Tips for the Small Business Website

Not everyone on LinkedIn is working in the large corporate environment. We have entrepreneurs and small business owners as well. This article is directed towards those envisioning the start of a new business and are fearful of the unknowns within digital marketing.

You have made the decision to go into business and leave the slightly more secure position as an employee. Your market research uncovered data pertaining to industry trends and your competition. A business plan was created. Sources of financing were secured. You have concluded that having a digital and social media marketing strategy is a must but you are unsure of what you need and how to execute when you are focusing on getting the business off the ground.

Quoting from Patricia Schaefer‘s www.businessknowhow.com article…

Simply put, if you have a business today, you need a website. Period.In the U.S. alone, the number of internet users (approximately 77 percent of the population) and e-commerce sales ($165.4 billion in 2010, according to the US Department of Commerce) continue to rise and are expected to increase with each passing year.

At the very least, every business should have a professional looking and well-designed website that enables users to easily find out about their business and how to avail themselves of their products and services. Later, additional ways to generate revenue on the website can be added; i.e., selling ad space, drop-shipping products, or recommending affiliate products.

Remember, if you don’t have a website, you’ll most likely be losing business to those that do. And make sure that website makes your business look good, not bad — you want to increase revenues, not decrease them.”

In the current business environment, having a presence on the web has truly become aneed rather than a want. Your competition is there and your absence will result in lost opportunities. You did a thorough investigation of various solutions and it appears that all are expensive, in fact, too expensive at the present time. It creates a dilemma, doesn’t it? You may ask, what can I do now to launch a viable strategy? After all, absence is not an option.

Tip #1: Developing the “Brand”

Before delving into some considerations, let’s agree that you have developed a “brand”, with logo, images, and such. Over time, designing the brand while developing the website is much more costly. Part of the brand process will be finding a domain name that fits into the overall branding. Do not rush this important part of the process. The cost is low but the damage can be high. Does the domain express your company brand? Is it memorable? Are there similar domains used by your competition? You want to differentiate yourself.

Tip #2: Building The Website

I’m sure that  you have found options from zero cost up to six figures. Obviously, you need a solution that meets both your needs and financial capabilities. Some of the answer rests with the type of business you are starting. Are you selling a product or aservice? While both will have a “content marketing” aspect, the product also needs a vehicle for selling the product, an eStore, a database, and a method for taking credit card payments.

A service business must have the capability of telling the story in detail. Articles, white papers, and testimonials become the basis for the content on the site. You are telling an engaging story of who you are, what you do, and why it is important, to your potential customer. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking one and done is going to cut it as you will need to refresh this information at regular intervals to engage your visitors.

The product type site adds product listings, pricing, images, and payment gateways to what the service site already has. Gateways such as PayPal offer API integration with the commerce site AND are PCI compliant.

Both types of site need a lead generation process, typically email capture. Forms can be automated and there are various free and low cost email automation applications that ease the job. Out of the box, all have CAN-SPAM compliance integration. Don’t change it!

Domains can be purchased through a number of providers including GoDaddy, iPage, Google Domains, and many more. Where you choose to purchase the domain should be tied to the offers that the hosting services provide. Many offer a “free” domain, at least for the first year, so do your homework.

Unless you are opening a web development or graphics design business, you will not have the coding skills necessary to build a site from scratch. There are quite a few“drag & drop” site builders that simplify the process. Upload your images and content and then it’s “WYSIWYG”. Move the frames around until you see what you want. Limitations are those of the templates selected. Look around and find one that works for you before investing considerable time in content placement. Some allow CSS input in order to change the look, so to speak. FOr that function, you may need to have some basic knowledge of coding. Often times the code exists and a copy, paste, and edit will do the trick. Again, do a thorough investigation in order to determine which is best for you.

In a previous role, I oversaw a website build that exceeded $500k. While you may not have all the bells and whistles of that project, you can do quite well and spend only a small fraction of that cost.

Below is a list of the better known providers and examples of associated expense:

Note that WordPress.com (not .org) is structured around blogging but can be built for website use with relative ease. The assortment of “free” templates will work for most businesses. It requires no coding experience unless you choose to use the CSS and that can be done directly within the template.  Support is above average. You can get a free domain, or for a small fee, use your domain (recommended). Nearly all providers, including those above, have a wide assortment of plug-ins that are built in and require little to be functional. All will meet the needs of the small business.

I have not considered the availability of an FTP solution, which some offer. If you are proficient in using web design software, you are most likely not going to use “drag and drop” nor standardized formatting.

Tip #3: Time and Resources

Regardless of which vendor you choose, the time spent in building your website needs to be a consideration. Working your fingers to the bone should be reserved for the overall business operations, and not just the digital aspect of your endeavor.

If you have all the creative assets and content, plan on at least a couple of weeks building the infrastructure. If you first need to acquire the assets, the time frame can become quite long. Building creative from scratch typically requires at least some skills in Photo Editing.

In both cases, ask yourself if you will be using stock images? If so, plan on the cost of acquiring the proper licensing. Sites such as https://www.pexels.com/ has a wide assortment of free, properly licensed images for commercial use. Look there, and at other “free” sites first. As a reminder, copyright and infringement are real considerations. While many will look the other way when used personally, most all will attack if their property is used commercially.

Video is another item to consider. This one does require some knowledge of design and editing software. Take a quick look at Adobe After Effects and you will most likely come to the conclusion that it can wait or you will secure professional help.

That being said, with just a little practice, you could create a short clip to be used in social media. Here is an example that I created for our local SCORE chapter using After Effects CC 2015. It is being used as a demo, thus no contact information or CTA was added.

 

Once you have the website built (menu items, navigation, pages, and where the content will be placed), you then need to “tag” each page appropriately. Google Analytics, SpyFu, and other applications will help you identify the keywords that “may” be applicable.

SEO is a very important aspect of any website build. Simply put, you are playing in Google’s sandbox and they set the rules. Take the time to enter the proper meta-data on each page. Getting it right now is worth the time. It is much more difficult to “fix” existing sites and pages. Look at your image size and consider page “load speed.” Large images will not look any better than one optimized for web use. It’s important to start with a large image and reduce the size. Increasing size typically results in blurred images and that is not what you want.

Finding the balance

For many small business owners, the expense of having professional development may not be an option. But before you dispense with securing outside assistance, estimate the time spent to create assets and the website and how much that will take you away from running your new business. I receive offers every day from developers looking for additional work and the hourly rate is quite reasonable. You may find that it will be more cost effective to get assistance along the way.

Good luck with your new business and website!

 

Mike McCormick is founder and CEO of Retail Consultants of Tampa Bay. He is well known within the LinkedIn community for his participation in numerous marketing and job seeker groups. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

 

Disclaimer: There is no affiliation with any vendor above, other than being a current or previous customer. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and not of the vendors or LinkedIn.

Originally published on LinkedIn 2016.


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