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Amy Demone: Welcome to today’s show everyone, Virtually Free, today I have Erica Lerman. Welcome.

Erica Lerman: Thank you so much, I’m really excited to be here.

Amy Demone: I’m super excited to talk to you. We’re going to get to some juicy information all about websites. A lot of my audience are newer entrepreneurs, they’ve maybe thought about websites, do they need one, do they not, so I’m really excited to jump in. So I kind of gave it away a little bit, but why don’t you tell the audience what type of business you’re in?

Erica Lerman: Sure. I kind of run two different facets of things. My main stream of income comes from my consulting business. I started it probably about ten years ago now, I’m kind of dating myself, but it was really kind of a side hustle for a long time. I did marketing, like director of marketing type roles before I left corporate, and I was doing web design on the side. And then, I guess about a year and a half ago now, I decided to kind of jump in head first, do the entrepreneurial thing in completeness. So I do everything from branding and web development all the way through to marketing funnels, online advertising, really anything in the digital marketing space. So I help clients, mostly small businesses, I do tend to work with a couple of medium sized ones, but really my interest is on the small business side of things because I think it’s … One, it’s really exciting because you get to see that growth with my clients, but also a lot of them just don’t even know where to start, and I like that kind of … the groundwork, the foundation, the process building out of the gate, so that’s kind of where my interest lies.

Erica Lerman: So I would consider that my nine to five, and then on top of that, I run Mamapreneur, which is a website, Facebook group, there’s a couple of online courses available that really just kind of hone in and focus on moms who are looking to start businesses, and helping them, providing them as much information as possible to get their ideas up and off the ground, while raising a family, which I know can be challenging.

Amy Demone: Wow. So you’re basically just saying that you’re straight up Superwoman right now.

Erica Lerman: I try to be, yeah, I try to be, but as we were talking about earlier, my immune system is taking a beating for it.

Amy Demone: Yes. That pesky thing. We’re both in Canada right now, I know it’s very rare, the Canadian weather, it’s not the greatest, but I digress, I digress.

Erica Lerman: We’ll say lots of “eh” throughout the episode.

Amy Demone: Oh my goodness. Quite possibly. And the “aboots” and all that jazz. So getting back into your business, are you the type of entrepreneur that relies heavily on Facebook ads, Instagram to kind of be seen, or are you more of the word of mouth kind of referrals? Because I know from my business, most of my clients are referrals, but yeah, I would love to hear about that.

Erica Lerman: Sure, it’s kind of dependent on which business we’re talking about. So from the consulting side, I’d say it’s 98% word of mouth, referrals. That’s not surprising because with professional service businesses, not only is the product or service that you’re actually delivering important, there’s a lot of interpersonal relationships that go on, too, so how you deal with your clients, your project management skills, level of communication, all of those things greatly impact whether or not your client is going to be happy with what you’ve provided them, so those types of aspects really go hand in hand with the referral side of things. So with the consulting, for sure it’s word of mouth.

Erica Lerman: With the other business, I’d say it’s a lot of … I have done Facebook ads, I don’t do Instagram ads. My Instagram participation is kind of like when I have things to share, I’ll share them. It’s not the greatest, but some word of mouth, which is trying to get it up there as far as contract marketing is concerned. I use a lot of blog posts, I’m getting into YouTube videos, the podcast, all of that kind of thing.

Amy Demone: Awesome. I’m really excited to dive deep into this episode’s topic because from the very first time, as my very first online business, which I still very much am a VA, but it has grown into a little bit more than just the simple VA tasks, but one of the things in all the Facebook groups I’m in, it’s like, “Do you need a website?” So I know you are an expert on that, so I would love to hear from a web designer’s perspective the importance of having a website or lack there of.

Erica Lerman: Sure. To preface the topic, I think, because I’m sure a lot of people are like, “Well, you design websites. Of course you’re going to say you need a website, right? You’re coming with your own biases.” That is for sure the case. I love web design, I love digital marketing and having that brand out there and a lot of that is surrounding your website. That being said, when I was preparing for this podcast recording, I do try to put on other hats, and I do try, even within my own business, try to play devil’s advocate once in a while because, one, I think if you’re a great service provider, you have to put those hats on every once in a while anyways to try to come up with reasons why a client might not work with you, so I do have some counter arguments to a couple of things, but the reality is is that it’s 2018, so much of our lives surround the internet. And this can go for a multitude of businesses that people run. Whether it’s a simple service provider, whether or not it is an e-commerce business, if you’re doing info-preneur type stuff, so some of these businesses that I just listed off are going to be almost 100% online, right? If you’re in the e-commerce space, 100% of what you do is going to be based on your website.

