Hiring an Internet Marketing Service – Plan Before You Leap!

A frequent mistake that businesses make is hiring an internet marketing company too quickly — primarily based on price. Your website is a visual representation of your business and a poorly designed site can frustrate visitors, misrepresent your products and even lose sales. Before you hire a internet marketing firm, research the answers to these questions:

1. How Much Experience Does The Internet Marketing Company Have? Do They Have Any Special Qualifications Or Designations?

Longevity in the industry is a good indicator of stability and skill. Online marketing firms that have been in the business for a while and built admirable reputations are usually known for sound design work and customer service. Choosing an internet marketing company that has been around longer means they will be more likely to be around in the future for ongoing maintenance and updates to your website.

The answer to this question will give you a general idea about the skill set at the web company. Having a tertiary qualification is good. Having a lot of experience is better, and combining experience with a tertiary education is best.

2. How Many Staff Members Do They Have And What Are Their Roles?

Bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to effective web emarketing companies. Companies on average have one designer, a couple of web developers, analysts, and a few sales and support people. Some companies use Just-in-Time staffing, adding or removing staff as needed. This helps keep overhead low.

3. In Addition To Internet Marketing, What Other Services Does The Agency Offer?

Many prominent internet marketing firms are branching out and offering other services, including web development and design. SEO, Search Engine Marketing, Web Content Writing, Social Media Marketing, Blog promotion, and Google AdWords Management are services offered by many experienced online marketing companies. The key is finding a company that offers the services that you are looking for.

4. Does The Internet Marketing Firm Spend Time With You To Gather Business Knowledge And Give You A Formal Proposal?

It is good to select an web marketing company that will take the time to offer a custom solution for your website. Oftentimes, the online marketing firm will provide you with a questionnaire to fill out so that they can get a better feel for your goals, competition and overall website needs. Your website will play a large part in your overall brand marketing. Therefore, it is important that your internet marketing firm have a clear picture of your overall internet marketing goals.

5. What Are the Internet Marketing Company’s Payment Terms?

For anything from a small non-profit site to full corporate branding, most internet marketing companies will charge an upfront deposit and stage payments based on agreed milestones and deliverables. Be wary of any internet marketing firm that asks for payment in full before starting the project.

6. What Is The Internet Marketing Company’s Policy On Non-Disclosure And Privacy Of Information?

In order to create the perfect marketing plan for you, your internet marketing firm needs access to important information about your company — information you wouldn’t want your competition, or anyone else, to know.

This is particularly true if you are starting a new company. You don’t want others to steal your concept before you’ve had a chance to monetize it. Therefore, a solid non-disclosure and privacy policy will protect your information.

7. What Are The Average Timelines For Completing Your Web Design Project Including Ecommerce, Logo Design, And Corporate Branding?

If the company does both web development and internet marketing, ask what the firm considers a typical turn-around time for projects similar in size to your own. This should give you a fairly clear idea if the website designer/developer has time tracking and project management systems in place. If you have a hard deadline that you need to meet, be sure you tell the design company up front so that they can plan accordingly.

8. Who Will Be Your Central Point Of Contact For Your Internet Marketing Project?

It is important to have a single point of contact for your project to ensure nothing gets lost in translation. A Project Manager should be assigned to all web projects. If you are working with a small web company, however, the Project Manager may also be the web designer and/or web developer himself.

9. Does The Company Outsource Any Project Components To Third Parties Or To Countries Like India? If So, Which Components?

While outsourcing may be a valid business decision to save costs and keep overheads lower, you’ll want to be cautious with any internet marketing company who takes your project and out-sources large components to another country. If you have concerns about low quality, cheap labour, and remote project management issues when jobs are outsourced to India, be sure to bring them up before your project begins.

10. Can The Internet Marketing Company Help With Website Content Copy Writing?

SEO copywriting can make or break your website. Your website design may draw the reader in and focus their attention where it needs to be – but the words themselves do the selling. And if the content is optimized correctly, your website can be showing up on the front pages of the search engines for your chosen search terms.

Be sure the internet marketing firm you choose offers copywriting and ask to see samples — particularly samples of sites within your same industry. This will give you a good foundation on which to base your decision.

11. What Programming Languages And Operating Systems Does The Internet Marketing and/or Web Development Company Work With?

Ideally, your web development company should offer both the open source PHP/MySQL and ASP.NET programming languages. They should make a technical recommendation on which

Platform would best meet your needs and budget.

12. Do The Internet Marketing And Web Development Experts Build Websites To Web Standards?

Standards compliance, such as W3C and Web Standards Group are highly recommended industry practices. The main reason is consistency in how your visitors view your website on different platforms and future proofing.

