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I hate to say it, but online directories like Yell and Thomson can lead people astray without them knowing it. These organisations often known from their offline paper directories, with good branding and popularity that means people assume they're the ones to go for.

And to some degree that can be correct, so for example if I'm looking for a tradesman or service-provider myself I will often go straight to yell.com and look for a good genuine one with a longstanding presence on there. This is mainly because I know that the SEO-game of getting in Google listings can mean otherwise poor businesses getting within people's view.

Therefore having a basic free listing is essential, not only for visibility for a good SEO-link value. But just watch out for the paid upgrades.

This may be just a sponsored listing or advert on the site which should receive more views, or more behind-the-scenes digital and website services right from building a new website to helping with online marketing and SEO to get in google search results.

But these may not pay off, in fact I'd go further to say assume that they don't unless it can be proved otherwise.

If I could count the number of businesses I've spoken to about this with at best uncertain results, or at worst blatant no results, then I'd be running out of fingers and toes.

In fact a recent one was a local roofer who originally had a Yell website page that they had now stopped paying for, and were now paying thousands of pounds a year to Thomson for a new website and website advertising. But looking into this for them, it was ironically more the old Yell website that was still in google search results that was getting them phone calls.

Anyway, if you're looking into these and other similar ones for the first time or you're already involved with them and suspecting you're not getting value for money, then here are a few pointers to bear in mind:

1. Get Free Ones

As above, certainly get the free listings that are available, and make sure you state the right form of address and contact details that match your Google listing.

You might not be able to get a website link on these free ones, however the correct version of your business is still often worthwhile.

2. Don't Get Their Website Design Service

This is not so people like myself as an independent website designer can get the work, well okay a little bit of that, but hand-on-heart the real reason is that they are simply not worth it.

They're often basic template websites, with little practical ability to update and make changes in the future. To make it worse you often can't get hold or obtain any access details or domain names, and in reality businesses then often resort to putting up with the ongoing high monthly costs, or starting all over again.

3. Get Correct and Full

Whatever piece of virtual real-estate you have, use it to the max. Primarily this is just filling in all the bits that you can do, particularly adding photos and even videos where you can, and using all the description space you can do.

One thing you have to watch out for is the choice of categories your business is in, as well as using as many as you can do. The roofer mentioned earlier pointed out that there were multiple variations of roofing-categories on the directory that all started adding up cost-wise, and therefore he had to choose very carefully which ones were used.

4. Track, Track, and Track Again

Whatever you do with them, particularly adverts and beefed-up listings, then make sure you track the results.

This could be through their websites, or using unique pages and contact details at your end - it gets a bit technical here, but make sure you get someone to help you out here.

5. Keep Short Term

Don't get excited by initial offers and sign up for long-term contracts - this all needs to be carefully tested as above.

And in actual fact, there is often some negotiation room here as well, after all they're sales people after your well-earned business.

Being Direct With the Directories

Therefore when dealing with online directories like Yell and Thomson, just make sure you know what you're getting and that you're receiving true value from them.

Having a free listing is certainly a no-brainer yes, but watch out for a pushy sales person to then be chasing you for chats about upgrades.

These may be worth looking into, but go through the above issues and just make sure it's easily trackable, you take one step at a time, and the whole thing simply makes sense and you can understand it all.

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I recently had a great conversation with someone looking to start their own catering business, and ended up providing some general business as well as website and digital-marketing advice. They already had a full-time job in the profession, and would ideally like to be running their own business, maybe renting a small kiosk somewhere locally and providing specialist food.

It's a similar dream for a lot of people, to run their own business doing what they truly love doing, and in actual fact there is such a great opportunity nowadays to begin this that there's no reason to not seriously consider. You just need the focus, and then the commitment to go for it.

However before running full steam ahead, here are 8 pieces of advice I gave in this instance which will help others in a similar business-start position. Four of these are just general business issues, whereas the other four are more to do with using the internet and digital marketing to do this.

The Four Business Tips

So here are the four more general business pieces of advice for business start-ups:

1. The Value of Off- and Online Worlds Coming Together

As the internet has evolved over the last few decades, people have increasingly joined the internet bandwagon although tended to treat it as a single interest. The trick nowadays is to marry the internet with real-life bricks-and-mortar businesses to see the best wins.

So large shops now have access online to buy and have delivered or collected, you can easily book an appointment with a 'real' business online beforehand, therefore a business may use a mixture of both on and offline marketing methods.

Therefore see these worlds working together, not an either-or situation. Look into how the internet can help with better leads and slicker product delivery whilst still producing a genuine product to sell

As an example, if you're selling special chocolates, you may well start selling them to shops direct at local fetes, but you could have a simple shop online and method to make contact with people looking for special chocolate treats.

2. Going Niche and Specialist

There's nothing wrong with becoming a specialist, in actual fact you need to nowadays in a world with so much choice and where people are actually looking for something different.

As an example, a typical way to start a pizza business would be to begin any old shop in a town and try to compete with others like Dominos through better service, prices, or location.

But if you went for a real specialist pizza, let's say for just vegetarians, vegans, and those going healthy – then this may open up a different untapped market that you can reach both in the real or online worlds. And even if there is an extra charge for longer distance travel, this could stack up.

3. Starting Small & Testing

Really simple, but often missed – just starting small and let things naturally grow.

So if you're beginning a special pizza-making business, look at literally cooking at home or a small kitchen area to basically start as a home business.

This means you need a lower start-up cost, more flexibility to tweak things, and simply less worry.

Going back to the above point about niche business as well, this often helps this principle as well to start small. So if you're looking into unusual toppings for pizzas, then you could start with very small samples and supply to local pizza providers as well as customers direct online or at special events.

4. Suss Out Genuine Partnerships

You then need to find out some genuine partners to team up with which is mutually beneficial. So your product will genuinely help their customers, and vice versa theirs will help yours.

This doesn't have to be rocket science, so if there's another caterer doing local events and you have a real novelty mini-pizza then you could see if there is room to fit you there as well.

Or maybe someone is already selling items online or through an eBay store, and you can easily offer a great deal to purchase your novelty item as well.

The Four Digital Tips

Now as we look at the digital world of the internet and websites, here are four more factors to consider:

5. The Email Database

This is probably one of the most important pieces of digital assets, and yet often not even thought of by business owners.

Basically, you need to build up a database list of all your actual and potential customers, because these are the ones you can re-sell and easily market back to time and time again.

So whenever they just come to your website or they actually buy something from you, get them to submit details. Or when they meet or buy from you 'offline', just get them to fill in a form and you can add them later.

A good example provider of this is MailChimp, which is actually free for low numbers and non-automated emails, and although primarily aimed for emails distribution you can use to store other customer information as well.

Once you have these details, you just need to look after them, and generally help them where you can do. So whether that's a regular newsletter of helpful tips, or going the extra mile with a birthday card on their birthday.

6. A Simple & Stupid Website

Now this piece of advice is doing myself out of a job, but that doesn't change the fact that it's right.

And that's to not invest in a fancy and expensive website (yet), but just start really small and cheap to get going with. It could even be a free one you create yourself online, or a few pages from a website designer – less is more, and quality over quantity (good example here at Able Accountants we helped advise).

You could even go simpler – just buy the domain name and re-direct this as a temporary measure to a holding page or even your Facebook page. You can always beef-up a website on that basic name in the future.

However, when you do have a simple form of website, the one thing I would say you need is a blog. This provides the ability for you to start creating helpful tips and information on what you're doing, which will pay off longer term with Google-SEO brownie-points, and starting to develop good communication with potential customers, for example through the above email newsletter method.

7. Genuine Social Media Stuff

The social media world can sound fancy, and a strange world if you're not into it. But really it should be as simple as real dialogue with people, after all it's meant to be a genuine form of social communication.

So just focus on one or two of the best ones that you're familiar with and your target-market of customers are using, maybe a Facebook page or Twitter, or for more formal businesses LinkedIn, or Instagram with image-based ones.

You can then always look into paid-advertising on these platforms as well if you want to get more focused, with Facebook being a good one where you can really narrow down the sort of person you want to see your adverts.

8. Simple Selling Online

So the last stage is actually a bit of selling something online, which can create fear and panic when you think of the cost and hassle of pulling this off and slick shopping carts on your website.

