Important things to consider when hiring a website vendor – my experience!

Roselyn Dien is a recent graduate of the Lancaster University Management School (class of 2015) and the CEO of The Guardian Abroad UK Ltd. In July 2016, she applied for the funding award from The Enterprise Centre to rebuild her business website. The Guardian Abroad UK Ltd provides guardianship and specialist support services to international students as well as organise summer holiday programmes and English language courses for juniors and young adults. 


Today my business website www.theguardianabroad.co.uk is up and running and just two months after launch, I’m already seeing a positive impact on my business; many thanks to the Lancaster University Enterprise Centre for providing funding towards the website project from the Santander enterprise fund.  The website may be live but the journey to this point was far from smooth; a project that was scheduled to be completed within 6 weeks ended up lasting seven months due to hiring the wrong website vendor. Following from my bad experience here are some important things I now see that a business owner should consider when hiring a website vendor.

In today’s technology savvy business environment, a professional website is a must have for businesses for very many beneficial reasons – customer acquisition, business promotion, global positioning as well as being a channel for prospective clients to find and learn more about the business. However, many businesses lack the internal technical know-how to build a vibrant and engaging online presence, hence, the need to engage the services of third-party vendors which of course can be a real challenge especially when it comes to selecting a vendor with the right skill set.

Unfortunately, not all vendors are trustworthy and very many businesses have fallen victim to illegitimate vendors or legitimate vendors with low ethical standards and sometimes, even those who know what to do still fall into the wrong hands. This sadly, was my experience when I hired a website vendor that turned out to be unscrupulous and unreliable yet freely operating in the community. I later found out that the same company has scammed many small businesses, especially the new ones, by taking payment but not delivering on the job. So, why are they allowed to still operate freely in the community? A good question I sincerely do not have an answer to.

In July 2016, I applied for and got funding from the Lancaster University Enterprise Centre towards my website redesign project as the existing website was obsolete and not optimised for mobile platforms and all browsers. With the excitement, I started the selection process of who will handle the project, being very careful not to make a mistake. For instance, I opted for a local vendor with a physical office to allow for face to face meetings and easy communication, however, that later proved not to be enough, as there were other vital steps I should have taken.

Once the upfront payment was made, the story and attitude of the vendor started to change, from one excuse to endless revisions and unnecessary delays and a six week project ended up lasting seven months.  Within that period, the business had changed its name four times, closed the physical office and changed contact details. Needless to recount the full experience here or enumerate the loss incurred in terms of time, money, sales and the psychological trauma.

So, to help new business owners avoid such an ugly encounter, here are some important things to also consider when hiring a website vendor.

Have a clear understanding of your requirements

This is very key in website design. Understand your requirement and what the website should achieve. It will be helpful to have a blueprint that defines the overall purpose of the site and outline the key points for the project before the start. This will give you a better understanding of who to hire, guide the discussions and agreements with the vendor, help the creation process as well as keep all parties focused on the project objective.

Conduct thorough research

Conduct thorough research and adequately evaluate the capabilities of the vendor prior to committing to the project. Building a website can be very exciting for the business owner but jumping at the first vendor you talk to may not be a very good idea.  If possible, narrow your initial selection to a minimum of 3 vendors before settling for the one. Compare what each has to offer by looking at their portfolios, previous work done, skills and experiences. Choose a vendor with the right skills sets who has done similar jobs to what you want or have relevant experience.  Check that they possess a combination of web design and development skills. A web designer is concerned more with the ‘look and feel’ of the site and a web developer handles the coding and back end.

Ask questions 

Asking questions should be at the top of your priority list. Do not just assume things; ask relevant questions, clarify grey areas and obtain satisfactory answers. A simple google search will give you an idea of the type of questions to ask. Do not accept what you are told at face value, check online reviews on the vendor, conduct a Company House check to ensure the business is fully registered and thriving and if possible, visit the office to check out things for yourself. Request references and case studies and obtain recommendations from past clients (yes! contact them) to evaluate the level of customer service rendered and how they related with the clients.

Agreeing to the terms and conditions

Read and understand the terms and condition carefully before signing the contract and flag any discrepancies as the project progresses. Keep both the hard and soft copy of the contract, ensuring that every discussion, both verbal and written, is properly documented. Verbal communication should be followed by a written summary which should be sent electronically to all parties involved. Request for the vendor’s statement of work that spells out specific activities and timelines before the start of the project which should also include consequences if timelines are not adhered to; this will keep the vendor committed to and focused on the project. Website design, hosting and content management are three separate aspects of website development. You have the choice of designing with one vendor and hosting with another so do not feel compelled to stick to the same vendor for all your website needs. This gives you the flexibility to quickly change the vendor if you are dissatisfied.