13. What Is Covered In The Firm’s Website Testing/Quality Checking Phase? Are You Able To See The Website While It Is Still In Development?

Basic testing requirements should be browser testing, checking for broken links and general usability tests to ensure the website is easy for website visitors to use and interact with.

By seeing a development staging version, you will be able to check the website before the launch date and make any necessary adjustments.

14. Does The Internet Marketing Firm Allow Clients To Host Their Websites With Any Host?

Sometimes, for the sake of functionality or other good reasons, a web company may ask that you host your website with them, but this is not always the case. You may have existing commercial relationships with an ISP or web hosting company that you would prefer to use. It is important to know before hiring a internet marketing firm if they will require you to move hosting to them.

15. Do They Provide Any Training Once The Website Is Launched?

If your website project includes customized systems or software, it can be extremely helpful if your internet marketing company provides you with training documents for future reference. If your system is very detailed, it might even be optimal to arrange for a training program or ongoing customer support.

16. Is The Internet Marketing Firm Knowledgeable in Web 2.0? Is This Included In Your Quote, Or Are There Extra Charges?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a science in itself; an experienced Internet marketing company should be able to offer you a variety of options including organic, PPC and social media marketing including Facebook advertising. Depending on your business requirements, you should consider hiring an internet marketing company that can create a custom online campaign to help you achieve maximum results.

Usually there is an extra charge for single items like developing videos, commercials and ads, photo shoots, copywriting and so on. Ask about these if they are part of your marketing plan.

17. What Is The Charge For Website Updates After The Initial Website Is Completed?

While marketing is an ongoing process, the website is often considered a one-time effort. But there is always extra work to be done: changes and updates, new content and so on.

Be aware of the charging structure for updates to your website. Consider how often you will require updates and ask the internet marketing firm how they handle future updates and maintenance.

If you have frequent or large updates to your website, you could consider a Content Management System. A CMS is only really useful in the event of regular changes and if a staff member has good training in it. If neither are the case, it may just be cheaper to have the supplier to manage small updates.

18. What If You Find A Problem Or Code Bug After The Site Is Finished? Does The Graphic Design Company Have Any Kind Of Code Warranty Or Guarantee?

Often web companies will make the change if it is small for no additional costs. However, be aware that if it is a change and not a bug fix, you may be required to pay extra. Typically, internet marketing companies will give you several designs to approve initially and then involve you every step of the way. Each approved section of the project is considered finished. Going back and making changes — even if they seem simple — can be costly.

19. Is The Copyright For The Website Transferred To You When The Project Is Complete? What About Images in The Website? Logo Design?

Copyright law is a specialized legal field. You should ask to own the copyright on all of the work designed and developed after you have paid in full for the project.

20. Will The Website Development Company Comment Your Source Code?

Commenting code is part of good website development. If code is commented well, you won’t spend a lot of time if the unthinkable happens and you’re forced to find another website supplier either part way through the project or its maintenance.

Finding the answers to these questions may seem time consuming and quite involved, but it is an important part of the interview process. After you have interviewed several companies and had your questions and concerns addressed, you should be able to select a talented internet marketing and web development company that is knowledgeable and easy to work with. The firm you choose also needs to have the ability to produce a web design and website that represents and enhances your overall corporate branding.

Of course, you could choose to not follow our suggestions and just hire the least expensive firm available — or a friend of a friend who does graphic design and internet marketing. But then you could end up with a real mess. Your internet business depends on how good you look. You wouldn’t ask a friend to install a new set of teeth for you, would you?

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Are Investment Costs of Business Internet Marketing Higher Than You Might Think?

Having just started to use internet marketing in our own business and trying to bring together all the different components to deliver a set of desired outcomes, we have discovered it is not a simple task. We have created a huge amount of online content from websites, blog sites, micro-blogging, and social media network participation. But and it is a big but, how do you convert all this activity (or lack of it) into a coherent message that brings visitors to your target online content and transcends to registrations and / or sales?

To be honest we have been merrily creating web content, accounts on twitter, Facebook pages, blogs and regularly posting but without paying specific attention to the direction or the message. This has been a conscious choice on our part as we were not ready to join everything up yet, so we just started by increasing our online profile until we were set to go. I think this is one of the big hurdles for most people entering Internet Marketing at any level is… why am I doing this? Why am I posting content onto Blogs, twittering, when no one is visiting anyway? I’m not reading my other 1000 followers tweets, so I am sure they are not reading mine! If I’m the only one ready what I’m writing I’d sooner not bother! 2 Blog posts a day, why? for what? What am I going to say? What difference will it make?