But start even simpler, with a good old eBay shop and account, or even Amazon. And just start selling what you have, maybe even with special bundled offers to get people's interest.

Even though you might not intend to sell directly to people online, which will probably take a lot of separate digital marketing, you could at least offer it to people you sell things to offline or through any above email database list.

The Focus for Business Start-Ups

So if you're looking to kick-start a business, whether brand spanking new or based upon a current hobby or form of trade, these above eight tips will help shape things up for you.

The first four plan out a general business landscape, whilst the later four then build on this to use the power of the still-evolving digital age that we live in. Both together are potent.

And remember that this primarily is all about some good old common sense and reality checks, and being able to home-in on a genuinely great products or services that you have an active market ready to pay for.

The rest can then gradually unravel to help bring this dream into a reality.

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This may sound strange coming from a website designer, but what really makes a good website is a graphics designer. 
 
Having those great looking photos, logos, and image designs can really make or break the whole website, and in actual fact some of the most effective and professional looking websites nowadays tend to have a very simple layout and design, which then allows the images to add that wow-factor.
 
There can also be added benefits to good photos and images, for example through enhanced SEO performance, the speed and usability of the website improving, and being able to communicate important points beyond just words. 
 
Therefore here are 5 top tips in order to make the most of images and pictures on your website:

1. Get the Right Shots

The most important part of course, to have the right actual images.
 
For a logo and regular graphics permanently on the website or just advertising a particular event, this is the part to involve a good graphic designer in. If you do need them on a regular basis, then once you agree the general style and feel the designs it will become easier to issue updated ones along the same lines.
 
For photographs, the text-book answer is to have a professional photographer to provide these at a cost. 
 
Two other options though are taking them yourself, which although may not be as good a quality can help provide authenticity; over the years people have become more immune to standard ‘stock’ photos of smiley people in say offices, and actually preferring a more raw and real-life shot, even though more unpolished.
 
The second option is to use standard photos already taken by professionals, with websites like iStockImages you can purchase these straight away. However, you will need to be careful that whatever photos you do use, that you have full permissions and copyright to use these for whatever personal or commercial purposes.

2. Get the Right Presentation

When it comes to placing images on your website, knowing where and how to add these is important in order to ensure the best first impression. 
 
You don’t want to go overboard with them dotted around everywhere, or trying to be too clever and making one big background image, but rather scattering them as and when needed. 
 
Often these are in obvious locations that people naturally see on a website, for example the logo in the top left corner, images within a written piece to the left or right, and any home-page specials right at the top of the page 
 
Taking it a step further, you could use them in special features like a slide show that fades or scrolls in and out, or something that has been fashionable the last few years is having different images appear behind different pages and which changes to different images everytime you flick through them. 
 
You can then add a few special touches if needs be, either through your graphic designer or by yourself through online website like PicMonkey, for example black-and-white colours, or making the shape a circle rather than a standard square shape.
 
Here's one example at Easy Cleaners where we advised to get some great-looking front images matching the main brand colours at the top of the home page.

3.  Get the Right Words

Although pictures in themselves do say a thousand words, adding a few extra words can help. 
 
Popular forms of adding these are small captions or quotes either directly below or even as part of the image itself. These can help immediately focus the reader into what they need to understand from the picture or take action to accomplish.
 
These could be added at the design stage as part of the image, or added as manual words afterwards directly or through any special extension like a slide show, with the added benefit of additional words for your SEO efforts as well.

4.  Get the Right Size

A typical problem is having too good quality and larger-sized images, particularly with the technology of today’s mobile phone cameras. They tend to be larger for non-website purposes such as printed flyers, or even social media images which tend to be larger, but when it comes to a website they need to be smaller.
 
So an image can be a whopping 2000 pixels wide for example, whereas this could be reduced by over a half in size and quality for the purpose of website. The advantage of reducing for your website is to improve the speed and loading of the website on people’s browsers, rather than people waiting for large-sized images to be downloaded from the web.
 
The size change takes place in two phases. The first is the actual file size before it even goes on your website, with online applications helping you re-size and download a smaller version before you then upload to your website. 
 
The second is to change the size of what actually shows on the web page, which although can change what you see does not alter the fact that the original larger-size is still loading in the background. 

5.  Get the Right Name

A final tip is to make sure the actual name of the image file is related to your website and purpose, not only to help easily identify them when you’re adding to the website, but to improve your SEO by having a related image. 
 
So instead of just, say, IMG00567.jog when you download from your camera, renaming the file on your computer to say ‘best-plumbers-in-Birmingham’ can help make it more related.
 
Also, make sure the ‘alt tag’ description is also the same or related is important, which is a hidden description of the image that helps people see what it was trying to show if the image for some reason does not show on their internet browser.
 
Graphics and Images Will Make or Break Your Website 
 
Therefore right at the very beginning of any new or improved website, begin looking at what images and photos you need in order to add that special touch. 
 
Some will require external help from, say, a graphics designer, for example a logo or graphics, whilst others could be ones taken on your own phone and simply adapted for web use.
 
After you have these ready to roll, and remember to ask for another perspective on the finished look, whether a colleague or external aid. This will help you spot the wood from the trees, and those often blatantly obvious tweaks and changes that you may need to polish things off.
 
You’re then ready to go with that special wow-factor to your website. 
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SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ and is the art of being able to encourage a website to come up sooner in any results of an online search engine that people type in for a particular phrase. You hear other references like becoming ‘the top of Google’, or ‘better rankings’ or an ‘optimised site’ – they’re all along the same lines and a principle that the majority of people now heard of.
 
So if someone is looking for a plumber in the Birmingham area, people often head straight over to a search engine like Google and type in a phrase like “plumbers in Birmingham” to find out what websites comes up. It can be evidently profitable for businesses and website operators to have this popularity, hence the evolution of a whole different ‘SEO’ industry within website design and internet marketing world.
 
In terms of the search engines used, Google is of course the daddy of them all. Although there are others like Yahoo and Bing, these are no way close to the popularity of Google. Plus, if you crack it on Google anyway then you’ll naturally be doing it on others as well.

How SEO Works

In terms of how SEO works, it’s actually supposed to be more normal and natural than what you think, and any company that tries to make it more secretive is not providing the full truth. 
 
It’s also more unpredictable than what you think, in that no one can categorically say with 100% certainty what will make you succeed, simply because Google itself hasn’t given you the full blue-print. If they did, then everyone would just be churning things out automatically. 
 
However you can resort to good tried and tested factors that will help, and what Google wants to be very natural rather than too contrived and forced, and without you needing to fall into uncertain ‘black hat’ SEO territory where things steer away from Google’s terms and conditions and what is fair.
 
So these 4 aspects are foundational and will stand you in good stead. Even though you might not have a SEO priority now, it’s still worth noting anyway. It boils down to common sense and easy-wins as part of your natural website design process, and therefore you may as well begin correctly and simply build on this in the future if needs be.

The Organic Search Results 

Search engine results in this SEO context is all about what they call ‘organic’ search results in Google, whereas there are two other forms of results in any results-page. 
 
One of these are paid adverts, known as Adwords with Google and other names within other search engines, where people are paying to have their results appear at the top. 
 
The second is a reference to actual real-life businesses or organisations in the form of a red flag on a map or separate listing, see here for more details on this.

The 4 Main Factors

So here are the main factors to consider when giving your website a steer in the SEO direction:

1.  Get Your Website Set-up In The Right SEO Way

Sometimes referred to ‘as site’ SEO, this is adding certain things to the actual website to basically give Google the right signals as to what you want it to come up for in certain searches. 
 
Many years ago this was open to abuse by people and being able to trick Google to think that the website was about one subject when in actual fact it wasn’t, whereas nowadays Google has wised up and can spot phonies. You therefore don’t need to go over the top, just to the point and fair in order to give Google the right signals and bread-crumb trails for when their Google crawlers come searching over your website.
 
The main influence is using the right words, and being able to add these in the correct places. These are often referred to as ‘meta’ information as it’s the words that Google focused more on, and generally is found in page titles, ‘meta descriptions’ for Google searches (although more for informing visitors themselves), and then within actual pieces of writing and important headlines. 
 
