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Home » Big Red Tomato Company

What Do You Get When You Cross A Tomato With A Brick?

Don’t worry, it’s not a joke. This is a guest post by El Edwards, one of Problogger’s 40 bloggers to watch in 2011 and custodian of the UK Charity Give A Brick . The Big Red Tomato Company are working ‘pro bono’ with Give A Brick to help them realise their goals this year. This is a monthly diary post by El to update you on her progress.  If you would like to know how we could help you with your business with one hour brainstorming please get in touch, by clicking the link or using the get in touch form above.

Over to you El:

Sounds messy doesn’t it?! Thankfully this union is looking like the creation of awesome sauce!

Enough with the puns already, tell us what on earth you’re going on about!

OK, I hear you. But first I’d better introduce myself. My name’s El Edwards and I’m the founder of a rather fabulous (and yes I am hugely biased of course!) charity called Give A Brick.

A couple of weeks ago, lovely Matthew here at The Big Red Tomato Company made me an offer. Would I like him to help me push Give A Brick to greatness in 2011? Aside from feeling like an answer to prayer, how could a girl resist such an offer?

And so the greatness commenced.

As part of this epic adventure, I’ve promised Matthew I’ll keep a diary and update you guys and gals on a monthly basis. Welcome to the second Friday of the month. It’s Brick meets Tomato update time.

Aside from this being an opportunity to show you just how dazzling Matthew’s coaching and consulting skills are, I’m keen for these updates to be full of practical stuff that you can use too. Why else would you bother coming back eh?!

And so today we have three little lessons I’ve learned thanks to Matthew and Give A Brick. Let me know in the comments if any of them sound familiar.

1. All stats are equal. Some are more equal than others.

One of the first questions Matthew asked me was about my frustrations with Give A Brick. My answer? Traffic. (And it’s not what you might think.)

I’m not one for stats. I look at the numbers and know if they’re going up or down but that’s about as far as I dig. I knew that Give A Brick was getting a lot of traffic. We’re not talking thousands of unique visitors a day but it was what we Welsh would call ‘tidy’ traffic.

But after getting all this traffic, what did we do with it? Very little apparently. No email sign-ups. No extra donations. No interaction. Nothing. So I assumed that the site design and copy were at fault.

I’d been talking about all of this with another Tomato regular, Ben Lumley, and he asked me which page (or pages) were getting the majority of views. I’m not a digger so I had no idea but after a little procrastination I decided to have a look and try and find out.

And I am so glad I did!

Let’s just say that it turns out that all this traffic that I was so frustrated by was coming from sites that won’t ever convert into loyal Give A Brick supporters. The techie wizards amongst us will understand it better than me but we’re talking robot-spider type visitors from sites selling the stuff you get offered in your spam email. Need I say more?

Take home? Yes, the Give A Brick site needed a face-lift, but don’t ever make major changes based on stats until you’ve at least found out the facts!

2. Fail to plan, plan to fail!

So I’m armed with Matthew’s practical suggestions and a rather snazzy mind map. Now what? Were Give A Brick my full time job it would be easy – just start at the top of Matthew’s list and, when I get to the bottom, stop.

Except, Give A Brick is just one of my hats. The day Matthew’s email arrived I was in the middle of getting my personal site looking all snazzy ahead of a guest post on a rather large blog. This week I launched my business site and I also run around after three lovely, but very noisy and messy, children.

I’m the sort of person who gets inspired very easily so give me a list of to-dos or advice on how to move an exciting project forward and I’m all over it, regardless of what else I’m meant to be doing.

I was all set to put my site on hold and dig in with the Give A Brick stuff. It was exciting and full of promise and all sparkly and new feeling. Who wouldn’t want to rush around and do that first?!

But I didn’t. I had stuff I was already committed to finishing. Thanks to the help of my best friend (who knows only too well what I’m like!) I got myself armed with a list that took into account everything that I was accountable for.

Take home? I know it can feel a bit stuffy and dull but if you want to get stuff done, you really need a plan (and to stick to it!)

3. Design is subjective

After getting to ‘sort out Give A Brick’ on my list, I spent an entire weekend playing around with what we had, thinking about the intentions of the charity and finally coming to the conclusion that we needed a new design for the site.

Step forward Headway and a couple of doses of sleep deprivation and finally the new site was ready to reveal to the world.

Now I’m no designer but I know what I like and even allowing for my being hugely biased, I was delighted with the new look. It re-captured the fun, quirky nature of our first website whilst still remaining functional and clear.

Or so I thought.

I had lots of feedback via well meaning friends and supporters. Lots of it was lovely, some of it was neutral but one email stands out in my mind because it was very detailed. Paragraph after paragraph telling me what I needed to change and why.

Truth be told, I was gutted! I guess this is what happens when you’re emotionally invested in something. Unless it was totally unworkable, I didn’t want to hear about faults on the site. I just wanted to hear that it was fab!

I emailed one of the trustees and Matthew asking them for their honest opinions. They were both wonderful but it was Matthew’s reply that sticks in my mind for its wisdom:

”It’s just moving deckchairs. Get the basics right and the rest can follow.