We expect those new to Internet Marketing to blindly accept that ‘you should get a blog, you should use Twitter and join Facebook… trust me… you will see the benefit, later on everything will be much clearer…’

Here then is the issue… of course signing up to these services, Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Linked in or any other social media platform is not in itself going to make any difference to a business. Just the same as printing some leaflets for a mailshot and leaving them in the garage, or attending networking meetings and not talking to anyone, these won’t make much impact either.

The facts are that Internet Marketing is a complex business. It performs the functions of building individual’s profiles and credibility, Brand awareness and product / service sales via one medium. Each of these areas requires different techniques, services and strategies online, but you can’t go about this in a half baked, apathetic manner. Internet Marketing has the ability to transform businesses, enable small companies to compete with the ‘big boys’ and build new enterprises from nothing but not by making one blog post a week, the odd twitter tweet now and then and complaining that sales haven’t increased yet!

So what is the reality? The reality is this, that Internet marketing provides the ability to reach 100,000′s of people and quickly, but it won’t happen without effort… A LOT OF IT!

Most Small Business’s are owned privately, very often by the entrepreneur who found a niche, designed a new product or took advantage of an opportunity. These individuals are often technical people and suffer from the old ‘Feast and Famine’ syndrome that finds refuge in Micro and small businesses. When we’re in Sales mode we are extremely busy, when servicing customers, prospects dry up… then we’re found scratching around for business again which happens, eventually, months after we needed it.

Now typical business owners don’t think of themselves as sales people and will readily admit they don’t like this part of the business and yet without it the business can’t survive. I’ve heard many a business owner admit they are not sales people, ‘I’m basically too honest to be a sales person’ as if a sales person’s role was to somehow convince someone to buy a product they don’t need and don’t want. Well, let us now separate Marketing from Sales.

Marketing is encouraging people to consider your products and services… visitors if you like, whereas Sales is the matching of the customers requirements to your offerings. At no point in this is there any persuasion or manipulation… better still, much of this sales process can be automated with Internet Marketing. Marketing requires an audience to market too… sales requires us to provide information, substantiate our offering and provide a method to engage with us.

You will hear this time and time again with the Internet Marketing crowd… ‘the money is in the list!’ and if we are to market successfully then having a list to inform on a regular basis is absolutely essential. If we apply this to offline marketing, most of the hard work in sending out a mailshot was creating a quality list of people in the first place… our target audience! If we are to engage the services of a Direct Marketing company for a telephone campaign… at some point before this a list must be found, either from an existing database or bought from an organisation specialising in such Lists, the higher the quality the better.

So let us now see what relevance our Online – Internet Marketing activities have in identifying a target market. Consider Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter, Blog subscribers and Registrations for an ezine or other regular communication… what are these?

They are lists of course! lists of people who in some way have connected with you and are probably comfortable to receive correspondence from you or your business. Herein lies the secret then behind why we should bother at all to seek people out, follow and be followed. List building… and the good news is that it can be quite good fun too!

Now in our business we have 5 main products offerings… some of these products have an overlapping potential audience, others do not. It may be necessary therefore to have multiple accounts for Twitter and / or a separate Facebook page for the different audience. Already you can see that if we are to manage, maintain and post for each product on a regular basis (desirable) then this is a substantial amount of work.

One of the difficulties that some of my colleagues have with building a large list of friends or followers is, ‘How can you possibly keep in touch with all these people?, I struggle to stay in touch with my immediate relatives’ and for sure, personally corresponding with 60,000 people is not viable… but this is not the point.

These social sites represent a massive network of interconnected people, you are not necessarily communicating on a 1-2-1 basis (although you can do this) but rather are broadcasting what you want to say to everyone who is connected and often to their immediate connections as well!! Suddenly we have the ability to get a message to a very large audience with a single post.

Now… most people certainly with Twitter won’t see your post, and a good many won’t in Facebook or Linked-In either, however this is not an issue. It is not our problem to worry about who will see our posting or not, that is not our responsibility and we should avoid getting attached to the outcome. Our role is to provide the information (post), that is it… Now there is a magic number in marketing and sales this is 3%. This little number is very important. It is the recognised average response rate in a cold market… sometimes it can be more, often less. If we sent out 1000 mailshots then it would be acceptable to set a benchmark of 30 as the number of positive responses. This is about the same % that I have experienced in responses to click-through’s on Tweets and Facebook postings. Taking these numbers if we tweeted with a follower list of 30,000 then we could expect around 900 visits. We have absolutely no idea which ones will click the link… or tell a friend or retweet, however the figures can be quite staggering… Imagine if you worked with other ‘Big List’ owners and offered a percentage to tweet to their lists… and you did this 3 times per day… the number of visits could become very large indeed.

