Small business owners have a lot on their plates on the best of days. Building and maintaining a website for your business may seem like an unnecessary distraction to some people, especially the less technical.
But whether you’re a tradesman, small shop or restaurant owner having a website is a vital part of running a modern business and, importantly, for gaining new customers.
Don’t worry, especially the non-techies among you, I’ll walk you through some of the reasons why you need a website, how to go about creating one and what tools you can use – to get one live without ever touching a single line of code.
Follow the crowd
To put it bluntly, everyone is online. The economy is digital and, while products and services are often delivered in person, people search online for local services and businesses to use.
You’re the pro, show it
Because searching online is a daily habit for most of us it makes sense that your business should put it’s best foot forward and be visible in the digital world.
Have you ever looked for a service online, been confronted by a horrible webpage and thought “this looks dodgy?” I know I have.
First impressions matter and, for businesses, having your own website can make a powerful statement of professionalism, creating instant credibility.
This is a simple one. There is a new generation of consumers, and potential customers, who have used the internet since childhood.
They expect businesses to have an online presence. Whether that’s a social media page, a Trustpilot profile, InYourArea Local Business Membership page or a website, the minimum expectation is that your business is easily discoverable online.
New customers & growth
Word-of-mouth will always be a powerful way of gaining new customers for local businesses.
Having your own business website can further enhance your word-of-mouth reputation while also providing a source of new customers outside your existing client base.
Google Search is an important source of growth, and to feature on search having your own website is a must.
So, if you’ve been converted and think a website is what your business is missing, what do you do need to do next?
From my own past experiences of working on websites for small businesses, here are some things to consider before getting stuck in.
Define purpose and goals
Before lifting a finger, know who your target audience is and what you want your website to do for that audience.
Do you want it to educate about your services and encourage people to contact you? Do you want it to show off your work? Are you expecting to sell directly from your website? These are important questions which inform the goals and requirements for your website. Write down the 2-3 priority goals for your website.
When a user visits my business website I want them to be able to:
- Understand my products & services so they know what I do
- Know where my business is located & the areas I serve so they know if I am available to them
- Contact my business to get a quote so that I can find out who potential customers are
Write it down
People often want to jump straight in and get designing a website. Design is important but it only enhances the main element of your website: the content.
Create a text document and write down what you want/need your website to say. Write the text, distill your key message and share the document with other people, ideally from your target audience, to get feedback.
If a word document reads well and makes sense, then this often translates well onto a website.
Some tips on writing content:
- Keep it short. If you find you’re writing long and wordy paragraphs then consider having a shorter summary and adding a “contact us” button so users can learn more directly from you.
- Focus on action. Your website should use language that encourages the user to take an action (which should be part of your goals) – these are called Calls To Action (CTA) e.g. “Learn More”, ”Contact Us”, ”Get A Quote”, ”Get 50% Off – Sign Up Today.”
- Use short headlines to separate different sections of a page.
Pictures (and video for that matter) can enhance the content and experience of a website. But, often, when building websites small businesses realise they don’t have many images that can be used to populate their pages.
You know your products and services better than anyone but to sell them it’s a good idea to build a catalogue of your great work. So, for example, if you’re in the building trade take pictures of work previously completed, or if you’re a shop owner take pictures of your latest window display and team.
- You don’t need a pro (although, if you have the budget, that helps). Your smartphone’s camera can be a regular tool in your day to day work.
- Make taking images a daily habit.
- If you have a company logo, make sure you have high quality versions of the logo.
Choose a relevant domain name
A domain name is basically the name of your website e.g. google.com, smallbusiness.com. It is your calling card and an important part of your brand.
You should try to have a domain name that matches your business name so that it is simple for the average punter to understand that the domain name belongs to your business.
There are thousands of online tools to let you quickly check if a domain name is available or not – like this one from name.com. If, for example, you can’t acquire a .com or .co.uk domain that matches your business name try alternative domains like .net, .io etc
Once you have a clear idea of what you need your website to do and the content that will be on the website, you just need to find a tool that can help you design and build your website. At the most basic level, there are three things your website needs:
- hosting (where on the internet your website lives)
- a domain name (the address of your website recognisable to users)
- html pages (pages of content)
Luckily, today, there are services which take care of all three of these tasks and allow you to create a website without touching any code.
These services allow you to buy hosting for your website, design pages and manage the content on a regular basis. Below are a few user friendly and cheap options for non-techies.
Squarespace is an all-in-one online tool that allows you to build a website or online store from start to finish. There are a wealth of readily available website templates for businesses on Squarespace which can completely change the look of a website with one click.
There are features like forms, maps, videos etc. which can be activated easily. When designing & editing the website it is as simple click on the item you want to change, change it, then save.
Wix is an alternative to Squarespace with much the same functionality. You can include features like blogs, galleries and have your website SEO optimised. Again, this is a pretty simple interface to use and you can find a domain name and hosting in one package.
Weebly is another alternative to Wix and Squarespace which allows you to register a domain, setup hosting and easily build a website in one place. Trial these 3 tools and see for yourself which is the easiest to use for you, and which suits your budget best.
UKit is a simple to use drag and drop website builder which allows you to create websites from scratch or from pre-existing templates.
This is a simple to use online tool which allows you to build a website from your facebook page. Pagevamp is less flexible than the tools previously mentioned and the quality of the output really depends on the content of your social media pages.
WordPress is one of the world’s leading blogging platforms. There are themes available to give your website its own look and feel, and creating content can be quite easy. However, WordPress is an extensive system and may need some more advanced expertise to enable custom functionality.
Whatever tool you use to create your website, get comfortable with it as updating your website shouldn’t be a scary task.
It is important to test your website fully before promoting it to customers. Have family, friends and customers take some time to go through the site and test it. Be open to critical feedback.
Given most users view the web on mobile today it is particularly important that the experience looks and works well on your mobile phone. Make sure you test your website, both, on mobile and desktop.
Now, you have your website and are ready for it to be seen by the big bad world, what you need to do is promote it. There are countless ways of doing this online, here are a few suggestions:
- If you use social media make sure you let your followers know about your new website.
- Paid-for advertising. If your budget allows and the goal is suitable then you can pay for promoting your website with services like Facebook, Google, Linkedin. On InYourArea you can use Sponsored Posts to drive local traffic to your website.
- Some of the website building tools mentioned previously have “Marketing” features which can guide you step by step on how to market and promote your website.
The final task is to make sure the content on your website is up to date and relevant. Don’t put all the effort in to set up your website and leave it to wither.
Out of date content can be a big turn off for potential customers and detract from the professional feeling you’ve created. Try to set aside time regularly (how regular is up to you) to update text, images and offers on your website.