The core words are ‘keywords’ and ‘keywords phrases’, so if you’re a plumber in Birmingham then these may include “plumber in Birmingham” or “plumbers Birmingham” which basically match what people are actually typing into Google.
 
Amazingly there are tools to tell you what these actually are, and years ago people misused this and did ‘keyword stuffing’ on their website by over-using them, but now the focus is on just naturally including in the right places, and making sure that any natural variations and additional words are used. So Google has almost become a dictionary and thesaurus as well, in that it can spot if you’re a potential good website by using technical words like “pipes”, “boilers”, or “valves” in your website about plumbers in Birmingham.
 
The other aspect is general website structure, so having the best navigation and menus, adding a site map, using images with the right labels, and using internal links between pages with appropriate words. These all paint a picture to a genuine website that is providing the right SEO signals.

2.  Get Your Website Performing Well

This used to be part of the above point, but nowadays is a different aspect in itself that people may miss; it’s so blatantly obvious yet so easily assumed to have nothing to do with SEO. It’s simply having a website that is genuinely helpful and used by people. 
 
Because Google can track use and data on websites, then it spots when it is popular with figures out stats like who has visited, on what pages, for how long, and then how quickly they left the website otherwise known as the Bounce Rate.
 
So although the focus on SEO is about first attracting visitors, you need to quickly make sure they like your website and hang around in order to filter signals back to Google with positive vibes for your SEO success as well.

3.  Get Links and Citations With Other Websites

Google wants to see your website well connected with other websites in virtual world, as this is like a vote of confidence in the internet. The classic form is a mention of a website’s domain name on another website known as a ‘link’, with activities like ‘link building’ focussing on better quality and authority websites linking back to your website. It’s even better if the link itself can have the right phrases and be positioned in the right place on the website, and the secret here is quality not quantity.
 
Another similar connection is a Citation, particularly for real businesses with a real-life postal address and contact details. This is simply reference to this name and contact details around on the website, including without any links, which Google can pick up on and give credit for. So if there’s lots of good citations for a company called “ABC Plumbing” at 123 Any Road, Birmingham B1 2BC, then that is a good SEO signal for that business.

4.  Publish Regular and Beneficial Updates

The final piece of the jigsaw is keeping things fresh and updated as an ongoing exercise, and will become more important in the future in order to see real website that naturally attract interest and activity and not just static virtual dinosaurs. This is primarily the website itself, whether a regular blog or news section, new articles and pages, improved content and images.
 
It’s also important to see updates on the rest of the internet, and connected with the above point on links as well. Two examples of this include social media activity, although not as directly SEO beneficial as you may think, and also general reviews and updates that people make to your website online.  

Plotting Your Own SEO Strategy

Therefore as you embark on SEO for your website, keep things simple and go through the above four aspects in the same order. Begin with getting the actual website right in terms of the hidden SEO format and then good actual use, before then looking at how you will interact with other websites for links and connections and implement a process of genuine and regular website and internet updates.
 
With careful monitoring, how this will actually change your website’s popularity in search engines can be fine tuned and built upon in the future and you will soon be on the right track.
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If you're looking at a new or improved website for your church, ministry, or Christian organisation, then here are 10 aspects worth considering. Whether this is a whole new website or just updating your current one, and whether you’re doing it yourselves or you're looking to involve a website designer, these are applicable for everyone.
 
If you do outsource the actual website creation to someone else it's important to know these anyway, as you can help steer the design in the right direction, make sure things are not missed, and make sure people think outside the box a little for some new aspects and make sure the obvious ones don't get missed.
 
I’m a born again Christian myself and have helped build and then market church and ministry websites. In this day and age, a great website and online presence is such an important tool, whether that's for new people finding out about you, or regulars having an effective way to know what's happening. Of course this is only ever just a tool at the end of the day, but as far as tools go they’re very important.
 
So here then are the 10 website design and marketing factors to bear in mind:

1. Get the Right Website Domain Name and Package 

There's a separate post here on this, and includes making sure that you choose the right name, and that you get your own name and related hosting package right from day one. 
 
For more short-term blogs or say missions it can work out best just to go with a freebies online with the website name as part of the company, for example Word Press or Blogger. But for any long-term longevity then I'd make sure it’s set up separately and correctly from the beginning. 
 
If you're in a situation where you already have a website, it can be difficult to through contacts to actually get hold of log-in information, and often it is worth moving onto a new hosting platform, or in some cases even starting all over again with a new website name altogether. This does get quite technical and confusing, but it's integral to the whole website and online presence afterwards, therefore do contact me if I can help shed any further light on your own situation.

2. Use the Right Website Design Software

In the majority of cases I recommend software that will basically automatically upload to your website and have all the kit there ready to go. They're often free, and you can then easily log in online and begin designing the website behind the scenes. 
 
Although this sounds straightforward and affordable, the trick is to know what paid extras you do need and the experience or time commitment to learn how to assemble together. 
 
I personally use a piece of software called Joomla, but a popular one and good one to learn with is Word Press, so long as you do upload it on your own website and don't work from their website. Once done, updating is easy, and you can have multiple people able to log in online and easily update the website in future, maybe an administrator for general things, and the youth leader for, say, a youth section, or someone heading up mid-week groups and adding helpful resources and notes.

3. Select the Right Template 

This is the fancy bit, and how the website actually looks. It's the general shape and feel of every page, right down to the selection of background colour, blocks and bars of information, and organisation of them. If you're using set software like that mentioned above, then these can be automatically uploaded and take effect, with some free or others at a reasonable price. 
 
This is worth thinking through carefully, and realising that these actually should be far less complicated than what you might think, as nowadays it's the images and writing that really make a website. 
 
The best example I can think of is Google or Amazon, where the templates basically boil down to white backgrounds and blocks of information; less is more nowadays, and being minimalistic and simple can actually look far more sophisticated than something more complicated. With some great images and effects like slideshows and fading in and out, these can be enough to add that final wow-factor.

4. Having the Right Images

I actually admit nowadays that a good graphics designer is worth more than a website designer in many ways with websites. The way in which images and logos and adverts are displayed on a website will simply make or break it, period. 
 
With great images and then a simple background and arrangement like above, then you have a blessed website. So if you can, bring in someone good with graphics at this stage and begin getting this right. 
 
In terms of the types of images, aim for good natural shots of actual real people at church, whether having fellowship over a coffee, or worshiping in a service, or close up at people's smiley faces, particularly leaders as these pages are surprisingly very popular for people to look at. 
 
With today's technology these can actually be done by your own smart phone of digital camera, and with some online editing tools you can crop them, shape them up into, say, circles, and add special effects like being black and white. I always say to get the actual logo professionally done, but you can use online tools to help create your own designs for other things like different events and areas of church life, my favourite being Canva. 
 
Just on the practical side of adding these to the website, make sure they are saved in smaller file sizes than what you're naturally used to for, say, printing - as the bigger sizes will slow the website down - and save the file name of each photos into something related as this will help with your SEO, which we’ll go into in a short while (so rather than “IMG0325.jpg”, save as “newcomers-event-yourchurchname-yourtown.jpg”).

5. Choosing the Right Audience 

Okay, as you head towards actually creating the website you need to check something that may seem blatantly obvious but is so often missed. That's who is going to use your website.
 
These roughly fall into two categories. Firstly, any regular people at your church or group in order to find out the latest happenings through, say, notices and upcoming dates for the diary. Surprisingly though this is not as popular as you might imagine, as often social media postings such as those on Facebook are more effective, or even good old printed newsletter or leaflets at Church. 
 
In terms of what can work on the website, then it could be simple notices in a form of blog format, or maybe a calendar of events even linked to say Google Calendars. 
 
You also need to make sure it's easily updated, not only with current events but some way or maybe archiving older past events as this can help show and remind people of what has already happened, maybe with photos uploaded of the event afterwards, and can help again with your SEO by having additional pieces of relevant information being built up on the website.
 
Secondly, you need to think of new people looking to find you and attend your gatherings, whether already believers and maybe looking for a local Church to attend whilst visiting the area or relocation, or a group of people that you’re trying to target. 
 
