With 4G, rural companies can compete with city entrepreneurs

rural bizSetting up a business online is now possible for anyone with a good idea, regardless of location, writes Tina Nielsen
The number of entrepreneurs and self-employed people in the UK has risen sharply, with figures from the ONS saying there are now 4.55 million self-employed in the UK. It is surely no coincidence that at the same time setting up an online business has become more accessible for anybody with a good idea.
And with 4G mobile technology becoming more widely available throughout the UK, further boosting the growth of e-commerce, those based in rural locations are able to compete with city-based entrepreneurs.
"The internet allows small and rural companies to be able to trade to a UK wide audience," says Kate Jenkins, the founder of Gower Cottage Brownies. Jenkins runs her business in rural Wales and has made a great success of the company through her website.
For others, launching an e-commerce is a first step on the path to setting up a physical shop. "I would love to have a physical shop but in the meantime the online route has given me a really good opportunity to test products and get experience in retail," explains Nicole Antar, the founder of Pomegranate, an interiors web shop.

DIY or agency?

Setting up a website can turn into a very expensive process, but there are an increasing number of sites that will help you build your own website. Antar decided to go with a web development agency from the start.
She wanted something a bit more bespoke with SEO (search engine optimisation) capability, which is the key to businesses getting noticed online.
She says: "I wasn't experienced in e-commerce so I was more comfortable working with the company whose business it was to build e-commerce sites, including details like the payment systems, the mailing list sign-up area and the SEO."
Christine Naysmith and her partner in their two businesses, Brollies Galore and Stick and Cane, decided to build their site themselves, using a desktop e-commerce package. "I was already self-taught in Photoshop, knew basic HTML and with the help of Dreamweaver, we made it work. We invested in a digital camera and a photo cube so we could create our own quality images. Once you have your homepage and brochure pages added, start adding products and add your shipping and payment tables," she explains.

Start low, then grow

Jenkins spent just £200 on the first version of the Gower Cottage Brownies website, which was built by a local woman. "To start with there was very little financial input. One page was a picture of what I was doing and the second page was PayPal with instructions to buy," she says. "I have seen people with all sorts of fabulous websites that have cost them thousands, but you have to make sure there is a demand for your product first."
Since then the Gower Cottage website has undergone several changes, including different payment platforms. "We had to step up the checkout process; the most important thing is you get people's attention, they want to buy and you don't want to lose them. Everybody is very busy and if it is too much hassle you click off. Make it as simple as possible," explains Jenkins.
For Naysmith the development has also been gradual — and involved a design agency too. "As we grew, we developed our site to include a blog, social network pages, email marketing, customer reviews," she says. "To help us move into the future and keep up to date with the latest mobile and buying trends we did use a design team to help us re-launch our new look sites last year."
She says being clear about what you want is vital when working with an agency. "Creating mock-ups is a great tool and will help describe clearly what you want from the design team, and make sure that in the end you are able to maintain your site and change graphics yourself."
Pay special attention to the design of your homepage, which is essentially your shop window and you have seconds to grab a customer's attention. "It does seem to be a lot shorter online than on the high street where you can do more with the window, including add lighting or fragrance, you can have music to entice the customer to come in. Online it is just visual and you have seconds to grab them," says Naysmith.

Showing up in search

For Antar staying on top of SEO is vital. "Keep an eye on your traffic and make sure you have decent SEO and sign up to Google Analytics, which is a fantastic tool to understand the customers you have what they are looking at, look at the pages that attract their attention and where they stop looking," she says.>>>


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