by Kimberley Patterson, Soul PR Ltd
Kate Hellen knows how to build and promote communities online.
Years ago she founded the highly successful RaglanNet community, helping local business in the Waikato coastal town become tech-savvy in the very opening days of the World Wide Web.
It’s a fascinating story about how one woman with a computer can help transform communities; a self taught tech expert who could clearly see early the big picture of where a connected world might be taking us.
Now living in Whangaparaoa, Kate is again helping communities and businesses with her online nous.
She builds websites for community organisations (such as Healthlink North) and businesses with her aptly named The Circle business.
Now Kate is keen to gauge interest in a social media teaching session for local business owners and community groups.
“Change is constant in the online marketing industry and change comes quickly,” says the community-minded mother of two. “Social media integration and search engine optimisation now go hand in hand with having a website and it’s something business owners just need to know about.”
Ever since leaving school and working in various offices, Kate became the `go-to’ person for computer problems. “I always liked to find better, more automated ways of doing things and loved and understood the technology of computers.
“Most of what I learned is self taught: most computer problems are unique and what I learned at university never kept up with the reality of working with computers daily. It’s really my determination to fix what is broken or to make things work better that keeps me learning all the time.”
It was in 1994 as a young mother with a new son that Kate really got started in the web world.
“When my son was born I wanted to work from home and we’d just bought our first home computer and got online. From word of mouth I was already the go-to person for computer problems in Raglan and the internet was opening up a world of answers to any problems that I hadn’t come across before, so I was mainly keeping busy as a technician.
“Because I had good software skills I decided to give web design a go and the first site I did was a webpage about local musician Midge Marsden. I then had the idea to build a community website, mainly for local accommodation and tourism businesses to have a way to promote their business to the world without having to have their own websites … back then not many people had computers, let alone websites!
“When I began to have too many people working in my home office – sometimes up to four – my business partner at the time and I decided to get a small shop in town. The internet cafe was a by-product.
“When people would bring their old computers in to be repaired and ended up deciding to buy a new one instead, I would reformat their old computer and put it in at the shop for the public to use at about $2 for 15 minutes. This was popular with locals and tourists.”
Raglan Community Website which became RaglanNet serves the community as a news hub, notice board and directory and because of that it is the number one site in Google and other search engines on Raglan. Because of it size and authority it doubles as a trip planning resource for outside visitors on the vibrant raglan cafe, music and arts scene.
Kate: “I learned that if you are in the right place at the right time with the right ideas and skills you can create something that is bigger than yourself and make a difference to your community and get a specific message out to the world.”
She tells a fascinating story about letting opportunities slip by. “I spoke to several local businesses in the early days, including Raglan Surf Co, and was actually told not to do it because the surfers were very concerned about the surf being promoted: they were pretty protective of their left hand break.
“Raglan’s surf was already world renowned so my reply was that since there was as yet no website about Raglan the best idea would be to take control and do it in a responsible manner because change was coming and we couldn’t stop it only manage it.
“I told him I could help him buy raglansurf.co.nz because it was actually his business name and if he didn’t get it someone else would. He refused (not so politely) so I was always very careful not to actively promote the surf in Raglan. In 2004 the same guy came to see me and said he was sorry he hadn’t followed my advice because meanwhile somebody else had bought the domain name and he had missed out and was furious with himself.”
Looking from the vantage point of 2013 as to what may be coming next, Kate thinks web designs will become simpler, buttons will become bigger and easy vertical scrolling will be more important as we cater to tablets and smart phones.
“Probably one of the biggest surprises is how quickly smart phones and touch screens are becoming standard,” she says. “Websites now need to be responsive to these.”
The evolving world of web design also means a win for customers in terms of pricing. “There are now thousands of beautiful and professional web templates to choose form and this has made having a website build so much cheaper. In the last five to 10 years you might have expected to pay $5000 – $10,000 for a website, these days most sites I build are between $800 – $2500.”
Kate’s five tips for getting started with web design:
1. Look around at other websites you like – compile a list of what you do and don’t like
2.Have a great logo designed
3.Compile the content for your pages and while you do this bear in mind how people are going to find you: the words you use on your pages are also your `keywords’ that Google uses to decide where you sit amongst your competitors
4.Compile a list of keywords and phrases, preferably different for each page
5.Gather some professional looking images and if you have a lot of them you can have a gallery of images – people love pictures
If you are a local business or community group keen to take part in a teaching session on social media please contact Kate at: 027 221 2233 or email using the contact form.