The sort of information and almost layout of it will be different than your regulars, and no matter how hard you try to fine-tune it through the eyes of new people, you will still need independent feedback, lots of testing, and often a very straight forward approach (two popular areas will be the leadership and Sunday services for example with local Churches).

6. Updating the Right People 

Once your website is up and running, you’ll need to work out how best to update people with things on an ongoing basis. These are often up and coming events, or special announcements, or forms of newsletters. 
 
You may be able to upload a PDF document newsletter, or run a blog, or add calendar entries on the website. You’ll also need to see how this links to social media, as often regular members will tend to use, say, Facebook for regular information and updates, leaving the website more helpful for newcomers and visitors. 
 
You might be able to link these together, so an automatic post on the website goes to Twitter and Facebook, and gauge whether you just want basic event-style notices, or you want to develop more interactive sections such as key people and leaders blogging, or a separate youth group having more interaction. 

7. Installing the Right Google Gear 

This gets technical, but in short there’s two pieces of free Google ‘gear’ that will help you monitor the performance of your website online, and relatively easy to connect to your website after you have a Google account set-up, ideally just for the church or organisation rather than your own personal one. 
 
Firstly, there is Google Webmasters where you can upload a ‘Sitemap’ for your website as well as tracking ‘code’, which helps spot any technical issues with your website and SEO stats such as how many link to it. 
 
Secondly, Google Analytics logs who actually visits your website and what they do, providing data like how many visitors you have, what pages they went on, and how long they stayed there. This is important data to appreciate exactly what the website is used for in reality, not just what you think might be happening.

8. Submitting the Right Google Listing 

Not many people realise that Google has a separate note of any business and organisation that is separate to their normal website details in the search results. It’s kind of like a yellow pages listing, and you see them on a map or with a red flag at the top of any related results. 
 
If you’re a long-standing Church then Google will probably have noted your Church and address already, therefore you’ll simply need to update whereas otherwise you will need to go through the process of setting one up. We have more details here on this, and it’s important to remember that these details need to be accurate to not only help with your SEO on the main site, but for visitors and newcomers actually using and correctly arriving at your property. 
 
It is essential that if you have other buildings and congregations, make sure these are also shown and that people don’t mistakenly go to one building rather than another for a particular meeting.

9. Setting-up the Right SEO and Marketing 

SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ and is the process of encouraging your website to be at the top of any related Google search results. 
 
So if people are searching for a new church in London, and type in a phrase like “church London”, then if your church’s website is one of the top results this will help more people find you and be a popular way to practically let people know what you’re doing. 
 
There is a lot of hype and false promises about how to do this, when in actual fact it boils down to common-sense and honest changes that will over time help your ‘rankings’ Even though this might not be a priority now, it’s worth getting the basic website structure up and running with this in mind, with a post here on the 4 most important aspects to good SEO to be aware of.
 
In addition to Google, there are of course other online methods to help advertise your Church or organization on other websites and directories, whether in the Christian world or your local community where you serve.
 
Another important tool is emails, and being able to send out regular newsletters and information to people. You can get good-value external providers of this like Mailchimp, which you can connect ‘subscribe’ features to your website as well as add people’s details. It can also act as a helpful form of database of people’s contact details as well behind the scenes.   

10. Seeing the Right Impression

To finish off, there’s a very simple point of making sure that the website comes across in the best way possible for the best first impressions. Unfortunately there’s a danger to lose sight of this the more involved you become, and by adding more things to the website. 
 
One way to deter this is ask others for feedback, ideally other members or new people to look at any new website from new and see what they think; there’s also one great website called Peek User Testing which can arrange free online feedback for your website as well. 
 
Another great way to sharpen that first impression, is a clear introduction on the website, ideally with a nice introduction video clip. This doesn’t need to be fancy, and ideally would be your main leader or pastor simply honestly taking about what the Church or group stands for, and allowing the true vibe and blessing to be easily communicated to others. 

Getting the Right Church and Christian Website 

Going through these 10 aspects to good website design for Churches, ministries, and Christian organisations will help keep you on track to having a website and online presence that not only looks good but can perform. 
 
You’ll probably need to involve multiple people in this process, from decision-makers and leaders, to the actual website designer and graphic designer, therefore it’s even more important to keep these main things the main thing.
 
Please do contact us for any other queries and helpful feedback on your own website and ideas.
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Deciding on your website name is one of the most important decisions to make with your website. Whatever the website looks like in future, it will always hinge on this main domain name.
 
You may hear names like ‘domain name’, the ‘www dot’, or ‘URL’ being mentioned, which are all basically the main name you type in your internet browser. So for this website, the general name is The Website Waiter, and this domain name is www.thewebsitewaiter.com.
 
The good news is that they’re pretty-cheap to buy nowadays and it’s easy to search for one that’s available. For under £10 you can purchase, and if you head to popular websites like 123 Reg. Go Daddy, and 1and1 – there will be search boxes to have fun finding a new name.
 
The bad news is that mistakes can be made at this essential stage which you’ll pay the price for in the future. It’s therefore imperative to get these right from the start in order to save money, time, and frustrations later on.  
 
Therefore here are the top 3 aspects of domain names you need to watch out for:

1. Keep Your Website Independent

You can come across some websites that offer you very cheap and even free websites there and then through their own website, but you simply end up adding a unique name to their own main website name. 
 
Two popular ones are through Wordpress and Blogger, so as an example if this website was created through them there could be a unique name of, say, http://thewebsitewaiter.wordpress.com, all for free and immediately available. 
 
Now this is actually a great deal for something very straightforward and temporary, so if you’re setting up a blog for your holidays for example. The problems come though with anything long-term, and needing additional internet benefits, for example SEO performance on Google or appearing unique for any marketing. You’re basically using their own hosting and name which can cause restrictions longer term and it’s worth the extra cost and involvement now to get your own direct name and hosting straight away.

2. Keep the Name Simple

This is the exciting bit, where you get to choose the actual name of the website. 
 
You will of course be restricted by any existing website names already taken, however in the frenzy of this and the endless choice of different names you can get too carried away. 
 
Keep things as simple as possible, it will pay off. Keep the name as short as you can do, with as few additional words as possible, although try and use extra straightforward words instead of hyphens. 
 
So with The Website Waiter, ‘the’ was needed at the beginning as it is part of the name, but otherwise it would have been worth looking at just ‘website waiter’ if needed rather than something like the-website-waiter.com
 
Also, on the end part of the domain, stick with the mainstream ones of .co.uk and .com if you can do. These are long-standing ones that people and Google are familiar with and favour, with trendy ones like .info at the end only worthwhile if the main purpose of the website is a real catchy name for advertising literature.

3.  Keep it Closely Hosted

Finally, try to keep the hosting of the website with the same company where you purchase the domain from. This ‘hosting’ is your piece of virtual real estate on the internet where your websites is placed, and the name just the sign to get there. 
 
A popular problem is someone purchasing a domain from, say, Go Daddy to get a few pounds saved and quickly secured, but then a lot of delays, costs, and hassle getting technical information and moving to another hosting platform. Just keep it all together. 

Getting it Right First Time 

So when you’re choosing a new website domain name, try and keep it independent in a simple straightforward way and being able to then easily host it afterwards. 
 
Contact us for any more help and advice on this, or if you would like to run a new domain name idea past us. 
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Not many people realise that Google provides their business with a free listing. Completely free of charge, and relatively easy to complete.

The best way to quickly understand this is to search for a business in Google, let’s say a pub called The Miners Arms in a village called in Eyam in Derbyshire. I made a small website for them a few years ago, and therefore if you search for the phrase “The Miners Arms Eyam” you see their website at the top of the normal Google search results.

miners-arms-eyam-screenshot-the-website-waiter

 

These are the normal, what they call ‘organic’ results, where the website comes out at the top of Google – this is the area of Google that everybody wants to see happen for them through the process of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

But there is also another way which most people don’t realise, and that’s the separate box of information on the right. This is a nice little snap shot of information on that particular business including the address, contact details, photos, and even reviews.

This separate information is also linked to the map you often see with red flags on, so if you type in, say, “pub eyam” you don’t actually get this particular pub anymore but a red flag with other alternatives at the top and a list of options. If you click on one of these you find similar information which is linked with Google’s version of social media called Google Plus.

pub-eyam-the-website-waiter

 

They’re Two Separate Things

Whichever form you see, these are separate “Google Business” listings that are completely separate to your website and search results. It’s basically Google’s version of a directory listing like Yell.com.

