Extra Edition / Business Management

Website Management for HVACR Service Managers

Tips for Developing and Maintaining a Better Website

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.
— Lyrics from “The Times They Are A Changin’” by Bob Dylan

Yes, whether you like Bob Dylan or not (or whether you can understand him when he sings), you have to admit that he’s right. The times, as always, are changing. In 1990, a company website was barely on the radar screen. Ten years later, if a company didn’t have one, they were considered to be behind the times. Today, it is difficult to find a company that doesn’t have a presence on the web, and those that don’t are certainly missing out on opportunities. The challenge in all this for an HVACR service manager, of course, is that the site needs to be designed and maintained, and because of the veritable plethora of systems and providers that are available, the price/quality/ease-of-use/convenience-of-change factors vary wildly.

The truth is, for many service managers or service company owners, the tasks and responsibilities to maintain a website are often delegated to somebody else in the organization… perhaps somebody of a “younger generation”… or perhaps because of the amount of time it takes to get a site designed, monitored, and modified on a regular basis. Sometimes, companies choose to contract with a web development company for a site rather than try to do it in-house.

I don’t think any one of these solutions is perfect. In my never-to-be-humble opinion, a service manager or service company owner in pursuit of excellence will knuckle down and be actively involved in the maintenance and almost-constant evolution of their site, regardless of their background and experience (or lack thereof) with doing business on the web. Achieving this isn’t easy. But, approaching it via a blend of the options I previously mentioned makes it manageable.

The first step in the process is to set aside the idea of using some type of software that needs to be purchased in order to design a website. Yes, the investment in what is known as a CMS, or content management system, should be zero dollars… that is, it is available for free. WordPress is my No. 1 recommendation. To begin, visit www.wordpress.org where you can learn the fundamentals of this system, and download what you will need to work with a WordPress-designed site. Notice that I said you’ll be “working with” a site, not designing one. That’s the next step I want to discuss.

Hire somebody to build your site and maintain it.

I know that there are many opportunities to have a site built for free (even within WordPress) but, for the most part, when you see some of these sites, that’s exactly what they look like: they were done for free in a couple of evenings with the help of some downloaded freeware or maybe a book like “Web Sites For Dummies.” Don’t get me wrong — I’m not advocating flashing pages and a booming audio that looks and sounds like a Hollywood production. I am saying that you need to do your research and take advantage of what’s out there by way of an up-to-date system and outsource the job to an independent contractor.

Sure, either you or somebody in your office will need to learn what WordPress is all about so you can do some of the minor changes and some experimenting once your site is live, but the bottom line in getting what you want means that you’ll have to hire a designer. In the world of WordPress, that means getting the word out via the resources you’ll find once you begin searching for what you are looking for, and someone to handle your design. You’ll have plenty of people getting back to you. Be ready to consider entering into an agreement without ever having a face-to-face meeting. You might get lucky and have someone pop up near you, but then again, they might be located out of your time zone.

When it comes to hiring a web designer, there are some important (and maybe not so comfortable) things for you to consider. For example, in the world of web people, you’ll most likely have to muscle up the faith to make some kind of payment of up front. That’s just how it is. I personally would not recommend paying the entire fee up front the first time you work with somebody, and some designers out there want you to do that. I think it’s reasonable to enter into a 50/50 agreement because some of the hands-down best designers don’t have a team of people to work on your site, or even an office you can go to unless you’re invited into their home and down the hall to their spare bedroom. The fact of the matter is, when you’re hiring an independent designer, they have to protect themselves just like you do, so get used to the idea of investing in a deposit in order to get things started on your new site, or getting your established site converted to WordPress.

As far as your financial investment in a site, it’s realistic to hire an independent web developer to convert or design your site for a fee somewhere between $600 and $1,000, depending on the number of pages you need or want. This fee should include maintenance for a 12-month period. And by the way, plan on paying this designer the same fee for the next 12-month maintenance period, and the next, and the next. Once you start working with WordPress, you’ll be happy to maintain your relationship with your developer.

How do you decide whether or not to hire somebody? Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions. In the course of doing that, you’ll find the right person for the job and the end result will be a site that has what you want for your business, and one that your customers will respond to in a positive way. To learn more about WordPress and the right questions to ask, go to www.wp101.com. Here, you’ll find a series of video tutorials that you can subscribe to for a very reasonable fee.

Learning about all the various features of this CMS provides enough knowledge to log in to the operating dashboard and perform any minor tweaks that occur to you when you make regular visits to your site to be certain that it’s working as it should. When an idea beyond your capability and time availability occurs to you or you find a problem with the site, that’s when you call in your developer to follow up and make the change or addition you need.

On your site, you’ll want the standard information, such as contact details, video testimonials from your willing established customers, good photos and illustrations, and the convenience of a location to request service or purchase parts. And, you’ll also want to blog, something that a visitor to your site can click on and learn something, anything, that you think is of value to them. A blog segment could be a simple explanation about how a heat pump operates.

As far as what a blog isn’t, there are two factors for you to consider. First, it’s not a place for you to discuss your personal beliefs on religion or politics. If you want to discuss those subjects, create a new site that doesn’t have any connection to your business where you can say whatever you think you need to say because you’ve decided it’s your responsibility to save the world or educate people that don’t have a clue.

And the second factor is that your blog isn’t a pitch page.

If you want to post information on condensing gas furnaces explaining why they are more efficient than other furnaces, fine — explain away. But don’t put a link in the blog that says “Click Here For More Information” and take your visitor to a page where they fill out a contact form. A blog is a blog is a blog. It’s for information, learning, and enlightenment. Your visitors know darn well that they can click around on your site and get to a contact form if they want to. There’s no need for you to push them into getting in touch with you while they are being educated by information you’ve so generously provided for them.

Finally, when it comes to your blog, you need to commit to doing it over, and over, and over, and over again, on a regular schedule to keep it fresh and up-to-date. If you decide to commit to posting once a month, then do whatever you need to do in order to post once a month. People don’t like to see that you haven’t posted since 2010. Beyond that, when you use a CMS site, your posts can be easily archived so visitors can access them. Having a consistent blog also affords you the benefit of more and more key words appearing on your site, which sets up your very own in-house SEO (search engine optimization) system. This is a process that allows potential visitors to your site to find you easier when they use Google, Bing, or another search engine.

Publication date: 6/10/2013

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