6 things you need to consider if you're getting a new website built for your business

I’m working with a couple of clients at the moment on their websites.

One is a freelancer and wants a website ‘a bit like yours’ (that’s good to hear!) so I’m going to do it myself.

The other is a larger business, so I’ve written a website specification and gone out to agencies for responses. It’s a bigger project, but one I’ve got plenty of experience in, as I’ve managed site builds for a range of people and organisations; from sole traders who just need a Wordpress site, to long-term projects with £1m+ budgets and sites that will serve hundreds of thousands of customers.

You don’t to end up with a website like this … or do you? Despite the hilarious look and feel,  https://www.lingscars.com/  generates rather a lot of money for its owner.

You don’t to end up with a website like this … or do you? Despite the hilarious look and feel, https://www.lingscars.com/ generates rather a lot of money for its owner.

If you’re getting a website developed then there are a few things you need to think about if you’re asking someone to build it for you to make sure you get your money’s worth.

  1. You may not need a website at all - many businesses do very well just using a Facebook page and an Instagram account. It’s not essential, it depends on who your audience is and what you want to achieve. Don’t assume chucking money at a new website will be what you need, think about the business outcomes you want to achieve and take it from there.

  2. Ask for a guide on how to edit it yourself in the future. These days it usually isn’t that difficult, and will save you money in the long run. And the more (good) content you add to your site, the better your Google ranking will be.

  3. Write a specification and be clear WHO your site is aimed at and WHAT you want them to do, as well as the kind of content you’d like to include on your site. And - speaking on behalf of all the web developers here - please try to stick to what you want and don’t keep changing your mind. Scope creep can be a bit of a nightmare for us freelancers!

  4. Don’t forget domain registration. I suggest you do this yourself, so you always own your website address. I had one client who was the victim of domain name squatting. His web developer forgot to renew his domain when the 2 year agreement he had expired, and someone else bought it before he realised. It meant his website went down, and all his material with his web address on it - business cards, uniforms, vehicle livery - had to be rebranded. Nightmare! (NB - while this can happen, you can negotiate to get the website address back, particularly if you can prove you have rights over the domain).

  5. Building for mobile is critical. According to the latest Ofcom internet usage report from 2018, 70% of adults in the UK use their smartphone to go online, and phones are now more popular than a computer to get on the internet. So I would suggest you don’t just build your website for mobile, you think about mobile first.

  6. Do think about emergency recovery and support. If the company you are using to develop your website are also hosting it, ask about how often your site will be backed up, what the recovery plan is if your site goes down, and the hours that they provide support if something does happen.

Obviously there is a lot more you should consider, not least how much you are going to spend on a new website.

This is one question I do get asked a lot: “how much does a website cost?” The answer is, as always, it depends. Not helpful I know, but to give you an idea, the specification that I sent out that I mentioned above was sent to eight different freelancers and agencies. They all had the exact same spec, but the quotes varied wildly from £2k, up to £11k. This not only reflected the skills and experience of each agency, but they all had differing ideas about how the work could be done.

So before you go ahead and get a website for your business, have a think about why you need one - best to get it right first time.

A handy summary of the excellent new book from Nesta: “Finding ctrl: visions for the future internet”

Nesta is an organisation committed to global innovation, and they do some fantastic work across healthcare, housing, science, architecture, technology, education and much more. Their latest publication is an interactive book bringing together essays, interviews, stories and artworks reflecting on the internet’s past and future, from over thirty contributors from fifteen countries and five continents.

As an early adopter of internet and digital technology - I started coding aged 9 on my BBCB computer - I thoroughly enjoyed this, and it’s got some thought provoking commentary on the greatest invention of the 20th century (IMHO).

It’s hard to be wholly positive though, especially as NESTA points out “While early internet pioneers dreamed of an internet that would be open, free and decentralised, the story of the internet today is mostly a story of loss of control”. Given the last blog post I wrote was about racism on Twitter, I’m inclined to agree.

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These are my top nine highlights if you don’t have time to read the whole book for yourself, but it is worth it. Please send me your suggestions for number 10 to add to the list!

