The budget, housing and the ghost of Banquo

So what happened in yesterday’s budget for housing, announced by the wan Philip Hammond, a man with less colour in his complexion than Banquo’s ghost? Quite a few points actually.

1 Help to Buy

Help to Buy was extended for a further 2 years to 2023. It’s a scheme that has got many people into home ownership who would still be renting – so it is commendable, though I think it’s inevitably favoured the new build market and possibly, longer term, may affect resale values for those who didn’t climb on to (or were ineligible for) the Help to Buy wagon.

2 Stamp duty

In my experience, this is the single biggest obstacle to moving and it remains so. When we downsized two years ago, stamp duty was high on the purchase but the buyers of our £410,000 property were hit hard. Stamp duty stops people moving, in my opinion. It’s the biggest cost and that’s why so many estate agents work for say that the property market remains quite stagnant. Unless an estate agent offered to waive stamp duty (and that will never happen) on any property we were interested in, we would be reluctant to move. Pallid Philip abolished it last year for first time buyers for homes worth up to £300,000. Now he’s extended it to shared ownership of 25% to 75% of a home. The new limit is £500,000 which will presumably get a London buyer a garage in Kensington to share or a northern village. I like the idea. I bang on about cars with single occupants and I like the idea of two separate people buying a property and halving the mortgage and bills.

3 The High Street

Rest in peace. The internet and high taxation has murdered the high street. Debenhams paid £80 million in tax last year whilst Amazon paid £14 million. If Toys R Us, Debenhams, M and S, BHS buildings in town and city centres stand empty, there is a valid argument for converting these into homes. They’re in prime locations, often have ample parking attached (in the case of Toys R Us) and will breathe life back into high streets. I remember visiting a friend in Amiens who lived above a business in a flat in the heart of the city and there were no empty buildings, no ghost town feeling, instead ample footfall and a general sense of community. I felt this in Leamington Spa a few weeks ago, but many British towns are depressingly empty and grim. Repopulating them is a good start.

4 More homes

Phil put £500 million in the Housing Infrastructure Fund, used by councils for building homes. There’s something deeply ironic about a government (that legacy under Thatcher) who sold off social housing and created a mini nation of council estate Tory voters and set about emasculating them further with the Multi Academy Trust programme that they are now prodding the same beleaguered councils to build 650,000 new homes and nine housing associations to build 13,000 more. Royston Vasey’s land will benefit too as that and 499 other local communities will be able to allocate land, build and sell to local people for local prices. The cap (snapback?) on councils to borrow money to build council houses is also scrapped.

Ostensibly then, from my perspective, the budget did seem a good one for housing. I still think stamp duty needs seriously addressing for all buyers – if it’s the biggest impediment for me sticking a For Sale board on the lawn and moving, I’m sure it is for others. The town centre idea is a great one in my opinion, as long as planning regulations are maintained. A large out of town commercial units can’t simply be partitioned and people scooped in. Architects need involvement in making these fit for living and sleeping and not just shopping.

Finally, I invite Philip Hammond to get some Vitamin D along with the rest of parliament – they all look like the Walking Dead, presumably because they never get fresh air. Phil, come walk my dog with me, and I promise you won’t end up in a Norfolk ditch with twenty mortal gashes on your head. Don’t bring TM though – her dancing alarms both me and Cassie.

Landing pages – preaching to the converted

Some times less is more.

Brevity in a message can speak louder than a scripted call to action.

Same with websites.

The problem is though that one page websites – those you land on, scroll through and feel compelled to act upon – can be financially onerous for a start up or small business.

But do they have to be so expensive?

No.

I’ve chatted this weekend with a friend Nick from Essex. I don’t normally class clients as friends but I do occasionally make exceptions as he is, to go all Mancunian, “dead sound”.

I asked Nick what he’d pay as an estate agent for a domain and designed page for a property he’s selling as an estate agent and he told me.

I thought more about this as when I go on a twice yearly hunt for O level certificates and the like, I often find the printed brochures of property I owned and marvel at how bad marketing, writing and photography was back in the 80s and 90s. I occasionally wish I could still find these online as a digital brochure and that’s one of the ideas behind this.  How many vendors would estate agents attract if they could say at valuation: our writer will ring you, our photographer will take great shots and then you will have your own microsite.

It’s not just for estate agents though.

Developers – I don’t mean Barratts, Persimmon necessarily – but the smaller ones who have a local presence (I remember Mell Builders in Doncaster as one example) who could benefit from a microsite of developments they’re planning with the usual suspects of site plans, photos, descriptions but also a microsite on each type of property.