The lists provide us with a ‘potential market’ for our products and the purpose of this article is not to go into the detailed techniques for building lists, only that it should be very high up on the list of priorities. So how much time, money and effort should be put into this exercise?

The answer to this question depends on the nature of a business, the ideal customer profile and many other factors, clearly a restaurant has a different set of requirements to someone selling a digital product (such as an ebook) globally. The first thing is to decide an Internet Marketing strategy which is complimentary to the business, once this is defined then the activities required become much clearer.

Once the basic Architecture of the marketing is defined then comes the work and the Investment. If I look at our business as an example, we have invested in three key areas, Colateral, People and services. Lets look at what is involved in each of these -:

Collateral

We have 5 blogs, 6 websites (some complex, some a single page), 7 Twitter accounts, Facebook (4 Business Pages), Linked-In, Ecademy, Hub Pages, StumbleUpon, Squidoo and other online social networking accounts, all these had to be set up, populated, and now managed on an ongoing basis. This is not something which can be done in 20 minutes per day. We have to work all of these resources on a regular basis to keep ourselves in the ‘Public eye’.

People

We have invested in 1 full time person, plus both myself and another member of staff allocate 3 or 4 hours per day to Internet Marketing activities. Firstly staff require training to use the tools that enable us to work our internet marketing, including analyze results. These resources manage our social networking sites, engage with our contacts frequently, update profiles as things change and post new content constantly. This cost alone is over $3000 per calendar month, developing and building our online presence.

Services

We utilise a number of ‘helper’ services which are online and rented monthly, these include subscriptions to some Business Networks, Shopping cart and checkout services, Databases that contain sign-ups for ezines and regular communication, Membership platforms, Blogging services and many many more. None of these services are hugely expensive month on month but vital to continue our Online Marketing activities.

In Conclusion

Business Internet Marketing – Taking an offline business and using Internet Marketing techniques to increase sales utilises many of the techniques and tools that conventional Internet Marketing has developed and built over the past 8-10 years. We have all heard the stories of individuals with no overheads generating large monthly incomes without setting foot outside their door, but Internet Marketing is moving into a new phase, one where Offline Businesses will seek to engage the Internet to work for them.

I speak with many Micro and Small businesses on a regular basis and most are oblivious to Internet Marketing and what it could do for them, whether this is because no one has yet bothered to show them, or there is a fear and reluctance to dance with the unknown, or a bit of both perhaps. One thing is for sure, Business Internet Marketing will be deployed by every business over the coming 10-20 years and it is set to be one of the largest markets worldwide.

As we saw with offline marketing in the past where we had PR, Advertising and Marketing agencies, so we shall see the emergence of similar businesses offering Business Internet Marketing services. Traditional companies in this marketing space will need to evolve and offer a completely new range of services The print industry went through a similar metamorphosis some years back, when pre-press production moved entirely to computers and revolutionized the marketplace.

As the Internet Marketing industry matures and the ‘Get Rich Quick’ mentality fades, successful Internet Marketers will bring a wealth of experience and begin to offer professional Business Internet Marketing solutions to Small and Medium sized businesses. Not shackled with the conventional trappings of offices the Business Internet Marketers will manage a network of global outsourced resources to deliver high quality, low cost Internet Market solutions. The services will include the whole range of activities from setting up infrastructure services such as Blogs or Shopping carts to transactional activities such as managing Twitter accounts, searching and posting tweets, finding / posting suitable blog posts, even writing articles and sending email campaigns.

Without doubt we are on the edge of yet another evolution with the Internet. Some larger companies, such as IBM and Dell have already woken up to the power of using the Internet and Social networking to engage with a global audience, small businesses have been busy surviving the recession… but as the recovery gathers pace, I am sure that Business Internet Marketing will become an attractive proposition for many.

Chris Ogle is Managing Director of Internet Power Systems Ltd. and is author of his best selling book, In 2 The Clouds. Chris has lived in Watford, England for the majority of his life and is a keen Table Tennis player.

In a career spanning 30 years in the computer industry Chris has worked with 000′s of businesses from small Micro companies through to large multinationals such as Laing O’Rourke. With the exposure to such a diverse range of businesses and their operating processes coupled with his technical background Chris was well placed to design and create one of the first completely web based business platforms for SME’s.

Drawing on 7 years of providing Cloud computing solutions to the SME marketplace coupled with a detailed understanding of Internet Marketing has culminated in SME7 – 7 Steps to getting the Business that you really want – more Profit, more time and more Choices! Chris’s book ‘In 2 The Clouds’ takes us through these 7 Steps and removes the mystery of escaping the rat race ‘no time and no money’ to the more desirable ‘More money and more time to enjoy it’!.

To download a free chapter from the book ‘in 2 the clouds’ visit [http://www.in2the

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