It’s an official mention of your business even though you may not even have a website yet, on the basis that Google do want to provide genuinely helpful information to people and mention your business even though you may not be online yet.

Practically, Google has already spent years locating general business information from all kinds of databases, and so more established businesses may automatically be noted on here with whatever information Google has found for them. The main focus is therefore for any newer businesses to also get mentioned, but it’s also worth existing businesses making sure they are correctly referred to with up-to-date information. Either way, you may as well get your business correctly mentioned on Google for free.

Three Advantages to Your Google Business Listing

Here are 3 specific ways that you will benefit from a correct Google Business listing:

1. People Will Find You Better When Searching on Google

This is for more specific searches, so as above if people already know about The Miners Arms pub in Eyam and type it straight into Google, then they get immediate information on that business, and with technology like smart phones they can then easily email or call that business straight away armed with this right information.

2. You Get in the Map Results

So if you have a more general search like “pubs eyam” with a few options, you can still get mentioned on the Google Map with a red flag, and then in the list of options below. This is still a totally separate reference to your website which will always be above the main organic search results, and therefore some good exposure.

Although your Business listing does need to sharpen up in order to get mentioned straight away in this list, this can still be an easy win.

3. It Helps You With Longer Term Website SEO

So for your main website in the normal results, Google likes to see that you’re a real business and linked with your real business listing with them, which will give you brownie points with your SEO and therefore popularity in the organic search results.

How to Get Your Business Listing Sorted

If you head to this link and first search for your business, Google will first check to see if it has a version of this for you to officially claim and then amend, or whether you need to create a new one – www.google.com/business. The steps are pretty self explanatory to then fill in details and progress with.

You will then reach a stage where Google needs to validate that you are a real business, which based upon the fact that you are claiming to be at a real postal address, means they will then send you a postcard to this address. Once you receive this, you will need to log back in and type their code in to finally authorise and then complete any information.

In terms of what details you need to then update in your Business listing, these boil down to:

1. Add The Right Written Detail

This may sound obvious, but make sure everything you can do is added, and it is technically correct, even down to abbreviations like ‘Street’ or ‘St’. It doesn’t necessarily matter what these actually are, but the important aspect is that this exact description matches references elsewhere on the internet and your website so that Google can clearly see they are the same business.

2. Add Any Images

You will naturally have a Street View picture from Google of your address, but you have the opportunity to add other images like your logo and any promotional pictures and offers.

3. Add Social Media Links

An opportunity to get connected online, with reference to your own website and other profiles like Facebook and Twitter. Google also has a direct link with their own Google Plus social media profile to provide updates and posts to keep things fresh.

4. Add Reviews

An opportunity for individuals to place a review through their Google account, which can help give more credibility to your Business account and online presence.

Use Your Free Opportunity

With Google being such a dominant force on the internet, here is a golden opportunity to have your free business listing up and running within a short space of time. At the very least your business will clearly appear when people do a search for you, but in addition provide an opportunity to improve general visibility and an important foundation to any longer term SEO strategy.

Click here to find out how we can help you with this.

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You should be able to easily use email addresses that are linked to your website domain name, an example being info@thewebsitewaiter.com for the website here. You have whatever name or description before the famous ‘at’ symbol and then the rest of your website name.

It looks the business; clearly connected to the website itself, and therefore as well as looking great it is clearly part of the website purpose.
 
They’re actually more straight forward nowadays to create and manage, however you need to watch out for the detail, in order to make sure they are correctly selected, set-up, and then managed and actually going forward. I’ll therefore always get this bottomed out with clients at the beginning of any new website, with a quick summary below of the main 4 factors to consider when you go through this process:

 1. Decide Which ‘General’ and ‘Named’ Email Addresses You Need

So general ones typically are things like info@ and enquiries@, with maybe more function-specific ones like accounts@ or sales@, and even more trendy-looking ones like hello@.

Named ones are actual people’s names, for example JohnSmith@, and obviously dependent upon individual people.

My advice is normally have at least one each, only have essential ones to begin with as you can always add others afterwards, and make the distinction between a role which may have different or numerous individuals actually doing the role, as opposed to key individuals where you want to communicate the personal element.

 2. Get the Right Names

Not so much for the general ones as they are straightforward, although I do advise to keep it simple with popular handles like info@ rather than, say, hello@, simply because day-to-day users are familiar with this. For the individual names, think about whether you need a surname as well, any middle names, and whether you want things like full stops and dashes splitting them, or abbreviations of them.

Personally I’d go for just first names for small websites wanting to be personable, otherwise the Christian name then surname with a full stop in between, like john.smith@.

 3. Set Up a Webmail Account for Each Email Address

Okay, so this starts getting technical, but in effect it means that you’re going to have a separate email account on the internet for each email address, just like you would with ones like Hotmail or Gmail.

You can then log in, and ta-da, you have your own inbox, and sent items box, and folders there to send and receive emails from that email address.

The good news is that technology is available to easily set these up nowadays with any good website’s hosting package, but the less good news is that you need to get the detail right to firstly get people to understand them, and secondly to then actually make use of them. You can then set up a standard login page that all emails can use, ideally with a clear link related to the website such as www.thewebsitewaiter.com/webmail.

 The other important thing here is to clarify what password you set for each email account, which is actually harder than you might think. General emails are more straightforward, but with individual ones you want to make sure people choose one they can actually remember, and secondly be clear on who else may need to know this to also gain access in an emergency but still maintaining correct Data Protection procedures.

 4. Arrange Diverts to People’s Own Email Where Needed

This is a completely separate way to deal with emails to the webmail option above, and can be in addition or as an alternative to webmail. In effect, an email just pings across to someone’s own personal email without the faff of any middle-man webmail account.

For example, John.smith@yourwebsitename.com may simply ‘divert’ emails to John Smith’s own personal email in Gmail, so it looks like he receives ones direct to his own email account. This is great for having the right impression of a website email, when in actual fact there is the convenience of having it direct to your own email account to read and deal with.

The down sides are that when you reply it will come from your own email account which people will know about, and also you can’t allow multiple users on it, although you can arrange for one standard email like accounts@ to be sent to more than one person’s one email, so maybe 3 key people within an accounts team.
 
In conclusion, make sure you chat through this detail right at the beginning of any new website, or even any existing website because even if the current website does not have the capacity for this it may be worth changing the hosting package so that it can.

You then need to think through how your business, interest, or website purpose works day to day, as in who needs to be involved with emails and how they control them. Once this is bottomed-out, you just need information like names and passwords and you’ll soon be on track to getting set up. 

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Google is of course the bread and butter of internet usage nowadays; just type your query into the search box and see what results come back. There are however other handy services from Google that do make a big difference, and although they’re aimed at more business use, they’re still handy to know and start using for all kinds of other personal use and interests. The majority are also free, and can easily be picked up by anyone, with Google themselves starting to bring out training and support as well as resources like YouTube videos.

So taking a step back, here are 7 types of additional services and features from Google that everyone needs to look into. Okay there’s a learning curve to pick them up, but once you do you’ll reap the rewards:

1. Mail

A popular extra that most are aware of, Google’s own email account known as Gmail. It’s free to set up, and similar to ones like Hotmail you can set up your email account with them.

One issue I’ve come across myself though is the way in which they organise emails, as they tend to group all similar ones into one entry where you have to scroll down and ‘unwarp’ previous emails in the chain – it’s probably just a personal choice, but I do prefer the old fashioned separate-email way of presenting this.

Another thing to be wary of as well is that over a certain size, and I mean super large size of many thousands of emails later, they will need to start charging you for longer term storage of them for a few pounds a month, which to be honest seems fair enough for what it is.

2. Calendar

The ability to make calendar entries online, with a few additional angles also worth looking into. Firstly, you can set up other Gmail users to link with some of your entries, handy if you want to set-up rotas for different people on different things.

Secondly, you can sync with things like your mobile phone calendar settings to get everything linked up. Thirdly, it can be used to send you reminders, and fourthly you can integrate the calendar onto website pages to then show others entries you have, particular good for volunteer groups.

