Join Start Up Donut and Manage My Website

If you're a regular twitter user and thinking of starting a small business, you might have heard of the Start Up Donut. It's a website that's packed with free advice, tools and resources to help you succeed.

Their case studies enable you to learn from other start-ups, while expert Q&A interviews provide no-nonsense answers to key questions. If you become a registered user (don't worry – there's no charge), you can access even more cost-saving resources.

I'm pleased to announce that I'm now a Start Up Donut web expert for the South West region, and will be regularly contributing to their blogs and features.

My first contribution is a case study, detailing how I found a niche for my Manage My Website business. You can either access it here, or read it in full below.

Other Donuts that you might find of interest are the Law Donut and the Marketing Donut.

How I found my market niche

After being made redundant, Alex Astell considered whether starting a business was preferable to trying to find another position in a tough and uncertain jobs market. Spotting a gap in the internet market made up her mind.

“I worked as an account manager in advertising for nine years and then as a media manager for a publishing company – looking after their online presence – for three years. When I was made redundant in November 2008, it gave me the chance to think long and hard about what I wanted to do. I could either look for another job during a tough economic climate or pursue a long-held dream to do my own thing.

“I mulled over both options. After some thought, I realised there was a huge gap in the market for freelance project managers in the web design and web marketing arena. I spoke to friends who owned small businesses, as well as ex-colleagues and contacts I knew and trusted. Many of them told me they found the internet confusing and would have no idea where to go if they wanted to set up a new website or find out more about email marketing, etc.

Current thinking

“Over the years, I had also come across far too many ‘forgotten’ websites that had not been updated for years, they had become tired and totally uninformative. I'd viewed sites with old opening hours – for example, Christmas 2002 – some had broken links, contact forms that didn’t work, as well as sites that didn’t display properly on the latest browsers.

“After further research, I came to the conclusion that much of the time the reason for this is many businesses have no idea how to update their website or can’t afford to keep asking a designer to update or rebuild their sites for them.

“The final pieces of the jigsaw were the comments I heard from disgruntled business owners who felt they were being taken advantage of financially. Some were paying ridiculous amounts to ‘SEO specialists’ who promised to get them to the top of Google searches, yet one year later they still hadn’t. Others were even paying their existing web design agency way too much money for simple updates.

“The MD of one company told me he was paying £8,000 a year for SEO services. Another business owner asked his agency to set up a news page for him that he could update and he was quoted £1,000 – an inflated charge, especially in the current economic climate.

Net gains

“My mind was made up. I decided to set up a web maintenance, development and design consultancy and project management service that would give clear, honest and unbiased advice to businesses according to their requirements and budget.

“We would update websites, design and develop new sites, purchase domain names, organise hosting, assist with email marketing – basically make life as easy as possible for our clients so that they could get on with their day-to-day business. We would also enable our clients to update and manage their own websites if they wanted to. If not, we would do it for them for a reasonable fee.

“I had enough design and programming contacts from my years in advertising and publishing to outsource to whoever was most suitable for each client, whether someone had £400 or £12,000 to spend.

“I started researching business names in conjunction with available domain names, and decided we’d ‘do exactly what we said on the tin’. Manage My Website was born.

Management strategy

“I launched my business in April 2009. It’s based in Corsham, in Wiltshire. It has grown from strength to strength. We now have clients ranging from online retailers to removals businesses, carpenters to manufacturers, software companies to management consultancies. We’ve received excellent feedback from our clients – we always go the extra mile to provide them with a great service at a fair price.

“We now offer other services which have been requested by customers, such as logo, stationery and branding design, copywriting, ghost blogging and social media marketing advice, all of which have been well received. We are also researching the possibility of setting up an events management function.”

Allie's three key lessons

  • When looking for a niche, try to choose something you’re passionate and knowledgeable about.
  • While doing your research, don’t just tune in to direct answers to your questions - a conversational ‘red herring’ could be the key to finding your niche.
  • Your business may develop, but don’t forget that serving your niche enables you to specialise, which gives you a unique selling proposition. Keep it at the forefront of your marketing efforts.