Erica Lerman: The other types of businesses that are out there, like, let’s say a mechanic’s shop, or a hair salon, those types of things. The argument could be, “Well, why do I need a website if people are ultimately going to come into my establishment and they’re going to interact with me on a one-on-one level?” And my rationale for why it’s absolutely key to have that business is because so many people are using the internet to, one, find businesses that are around them if you’re a local business, and two, to find out reviews on them. So if you have a website, automatically the chances of you popping up on a search result are that much greater, and if you have your own website, you can then claim the listings a bit easier, you can have your website linked to your Google reviews profile and things like that. And I think at the end of the day, it really just shows a level of professionalism, and I don’t know off the top of my head, but there’s been numbers circulating for many, many years with research that’s been done online, just how many people will look up to see if your business has a website, and how that influences people’s decision to then buy your product or utilize your service.

Amy Demone: Exactly. And it’s 2018. As a millennial, I say this. I almost will not go into places if they do not have some sort of web presence, especially … and I know this is kind of a weird example, but restaurants especially. If a restaurant doesn’t have a website, I’m always very nervous of what kind of food they’re going to be serving me. And it is 2018, we rely so much on the internet, so it’s almost kind of like a very easy advantage to have if you do have a website, but there are the abilities to rely on other types of platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, although that’s kind of dying, Pintrest is making a comeback. So I would like to hear what your thoughts are on businesses that have decided to put their focus on their web presence in Facebook instead of an actual website.

Erica Lerman: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think with websites, the nice thing about them is that you really do control all of the aspects of your brand. So when it comes to building your homepage, or a list of your services, or anything like that, you have absolute control over it, so that when somebody comes on to it, they start to recognize your logo, your colors, the feel that you want to convey, and I think this is especially important for businesses that maybe need to convey a certain type of luxury associated with them, or maybe they’re a discount brand, and they want to get that perception across. And that’s hard to do sometimes in other platforms. It’s not necessarily completely impossible, but it’s just … if you think about a Facebook page as an example, right? You can go on there and you can post different things. Yes, you can put some pictures of your product, let’s say, but ultimately, when somebody sees that in their browser, on their phone, it’s branded white and blue for Facebook. So that level of difference I think can be huge, especially as your business grows.

Erica Lerman: The other really big thing that not a lot of people think of until it negatively affects them is that when you build your business on another platform like Facebook, or Instagram, or anything like that, you are beholding to their business practices. And what I mean by that is … And you see this popping up, especially if you’re really participating in Facebook groups and things like that, where people talk about digital marketing. Let’s say you’ve built up this great rapport with this huge audience on Instagram, and everything is great, and you get 200 likes per photo, and you start selling products through Instagram. And the next thing you know, you wake up the next morning, and all of a sudden, Facebook, who owns Instagram, has changed their algorithm, and the next time you post the photo, you get a quarter of the engagement. That has nothing to do with the quality of photos you’re posting, it has nothing to do with the quality of hashtags or anything, it’s just for whatever reason, Facebook has decided that they need to change the algorithm, and your photo is showing up to a small fraction of what it used to, and you have no control over that.

Erica Lerman: So by having things owned by you, in your possession, you pay for the hosting, you set up your website, you have more control over that. That being said, there can be more difficulties when it comes to getting the website in front of people. When you’re on something like Instagram, people can find you organically through hashtag searching and things like that, whereas getting eyeballs onto your website can be a bit more challenging, however, you own that entity. So if something does happen to Facebook, or Instagram, or anything in the future, at least you have this stable entity as your website that you can still continue to build, and drive traffic to, and use as your marketing platform.

Amy Demone: Yes, and for anyone that knows anything about Facebook, they decide to change their algorithm, what, every three, four months these days?

Erica Lerman: Yeah, and as we’ve seen over the past, probably, two or three years, it kind of goes in swings. In one aspect, they’re pro-business because that’s how they’re getting their money, and the businesses are paying for advertising and all this kind of stuff, and then, next thing you know, the pendulum swings back to, “Well, we need to focus more on the user and showing them feeds from family and friends.” And then, even years ago, it was like, “Yes, build your business page. It’s great exposure, and it’s free.” Then they started introducing ads and saying, “Well, now it’s kind of a pay to play activity.” So if you want to be seen, now, all of a sudden, you’re having to fork out $100, $500, whatever it is, to run ads to your Facebook page or to your website, whatever it is that you’re drawing people to.

Amy Demone: Yeah, definitely. I like to play a little bit of devil’s advocate, though, so I’m going to ask you a question. Could you think of any positives about not having a website?