3. Docs & Sheets

I’ve only recently got into these, and they’re great. In short, they similar to standard Microsoft document like Word and Excel but now online, with technology improving the last few years so they do have a lot of familiar features.

As well as being accessed online, and being able to upload original Microsoft versions of these, you can also get others to share them in terms of contributions and viewing.

4. Analytics & Webmaster

This is where things get technical more for website designers, but the end stats from these are helpful for everyone. In short, Webmaster tells you the technical aspect of your website for SEO and general purposes, and Analytics the amount and type of use your website gets.

So as an example, you can find out if there are any technical glitches not helping your rankings in the former, and then how many say visitors actually come to your site and how they get there in the later.

5. Business & Plus

This is Google’s entry into the online social-media and advertising world, with both inter-linked although not easily understood and evolving over the last few years. With Plus you have a profile like on Facebook for posts and comments, and although not popular in social media world, using it can have SEO benefits.

For Business, it is Google’s version of a free directory listing for your business, similar to say on Yell, but completely free and helps you have a separate mention with a red flag on Google maps and searches, something so often missed by businesses but essential.

6. Drive

This is Google’s online file storage system, similar to other services like Dropbox. It has a sync ability that allows you to automatically save all your own files on your computer. Also good for sharing documents with others, although make sure these don’t get duplicated every time they’re updated.

7. AdWords & AdSense

The paid advertising platforms for Google; with AdWords you pay Google to show your advert on search results or other sites, and with AdSense you received an income for Google using your site as a platform to have AdWords for others. These were the bee’s knees 10 years ago, and although not as easily profitable now with more competition, they can still be worth looking into.

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I’ve been involved with a residential property management firm in Birmingham who have been looking into slicker ways of dealing with enquiries on the internet, particularly from existing tenants and residents as opposed to say any new-business enquires (however it will indirectly help with new business as it’s an important service that can be offered for new clients).

It’s taken a full step back to get the principles right first before rushing into techie-talk on how it’s all done, and involved consultation with marketing companies as well as residents and clients. The conclusion was three important angles that can be looked at independently or together; infact, to some degree they progress in importance and cost, almost an ‘upgrade’ in terms of how slick you really want to get with managing enquiries on the web. So here they are:

1. Basic enquiries from a website. It’s a typical series of boxes that someone adds their information into like name, telephone number, address, email address, and comments box. With managing lots of different properties one question was whether to have a drop-down list of these to choose from, as although this may be easier when submitting information it is very transparent with all the firm’s client list there. You could also look into predictive-typing instead, or just let people type from scratch and make the field compulsory to fill in.

You then need to look at what happens to all this information, typically pinged on an email to whoever needs to see it. After this, to look at where these forms are found, not only directly on the website but maybe other popular areas like a Facebook page and links within emails, and when it is on your main website whether there is a special area just for this service or a particular property as opposed to just a general area at the side of every page say. Another technical point as well was to make sure that it’s all fully mobile compatible, particularly within this context as most residents would be accessing through this method.

2. Online email ticketing system. One example recommended by a resident was www.zendesk.com which I spent a little time on with a trial account, and had a call from a representative. The idea is that you pay so much per month for being able to use their online email ticketing system so anyone can send an email and it is linked to however many other people’s email as well. Its white-label in that you can brand it to your own company, and you can set up information points to have said a FAQ and documents-page to download - it’s kind of a customer-support function that can involve lots of other people as necessary. One downside though is that it would take time to fully understand, not just the basics, but the ins and outs of it, and going beyond just the video clips and guides, but spending a fair amount of time just trialling and seeing how it goes.

3. Telephone call-centre support. This is admitably off line, but still related to the online world. Out of hours, it will help provide a back-up call centre to take calls. The number could simply be mentioned on the standard message on the main phone out of hours, and the emphasis being on dealing with emergencies out of hours. A good script would be needed so they know what to say, including any unique pieces of information about the property. You’re then into the realms of maybe a communal-access spreadsheet in the cloud, maybe shared from Google Drive, and the call centre being able to make the most of sending emails online if possible rather that call numbers, maybe even using any ticketing system already in use on the previous point.

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Last month’s free website design I helped with was www.rite-price-building-services.co.uk. A local building company I’ve been involved with who do a good local job, and we got onto the subject of websites as I spotted that one wasn’t mentioned on their works van. They had one ages ago but it hadn’t been viable to keep on, and they had been hit by one of the bigger companies offering the world for only so much per month (they had treated him to coffee, and talked about a flashy new website costing hundreds of pounds and then monthly charges for hosting and keeping updated).

The reality is that you can end up with a website you don’t really like, and monthly charges you don’t really need. Keith commented how he actually didn’t like the standard pictures of fancy builders doing whatever as it didn’t show the true picture - fair comment.

So anyway, I offered to do a new one, with a new domain name to save all the hassle of trying to locate whatever old one there was. This can then be added in time to whatever marketing material like flyers, adverts, and even van graphics.

So this website is actually a great example of something so completely simple and simply better than having nothing at all. Keith still needs to go over and update the content, put some real life pictures on, but there’s a fancy version of his logo that I had a graphics designer make up just from a picture of the one on his van. It’s worth asking any graphics designer to come up with a few of these, often easy as they can pop in a standard 3D shape and it looks great.

The other important aspect to having some kind of website no matter how simple is that it can be used in other online information, whether directory listings, social media profiles – over time it can become a central hub to link back to, and if you’re using the right basic software you can then improve and add features over time.

The one thing I didn’t do here was the new Google My Business set up. Here you don’t even need a website, as Google is bringing together all kinds of Google features to help local businesses get online – here’s an old post on the former Google Places and getting your business on Google, with more eon the current changes soon.

Tagged in: website design
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I recently had to buy a specialist item that just wasn’t available from mainstream online retailers like amazon or ebay, but I managed to find a website selling these niche items. Although always a fath setting up an account and their unique shopping-cart process for just the one item, it was worth it to get the thing delivered. Not a big item so it should infact fit through the letter box, under £5 to buy, and although a classic delivery charge was added at the end it wasn’t the end of the world.

Where things went wrong was the delivery. The amount of time and energy wasted on trying to sort out a £5 item just wasn’t worth it - it would have been worth driving around Birmingham for a good old fashioned bricks-and-mortar supplier. In particular, here are the 5 stages of the delivery mess:

1. I received 5 text messages from the website all about the delivery – that it was to be dispatched, then what actual day it was coming, and then when it wasn’t successfully delivered. Text updates may be trendy, but they’re a pain when there’s lots and you’re dealing with a £5 item, just let things naturally happen.

2. There were two slips through the door saying they couldn’t be delivered. Firstly, the item was small enough to fit through the letter box. Secondly, it wasn’t clear what item this was with no ID on the forms – if you buy lots of things online you have to sit and think what this could be, and with two of them you have to assume it means the same item rather than two separate ones. Thirdly, it wasn’t clear what the next stage was, hopefully you don’t have to do anything and it stays at the depost for you to collect at the weekend.

3. I had to call them to see what they were and how to get hold of them. Goodness knows what the call cost was (a 0845 number), and then I’m left hanging trying to decide if an attempted re-delivery is possible the same day but they can’t confirm when, or whether I collect from them the next day.

4. I did collect the following day a Saturday, to firstly find that I only need one piece of ID (they said on the call the previous that two were needed so I’m wading through bills the night before dragging out a mobile phone bill, making sure in was the last 3 months of course). Also, there was a limited time frame of collection on Saturday between 8 and 10 am, even more frustrating by the fact that this area of town around 5 miles from my house I was in any way around lunch, but I had to make a special trip at 9 am to collect.

5. Emails were sent all about deliveries, then non-deliveries. Again, not clear, and only frustrating the situation. Ironically the last one of these asked for feedback on the purchase and process which I couldn’t help but reply to (even then it wasn’t clear, as a ‘review’ on the website made it sound like it would be for everyone to see so I just replied to the info@ email to save the embarrassment for them).

In all fairness though, there was a quick reply back saying the majority of these issues had already been identified and were being looked at. About time.