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  1. Tim Berners-Lee put a proposal to his boss on 12 March 1989, Mike Sendall, who scribbled in the margins “Vague, but exciting.” What came next is history: just a few years later, Berners-Lee’s self-described “hypertext thing” – designed to be used for information management within CERN – became the World Wide Web. 

  2. The first ever image was uploaded on to the Web in March 1992, the year I started university. For future predictions, in 2039 Lithium will run out, meaning no more smartphones.

  3. There’s a fascinating interview with Jimmy Wales, he of Wikipedia fame: “Wikipedia is built by a lot of really nice people working in a community which works really hard to empower and believe in people. Facebook is a totally different platform with a totally different purpose (socialising with friends and family) but there are lots of nice people there too!”

  4. There’s also a somewhat disturbing Q&A with Professor Shoshana Zuboff from Harvard Business School on Surveillance Capitalism, and how the business models underlying the data economy are influencing us: “The age of surveillance capitalism originates in an even more startling and audacious mental invention, as surveillance capitalism declares private human experience as free raw material for translation into production and sales. It relies on hidden operations intentionally designed to bypass “user” awareness.”

  5. My favourite mention goes to the Londoner who got his fake restaurant, The Shed, to the coveted number 1 spot on Tripadvisor. If you don’t know this story it’s well worth a read.

  6. This February, we reached another important internet milestone: more than half of the world’s population is now online.

  7. Digital Culture expert Whitney Phillips talks trolling (although she no longer uses that term) and online hoaxes, and the role that journalists should play in combating this: “On the journalism side, it’s critical for journalists to understand that they are not just part of the amplification chain, they’re also often the trophy”

  8. There’s a precautionary tale from Jessica Furseth on how our digital habits could be endangering our entire visual history.

  9. Ted Hunt shows us a radically reimagined search engine. Open Index Internet rebuilds how the internet is both accessed and organised from the ground up. It is built on the premise of a European Union funded open-source internet index that would decentralise the search engine market currently monopolised by Google.

You can read the book at https://findingctrl.nesta.org.uk/

Credits: The book was curated and edited by Caroline Back, Katja Bego and Amelia Tait. The designs and development of the website behind the book were created by Manchester-based agency Toyfight.

How not to be racist on Twitter - a tale of Danny Baker and a monkey tweet

You will have seen the news already. Danny Baker has been fired for a racist tweet about the new royal baby.

I’ve already looked at some of the comments and the debate online, and also Danny’s defence. “I didn’t mean it to be racist, I’d have said it about any posh baby being born” (paraphrased). Much of what is said in his defence is about intent. The man’s being funny, he makes lots of monkey jokes, he didn’t mean it. He’s not a racist.

For me, it’s a bit like the handball law in football. If you’re trying to prove intent, it’s impossible. Did that player mean to handball it? Did Danny Baker mean to be racist? But the point is the tweet IS racist. The baby has an ethnic minority heritage, and the discussion around the marriage of Meghan and Harry and the fact that she’s black, has been picked over by many. Look at the tweet yourself. How can this not be racist?

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Whether or not he intended it to be, the fact of the matter it is.

So this speaks to my first rule for social media. It’s a simple one. Don’t be an idiot (censored for a family audience). Think before you tweet and, if you have any doubts, don’t. It’s not difficult.

How to spend only 15 minutes a day on social media for great results

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Ever find that there’s not enough time in the day to do everything? Of course you do.

That’s why apps and tools like the Chrome plug-in Focus (my favourite) and Self Control have been invented, to keep us on the straight and narrow and stop us being distracted. And why Wunderlist and AnyList were developed, to keep reminding us of the important things we need to be doing.

So many of my clients tell me that they don’t have time to do their own PR, or work on their social media.

I hear you! I also find it a bit of a challenge, not least because I can end up falling down the rabbit hole of the internet instead of focusing on the activity that will bring most impact to my business. I’m better than I used to be though, because I’ve needed to be. My time is valuable, and so is my profile on social media, because as a freelancer it needs to be.

