After being made redundant, Allie Astell considered whether starting a business was preferable to trying to find another position in a tough and uncertain job market. Spotting a gap in the market made up her mind
"I worked as an account manager in advertising for nine years and then as a media manager for a publishing company - looking after their online presence - for three years. When I was made redundant, it gave me the chance to think long and hard about what I wanted to do. I could either look for another job or pursue a long-held dream to do my own thing.
"I mulled over both options. After some thought, I realised there was a huge gap in the market at the time for freelance project managers in the web design and web marketing arena. I spoke to friends who owned small businesses, as well as ex-colleagues and contacts I knew and trusted.
"Many of them told me they found the internet confusing and would have no idea where to go if they wanted to set up a new website or find out more about email marketing, etc.
Keeping websites current
"Over the years, I had also come across far too many 'forgotten' websites that had not been updated for years - they had become tired and uninformative. I'd viewed sites with old opening hours, some had broken links or contact forms that didn't work, and many didn't display properly on the latest browsers.
"After further research, I concluded that many businesses have no idea how to update their own website, and can't afford to keep asking a developer to do it for them.
"The final pieces of the jigsaw were the comments I heard from disgruntled business owners who felt they were being taken advantage of financially. Some were paying ridiculous amounts to 'SEO specialists' who promised to get them to the top of Google searches, yet a year later they hadn't seen results.
"Others were paying their existing web design agency way too much money for simple updates.
"The MD of one company told me he was paying £8,000 a year for SEO services. Another business owner asked his agency to set up a news page for him that he could update, and he was quoted £1,000!
"My mind was made up. I decided to set up a web consultancy service that would give clear, honest and unbiased advice to businesses, according to their requirements and budget.
"We would update websites, design and develop new sites, purchase domain names, organise hosting, assist with email marketing - basically make life as easy as possible for our clients, so that they could get on with their day-to-day business.
"We would also enable our clients to update and manage their own websites if they wanted to. If not, we would do it for them for a reasonable fee.
"I had enough design and programming contacts from my years in advertising and publishing to outsource to whoever was most suitable for each client, whether someone had £400 or £12,000 to spend.
"I started researching business names in conjunction with available domain names, and decided we'd 'do exactly what we said on the tin'. Manage My Website was born.
"My business is based in London and has gone from strength to strength. We now have clients ranging from online retailers to removals businesses, carpenters to manufacturers, software companies to management consultancies.
"We've received excellent feedback from our clients - we always go the extra mile to provide them with a great service at a fair price.
"We now offer other services as requested by customers, such as logo, stationery and branding design, copywriting, ghost blogging, social media marketing advice and events management, all of which have been well received."
Allie's three key lessons
- When looking for a niche, try to choose something you're passionate and knowledgeable about.
- While doing your research, don't just tune in to direct answers to your questions - a conversational 'red herring' could be the key to finding your niche.
- Your business may develop, but don't forget that serving your niche enables you to specialise, which gives you a unique selling proposition. Keep it at the forefront of your marketing efforts.