contracts – it’s like putting all your eggs in one basket – if something goes wrong, you can lose months of work or money. On the other hand, you may feel it would be crazy to turn down a huge contract if you needed it. It’s a tough one, so all you can do is weigh up your options carefully.
  • If you think that the small claims court might be an option, look into it – It’s not as daunting as you might think and you can make a claim for up to £5000. Take a look at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website for more info.
  • If you’re thinking of calling a solicitor – give Suzanne Dibble a shout, mumpreneurs are her speciality.
  • Don’t get bitter – it happens to us all eventually. Most people you meet are decent, honest and helpful. Don’t let the few that aren’t stop you from doing your thing. Onward and upward!

Do you have any advice to share?

Photo: Jessica Flavin