So I’ve come up with an approach that will help you spend only 15 minutes a day on social media, and bring great results. As we’re only talking 15 minutes, I’m focusing solely on Twitter and LinkedIn, as I think they bring most benefit to business owners, although this does depend on what you’re selling.

One of the apps I use to stop distraction!

One of the apps I use to stop distraction!

Initially, it will take you a little bit longer than 15 minutes to get yourself set up, and there are obviously other tasks that you should also be doing on a less regular basis, such as monitoring and measuring your output. I can help with that, if you don’t have the time, or don’t know what to do. But believe me, it’s worth it, as it will save you time in the long run.

What you’ll need first are:

A content plan - a content plan outlines the content you are going to create (like blog posts, white papers or video tutorials) that you’ll be talking about on social media, and where you will find the inspiration for this content. It helps you focus on your core service offering, but more importantly, what your potential customers need. This is different to a marketing plan, but will inform what you do, when you do it, and where you post this content.

Content from this content plan - your social media shouldn’t be just retweets to stuff you like, but you knew that didn’t you? So make sure you’re publishing and creating the great content from your content plan so that gives you something to talk about on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Twitter lists - Use Twitter lists to filter out the most useful accounts as this will really give you focus. Don’t forget you can subscribe to others lists if you don’t have time to set up your own. Anyone want my NE journos list? And if you find someone you think is good, go to ‘Lists’ on their profile page and ‘Member of’ and you can see all the lists they appear on, along with lots of other good people.

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A social media management tool, like Hootsuite or Buffer - I use Hootsuite, as I can both manage my lists there, and also schedule my social media activity. The free version is a bit hidden, but fear not, it’s still there (although you can now only have three linked accounts, rather than five). Go to https://hootsuite.com/create-free-account#/

A list of your key influencers - Utilise other people who spend more time on social media than you. See what they’re doing/saying/reading. See Twitter lists above!

What to do in your 15 minutes:

Step 1:

Set a timer - this may be the most obvious, but one of the most important. If you know you’ve only got 15 minutes, you’re going to make the most of that time.

Step 2: (1 minute)

Open Hootsuite - Review all mentions of you, and like/share/reply where necessary. Also do a search for your name/company name with and without a hashtag, to pick up those mentions that may not have been brought up.

Step 3: (5 minutes)

Go to your Twitter lists in Hootsuite - curate the best content, liking/sharing and commenting, and noting anything for later that may be a good idea for a bit of long-form content. Follow any new accounts that are interesting, or add them to your existing lists.

Step 4: (3 minutes)

Search Twitter and LinkedIn - if there is something in particular that you’re selling or doing, then find out what others are saying about it. I look at #Durham #Newcastle and #Sunderland, for example, to keep an eye on what’s happening in the NorthEast, although there’s an awful lot of football content to filter out! If you get into the habit of doing this every day, the good stuff will naturally stand out.

Step 5: (3 minutes)

Review your core websites - These are the sites that you should have noted in your content plan, that are relevant to your industry or interest. I look at a few most days, like the National Archives, Nesta and Wired. Then curate the good stuff, and look for inspiration for future blog posts, research or any other content.

Step 6: (3 minutes)

Share or tweet about your content - Schedule some posts about your content from your content plan, with links, images, hashtags and videos. Change what you say about the same content each time, and don’t forget to measure the effectiveness of your efforts.

And there you have it! Your 15 minutes a day plan for your social media. I’d love to hear how you get on with this, or if you have any other tips to making the best use of your time.

Five reasons you should bring in a freelancer rather than hire a new member of staff

With the demise of The Pool not so long ago, the once successful online magazine, there have been many conversations about the risks of being a freelancer, and the struggles that we face.

But as us freelancers will tell you, it’s not all doom and gloom, and actually for those of you in permanent employment, we freelancers offer something very useful.

Here are my top 5 reasons to bring a freelancer in when you get busy and need some help, rather than hire a new member of staff:

Experience - Freelancers do lots of different projects in a range of sectors. Since I’ve set up my business I’ve worked with local government, the civil service, in education, with charities, in healthcare, and with small businesses who do all sorts. I’m not stuck in a rut, doing the same job for years. Freelancers bring the benefit of that experience to you. And we also have lots of contacts, so if there’s something we can’t do, we usually know a woman who can. Or a man.

