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We may be heading into recession, but it takes a lot to bring an entrepreneur down! All this talk of a looming financial crisis has probably just inspired you to work harder to prove everyone wrong.

But to keep on top of the game at a time like this, it's vital to work smarter too. As well as capturing peoples' attention you need to show that you're more responsive to the market and the needs of your current and potential customers, than your competitors. By far the most effective (and cost effective) way of achieving this is through the website.

So how can you make your website work harder for you?


Getting to potential customers

To raise the profile of your business in the past you might have placed adverts in relevant publications and paid for enhanced listings in paper directories. You’d probably have produced a brochure or distributed leaflets and posters. The more money you threw at these approaches, the more people you would have reached.

However in the age of the internet, most people search online and come up with a list of providers of the products and services they want. So the best way to put yourself in front of the maximum number of potential clients is to harness the power of search engines.

Selling what you do

Imagine if you only paid a publication for the leads generated by the advert you placed. How much cheaper would that be?

Well, that’s the beauty of pay-per-click advertising. It’s also highly targetable – your ad will only come up when someone puts in directly relevant search terms. You can also track conversion rates in real time and turn your ad on or off at will.

Other types of online advertising use clever programming to bring your ad up on the screen next to directly relevant content.

The choice of online advertising that will be most effective for your business depends on several factors, but we’d generally recommend a good mix of pay-per-click and banner adverts.

Unlike a newspaper, the internet has a global reach, bringing your business to the attention of those little pockets of potential customers all over the world. And don’t forget that some of the best methods of promoting your business online are often free, like:

  • optimising the content of your website so it comes up high in search results
  • writing a regular blog (this can help with optimisation too)
  • listing your business in online directories
  • publish articles in relevant e-zines

With traditional print-based promotional methods the onus was on the potential customer to get in touch with you to find out more. But your website can do all the talking for you. For instance, if your site is well optimised, they can land directly on the page that will be of most interest to them.

Calling your audience to action!

So, you’ve got lots of potential clients coming to your website – congratulations! But how many of them will actually convert to customers?

Now it’s time to work out if your website is really showcasing your company effectively. Think of it as a worldwide shop window. If someone’s walking down a high street, they’ll only be drawn into the shops that display the sort of things they’re looking for or that present their wares in an enticing way.

Is your website presenting your company in the best light? Or are you in danger of people passing you over in favour of your competitors?

Changing your messages

One of the biggest advantages of a website over printed media is that you can make changes very quickly and at minimal expense.

If you introduce a new product or service you can add it to your site immediately. You can even try out different straplines and offers and monitor the response. If something’s not working, you can change it straight away.

Delivering a better service

When times are hard you need to maximise your resources. So why not let your website take some of the strain?

Think of the reasons people might call you at the moment:

  • to ask for a quote
  • to ask a sales person what your company actually does
  • to find out how their order is progressing
  • or to ask about your terms of business.

Your website could handle all those queries for you if you just added some intelligent navigation and clever functionality like a quotation engine, a secure client area or a search facility. Once you’ve invested in setting these up you’ll keep on reaping the rewards indefinitely. Short-term pain, long-term gain!

Not only will you be freeing up time to spend more profitably, you’ll also be making life easier for your customers – a sure-fire way to go up in their estimation!

So as everyone’s starting to tighten their belts and competition’s hotting up, don’t forget that your website is your best and most cost-effective sales and marketing tool. Close.



Extranets are fast becoming an essential in the armoury of any successful business manager. Rebecca Jones of Proteus Virtual explains why.

Would you consider driving a car without a dashboard from London to Edinburgh? It’s certainly a risky proposition. With no petrol gauge you’d have to keep stopping to refuel, just in case. And how would you regulate your speed or keep a check on your engine temperature and oil and water levels?

Assuming you wouldn’t do that, why would you even dream of running your business without a dashboard? Let me explain...


Keeping an eye on your business

An extranet could give you the ability to see how well your business is doing at a glance, wherever you are. You could be at a motorway service station in the middle of nowhere and be able to check on the progress of each of your company’s projects. Or you could log in during a meeting with potential investors to show how well you’re working towards your financial targets this year compared to last year.

So, what is an extranet?

Essentially, an extranet is a website that allows authorised individuals access to selected internal business processes. This could include key members of staff as well as clients or consultants.

Here are just a few of the benefits you stand to gain by allowing the following people to link to the inner workings of your business via an extranet:


For business leaders on the move, an extranet can provide a valuable window on what’s going on with the organisation.

You might have loads of money flying in from your sales, but is it flying back out again to pay ever more staff to support the organisation? An extranet could show you the answer and make it possible to cut costs by outsourcing some of the work.


Having an extranet in place would enable staff to work from home more easily, whether that’s full time or just an occasional bit of overtime.

Also those whose jobs involve a lot of travel will be able to stay more closely in touch with what’s going on – including uploading information themselves.

Whether in the office or out, logging into an extranet is often the quickest and easiest way to access information about the business.

Clients or customers

An extranet, perhaps forming a private area of your main website, can be a real asset in building and nurturing relationships with your clients or customers. For example you could allow them to log in to check on the progress of their project or order, submit requests, download price lists or make repeat orders.


The ability to reveal selected information securely to outsiders can come in very handy when you need to bring in external resources. It breaks down geographical boundaries and allows consultants, wherever they are, to view and interact with your data in real time.

On the move

The fact that extranets can be accessed from anywhere is all well and good, as long as you can get online to view them. The advent of PDAs and smartphones, like the Microsoft Windows Mobile and Apple iPhone, has brought a new dimension to extranet technology.

Extranets can be designed to be accessible from any handheld mobile device, so users can log in and interact with the system directly from their handset.

One of the fastest growing applications of this technology is sales force automation. Sales people can now log the results of a meeting the moment they leave. It’s also a great way for MDs and CEOs to keep an eye on what’s going on back at base while they’re off site. And companies that have a lot of field staff or people based on customer sites are finding it streamlines the process of submitting reports and timesheets.

To automate or not to automate?

So how do you identify which processes to automate and put online?

Our advice is to first look at which of your operations are currently overly complex and time-consuming. Could streamlining them boost productivity?

Then talk to the members of staff who have most contact with your clients. It’s these people who will know the sort of questions that come up time and time again, like ‘where’s my order?’, ‘will you meet the deadline?’, ‘who’s handling my case?’, or ‘do you have an up-to-date pricelist?’.

Making it happen

Once you know what you’d like an extranet to do for you, the next step is to find a good web development vendor with solid experience in this area. Make sure to choose a company that will take time to listen to your requirements and understand your business.

By the way, creating extranets isn’t rocket science – so if they can’t explain the solution they’re offering in a way you can understand, don’t use them!

What’s the bottom line?

Many business owners find it difficult to justify spending money on IT solutions that don’t directly generate sales.

But think about what you spend your time doing each day at work. How much of it’s taken up with chasing up people to get information, doing routine administrative tasks, handling orders, raising invoices and so on?

For a small investment an extranet could free up hours of your time, streamline your business and give a real boost to your organisation’s efficiency and profitability. Close.