Meet Dominique van Werkhoven-Riley, website and content writing expert

Dominique van Werkhoven-Riley

Tell us a bit about you and what you do

Born and raised in London to parents from The Carribean (Jamaica) and South America (Guyana), I often felt like I didn’t quite fit in. I was also super tall and was a little obsessed with reading and writing stories and my plans to rid the world of homelessness and take care of all the babies. Not exactly the kind of playground fun other kids were into.

Today, as a Black, British, Dutch (since 2020), mama of three, having previously lived in UK, France and the Netherlands, now living in Austria – I still often feel like I don’t fit in. But that’s now my strength and not something I need to feel embarrassed about. Together with my husband, I run our small business The Werks – (based on our surname : van Werkhoven and because this is what we want to offer our clients : the full works 😉) At The Werks we offer a one stop website and content writing service for small businesses and non-profits who want to show up online with confidence and be found with ease.

When did you decide to set up your business?

When Gideon (my husband) and I got married, I emigrated to the Netherlands from the UK. I wanted to learn the language and I had just completed my Masters in Children, Youth and International Development but didn’t have a job. Gideon had a job and an apartment and it made sense to us that I would move there. We always said that one day we would go on an adventure to a country that was not home for either of us.

That ‘one day’ came in August 2020 when we packed up our apartment and moved our little family – then, two kids – to Vienna, Austria. Full of optimism and enthusiasm, it was a bit of a shock to the system to realise that despite the reputation for being highly international (34% of Viennese inhabitants are foreign nationals), finding work when you haven’t mastered the German language is quite tricky.

We knew our savings weren’t going to last us forever and since we’d already picked up some ad hoc work in the digital marketing space – we took the plunge and registered as self-employed. It was on the back of a comment from a shared client, that set the ide into motion. They shared with us how wonderfully convenient, helpful and efficient it was that their web developer and their content writer were under one roof. And so as I made plans to return to work in March 2023, a year after our third son was born, the idea of combining our freelance services became reality.

Before we set up The Werks, we had both spent several years working in small businesses and in non-profits. And the more we got involved (at leadership level), the more we saw the struggle and the overwhelm that many non-profits and small businesses were facing. Especially when it came to building & updating their websites and marketing the great work they were doing. Nonprofits are so often understaffed that the excellent community worker ends up weighed down with troubleshooting IT, communicating with donors, sourcing funding  and fixing the dishwasher when it breaks down. Same for freelancers and small businesses – since setting up The Werks, we know first-hand just how many hats small business owners need to wear. And how much the juggle can hold you back from doing the thing that really makes your heart sing; keeping you from the reason you set up your small business or nonprofit in the first place.

What do you love about what you do?

I believe that everyone deserves to be seen, heard and valued. So my favourite part of SEO content writing is searching for and using (key)words to get small businesses, freelancers and non-profits out there – whether through their website or social media posts. People that we have worked with often have told us they don’t know what to write about, or they can’t think of something to say. Or, they are nervous about their written English and the time it takes them to write – time they could be spent capitalizing on their strengths.

It’s true that people buy from people, deep calls out to deep, humans connect with humans. But you can’t buy from someone or support a cause that you don’t even know exists. It’s a real thrill to see someone grow in their business journey because the websites we build and the words we write are helping them shine and let the world know that they are there and having something great to offer.

And, I really really like working with Gideon – and I know that not everyone relishes the idea of working together with their spouse but for us it really works. It could be because we’ve actually worked alongside each other longer than we’ve been married, but whatever the reason - it’s a lot of fun. And perfect for the clients we get to work with. Although we’re quite different – Gideon grew up in the quiet Dutch countryside in Zeeland, and me in a bustling, multi-cultural, international capital city – our strengths complement each other and bring that much more impact to the work we do.

Why is it important for business owners to focus on their copy and storytelling?

As I said earlier, and it might be a heavily overused marketing phrase, but people really do buy from people. And not just any kind of person – but someone they feel they know, feel confident and safe with, someone they can trust. And, as stories we tell can be so powerful in helping others get to know us and trust us – not making use of storytelling is wasting a valuable opportunity to connect with future clients, collaborators or customers.

And it’s this idea of ‘connection’ which I think is key. I once had someone ask about my website writing services because he wanted his website content to be ‘punchy’ and he was getting frustrated that his copy was just not punchy enough. My response then was that content that is punchy might be good but content that connects is even better. And storytelling is the golden highway to connection.  

What are the biggest mistakes you see businesses make when it comes to their web design? And how can we avoid making these?

Ooh this is a good question!

I think the ‘biggest mistake’ we’ve seen busineses make, is also part of the reason we set up The Werks in the first place.

Many people know they want a website, find a designer, invest in the website build and then….. remember that their website designer needs text, needs the content that is going to go on their website. The mistake of creating website content as an afterthought is really common – especially for new businesses, they’ve got a lot to think about. But without the content, a  website designer doing their best work, will usually want to build the website around the content, and not the other way around.

Plus, don’t underestimate the work and time it takes to actually put together the content for your website. Especially if you are going to keep SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) in mind - which you should!.  Ignoring or underestimating the time or effort this can take, will minimise the results your website could produce.

A website is an essential investment in today’s digital environment – an online space you can call yours, with content that you 100% own. It’s a shame to make that investment and then get stuck with a useless website because you, understandably, don’t have the time or support to come uo with the content in a purposeful and strategic way.

Before you approach a website designer or a website content writer – have a good general idea of what you want your website to do – sell, create awareness, be a resource hub, raise funds. (HINT : it can be so much more than just a digital business card. If built well, your website can work hard for you, no matter it’s size) Being intentional with your website content and therefore your website design, will save you time, money and energy and deliver better value for your investment.

What is the most important thing for people to consider when it comes to the way they market themselves online?

Most online marketing advice I’ve come across goes along the lines of “know your audience, your audience are the most important element, it’s not about you, you don’t matter!”

And whilst it’s true that the audience plays a huge role in how and where you market your business – I don’t believe it starts there. I think it IS about you, the business owner, the person or people behind the brand. So, one of the most important things I would say when it comes to marketing yourself online is to get really clear on who you are.

What do you stand for? What are your values?

Our identity and what we believe about ourselves shapes so much of how we show up off- and online. How can you tell the story of you and your business when you don’t even know who you are?

People may have the option of 100s of other similar service providers or products. By reflecting yourself and incorporating your stories into your marketing, you give people the chance to really make a choice for you. Then, when you launch your website and share your content, the right people can connect with you because they see and hear the real you, wherever they find you.

And finally, anything we can do to support your business?

Initiatives like this one are really great for sharing/shedding spotlight on small businesses like mine, who might not traditionally get the spotlight.  Representation is so important – we can’t be what we don’t see – so making an effort to showcase the diversity of female founders is gold!

About the Author

Dominique van Werkhoven-Riley

British (by birth) and Dutch (by choice), Dominique has lived in Vienna since 2020. When not playing around with her little crew of three gorgeous sons, she helps people show up online via the website and content business she runs with her husband (The Werks) or sharing thoughts on belonging and identity on Instagram.

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