Erica Lerman: Cost and hassle for sure. I think anytime that you decide to add an aspect to your marketing, it’s going to involve an increase in complexity, that’s the reality of things. And whenever I talk to clients of my own, and write blog posts, and things like that, the one thing I try to always reiterate is that no matter what you do, it’s either going to cost you money or time. So if you have your website and you’re maintaining it yourself, which is totally feasible these days, especially with Word Press and the Shopifys of the world and everything like that. If you’re maintaining it yourself, that’s great. It’s going to cost you time. It’s time you’re not spending doing other things, it’s time that you’re not doing the accounting for the business, or finding new clients, and conducting sales, and all that kind of stuff.

Erica Lerman: If you decide not to do it yourself, well then, you have to pay somebody to do it. So it’s going to cost money. So that, for sure. But I think at the same time, if you were to only run your business through Facebook, that’s still going to have time or money associated with it, too, because you still need to be active on Facebook to show that you’re a real life business, that you’re still active, that you’re still getting it out there and showcasing things. People don’t like to go to websites that look like they’re from ten years ago. People don’t like to go to Facebook pages where the last post was from 2014.

Amy Demone: Yeah, that’s true. Whenever I land on a site that hasn’t been updated for like the last ten years, I’m like, “What is this nonsense? What is happening?” And I remember, when I was first … because I work primarily alongside the coaching industry in my profession, and I remember, one of the first things I did, I was doing some research, and I found what they said was the top rated dating coach in Los Angeles. So the first thing you feel is, you’re like … just from understanding that glimpse, before you actually click into the website, you think, “Okay, she must be glamorous. She must have all this money.” Because, Los Angeles, you pay out the bum to live there, kind of thing, so you’re just expecting this Class A experience, and then you click in, and it’s from 2008.

Amy Demone: I’m just like, “How the heck did that happen?” I know there are so many things that play there, but 2008. Especially, and I keep drawing back to the millennial thing, but we’re very, very particular about our technology because we’ve seen it grow so quickly, and we’ve seen what it can do, and we see how quickly it’s developed that we’re just … we want the next new thing.

Amy Demone: So drawing on that, the one thing that I kind of think about is that a website is really a first impression of your business, so I would love for you to explain if you have any insider tips on how to really make those first impressions be spectacular.

Erica Lerman: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think working back to your comment about the dating coach, and going onto a website, and it looks a lot older. I think the majority of the time, that’s going to be off-putting. That being said, the counter to that is that if her target market is of an older crowd, is maybe somebody who is now in their 50s, let’s say, who isn’t as influenced by improvements to look and design, function of the website, maybe it resonates a bit more with them because the photo of her is a few years old and maybe it looks a little dated, but hey, they look dated too because they’re wearing sweaters from 1987.

Erica Lerman: So I think that, in and of itself, plays a huge role in first impressions on a website, is just how it relates to the customer. So when somebody goes on to your website, and I think you see this a lot with business coaches in particular because they really try to showcase themselves in light of what their customers are looking for. So if you are coaching predominantly female entrepreneurs, things like that, what you’ll see is websites that are a lot more feminine. So they’re using typically whites and pinks, maybe creams, those types of things. Logos that are cursive, script fonts, things like that. When you go on, within the first three or four seconds of somebody looking at your website, it’s already starting to resonate with you, whether or not that’s in a good way or in a bad way. Because if you go onto a website, and it’s for a coach that predominantly deals with women between the ages of 25 and 45, and you’re a man in your 60s, all of a sudden, that color scheme, the fonts that are chosen, even the first few words you might read, don’t resonate with you and you leave.

Erica Lerman: That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I want people who are listening to really understand that. You will not appease everybody who looks at your website, nor should you because if you cast that wide of a net, you’re not going to bring in any customers because there’s not enough of a connection with you that they say, “Wow, this person is like me in this way.” Or, “This service provider is dealing with clients which are very similar to myself.” And they feel that connect. If it’s so generic, people end up leaving because they don’t have that immediate first impression that really catches them and brings them on board.

Erica Lerman: When we’re talking about from a … not technical, but from a design perspective, of course there’s always things like making sure that you have a nice, bold statement that resonates with the person who is on your website right away so they’re not having to comb through text, because the reality is, people don’t comb through text. Don’t put five paragraphs of text on your homepage, people aren’t going to read it. Pictures are always great. Video is really making an increase usage on websites, things like that. Explainer videos, even videos if you’re selling yourself as a service provider, saying hi to your clients and introducing yourself is always a nice way to grab the attention and really make that great first impression.

Amy Demone: Amazing. Thank you for that.

Erica Lerman: Of course.