Take home? Design really is subjective and if you spend 80% of your time moving deckchairs you’re going to miss all the sun!

But now it’s over to you. What has your business taught you over the last couple of weeks and how are you planning to put those lessons into action?

11 Comments »

  • Patricia@lavenderoils said:

    Hi El and Matthew

    Over the past few weeks there have been some changes to my blog so this is on topic for me 🙂 I have a new more professional look, thanks to a dear techie friend who in my mind is a genius. But lets face it I think all techies are geniuses as it is all a mystery to me lol

    I also have added my Amazon affiliate products (techie friend to the rescue again) and have a new section that was a bit of a risk but has been warmly welcomed by regular readers and new readers alike 🙂

    Two of the big aha moments I’ve had is that it’s okay to ask for help and collaboration is beneficial to all concerned. I write for my techie friends, they do the techie stuff for me. Win-win for all of us 😉

    All the best El with all your ventures. I love what you are doing and enjoy your bright ray of sunshine on Twitter too 🙂

    Patricia Perth Australia

  • El Edwards said:

    I just took a look Patricia and wow! Your techie friend has been wonderful. You must be delighted. And you’re right, asking for help and working with others is vital. As they say, no man is an island. 😉

  • Matthew Needham said:

    Hi Patricia,

    I think your business is a great case study as someone who is building an online business in a narrow niche and giving great value (and service) to your customers. I think one thing that you have illustrated over the last few months is don’t be affraid to ask for help, which is a credit to you. You know what can do and you know what you can’t do. All too many entrepreneurs fail to achieve thier success because they think they need or should do everything themselves. Well done!

    Matthew

  • Jasmine said:

    Hi Matthew, El, and Patricia! You all sound like you really know what you are doing on your sites! I feel sometimes like I am walking around blindly looking for a light switch on the wall that’s not there!
    Traffic has never been a problem for me, and it’s good traffic, I know that much. But there’s little conversion, maybe 3%-4%. I have tried several different things, like creating a new page and having Google swap them sporadically, trying to see if it was the home page, the design, or what?
    I have done all the testimonials and reviews from customers. That was a good thing to implement, right? I even have follow-up emails and LinkedIn. I have tried affiliate marketing techniques but to no avail. I have a substantial rank with Google, which is awesome, but how to you create conversion from traffic???
    Thanks, you guys are great!

  • Matthew Needham said:

    Hi Jasmine, thakns for the comment. Converting traffic is one of the biggest challenges you can have. Ultimately though I think it’s all about service. If you give great service your customers will start being your biggest advocate and consequently quality traffic will increase dramatically and your conversions will naturally increase.

  • Rick Byrd said:

    Hey El and Matthew:

    I enjoyed the post. It’s great to hear about the changs you are making to your site for such a worthy cause. I truly hope everthing continues to head in the right direction.

    I am learning that I can not do everything at once. I keep trying to working on several different sites and nothing is actually getting accomplished. I am trying to work on a new niche site and I have found myself posting less frequently on my blog. I am do not feel I am in a position to outsource any of the work, until I can get a handle on what I am doing and how I want someone else to do it for me. I can’t wait til that day comes.

    Take care!

    – Rick

  • El Edwards said:

    Thanks Rick. 🙂 Thanks to these monthly updates I can honestly say I’ll keep you posted. 😉

    Sounds like a challenging time. What can you do to get a handle on stuff? It sounds like that might be a key thing for you right now.

  • Matthew Needham said:

    Hi Rick, thanks for the comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! As you say, multiple projects can really kill productivity. The important thing is to work on one thing at a time then stop working on it only when you come to a natural break point. Start thinking of your tasks as processes and record everything you do as step by step videos or process maps, so when the day comes you can outsource, you can simply hand over everything you’ve got to the outsourcer.

    Thanks for stopping by! Matthew

  • James M said:

    I released a redesign of my blog a few weeks ago, because I felt that people weren’t discovering a lot of my previous posts. I spent a few weeks preparing it, and the design seems to be working a lot better than the previous one. More comments, more people reading older posts, and more subscribers.

    I try not to look at my stats either, but with the new design, I thought it would be worthwhile to see if there was any progress. I am receiving more hits, but when I looked into what people were reading, most of it was heading towards the links for a lengthy book review. Rather than be discouraged, I revamped some of the content with the aim to convert some Amazon sales – and it’s working. I’ve had more sales in the past week than the previous months combined.

    I hope you see some longterm success with your site and get some more donations heading your way. Looks like the kind of charity we could really use in Canada.

  • El Edwards said:

    Hi James 🙂
    It sounds like looking at those stats after your redesign was a great idea. I love the way you took what others might have found discouraging and used it to your advantage.

    And thank you. I hope so too. 😉

  • Matthew Needham said:

    It’s always a challenge when you build a website, especially a blog. As time goes on the content grows and people use it in different ways. The brave thing which you have done James, is to acknowledge that you need to make changes and for me, that’s what sets apart successful businesses from those that aren’t.