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All a load of rubbish really, although dealing with rubbish is becoming big business. There seems to be more and more to get rid of, tonnes and tonnes of hassle, and costs ever-increase to arrange as we turn more green and conscious of how to efficiently remove rubbish. It’s actually a great career option I think – to become specialist in an area of refuse collection and the whole recycling/green niche can only get better with a need for specialists in this in the future.

Therefore here’s a few helpful pointers for dealing with that rubbish, particulary that little extra that has a habit of appearing:

1. Remember metal means money. Anything that is made of metal can be sold for scrap metal and recycled, even if it’s still in its original format with non-metal parts. You can search your local scrap dealer and deliver, or have them even come to your door to collect, whether it’s your local man-in-a-van who drives round actively looking for goods, or you arrange online through websites such as www.pickupmyscrapmetal.com. The general gist is that you then simply leave outside your house on the drive or even pavement and they’ll pick up, ideally this being as organised as possible with vetted-collectors and agreed-times.

2. Communicate with the council. As well as the bog standard bin collection, then check out what additional collections they can make, sometimes for a small additional charge particularly for specialist items like fridges. There’s also the local tips to drop off yourself, you’ll just need to check the times which reduce over the winter period and make sure different types of refuse go in the right containers. Also, just watch the quantity of refuse, and whether by the sheer volume or type it falls within business or trade refuse which generally speaking will mean it needs paying for. If you’re a community group then there may be reductions though, for example for charities using business services at Walsall Council trade waste.

3. Skip alternatives – this is an emerging market, with a great local one being Clearobee. They will actually make a special collection to take away rather than using a traditional skip which can be costly and hassle to arrange and locate. They can be cheaper than skips, with any recyclable parts now being big and profitable business. One way to practically help this along is to take a photo of the rubbish needing collection and sending on an email which can help gauge what they need to bring to collect.

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Last week I visited the tramway museum in a village called Crich in Derbyshire where there are old trams not only on show in a museum and workshop but working on tram lines. These date back from the start of the last century therefore being over 50 years old and classics in the eyes of those who remember when they were the main means of public transport, or younger kids who see them as antiques from yester-year (it was half term so quite a few kids and families).

A great day visit, particularly when you start looking into how they operated both in terms of the construction of trams but also the way they were managed. Old and simple technology, with eight good lessons to be meant:

1. They had a physical object to make sure only one tram was only ever on the single track. So in a couple of locations there was only one set of tracks yet trams moving in both directions. The system of making sure only one tram was only ever on these to stop any collisions was simple, no complicated digital means of communication – just have a rubber object hung on a pole, and when a tram went past the driver grabbed it and then placed it back on the pole at the other end when finished. Whoever has it can drive on the track, simple.

2. Difficult slippy areas of track are dealt with by pouring sand on them. This are stored in sandbanks inside the tram, with foot pedals next to the driver which then release sand onto the tracks, even two different ones for each track. If slippy or problems, then just release.

3. Pop-in ploughs are possible for snow. So there were gaps in the under-carriage where ploughs could be installed to help plough snow etc out of the way, or even have special ones on the front of some trams. No need for separate vehicles (and cost), just use the same one.

4. They are amazingly safe and long-lasting. You’re talking decades, not just years compared to say traditional buses, hence why they’re still operational over 50 years on. They keep on going, safe-as-houses apparently, and although they were phased out because of the initial cost being too high, when you look longer term over the decades they’re very cost efficient (interesting how modern trams are in existence now).

5. Excessive turning circles can be controlled by a chain. Yes, literally a link chain dangling between the bottom carriageway which turn when tracks do, against the bottom chassis of the tram – if it turns too much then the chain will stop it. Crude, but I guess does the job.

6. They’re powered by live electricity cables above rather than batteries. A metal ‘prong’ then reaches up to the top cables to provide electricity for the motors – may not be all pro Health ‘n’ Safety nowadays with exposed electricity, plus the cost of installing these high cables, but they provide quiet and efficient power (and a revolution at the time following say engines and even horse power).

7. You literally turn everything around when you go backwards. No turning the vehicle needed, the driver simply goes to a similar area at the other end of the tram like with a train, and you even get to stand up and change the direction of your seats to face the correct way rather than then travel backwards.

8. Smoking (with style) was permitted on the top deck. Even sometimes with a rough ‘patch’ next to the windows to strike your match down to light up.

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There’s an interesting article in the Peterborough Telegraph on how you should account for any website development costs in your business accounts so they are correctly taxed. To date a new website has just been perceived as another form of advertising/marketing or IT cost to a business like any other costs such as newspaper adverts or servers, wheres now the HMRC are seeing them as a whole new entity.

They’ve realised the potential of websites generating significant income for a business, and therefore this income-generation potential of a website is now being considered not just the function of the website which will then determine whether they are treated as revenue expenditure in your profit-and-loss, or capital expenditure in a balance sheet.

In reality this probably won’t effect most small businesses with straight forward website design costs, and if it does then it’s something your accountant can help clarify, however without getting bogged down with the detail of this it’s critical to understand the gist of this in case it does affect you now or in the future and any HMRC queries.

So here’s 3 bottom-line steps to get this sorted:

1. Understand the difference between the two types of accounting. The first is ‘capital expenditure’, which is where you’re spending on something that has value now but can continue with a form of value into the future, hopefully going upwards but possibly downwards. It’s like buying a car – you’ll still have it tomorrow and it will be worth something if you sold it, probably less over time although can be more if it’s say a classic car.

In the accountancy world you deal with these separately, and then ‘tweak’ your main businesses’ profit-and-loss figures to reflect these costs and changes, which can include 100% capital allowances in the year of expenditure – this can then require a separate balance sheet to account and capitalise/reduce these costs over time.

The second is ‘revenue expenditure’, which is a more bog-standard costs of doing business which is then taken away from any income to produce actual remaining profit in any one year. Sort of like putting the petrol in your new car, once it’s used it has no value, and it’s simply a ‘cost’ of being able to use your ‘asset’ car. So these are just accounted for in your normal profit-and-loss accounts.

2. Get your website development costs split between these two types of costs. So the capital-expenditure costs are now ‘enduring assets’ and apparently your main website costs as HMRC perceive your website as an asset that not only keeps its value, but can increase in value as it grows and develops income for the business.
These can include the domain name, hosting, software, infrastructure, hardware, design, publishing, designing, and content-development costs. A crude benchmark is if the net income expected from the website (like direct sales, subscriptions, advertising or other income) is higher than your design costs, then it normally falls into this category.

The other type is when things are simply changed through say a new website refresh, but the basic ‘asset’ is already there, or where there is just running and maintenance costs. These are your normal ‘revenue expenditure’ costs that you will take off your business income in that year.

3. Decide if these two costs need to be accounted for in the two types of accounting, which may affect the tax you pay now and in the future. The best way is to then involve an accountant or bookkeeper right at the beginning rather than passing the invoices afterwards, as they can help confirm things correctly. Generally speaking this only becomes an issue though with larger companies and total design-costs of over £1,000 ish or where the website plays a significant part of the business income, for example if there are a lot of online sales. Also, even though you technically need to account for these two ways, it can have little net effect on taxes paid now, with the effect of say capital allowances and being able to benefit from full tax relief on these costs anyway in the year of expenditure.

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Liaising with utility companies involves a whole new skill set. Get this wrong, and you’ll get seriously frustrated, to the point of slamming down phones and blaming individuals there for causing this. It’s important to dig a bit deeper though to look at the system and how it unfortunately just doesn’t help, and to take the personal factor out of it.

The pressure is on to get prices down, so all the utility providers like npower, Swalec, Eon, Scottish Power are all competing to get the lowest price and best customer service. They don’t necessarily supply your power, so you can be on the south coast having physical electricity cabled by a-another to your home or business, while agreeing to go with a northern-based and branded supplier to deal with your account and charges.

So whatever supplier your account ends up with, here’s 3 tips I’ve learnt the hard way to help wade through the system:

1. Gauge the person you’re speaking to at the company straight away and tailor everything accordingly (and with respect). They’re a real person, and looking from their perspective have to go through system-notes and listen to us before coming up-to-speed on the issue and helping with. See how they tick, try and throw in some humour to help jog things along, treat them well, even if you have to bite your lip when they come out with something totally ‘wrong’. Worst case scenario, which I have had to do, is politely finish the call and simply re-call and hope for someone else who can help further.

