If you’re the owner of a small business, you already know that the odds of survival aren’t great. When it’s just you, or maybe you and a handful of employees, there are so many hats to wear, and so many jobs to get done, it’s frankly amazing that you’re still going.
The official stats don’t offer much comfort, unfortunately. Just over six percent more small businesses close their doors than those that open them, according to the most recent Industry Canada numbers.
One of the hardest things to do when you’re small, is to ensure that you’re paying attention to marketing — even if your marketing budget is essentially zero. If you don’t find ways to get the word out, and give your current and future customers an easy way to find you, you’re cutting off the lifeblood of your business.
“One of the hardest things to do when you’re small, is to ensure that you’re paying attention to marketing — even if your marketing budget is essentially zero”
The good news is that it’s never been easier or more affordable to market a small business. The combination of search and social media can be so powerful, some small businesses don’t need to invest in any other platforms.
The bad news is, to take advantage of these tools, you need a well-designed website that gives you an online presence. So now, in addition to running your actual business, you’re going to have to become an expert in website building, SEO, responsive design, and a whole slew of other skills. Or you could pay someone to do that. Oh, wait, you don’t actually have a marketing budget, do you?
Those who decide to brave the website building chore themselves often go straight to WordPress. Why wouldn’t you? Between the free, paid, and self-hosted versions of this content management system, WordPress now accounts for a staggering 30 percent of all websites. If that many sites are built on WordPress, it must be the best. Or, maybe not.
Canadian entrepreneur David Kosmayer has been studying the options available to small businesses for more than four years, and he’s not impressed by what he’s found. “If you’re using WordPress,” Kosmayer told MobileSyrup, “you need to learn the platform. You have to have some design skills.” A lot of business owners who head down the WordPress path end up needing to hire freelance talent to produce a site they’re happy with. So Kosmayer and his team of Toronto-based developers, built bookmark.com, a complete end-to-end website building tool that requires no knowledge of code, and no design skill.
“Right now many small business owners are being held hostage by a freelancer or a design company”
With bookmark.com, “90 percent of your website is complete in a matter of two minutes,” Kosmayer said. That’s a pretty bold claim, and Kosmayer acknowledges it. But he says the site’s incredible speed is thanks to a focus on simplicity, and a secret weapon: AI.
The process starts by answering seven questions about your business. From there on, you’re working with AIDA, bookmark.com’s artificial intelligence design assistant. AIDA (artificial intelligence design assistant) guides you through the remaining steps, literally building your website in real-time while you watch. Unlike WordPress, or instant website tools like Wix and Squarespace, bookmark.com doesn’t rely on pre-built templates.
“When you create a website with bookmark.com,” Kosmayer said, “we actually create a website custom for your industry.” AIDA pulls from thousands of royalty free images and videos, and combines them with your business’s info, marketing copy, logo and other assets.
The result is a full website, divided into logical, menu-driven sections that are already optimized for search engines like Google. If you don’t like the finished product, simply ask AIDA to try again.
As much as this sounds like you’re giving up control, you’re not. Once AIDA has generated something you like — or that could be good with a few tweaks — you can make as many changes as you want. “Some of our clients have logged in 120 times over a six month period because it becomes a little bit of an addiction,” Kosmayer said. Button and font styles, background colours, and even layout elements can all be adjusted simply by dragging and dropping.
“Customizing WordPress to make it fit your particular business can be laborious and expensive”
“We want to give the power back to the small business owner. Right now many small business owners are being held hostage by a freelancer or a design company. Every single change that they want to do, they have to hire somebody because it’s just too complicated to do themselves.”
When we reached out to small businesses that had tried using other platforms, that’s exactly what they told us. “Wordpress templates look deceptively easy to install,” Slavik Boyechko, founder of GearDads.com told MobileSyrup, “but in reality, it takes weeks to troubleshoot the thousands of little problems that arise the minute you load a new theme.”
He also points out that hiring a developer on a shoestring budget to help you get through the tough parts isn’t always the answer, and can even create more problems. “That’s how many sites end up with malware or hacks,” he said. This isn’t just Boyechko’s opinion: A recent study of 11,000 hacked sites, showed that 75 percent were built on the WordPress platform.
Customizing WordPress to make it fit your particular business can be laborious and expensive. It’s the reason why there are now e-commerce platforms that cater to specific industries. The idea makes a lot of sense in theory: Let someone else do the the heavy lifting of optimizing a CMS for your type of business, and you simply fill in the specifics for your company’s products or services.
In practice, however, it’s not always that easy. Mark Aselstine, the owner of Uncorked Ventures, a small wine club, tried several of these as he got his business going. “We started on two separate wine-specific platforms, each of which required a freelancer,” he said. “It was a mess. Changes were virtually impossible for us to make. We couldn’t run A/B tests to improve conversions. Basically we had a one dimensional site that we couldn’t easily update.”
Bookmark.com caters directly to owners like Aselstine, by providing a turn-key e-commerce solution. You can build up your own catalog of products from scratch, or if you’ve already done that work elsewhere, you can simply import an existing catalog from platforms like Shopify.
“Bookmark.com caters directly to owners like Aselstine, by providing a turn-key e-commerce solution”
Kosmayer’s creation is proving popular with entrepreneurs like Boyechko and Aselstine who have tried to work with other solutions. Rob Keddy, who operates several businesses in Nicaragua, initially used Adobe’s tools to build his online presence. “The most difficult thing was getting all the blocks to fit together, and to function, without pulling my hair out,” Keddy told us.
“Far too many hours spent trying to make the web behave as I imagined on paper.” For Keddy — who describes himself as not being very big on reading manuals or getting into the nuts and bolts of website design — bookmark.com proved completely intuitive. “I could not believe how intuitive the pages were to construct. The building blocks are as effective as if I was designing a page for paper.”
Keddy has been especially pleased with the level of support he’s received from the bookmark.com team. “I always have a lot of questions,” he said, “and their response is always prompt, patient, and they get to the matter quickly. They always resolve it.” Kosmayer sees support as crucial to getting his clients’ sites built quickly and efficiently. “We have software called Intercom,” he said. “Intercom is inside the builder; inside every page. In the bottom right corner, they simply click a circle and we instant message with them live.”
“Clemente points out that where bookmark.com really differentiates itself from other sites is its ability to keep content and design/layout separate from one another”
Bookmark.com is also gaining traction with a surprising group of people: Design agencies. Fernando Clemente runs Mule Media, Inc., a design consultancy business in Florida. His mission is simple: Help get small businesses up and running with a full web and social media presence, fast, and on a tight budget. His commitment to clients is to have a full website up and running within 48 hours, for about $150. This would be nearly impossible using WordPress, and even a tall order with a platform like Wix.
Clemente points out that where bookmark.com really differentiates itself from other sites is its ability to keep content and design/layout separate from one another. “When you build a site on Wix,” Clemente said, “you have to go straight into editing. There are no forms for you to fill out with company information.” He’s referring to the seven-question feature of the platform that Kosmayer says is a critical feature. “Everything will be populated right into your website,” he said. For Clemente, this represents a big savings in terms of time invested.
If you’re considering building a website for your small business, make sure you check out bookmark.com. It’s a Canadian-built alternative to the other platforms, and it could save you a lot of time and frustration.