I counted the number of “Hadleigh” type properties on the new build development we live on (yes I need to get out more) on Phase One and I do think some of the owners would have liked a microsite of their home for posterity. Mine could be 11colbydrive.com.

This landing page scenario is to stop website bloat.

I often get asked to look at websites where it’s had the equivalent of 20 extensions built on and now it looks and feels like you can’t find your way round.

Home – About – Products – News – Contact will general suffice on a website and you may decide that a separate domain will serve you better than constantly adding information, new pages and posts to an existing website.

You know me, or should know me.

I’m not one of those types who advocates something and never practises what he preaches.

I’m building a one page website for Nick as a trial run. I’ve bought the domain, added it to hosting and am in the process of creating it, once other business has a lull.

If you’re interested in me creating a new domain where you can showcase a new development, a property, a product, a new service, an offer, email me at stuart@getprocopy.com – it’s more affordable and greener than designing and printing a leaflet and will last a lot longer.

Here is the live example: https://downhallpark.xyz

 

 

What should your website home page include?

If you use Google Analytics for managing your own website, or tracking those you manage, you will recognise this scenario. The Home page records most visits, which you’d expect if it’s linked to your business card, your LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook bios, closely followed in 90% of cases by the About page.

I’ve tinkered with the Home page of this website so that now monthly numbers are climbing and the bounce rate is reducing. A Home page needs to be sufficiently engaging to retain visitors and have enough calls to action to take visitors on a journey across your site and compel them to do something.

Mine starts with the logo and menu header, visible on desktop, tablet and smartphone, the 3 slider images that I hope encapsulate what I do: web design, copywriting and social media. No one should land on any home page and be unclear about what services / products you offer. Each of the three sliders has a Contact button.

It could have a top layer of my address, email address and telephone number, but in the interests of aesthetics, I didn’t include them here. There is a Call Now button on the mobile version of the website as a direct CTA so that visitors looking for direct contact don’t have to scroll to Contact or the Footer. You hit call now and are prompted to ring me on my mobile. Phone calls have increased as a result.

I moved Live Examples from a Portfolio tab, as the question I used to get asked the most (apart from how’s your teeth) was “have you got examples?” There’s over 20 now, with more added weekly, with live links when you hit any of them.

Below are six rather dry sections, that are keyword researched and have seen the website be found more frequently in organic searches.

Then a CTA of FAQs which again has been a huge factor in the website rankings. If people are googling looking for answers like:

How long does a website take to build?

How much do you charge for hosting?

How much do you charge for writing?

you can find them in the two sections of FAQs.

A list of questions follows (for human and SEO purposes) and three flip boxes, before the four most recent articles are shown before the social media and copyright footer.

I do tell clients that a blogging strategy is one of the most cost-effective ways of climbing Google and getting website visits.

When I publish a new post (and there’s over 300 on the blog page) website traffic explodes and I can get over a thousand new visits over a few days (and more when I pay to promote on social media).

I find writing comes as naturally to me as whinging, but I’m conscious that if I advocate a blogging strategy, my own business should exemplify that.

It does.

In bucket loads.

Now what I’d ask you to do this week – homework if you like – is look objectively at your own home page and ask yourself if you landed on it as a first time visitor would you stay and explore – or click away?

Look at the design, the layout, the content, the links to other pages and ask if there’s a logical navigation route evident from the landing page?

Finally set up Google Analytics and see what sort of traffic you’re getting, where it’s landing and what a visitor does.

A website, a good website, with an active social media strategy, will make you money, good money – my job is to make that happen for you – as I’ve done with this and for others.

Why you should work for free (sometimes)

I’m a big user of LinkedIn, where I enjoy the company of fellow cynics and often tut, frown or even comment on the sermons that are spouted there.

Two in the past week have caught my eye: can you guess or do you not give a damn?

I’ll tell you anyway.

The first is that failure is the best way to success.

The second is never ever work for free.

Point 1: is failure necessary for success?

I am quite binary in my views and I can sort of see the logic in each – as the first set of failings has led me to success, but to be honest, I’d have preferred success without the estate agency I set up with a partner failing, as I still see myself as someone with a keen eye for property and sales. In fact that failure, those connections, those lessons, did lead to my niche of becoming a property writer, and website designer for that industry, having created quite a few online outlets for estate agency.

It’s like working in estate agency, without the crippling portal costs.

