The secret weapon of start-ups is their website

Robert Elding talks to three businesses about how they manage their websites and what advice can be given to new businesses on the subject.

If you’re starting your own business, you now face global competition when it comes to connecting with potential customers. There is however a secret weapon that start-ups can use to help reach their target audience and convert new customers, that weapon is their website.

We have spoken to a number of number of successful startups across the UK in order to find out how important their website is to their business and to glean any insights they have for entrepreneurs looking to start a new venture.

We have insights from John Peebles, the CEO of Administrate (JP), Avin Rabheru, CEO of Housekeep (AR) and Abigail Freeman, director of marketing and partnerships at We Are Pop Up (AF).

What impact does your website have on your business?

JP: Our website is our most important marketing asset. It’s the face of the company, one of our first interactions we’ll have with prospects, and first impressions really matter. There isn’t a single entity we interact with that doesn’t come in contact with our website, so we spend a lot of time, thought, and care into making sure that it’s effective, attractive, and communicates the right message to visitors.

AR: Housekeep’s website is at the heart of our business; for both customers and cleaners, it acts as the first place to explore how Housekeep works and whether it’s the right service for them. We’re deliberately positioned as a premium, service-led company and our website allows us to showcase this. It’s also where existing customers can log in to their cleaning account, where they can tailor or reschedule visits, send new instructions to their cleaner or make any other changes.

AF: Our website is a destination creative retailers can head to, to find and book short-term retail spaces and connect with other brands, so its impact is threefold: it’s a shop window for our services, it drives our business growth and it provides a destination for our community of creative entrepreneurs.

What aspects of your site are most important to your customers?

JP: Our customers really like our blog which is packed with information about our industry, best practices, informational videos, product announcements, and other news. Our website also provides a pathway to support, documentation, and other relevant resources about our product.  We try to be as transparent as possible as a company so most of this information is available even to people who aren’t customers!

AR: The most valuable part of our website for customers is undoubtedly their log in where they can manage their entire cleaning account. This provides a simple, real time way to update anything about their cleaning account. For example, they can skip visits if they’re on holiday or find alternative availability live with their cleaner schedule. They may also decide to add or remove tasks for visits, or even add special instructions.

AF: Space listings, brand profiles and the blog are our most visited areas in that order. Space listings show which retail spaces are currently available and provide an opportunity to connect directly with the space owner, brand profiles give a snapshot of all the creative retailers looking for space and the blog is an invaluable resource for our customers, giving the latest news, views and insights into everything creative retail.

But perhaps the most important aspect of the site is the ability to book and pay for a retail space all online. Through the website brands and spaces can connect directly to agree and pay for pop up bookings, then the site provides a booking agreement which protects both parties.

Are you planning to develop any areas of your website?

JP: We view our website as one of those ‘never done’ projects. We’re constantly adding, tweaking, and updating parts of it. One of the things we’ve done recently is update our resources section to help people find videos and other resources quickly. We’re also revamping some of our product pages as we release new features. For us, the key is to maintain positive pressure on the website, and never be satisfied!

AR: We’re making good progress improving our website, for example conversion rates have improved ten times since launch. However, we’re obsessed with using data to provide a better experience each time. For example, customers told us that they’d like the ability to make decisions when their cleaner goes on holiday. We therefore built the ability for cleaners to notify their customers when they’re on holiday and now customers can log in online to find another time with their existing cleaner or to keep the same time with a cover cleaner.

AF: Our website is our core product so we develop, test and refine it every single day. We’ve recently launched a feature that enables brands to connect and chat directly with each other and we’re very excited to see how brands use it. Then we’ll build out further features to support their needs. We have a solid roadmap of developments that will continue to layer a retail social network on top of the We Are Pop Up website.

What advice do you have for new start-ups who are building their businesses website?

JP: You really need to have a clear message defined for visitors. Clearly and quickly explain what you do, who it’s for, why it matters, and make sure you’ve got a clear identity. Design, branding, and colours matter, but those are secondary concerns to communicating your message.  Another really important thing is to make sure it’s quick and easy to update the site – there’s nothing worse than a site that can’t be quickly updated as it will then turn into a site that’s out of date.

AR: I’d advise start-ups to be obsessed with figuring out what you customers want. If you can get close to this, you can begin to think about what information customers need to make an informed decision and you can build intuitive workflows for them. Observe them, keep testing, prototype fast and then, once you’ve got it just right, build it. Finally, try to be a little better at absolutely everything every day.

AF: Your website is often the first impression customers and clients get of your business, so it needs to be an excellent representation of your brand and services. Whatever your brand style, there’s never been more possibility to create an interesting and engaging website. We see an incredibly diverse and creative range amongst the brands that use our site. Then it’s a case of keeping content up to date and building out any functionality you need from simple e-commerce or messaging right up to sophisticated transaction engines like the one we’ve built on the back-end of We Are Pop Up.

Testing and gathering feedback from customers is crucial, to make sure it’s a seamless experience for your users. What may seem like an obvious layout to you might not work for your customers, so it’s invaluable to observe customers using your site to make sure they can find their way around. The more complex the site, the more in-depth this can get. There’s a whole science around it. When we started out, we were taught the ‘build, measure, learn’ methodology and the team uses that to this day.

Robert Elding is the managing director of USIO.

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