Fees and payment terms

This is a crucial part of the contract negotiation. Comparing prices of websites similar to what you want will give you a fair idea of the going market rate and a strong negotiating power.  Do not feel compelled to purchase proprietary software applications that will lock you into long term contract that you cannot easily cancel. A website is an evolving tool and technology becomes obsolete very quickly so start with the basic applications and upgrade to more advanced ones in future if required. Avoid contracts that may take a huge chunk of your revenue yearly. Choose a favourable payment plan, for instance, agree to a lower upfront payment, say 30 to 40 percent and spread the balance as the project progresses or at completion, if the vendor insists on 100% payment, then you know you should walk away. Watch out for hidden charges, read the ‘small print’ and clarify grey areas. It is a business transaction; therefore, payment should be made into a business bank account, not a personal account.

Test the website

Testing the site vigorously before the final sign off is crucial. You’ve got to test for functionality, usability, compatibility, performance, interface and security. Check that the site is optimised for desktop, mobile platforms and all browsers. Navigate every page and validate that the alignment, all links, interfaces, forms, buttons, icons and symbols all function perfectly. Test the link that will be used to send email to admin and confirm that emails are received at the backend. Check content for spelling errors and fonts sizes. You may have to enlist the help of a third-party to provide critical feedback. Adequate testing must be conducted before the final sign off.

So, now that the website is finally up and running with the horrid experience put behind me, TGA is now poised and ready to strategically position itself on the global podium using the new vibrant website to attract highly qualified potential clients, generate sales, close deals as well as support current clients effectively.  Exciting future ahead!

Very many thanks to the Enterprise Centre and Santander for the funding award and the continued support.

Funding Update: José Maria Macedo

José Maria Macedo, final year Philosophy, Politics and Economics student, applied for funding last year to develop marketing materials for his martial arts business, Kaizen Academy. Here, he shares his funding update.

I’m José Maria Macedo and I run a business called Kaizen Academy whose aim is to modernise and improve the entire experience of training martial arts. As part of this, we thought it was important to produce some high-quality promotional videos to clearly and visually demonstrate to potential customers just how different we are from an average martial arts school. So, we decided to apply to the Enterprise Award (the application process was great and really helped us refine our ideas for the videos) and used the money to produce two promotional videos for our business:

We are extremely happy with the look of the videos as we feel they really symbolise our brand but more importantly we’re thrilled with the results: the videos have been viewed cumulatively over 50,000 times and we’ve used them in our New Year’s marketing campaign (spending £500 on Facebook marketing them) to secure over 35 subscribed customers for a revenue of £12,000 over the next 12 months.

We’re now at maximum capacity for adult members with 170 total members (which also makes us one of the largest martial arts clubs in the UK!) and we know we couldn’t have done it without these videos. Thank you very much to the Enterprise Team and Santander for making it possible!

Student entrepreneur film maker, Harry McGill worked with José and Kaizen Academy to produce both promotional videos. 

You can like Kaizen Academy on Facebook to keep up to date with their progress, and have a look at their webpages for more information.

If you’re interested in applying for an Enterprise Award of up to £500, check out our funding pages here

State of Social Enterprise Report 2015

UK social enterprises are thriving, new report reveals

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The State of Social Enterprise Report 2015, supported by Santander, is the result of extensive research into the state of the sector.

Social enterprises in the UK are outperforming mainstream SMEs, and are thriving in this time of significant social and environmental issues. In fact, in terms of turnover, job creation, innovation and optimism, UK social enterprises are at the forefront of the economic recovery.

Social Enterprise UK’s statistics show that 50% of social enterprises report a profit, whilst 26% break even. In terms of job creation, 41% of social enterprises introduced new roles in the past 12 months compared with only 22% of SMEs. Furthermore, 59% of social enterprises employ at least one person who is disadvantaged in the labour market and around 40% have a director with a disability.

The report concludes with the view that social enterprises are changing in nature and are part of the most dynamic, fast moving areas of business in the UK – there’s really never been a better time to get involved in social enterprise and make a positive impact.

Read the report here.

If you want to make a difference and learn more about social enterprise whilst you’re at University, why not work with U Social Venture? A group set up by students with a desire to create change and do good.