Point 2: should you ever work for free?

This one is even foggier for me. I’ve switched camps constantly on the issue since going freelance and I think to be honest it’s a judgement call. If a one man band asks me to design a brochure website, I charge the same affordable rate as someone with lots of money. I don’t get greedy when I see a person’s name and status (you’ll see one soon). Similarly, when I was approached to quote for the website for the Manchester Tattoo Trust, I set a figure and then waived it not because I’m loaded (far from it) but because it was the right thing to do. I’ve been occasionally asked to do work for ex-students and ex-colleagues too: like proofreading, being a referee for job applications or offer advice on business ventures over coffee. I don’t sit, like some taxi-driver, with latte in one hand and meter in other, clocking up a bill, because some times it’s just the right thing to do.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m no Mother Theresa. I tantrum loudly when someone asks for a trial piece or mentions exposure. Happy to do trials – as long as I’m paid for the trial. Less keen on the exposure myth, particularly when NDAs quickly accompany the brief. I’m quicker than a Tory on a fox when I see those two arrive. I’m getting better too at spotting bad clients and swerving them.

You see the enigma? I will work for free, yet I can’t abide late payers or slow payers.

By the end of this article, you’re probably no wiser.

But what you need to understand is this.

I work with integrity, creativity and to a high standard – yet I don’t exploit friends and clients with ridiculous copywriting charges and web design prices. 

Quality and affordability will be etched on my gravestone, which I’m hoping won’t be any day soon as the order book is creaking.

 

 

Good grief, this Apple fan boy has moved to Android

Seismic shifts happened last Thursday in my personal and business world, in that a man who’s worn iOS blinkers since the iPhone 4’s launch in 2010 has moved to the dark side, Android.

Let me explain first why this was so chasmic a move.

It reads like a long brag, perhaps, or as excessive myopia, but since 2010, I’ve accrued most Apple gadgets.

  1. MacBook Pro late 2011 (RIP)
  2. Various incarnations of the iPad ranging from the original with no camera up to the behemoth iPad Pro 12.9 this year.
  3. iMac – 21 inch and 27 inch 4k retina (my daily work tool).
  4. A MacBook Air
  5. Various iPods
  6. HomePod
  7. Apple Watch (series 2)
  8. Superdrive
  9. iPhone 4, 6S Plus, 8 Plus
  10. Apple Pencil

If anyone’s locked in that ecosystem, it’s me.

But on Thursday night, after a week of YouTube browsing, I headed to Norwich to upgrade my iPhone 8 Plus.

It worked perfectly, was in great condition, but my head had been turned by the XS Max, and, though needing a new phone is different to wanting one, I was a man on a mission.

Except.

The much vaunted retained value of Apple began to look a bit thin. Every retailer I went into offered me the same price: around £370 to take it off my hands with the 256gb one still selling new for £849.

I did the maths in Apple, Carphone Warehouse and worked out to upgrade to a bigger phone with Face ID, an OLED screen and less memory, would cost me just over £700.

Ouch.

That’s a hell of a leap for a new iteration of a smartphone.

Using delaying tactics, I wandered into Samsung, knowing full well its passionate devotees and its manufacturing of screens for Apple and was offered a trade in for a Note 9 with 128gb that would cost just over £300.

I bought one.

No one believed I’d do it, people shook their heads with disbelief that this blinkered Apple sheep would ditch iOS 12.

But, I bought one.

So what’s it like?

Sick.

Which means awesome if you’re 17 in age, or 17 mentally like me.

The technology of the bluetooth S Pen, the 4000 milliamp battery, the water cooled screen are a joy after staid incremental progression of iPhones. The build quality is as good as the phone I left behind and the ability to customise after the comatose tile arrangement of Apple is wonderful.

And there’s no frigging notch, which in any other phone manufacturer, would lead to media ridicule.

Okay there’s a few drawbacks.

My Apple Watch is now just that: a watch and contactless payment device.

When I take a photo on the Note 9 it doesn’t port automatically to my other iOS devices but overall I like it.

Now whether this switch to Android is long term, or a flash in the pan, remains to be seen.

But Apple have lost my custom on their latest devices, which I never ever expected to happen.

Oreo, despite my coeliac disease, is now my favourite smartphone snack.

 

 

You can pay monthly for phone contracts so why not your website?

Despite my prices being “affordable” I occasionally get asked if I’d accept a fixed monthly payment for a new or redesigned website, and I’ve thought about this and decided to trial it.

