A Website for Your Small Business: How to Get One in Nine Steps
Your small business doesn't have a website, or perhaps the website you have is effective and you want to start over--how do you start or start over?. The truth is, there are several ways to "get a website" for your small business (for the first or second time around). The good news is that by following these nine steps, you'll be on track, moving your business further into the 21st century with the website you want and need.
Step One: Decide the Purpose of Your Website
Why exactly do you need a website? What do you want your visitors to do when they visit? What IS the purpose of your website? These are questions you must ask yourself BEFORE you hire a designer or purchase an online content management system and start throwing text onto pages.
Anyone can put anything on the web, but if you want your small business to have a website that affects your bottom line in a positive way; it needs to call visitors to action. What that "action" is, is key--do you want them to sign up to receive more information about your product? Do you want them to call you for a quote? Do you want them to sign up for your newsletter? Do you want them to purchase your product online? Even a site that is essentially an online brochure needs to focus on the action you want your visitors (and potential customers) to take. For example, say you own a plumbing and heating business. On your website, your main goal may be to get visitors' mailing addresses so you can market to them via mail in the future. All of the pages on your site should encourage this in some way or the other, perhaps through offering a free report, a free service evaluation or something. Whatever method(s) you employ, you must remember that that is the purpose of the site.
Now, that doesn't mean the site can't have multiple sub-purposes. I also encourage you to provide good information about your small business and it's services, but for most traditional (non web-based) small business, starting out with a primary purpose is key. As you discover how potential and current customers are using your site, your purpose and sub-purposes may broaden, but if this is your first website (or your first attempt at an effective website) start with a very focused purpose and build from there.
Step Two: Develop an Outline of Site Content
Once you've decided on your purpose you can outline the content and functionality your site will need. For example, if you want people to request more information via e-mail and you want to capture their mailing addresses, you'll need a form and a way to process the data; if you just want them to call a phone number, you just need to make sure the pages clearly indicate that and lead them to do so. The functionality of your site can get quite fancy if you want, but remember the PURPOSE while developing your site outline...all the bells and whistles are useless if they don't drive visitors to take the action you want (For more direction on what your website content should include, see the resources link at the bottom of this article).
You don't have to write the content at this point, just get an outline of the main pages and sub pages you'll want, the general content of the pages and the functional items (like forms, calculators, surveys, etc…) that you will include to encourage people to take the desired action. This portion is essential to step three, setting a budget.
Step Three: Set a Budget for Site Development & Maintenance
The first thing to do when deciding on your small businesses website budget is to evaluate how much you can afford to spend. There are many different ways to get your website built, and how much you have to spend may dictate that process.
If you would like to hire a web developer, but have no idea of how much one would cost, get quotes from a few designers/developers (for more information on working with web designers, see the resources link at the bottom of this article). If you do get a quote and are planning on having the developer do maintenance, make sure to have them provide quotes for maintenance as well. If you want to do maintenance, make sure to tell them how you plan on doing so, or ask for advice. If you want to do it yourself, look into the cost of software and/or online content management systems (CMS).
While your looking into the potential cost, don't forget to set return on investment (ROI) goals--how do you expect the site to affect your bottom line? Whether it be referrals or sales you will never know if you money was well spent if you do not track it's effectiveness.
Step Four: Decide on How You will Get Your Website Designed
By this time you've gotten the quotes from your potential developers and have a good idea of cost. Now is the time to make your decision. Remember, you can hybridize--perhaps hire a web designer to design the look of your site, but use a CMS for everything else; or maybe you do the design and pass it on to a developer from there.
Step Five: Decide on Possible Names for Your Site and Register Your Domain
Most businesses, large or small, use their company name for their domain (or web address), however, you may find that the one you want is not available. Because of this, I strongly recommend having at least three possible ideas in your head. To find out if you domain name is available, you can go to one of the many domain registration services online (www.godaddy.com, networksolutions.com, register.com), type in the name you want and they will let you know if that name is available (For more information on select a domain name, see the resources link at the bottom of this article).
Registering is as simple as following the instructions at any of the registration services. However, if you don't want to deal with this technical "stuff" and you're hiring a designer, they can take care of these details for you. Do make sure that you've provided them several domain names in case one is not available.
Also, some registration services charge more than others. You can get a domain name for as low as $4, depending on various factors, but don't expect that. If you're having someone else register for you and you are concerned about the cost, make sure to ask what service they typically use and how much it will cost.
Step Six: Choose a Host for Your Small Business' Website
Finding a host for your site is another important step. There are many places that you can find that are quite inexpensive, but make sure your host meets your needs. If you are hiring a designer/developer they may have recommendations if you are unsure. If you use an online CMS like they provide hosting as well.
Step Seven: Work Through the Design, Set-up and Testing Process
Once you've made all the decisions and set-up the 'technical' aspects of your site, it's time to get down to the work of putting the site together. If you've hired a web designer/developer communication is key. Have examples of both "look" and functionality that you want to have on your site and make sure to thoroughly explain the purpose of your site. And again, provide honest feedback, this is your site and represents your small business and your brand--designers not only expect, but welcome honest feedback.
If you decide to do your site yourself, plan before you start. This means that before you even sit down at the computer, you should pick up a pen and paper and do a site map, or outline of your site as well as a sketch of at least your home page, for general placement purposes. I also encourage you to hire or barter for help if you need technical assistance. Again, your site represents YOU and your small business…if it doesn't look good or do what it is supposed to…well enough said.
When you're setting your site up, I also encourage you to make sure to set up a way to track your visitors. One great service to help you do so www.statcounter.com (and it's free!).
Once your site is "done" be sure to TEST. I recommend testing it in multiple browsers and on both mac and pc platforms (if possible). You'd think with technology as advanced as it is that html would display consistently from browser to browser and from platform to platform, but believe me…this is not the case. And, sometimes functionality that works wonderfully in Internet Explorer, doesn't in Safari on a Mac. In addition to viewing your pages, test all functionality and links. Just because it worked a week ago when you finished the page, doesn't mean you shouldn't test it--double check everything.
Step Eight: Go Live with You Small Business Website
When you finished your testing, and everything is in place, it's time to GO LIVE! Start your marketing and drive current and potential clients to your site. If you have a mailing list, now is the time to use it; send out a postcard to all your customers with your URL and share not only the fact that you have a site but why (your purpose). If you have e-mail addresses of people who have agreed to be contacted via e-mail, send them an e-mail announcing the site (make sure to include a way for them to opt-out of the list…it's the law…most e-mail list services do this for your).
There are lots of other ways to drive traffic to your site…but that's another whole topic in itself.
Step Nine: Track Visitors, Keep Content Fresh
I mentioned tracking ROI in step three, now that your site is up, it's time to put it to practice. Make sure the tracking you're doing fits the purpose of your site. If your purpose is to get people to request an information packet via the phone or e-mail, you'd better be tracking how each request was initiated (this will be easy through an e-mail form, but you'd better ask everyone who calls!). Now if your purpose is to get people to purchase your product online, you need to do more extensive tracking
The other thing you must do if you want to keep people coming back to your site (which you may not) is to make sure to keep the content fresh. Post various community activities your small business is involved with, change your specials on a monthly basis, make your home page a blog…whatever is appropriate for what you do.
That's it! You've just covered the basics on how any small business can get a website (or a more effective one). It takes a bit of work and planning, but in the end, if you do it right, it's definitely worth it.
So, get started. Get out a sheet of paper and start brainstorming--how can the web help YOUR small business?
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