2. Make sure you understand the common sense answer to the ‘stats’ in your own mind before you call. Often this is just what you think is owed, and make sure it’s simple. So add up what you think you’ve paid, what you think might be owed, and keep referring to this in the query. The unit rates or standing charges may say you own another £100 but if you’ve paid way too much every month so far for a say a small flat, it simply doesn’t make sense (a common problem is assuming assumed meter reads rather than actual ones).

3. Get everything clarified in writing after you understands the basics. So always make a note of what you discuss, even if just a hand written note on a utility bill, or maybe offer to send an email back to the person at the company. Also, make use of email communication, and ask then to email invoices or statements or account summaries there-and-then so you can go through it straight away while it’s still fresh in your mind.

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I’ve been helping a friend process payment for some temporary work they’ve been doing through various different recruitment firms and employment intermediaries. They’re not terribly into computers hence the offer to help, particularly with everything being online nowadays – the initial contract, the submitted ID-documentation, and of course the hours and expenses worked.

All supposedly quick and easy with no hassle, although reality is somewhat different, including for those who are familiar with the online world. It’s not so much a fault or error or glitch with their websites, it’s more the effective use of them being unclear, and identifies an issue I’ve been piping on about for years regarding websites and the internet – the actual technical design and operation of them is easier now, it’s how to use and update them that’s the challenge to simply ‘work’ in real life.

Anyway, I suggest that all recruitment firms and employment intermediaries, big and small, at all ends of the spectrum, help make this simpler to actually use for people. For themselves it will be easy peasy as you deal with it day in and day out, but if you look at it from a consumer’s perspective it aint, hence here’s a few tips:

1. Get your procedure as similar to others as possible, and as simple as possible. So decide whether people need to login with new user accounts on your website, what emails you’re going to send to them with links to use, what documents need agreeing through the website, and then how to process the actual hours of pay and expenses. Some you have to downward a spreadsheet and complete – but do you print off and sign, or just attach and email back with no signature. Others have a PDF to complete, but again do you print and sign, or does it allow digital signatures. Out of the three different ones I’ve been involved with over the last month, one even had two different websites to use separately.

2. Make clear what pieces of information you accept. So whether things attached on an email, or always submitted through the website. Whether literal hand-written signatures are needed, and if so how they can be sent back – instead of just post, can you scan them back (I’ve actually started taking a photo of these signed-ones on my mobile phone and attaching on an email).

3. Make a nice video or easy tick-list of what to do. Yes loads of T&Cs are needed to see and agree, but also provide a simple list as well. Infact ideally make a 30 second video, and actually make it as childlike as possible. We’re all busy people and want to learn the bottom line procedure in as little and fun a time as possible.

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I’ve begun a monthly free website offer where I’ll complete a new website for a local business, organisation, or individual completely free of charge. It helps those reap the benefit of a website and online presence which they may not normally consider, and it helps me keep involved in real-life examples.

So last month in September I did one for a friend Tony who recently started a gardening landscaping business in the local Aldridge area – www.tonys-garden-services.co.uk. Here’s a quick rundown of the issues discussed and gone through with Tony:

1. It’s based upon an existing A5 flyer he has been handing out to people. Simple black and white colours with images of plants etc. and a general description of what he does and how to contact him.

2. A rememberable domain was picked. Amazingly ‘Tony’s Garden Services’ as a literal phrase was already taken, hence the hyphenated one had to be secured. The focus was to get the name in there for people to remember, even infact the hyphens can help break up words to accomplish this although not always the best for SEO purposes. The .co.uk at the end was important to look like a ‘proper’ website, and grammatically the Tony should have an apostrophe before the s although kept all as one word for the purpose of the domain.

3. A simple info@ email was set up to divert straight to Tony’s personal email. That way he gets all emails here, with no fath about submission forms of having to log into webmail accounts. Any reply can then be straight back from his own email account.

4. A new logo was created as the only graphic to add that special touch. Using the simple black and white trend and a glimpse at the initial flyer, helped develop this. A great example of less being more – the rest of the site was deliberately blank and simple, with tonnes of empty space at the top and around the edges, to let the images do the talking. Also another actual picture of something on the right of each page to balance the page up, and the actual text made slightly larger as only a few sentences are being used.

5. Tony helped check the text. As a website designer the ideal way is for a client to provide an already-prepared section of text to simply copy-and-paste on the website, but often we need to get the ball rolling. Simply take whatever text is there already, in this case just a few sentences on a flyer, and pad out into a few pages on info on the website. It’s actually easier then for the client to read and check this and point out what’s wrong rather than try and think what’s right when doing from scratch.

If you fancy help with a new website, Click Here for more details

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Google’s released stats on what universities are being searched for across the world, and the resultant top 20 (by searches). Another way in which Google is affecting daily life, with people’s searches in their engine possibly having more influence and advertising strength than any official data from actual universities such as number of applicants, or interest through their own websites.

Google has become such a benchmark that we all assume to not only help gauge the popularity of each university by what people are actually looking for, but helping to compare like-for-like with other universities.

There’s also 3 other good points here:

1. Universities are understandably targeting the online learning niche, offering more distance- and online-learning courses as well as the traditional ones at their locations. Not only is the way that people are looking for learning opportunities by using online means, but they are offering the actual courses through online means as well. Personally I think a mix of the two is ideal – a lot of actual material, video-lessons, resources, forum-interaction being online, however there is still the personal contact and meetings together at a location, or at the very least over telephone calls. A lot of UK university and college courses of course now do this to some degree anyway, with maybe monthly get–togethers with students, particularly evenings and weekends to help accommodate people’s working lives.

2. There is serious interest from overseas students (40% indicated here). That’s a whopping amount of interest and showing just what a large international-arena we now have with the power of the internet and other practicalities such as being able to live and travel in the UK. This can then change the whole dynamics of first reaching and enrolling students, and then accommodating them, with knock-on effects in any local university community (for example London house prices being affected by foreign investments, including those for educational reasons).

3. The operation of the actual university’s website is vital, and quite rightly mentioned. It’s one thing to get the initial searches and interest from students, it’s another to then do something with the leads through the website and online presence of the actual university. Two factors to this are mentioned here, the first is that their websites need regularly updating with fresh news. The second is the stats, and being able to more closely diagnose the search queries that help bring traffic to a website, so looking closely at what exact words they are using in their searches to indicate what stage of the searching process they are at.

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The BEST Businesses service that we offer has 3 good principles to help narrow down your search for a local business. At the moment we’re focusing on BEST Accountants in Walsall, however you apply the same 3 principles to other business searches. In the last month alone I’ve needed to find different local tradesmen for various reasons, including a plumber, window cleaner, roofer, and skip hire. It’s often the same frustration – trying to sift through who’s out there, decide which ones to go for, and then making sure you get a fair job and price done.

So here’s these 3 principles again to help apply for any local business search:

1. Find the choice of businesses out there. Often it’s through internet searches, but good-old word of mouth or off-line advertising like adverts and flyers can work just as well. Make sure you look for genuine ones – those with good reviews or ratings online, or with references available, and listen to what others say. Also, think out the box a little – so maybe you can look outside your fixed geographical area because they’re really good and will travel or communicate well, and maybe you need to re-look at bigger or smaller sized firms as there are pros and cons for each type. Plus look closely at what services they offer, both what you need now but how you might need others from the the future (I had to consider general cleaning when looking at window cleaning).

2. Narrow down your options against your check-list. You must have a set benchmark for choosing, no matter how crude or few these are – even if it’s simply just the cheapest. But it could be time and speed of service, good customer service and wider services available. Once you have this you can start zooming down your list of possibilities to trim down to a few. Always try and have a fresh-head when you do this, so leave a day or so and come back to it with a fresh perspective as all that research up until now can then cloud your choosing judgement.

3. Make sure you instruct them correctly. So get everything clearly understood and then confirmed in writing, but still maintain the right friendly spirit. Often speaking in person or over the phone is best and then following up in an email or letter, and make sure you consider things like payment terms and after-service. There’s also the checking bit beforehand, the references and testimonies, and looking through any documents like insurance cover and risk assessments, and checking their membership with any stated trade bodies.

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