All my WordPress sites come with free hosting for Year One, with a nominal £30 being levied in Year 2 for the 12 months and I’ve decided to incorporate monthly payments in web design.

Here goes.

3 page starter website. £60 upfront. £20 per month for 12 months then it’s all yours – you’ve paid £300 in total for a responsive website with content, social media links and hosting included. £20 x 12 = £240 + £60 upfront to commit.

5 page SME website. £140 upfront and £30 per month for 12 months, working out at £500 with no strings attached – other than if you default, the website goes on Maintenance Mode.

10 page website with logo, business cards is £750 and the split is £210 upfront and £45 per month for a year, totalling £750.

Ecommerce sites from £750 but you’re looking more at the £1000 mark with £50 a month and £400 upfront.

I also offer reductions for full payment upfront – you’d probably get a website for £270 if you’ve got that amount to expend’ and a bigger website for £450 or £675 for full whack upfront.

Please have a good look at my portfolio and if you’re interested in a pay monthly website or all upfront one, get in touch with me.

I’m trying to build 100 websites by Christmas and I hope these prices, my quality and service will get me there and even further in 2019.

Radiator in the hall … check … or this property listing?

Fancy a room (or rooms) with a view? We can’t promise EM Forster’s Florence but this 4 bedroomed first floor maisonette in Wimbledon has a very pleasing outlook.

The property is tucked amongst similar Victorian and Edwardian bay-windowed housing stock on Trinity Road, on the corner of Faraday Road. The property overlooks South Park and for families, within a quick stroll is Holy Trinity C of E Primary School, rated “Outstanding” in a recent church inspection report (Feb 2018).

There’s high schools and independent schools too in close proximity.

The property is incredibly convenient for restaurants and retail.

Leave home, choose either the Kings Road or Queen’s Road (we’d choose King’s as the park is your companion on the route) and you reach The Broadway, Centre Court Shopping and the Odeon iMax in about a 12 minute walk.

Want to travel further afield?

Haydons Road station, in one of the oldest parts of Wimbledon, is served predominantly by Thameslink trains and is in Zone 3. You’ll reach it in around 10 minutes, walking along the tree-lined Faraday Road.

The Grade 2 listed South Wimbledon station is under a mile away too, or 14 minutes on foot along Trinity Road itself.

Deen City Park is close by too, as is Wandle Meadow Nature Park, an urban conservation area.

We believe this to be a perfect fusion of city and greenery in a spacious property.

Want to know more?

Contact us today on —

Durham or Norfolk? Seasons of mists and mellow flooriness.

Seasons of mists and mellow flooriness.

I’ll come clean – flooriness is not a word but to get some loose connection with Keats’ “To Autumn” I had to bend rules.

I used to despise autumn with a passion and there’s still aspects of it that irk. Declining light levels, shorter evenings, until the lunar armageddon of clocks going back near November, which used to send me quivering with SAD.

Norfolk though has light levels that are great in all twelve months and, my immediate family, keep warning me that a proposed move to County Durham (the villages like St John’s Chapel, Westgate, Wolsingham, Daddry Shield and Stanhope) will see me blubbering with seasonal depression in November and December. I’d have a new 4wd to compensate and probably be mortgage free, but will Weardale affect me negatively in autumn and winter?

Perhaps.

What I do know though to go all Paul Young, is that wherever I lay my hat, that will be home.

A good broadband connection, Google WiFi and 4G outside the house, along with my Apple gadgetry accoutrements means I can write, mark and design websites in the flatlands of Norfolk or the rolling cloudy, cooler landscapes of County Durham.

Son goes to university next year so the need for a large family home will end and my 12 year old daughter takes after me in so many ways and will gladly throw her metaphorical hat in the air and settle where it lands.

Cassie, our border collie rescue, will be in her spiritual home too in those dem dere hills, with sheep and waterfalls and friendlier natives.

But, apart from light, I have a nagging doubt, as I think we should move elsewhere.

TOWIE territory.

Not because Essex has sheep or hills but because all my business seems to be coming from there.

Really though, these companies and individuals in Chelmsford, Colchester, Rayleigh are not picking me up from SEO phrases, but from the micro-network I’m building there.

County Durham it is hopefully, in 2019, but I’m certain that demand for my web design work, copywriting and exam marking won’t diminish from a change of address.

My gut should diminish, though, tramping daily for 5 miles across that rugged, empty and beautiful terrain, with, hopefully, real winters and not the half-arsed ones we get every five years here in the east.