Wednesday, 22 September 2010 09:47

"About Us" Pages in Small Business Websites

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The Internet has been heralded as "the great equalizer": on a browser window, any company, no matter how small, can look as good as a large company with a long history of quality and service.  This situation presents an important challenge for small businesses: how can I convince my potential customers that I am not an unethical, fly-by-night operation?  The best way to do it is through a properly structured "About Us" page.

Your "About Us" page must not only introduce your company to your potential customers, but must do so in a way that it explains, beyond a shadow of a doubt, why they should trust you and your company. Often, this means answering six basic questions:

Who is behind this website?

People are getting tired of large, bureaucratic companies and their "your-call-is-important-to-us" service mentality.  As a small business owner, you can give your customers the personal attention they won't get from the big guys. Get that message across in your "About Us" page. Don't be afraid to talk about yourself and your passion for the business, and by all means include your picture.  The central message you want to convey is that behind your business there is a real human being who has his or her customers' best interests at heart.

Is this a real business?

Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to list your full physical address.  There is something reassuring about a "bricks-and-mortar" location, even if your customers will never visit you.   A physical address shows your prospective customers that you don't have anything to hide. Include your full contact information, including your physical address, in a conspicuous location within your "About Us" page.

How do they make money?

You know the cliché: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is". If you don't make your business model evident to your visitors (in other words, if you don't show them how do you make money) the first question they will ask themselves is: "what's the catch?".  If you offer too many things for free, or price your products too low vs. your competitors, prospective customers will hold back.  Use your "About Us" page to explain what your main revenue streams are, and why do you charge what you charge. Remember to always talk "value", not "price".

How long have they been in business?

People tend to regard longevity and stability as important qualifiers to determine trust.  Since most small business (especially of the on-line variety) tend to be very young, it may be hard to use the longevity card to solicit trust. If that is your case, you can talk about your past experience instead.  For most small business owners, their past experience is highly relevant to their current businesses.  Use your "About Us" page to talk about it, and how does it relate to and benefit your current business.

How do I know they deliver?

The best way to show your prospective customers what you can do for them is through testimonials from satisfied customers.  Ideally, the testimonials should come from companies that accurately reflect your customer's demographics.  To be effective, these testimonials must provide some form of contact information of those who offer them (usually, a name and a link to a website will work).  Presenting a small table with a list of previous clients and the type of work you did for them is also very effective. Make sure you ask for permission before listing your clients' name (most of the time, they will be more than glad to give you authorization, especially if you link to their websites).

Are they related to the business community?

Another way to establish credibility and trust is to belong to community, trade or professional associations. These entities usually authorize their members to use their logos.  For example, a repair shop's website can use the seal of the ASE to emphasize that its mechanics are well trained. Similarly, a business consultant's website can display a logo of the American Management Association, or a real estate agent can display a logo of the National Association of Realtors.  Use these associations to your advantage in your "About Us" page.

Should I trust them with my private information?

People are very protective of their personal information, especially on-line. You should have a privacy policy clearly displayed somewhere in your website, and you should link to it from your "About Us" page (and also from your homepage).   Aside from that, if you sell goods or services on-line, it is a good idea to become a Truste privacy sealholder. By becoming a Truste member and displaying the Truste seal in your "About Us" page, you will demonstrate that you abide by Truste's best practices. This alone may make the difference between prospective customers buying from you instead of from somebody else.

Some Implementation Details

If the information in your "About Us" takes too much space and makes your text too long, you can always split it among several pages (you will then have an "About Us" section instead of just a page).   If you do so, create a small menu of options that apply only to your "About Us" section. The links in that menu can be called: Our People, Our Business, Portfolio, Customers, Community, Privacy, etc.  The best location to place this menu is on a column to the right of the page, since usually the left column or the top of the page are reserved for the main navigation menu of the site. Finally, a link to your "About Us" page must be present in your homepage (it doesn't have to be in the most prominent location or in your main navigation menu, but it has to be visible and easily accessible).

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