Flexibility - Freelancers offer flexibility. We’re used to it, it’s how we work. We are there when you need us and, when it’s quiet, we can disappear.

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Speed - While I’m not saying all freelancers are quicker at doing the job (although I’d like to think we are) the very fact that we’re not tied up with the admin and bureaucracy of working in a business or organisation, managing staff, finance and legal and procurement (I speak from experience here!) means we are free to do what you need. And we’re also more likely to work outside the 9-5 to get the job done.

Value for money - Despite what you think are sometimes high day rates, we’re cheaper than your average employee. We’ve usually got low overheads, you don’t have to cover our pension, sick or holiday pay, and, if we’re not VAT registered that can keep costs lower still. And think about it, if you pay for the people you need when you really need them, it’s a much more effective use of your money.

Happiness! - Well I can’t speak for *all* freelancers here, but we’re usually a very happy bunch to work with. Give us a project and we’ll be pleased to see you, especially if we work from home alone a lot. We’re also less likely to get bored, as we’re not doing the same thing day in day out, so we’ll bring new insight into your work, and a positive approach.

And finally … We also usually own pets as we’re home a lot. If you can, get your freelancer to bring their dog with them to meetings, it’s a winner for everyone.

Cleo the Birdsong Consultancy office dog, under my desk

Cleo the Birdsong Consultancy office dog, under my desk

Four tips to make your communications more creative

My favourite bit of PR recently has been the KFC campaign, who also did my favourite campaign of last year. Truly living the ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ KFC have both embraced and celebrated their many, many imitators.

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Ideas like this usually don’t just magically appear to people in the shower; they take time to come up with, develop, and implement. Working in an environment that nurtures and encourages creativity is critical to enabling those suggestions that are a bit different.

And it’s not just those with the big ad budgets like KFC that come up with the creative ideas. Blue light services, health and the public sector do some really creative work that I’ve blogged about before, and I really like this campaign from Greater Manchester Police on tackling drug crime (see right).

So here are my 4 tips to help you be more creative and come up with new ideas:

Consider the wild ideas, don’t dismiss them - If you’re really wanting to be creative, it’s a good idea to consider the wild ideas and suspend your critical judgement on those that you may usually dismiss as bonkers. The crazy ideas have value in them somewhere, it’s about finding what that value is.

In response to the anti-Mexican rhetoric from many senior American politicians last year, the reaction from Mexico’s airline, Aero Mexico, was to try and encourage Americans to come to Mexico, by challenging their often bigoted views in a somewhat unusual way. AeroMexico troll Texans with DNA test offer.

 If you focus on the difference and focus on the positive in your ideas, and think about how you could do something, not why you can’t do it, you may find moments of genius.

Connect the unconnected - Creativity is the practice of combining existing elements to create something new. This can be materials, products, processes, teams, companies, data or people.

So if you bring in outsiders to your project or problem, you bring in new experiences and inspirations and new ways of looking at your work.

You can also bring in new data that you wouldn’t normally look at, and combine it with information about your business.

This enterprising businessman thought that rather than just cleaning windows, he could do something a bit different and clean road signs as well, and he became rather popular as a result.

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Ask the right question - If you’ve got a problem or challenge at work and can’t find a creative solution, find an alternative way of describing the issue. Ask the right question. Reframe the issue and ask yourself what the underlying problem is, the factors and the causes. Don’t make assumptions or try and find solutions too quickly. Think about your outcome, not the new product or what you want to do.

There’s a great example of this from 1954, when the first commercial TV network was launched in the UK, ITV. It was regionalized, so production companies were asking: “How do we get the broadcasting rights to the wealthiest geographical areas?” because they figured that the ad revenue would be higher there.

However British businessman and media exec Sidney Bernstein focused on areas where people spent the most time watching tv. So he asked the question: “How do I get the broadcasting rights where people watch TV the most?”. And where was that? The wettest parts of the UK, namely Manchester and the North West. Granada TV subsequently became one of the most successful tv production companies in history.