Amy Demone: And being brought back to when … my first year … not my first year. It took me a really long time to build my website. I built it myself, I built it with Divi Builder, which I was told was going to be so friendly. I’ve mastered it now, but it took me a year and a half to do so, and I’m pretty technically inclined, so anyway. The one thing for me, when I’m thinking back there, and the driving force for why I wanted a website so bad, because I was okay, my business, I wasn’t really … I was more working in my business, but not on my business. So I was working for my clients, but I wasn’t working on propelling my business, but I was okay with that because I was getting referrals, I ended up in a really great circle of entrepreneurs that needed me for tele-summits, which is like a list building strategy, for all my audience out there that don’t know what that is, so I was really set.

Amy Demone: But the reality was that I knew this wasn’t what I was going to do for the rest of my life, doing the project management for summits, because it was fun, but it wasn’t that stimulating. It was pretty monotonous, but it was the drive to stand out from my competitors. So that is one plus about having a website. So when it comes to the end of the day, you’re an online entrepreneur, website designer … take the website designer part out of it, what’s the line for you? Do you say, “Yes, get a website.” Or do you say, “If you want to?”

Erica Lerman: I think with the ease and the cost that things are these days, it’s kind of like a why not. You could have … and I know that you mentioned that it took you a while to get used to Divi and things like that, it’s so easy to get a domain, to purchase hosting, and to get a one page website up and running that there really is no barrier to entry. So as far as time or money is concerned, it’s so minimal compared to so many other things that you can be doing in your business, yet it can have such impact. So I say do it.

Amy Demone: That makes sense. And I like to just use myself as an example, but when I finally did release that website a year and a half later, my business grew so much. I actually had two clients reach out to me that were like, “Oh,” insert swear word here, “Do I need to pay you more now?” Because they saw all the hard work that I did, and they saw that I … I was very meticulous what I did. I took some copywriting classes, I had a copywriter look over it. I made sure it was my dream website, which I’m a perfectionist, I’m not the model to follow, believe me.

Amy Demone: You can definitely, there are themes out there, those one-piece, beautiful themes, or Square Space, or whatever, that are much easier to use, but I always look back and think. It was a struggle for me, getting that website up and running, but I’m so happy I did. And a lot of it, at least out of my colleagues when they’re like, “Oh, the website, the website.” They’re just not prioritizing it. It’s not that they don’t see a need for it, they just decided to prioritize other things. Yeah, anyhow. Thank you so much for chatting to me about this, and hopefully this gives some great insight for our audience members that are still mulling it over if they want to build a website or not, but I know you have some really wonderful … I don’t even know what they’re called, coupon codes, for our audience listeners, so I’ll hand it over to you, and you can tell what you’re offering.

Erica Lerman: Sure. Part of my product and service offerings is two-fold. So I have pre-built items, so I do a bit of branding and stuff, too, so you can buy pre-designed logos and things like that, but I have a small collection right now of pre-built websites, and really what those are are websites where you would buy the hosting, and you would buy the license for the theme, and then I set everything up for you based on a predefined look and feel. So the themes range from larger, one page sites, all the way through to a five or six page site with a blog and all that kind of thing. So there’s already a look and feel to it, we would swap out your colors and your logo to make it applicable for you and your business, and those are a fixed price.

Erica Lerman: And then I also offer web design services, which are what you’re probably used to hearing about, where we would have a consultation session and we determine what you need for your business, what you want, what kind of features you need on your website, ultimately how you want it designed from an aesthetic perspective, and then everything is built custom for you, and those prices can range obviously because the type of website and the scope is going to be different depending on the person. But regardless, if people are interested in connecting with me and getting a website built for themselves, as opposed to doing it themselves, you can head on over, my website is EricaLerman.com, and the code, which Amy will pop up in the show notes as well is going to be VirtuallyFree20, so you get a 20% off either the pre-built websites or the custom designed websites until the end of August. And I believe there are 31 days in August, so August 31.

Amy Demone: Amazing. Thank you so much.

Erica Lerman: You’re welcome.

Amy Demone: So as I like to end all of the shows like this, I would love it if you would leave the audience members with some valuable words of wisdom.

Erica Lerman: Valuable words of wisdom. I feel like I’m in a job interview and people ask you these questions and you need to come up with some magical answer. I think this is applicable to websites, but I think it also can be applied to various aspects in your business, which is, don’t wait until something is 100% done before you launch it. Of course you want the pages up on your website, you need the copy that you have up there to convey what you do in your business, but if not every single button is aligned, or maybe you need to add another page down the road, don’t wait to launch your business. And I’ve dealt with a couple clients that are in this boat, they need it to be perfect, and what ends up happening is that you could waste months, years-

Amy Demone: Year and a half.

Erica Lerman: Yeah, of potential income generation, right? For that. So take what you have, launch it 80%. Websites are never 100% done anyways, so launch it, be happy with it, iterate, move on, change it, add to it, whatever you need to do, but just get it up there.