60 Second Pitch reopens

Santander’s 60 Second Pitch competition: entries open

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It’s back. Santander’s 60 Second Pitch competition is once again open for entries and you could be in with a chance of winning up to £1,500.

The last round of the competition saw Stride, an LU based startup, reach the top 10 (don’t remember? Click here for more.) Could you and your startup business be next?

Submit your 60 second video pitch to Santander before Tuesday 17th November to be in with a winning chance. If you’d like to discuss your business, or need some advice on your pitching style, please don’t hesitate to contact us on enterpriseteam@lancaster.ac.uk

Find out more about Santander’s competitions here.

60 Second Pitch deadline this week

Final call for entries for Santander’s 60 Second Pitch competitionsantander-universities-logo

If you’re thinking of entering Santander’s 60 Second Pitch competition, entries must be submitted by Friday 24th July.

Don’t miss your chance to win up to £1,500 and invaluable support and advice from Santander. Click here for more details.

Social Change through SPARK awards….

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Nickala Torkington, Partnership Manager at UnLtd shares  how she went about developing peer to peer support to galvanise a ‘Network of Networks’ of Women supporting Social Entrepreneurs in Greater Manchester. Read on to hear more about how to save time and money, whilst building SE Ambassadors, Mentors and Champions….

‘Developing a peer to peer Network of Networks’ of Women supporting Social Entrepreneurs in Greater Manchester has been fun, rewarding and has started to address some gaps in the provision of support tailored to meet the needs of female social entrepreneurs in Greater Manchester. All the attention on this theme has come a bit leftfield for me, perhaps I take it for granted or as a given that this is straightforward, given UnLtd’s values and ability to reach out to women through our awards programmes 48% of our awards have gone to women over the last 12 years and on the HE Support programme over 50% of awards were to women.

Contrary to belief – I haven’t been slaving away on this and am not doing this ‘In addition’ to my day job – well not much…. And supporting the development of this is actually saving me time, resources and helping me deliver a range of outcomes across UnLtd programmes as well as develop the networks of partners.

Plus it helped me bust my own myth and cynical side that said ‘What on earth can you do with real impact with a £500 SPARK award?’

First of all I ironed out my personal & work goals for doing this. I wanted to……

  • Find ways to connect my network and save time, energy and emails
  • Provide more support for female social entrepreneurs as could see a number of them struggling to get going or move things forward
  • Find ways to use some of the tools and techniques I and others have learned to support more SEs and share learning
  • Find ways to celebrate and showcase some of the fantastic award winners and female social entrepreneurs out there
  • Help the small SPARK team shift some awards and create meaningful impact

What happened…..

I mapped out my top 10 female socially entrepreneurial ‘Super connectors’ ( which quickly turned into 30). These were a combination of longstanding award winners, new award winners (L1, L2, Try/Do/Build it and SPARK) our 3 HEFCE Partners and a Star People partner, a couple of UnLtd Mentors along with a random selection of old stalwarts and strategic agencies in the sector.

Over a period of 12 – 18 months we:

1)   Held a couple of pre-meets which galvanised a group, identified shared goals, gaps and opportunities – this alone created 2 useful outcomes:

  • a new contract opportunity which a member took with both hands to deliver the Ogunte Make a Wave programme
  • initiated 4 separate Spark Awards (G4N, OSEN, the Greater Manchester Mappathon and the peer to peer network we have developed WSSE)

2)  Encouraged and supported group members to apply for SPARK awards and members attended each other’s activities where relevant.

3)  Kicked off the Women Supporting Social Entrepreneurs (WSSE) peer to peer network and met 3 times to build the group which now stands at around 50 engaged and contributing and used our meetings to consider ideas to challenges and barriers whilst address gaps and opportunities. See a downloadable presentation we compiled fairly early on in case this can be of use.

4)  Have shaped our ideas into a programme of activities – attached below in case they can be of use.

Yet to come this year….