Have a hack - I’ve talked about hacks before a few times, because for me they’re one of the best ways to really generate new ideas, if you’re willing to free up your staff for a day or two. A hack is simply an event that looks to solve a business challenge by bringing people with different skills and experiences together, and giving them free rein to come up with solutions and suggestions, such as new apps, campaign materials or products. Read more about one of my favourite hacks.

Finally, if all else fails in coming up with new ideas, just rope in a fellow Hollywood A-lister.

How I've started to PR my own business again

This week, actually, for the last few weeks (ok, months) I’ve been meaning to get a bit more organised when it came to raising the profile of me, my business, and the work that I do.

But you know how it is, stuff gets in the way.

I need to practice what I preach though, so today I have been finishing my marketing and communications plan, putting the final touches to my communications strategy and, most useful of all, I’ve written a draft content plan for the rest of 2019.

It’s the same approach I use with any business, organisation or individual I work with.

Today has been about making sure that I have plenty of sources for great content to curate and share, because otherwise I’m always in danger of getting lost down the internet rabbit hole and losing focus. So that’s blogs to read (you can’t go far wrong with this list from Vuelio), podcasts to listen to (Helen Reynolds has done the hard work for you on this one!), websites to scour, and Twitter accounts to add to lists.

It’s also been about developing blog post ideas for the rest of the year, generating content that will be useful to people, as well as showcasing my skills and experience. This is my content map, and is an absolutely critical tool in keeping me on track. Tools like moz.com, keywordtool.io and the ubiquitous Google are helpful in putting your content map together.

Image credit Kelly Sikkema

Image credit Kelly Sikkema

And of course, where would we all be without Canva to produce digital marketing materials, and Unsplash for fantastic photography to use in those materials.

To add to all this, measuring and monitoring all of this work I do is really important. Just as I always tell my clients.

As an aside, reading this great blog post this week from fellow freelancer, Adam Pearson, made me also think about risk mitigation in my business, and how to prepare for when things go wrong. Something I need to add to the list of things to do. And considering that, I do need to think about alternatives for those free tools (like Unsplash and Canva) that I rely on so heavily, in case they ever disappear, as the ever brilliant Stephen Waddington pointed out this week in his latest blog post, when he highlighted the scary ‘Killed by Google’ website. Scary, because it lists the 150 apps, products and services that Google has killed off.

So, today has been an exercise in doing as I say, and carrying out the work I always tell my clients is so important.

Long may it continue.

Why you should sense check your communications before unleashing on your audience

You will probably have seen the news this week that Kleenex has decided to drop Mansize tissues from it’s range. I can hear some of you at the back shouting ‘about time too’, and I agree.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that you’re going to exclude 50% of the population from using larger tissues by saying they’re only for men.

"I'm a very simple man. You've got to have a computer nowadays to turn the TV on and off. And the nightmare continues" - Ozzy Osborne

How are we tackling the divide that still exists for so many people, in an age when everything is going digital?

I first used a computer in 1982. My dad had retired and bought a BBC B for the house, choosing a computer that had programming capability so 9 year old me and my younger brother could get some educational benefit, as well as play endless games of Paper Boy and Chuckie Egg. So I'm an early adopter of all things digital, as are many of my generation.

ONS publishes latest figures on internet access and use: what you need to know

he Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its latest report today on Internet access and use in Great Britain, including how many people have internet, how they access it and what they use it for.

This comes hot on the heels of last week's report from Ofcom on our communications habits which has plenty of data to get your teeth into, including:

#Commscamp: the number 1 public sector communications conference in the calendar

Plenty has been written about #commscamp in Birmingham on 12 July 2018; here’s Ben Capper plus all the activity on Twitter and LinkedIn and this from my old pals at Helpful Technology. It’s all good stuff, but doesn’t even scratch the surface for how much was on offer at this year’s event, with sessions on topics including AI, freelancing, podcasts, accessibility, Facebook workplace, creative play, media law and mental health. Needless to say, I've not been to a better public sector comms event, and it continues to get better and better.