  • The development of a network of 30 – 50 women supporting social entrepreneurs in the Greater Manchester area who want to mentor or would benefit from a mentor
  • Continuation of the original peer mentoring group – 15 to 20 people meeting bi monthly
  • Launch event for 50 women to attend on 5th March as part of International Women’s Week:http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/breakthrough-women-celebrating-developing-women-social-entrepreneurs-tickets-15468177736
  • Training and development of 30- 50 women in mentoring skills and practice through April/ May 2014
  • Development of a team of mentor champions, a pool of mentors plus operational processes to support this.
  • An action training and fundraising event in July– ‘Mentorathon’ to engage 20 – 30 mentors and 10 – 15 mentees
  • Brokerage of a further 20 – 30 1 to 1 mentor relationships
  • An evaluation of the programme to inform the future

My cynical side said….. Myths busted

£500 is not worth effort -what can we get moving? I have proved myself and others wrong on this much has been achieved with very little money. Plus the £500 we started with has turned into £2000 of SPARK awards in the area which through the network and so far the group has raised an additional £2000 in cash to contribute towards venue hire launch event and mentor training through contacts within the network.

Do we really need this in Manchester? There is much support for social entrepreneurs within the Greater Manchester area, however the number of people getting involved and the feedback we have received shows there is a need for both a peer network for infrastructure and more diverse mentors readily available so capacity can meet demand.

If I act as a catalyst in this will I have loads to do – can I manage it? Whilst I have helped to drive this, working with award winners our highly talented, highly networked and creative ‘Can – do’ people means that our joined effort gets things moving. I haven’t had to attend all meetings, I haven’t written any funding bids and haven’t felt this is a stretch. It has been more of a help in keeping connected, offering support to award winners and partners whilst building the ecosystem.

Myths still to bust …..

How will people from grass roots communities engage – will they have the confidence to come forward/not be put off? Our network is highly diverse and reaching into all communities, however we need to check in with the language we use, style of activities we run and keep listening to feedback on how to make this accessible and holistic. Some of the SPARK awards that have been applied for from the group have been to reach out to underdeveloped communities.

How can we compete/distinguish ourselves alongside other mentoring initiatives? That is what we will learn over the next year, however by taking a bottom up approach, bringing new and diverse people in, keeping overheads to a minimum and supporting prestart – to scale up we hope to create sustainable impact.

It’s Sexist! Maybe – however there is a market demand and un-met needs, so we’ll offer a service that widens people’s connections and opportunities to all people and all sectors in order to help their social change initiatives and ventures to thrive.

Can we really sustain this? So far so good – the pilot has turned into a manageable programme being delivered over the next 12 months with a co-ordinating team of 3-4 people. We don’t know where this will go after that, however we know we have people who can make things happen wanting to see this succeed.

Fancy setting up something similar in your area?

Then get your networks together and apply for a SPARK award to develop your peer to peer activity and stimulate ideas and connections as well as address gaps in need for social entrepreneurs! www.unltd.org.uk/SPARK .

The Lancaster University Enterprise Team  can link you to the UnLtd network who can help galvanise an ecosystem near you.

 

Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards 2015

Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards

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What Can I Win?

The Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards offer a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the success of student and graduate entrepreneurs. Not only will the awards help secure cash investment to aid students with their ideas and businesses, but they will also provide the winners with valuable press coverage via the recognition received through this initiative. Winners will also then qualify for entry into the Santander Universities Enterprise Community programme.

The competition is open to students or recent graduates (within last two years), and entries can be from individuals or groups.

Undergrad prizes

  • 1st prize: £5,000
  • 2nd prize: £3,000
  • 3rd prize: £1,000

Postgrad prizes

  • 1st prize: £20,000
  • 2nd prize: £10,000
  • 3rd prize: £5,000

To enter you will need to submit a business plan by midday Monday 9th March.  The plans will then be shortlisted and evaluated by a panel and an entry for each category put forward to represent Lancaster University in the national competition .

Click here for more information: Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards Information Pack

All submissions should be emailed to enterpriseteam@lancaster.ac.uk

 

 

Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards

Can you write an award-winning business plan?  Would you like to win up to £20,000 to make that plan a reality?  Read on!

The Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards application process is now open. This national initiative invites applications from 72 UK universities to submit business plans from one Undergraduate students and one Postgraduate student.  The winners of the overall competition in the UG and PG categories can win up to £5,000 and £20,000 respectively.

The first step towards this is a shortlisting process by the university to identify our two institutional entries.  If you think that you have what it takes to submit a winning entry for Lancaster, then please download the information pack here.

The deadline to submit your business plan to the shortlisting process is 24th March.  A panel of Enterprise Champions from across the University will then review all the entries and select one from each category to be put forward into the competition.

All enquiries and submissions should be sent to enterpriseteam@lancaster.ac.uk. Please ensure that you state whether you are applying as an undergraduate or postgraduate in your covering email. Business plan submissions should arrive no later than 12noon on Monday 24th March.