Your Step-by-Step Guide to Small Business Websites

If you’re starting your own business, a website is likely one of your first priorities. Small business websites can take an infinite range of forms, depending on the goods and services offered. Maybe you need a minimal internet presence, or perhaps your business will be better served by a full-service e-commerce website with all the bells and whistles. Although creating a small business site can be overwhelming, following an organized plan can help you navigate the web development process and implement a site that represents your company in the best possible light.

Why Build a Small Business Website?

Maybe you already have a client base and you don’t see the benefit of investing in a website for your business. Without allowing potential customers to find you in a Google search, however, you’re thwarting your enterprise’s future growth. Even if you don’t sell products online, Forbes recommends seeing your website as a marketing extension of your business card. It should include information about your company’s offerings and detail your credentials, certifications and other information that provides a reason for clients to trust you.

How Do I Get Started?

One of the first decisions you’ll make about your website is whether you’ll create it yourself using a content management system, hire an employee to build the site or outsource the process to a third-party developer. Each of these routes has unique benefits and drawbacks. Whichever you choose, however, you’ll still follow the same basic steps to get your site up and running. As a business owner, your involvement throughout the development process is key to building a site that serves your company’s interests and communicates its mission.

1. Define the Purpose of Your Small Business Website

You already know you need a website, but what do you want it to accomplish for your business? The answer to this question will inform the entire development process. Many small business websites take one of these formats:

  • A static site that describes your business’s products and services and provides contact information. The content provided on this site should be evergreen so you don’t need to update it frequently.
  • A dynamic site where you provide articles of interest and other resources to your clients, often in the form of a blog. This is a good choice for businesses that want to implement a robust content marketing and social media strategy and want to use the website to connect with their audience.
  • An e-commerce site that sells products and services.

2. Consider Content Management Systems (CMS)

The content management system is the software program used to create, update and maintain your small business website. The CMS can range from a free web-based solution to a full-featured program with integrated e-commerce, security, multimedia and/or interactive features. Once you define your new website’s purpose, you’ll be able to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of various CMS options. With the CMS, you can build a website without coding it from scratch, which means anyone with a bit of know-how can create a viable small business site.

Ask the following questions when choosing a content management system:

  • Does it help you select and set up your domain name (website address specific to your business)?
  • Does it have a range of templates to choose from, including options designed for your industry?
  • Can it build a responsive site? This type of website automatically adjusts for optimal viewing on the reader’s device, whether it’s a computer, tablet or smartphone screen. Most small businesses should consider creating a responsive site to reach the widest audience.
  • Does it have an easy tool for photo and video uploads?
  • If you will be selling products online, does it have an integrated shopping cart tool?
  • Can it sync automatically with your business social media accounts? This will make it much easier to post to followers on all services seamlessly.
  • Does the CMS developer offer robust customer support?
  • Is it affordable?

Some of the most popular and highly rated budget CMS systems include:

  • Wix, which offers hundreds of industry-specific design templates and an easy-to-use drag and drop design tool, is a free service with premium subscription plans for e-commerce sites starting at $8.50 per month.
  • Squarespace earns high marks for its beautiful templates, though they offer minimal customization. Business plans start at $18 per month.
  • WordPress is by far the most popular CMS system for small businesses, serving an estimated one in five businesses. Comprehensive business plans cost around $25 a month and include full analytic and search engine optimization services along with thousands of native and third-party templates to choose from.

3. Select a Hosting Service

The hosting service is the off-site server location housing your website data and providing access to visitors. When selecting a host, you’ll need to consider your chosen CMS, the number of visitors you expect the site to receive, the type of features you’ll need and the desired speed of your site. For best results, choose a hosting system that allows for automatic installation of the CMS you plan to use. If you’re a new business, you can opt for low-cost hosting services and upgrade to a more powerful system with additional storage when necessary.

4. Choose a Template

Most popular content management systems have hundreds of free and low-cost templates for clients to download and use. A template makes it easy to create a consistent appearance for your site because it establishes fonts, features, menus, a color palette and other key elements. In addition, these templates can be updated with thousands of different plug-ins for even further customization. You can narrow your template selection by opting for an industry-specific template. These are available for many industries, such as real estate, contracting, restaurants and catering, creative services and other types of small businesses. Once you find the right template, you can add powerful interactive features such as social media share buttons and email contact forms.

5. Plan Your Content

While the structural elements described above form your website’s backbone, the content is the meat that will provide clients value — a reason to return to your site, buy your products or use your services. Start by outlining your site’s menu; look at the sites of similar businesses if you need inspiration. Remember you can always expand to include more content areas as needed, so it’s okay to begin with the basics. Don’t forget to note information such as your logo, business contact information and mission statement.

6. Develop Your Content

Now it’s time to fill in the outline you created during step five. Website content includes both text and images. Whether you’re writing the text yourself or hiring a writer, familiarize yourself with best practices of online writing before you get started. Think of the content from a marketing perspective, and provide information while highlighting the elements of your business that distinguish you from competitors. When choosing graphics and images, it’s important to keep your site looking professional. That doesn’t mean you need to spend money on custom photography, just opt for high-quality stock photos rather than clip art and other generic images. Infographics, charts and graphs that help explain your products and services add substantial value if they are easily understandable by customers.

7. Get Building!

Most content management systems include a “what you see is what you get” editor, commonly called a WYSIWYG. This means a visual tool allows you to add text, images, videos, menus and other elements to your site without using coding language. Easy interactive menus can change fonts, colors, placement and everything else on your site with the push of a button, and you can see it update in real time. This type of editor works with the theme you chose for your site, which comes with various templates for different types of pages. If you’ve never built a website using WYSIWYG, sign up for a free website and play around with the tools and functions to gain familiarity. Overall, this type of CMS is intuitively designed for ease of use.

Should I Outsource?

If this sounds like a lot of work or you feel it’s outside your skill set, invest in a professional web developer. While you’ll still have final say on everything that goes on the site, this person can facilitate the process of gathering content and advise on website strategy. Once you approve the design and content, the developer will build the site to your specifications. Many firms offer ongoing updates and maintenance for a flat monthly fee.

How Much Will it Cost?

The dollar investment in your small business website can be as little as $100 if you’re willing to invest substantial time to build the site yourself. If you already have some skills in this area, it could be worthwhile; however, when you consider the value of your time, hiring a professional might be more cost-effective. According to Digital.com, common costs associated with building a small business site include:

  • The domain name costs between $10 and $20 a year, though you can choose to pay for several years in advance.
  • An SSL certificate, which is required if you have an e-commerce site or will be collecting sensitive customer data. This security system encrypts messages sent and received by the site and costs anywhere from $10 to hundreds of dollars per month depending on the features you need.
  • Web hosting can be as low as $10 a month for a basic system or as high as $100 a month for a managed service that also provides maintenance and updates.
  • Many small businesses opt for a free or low-cost CMS service such as WordPress. Custom CMS systems built specifically for a business cost up to $5,000.
  • For a full site design by a professional web designer, expect to pay from $5,000 for a basic site to $50,000 for a customized e-commerce site with all the bells and whistles. As described above, you can also choose a predesigned theme for your CMS system, which ranges from free to about $100 for more complex custom themes.
  • If online marketing is a big part of your strategy, search engine optimization (SEO) is a must. This helps your site rise in the search engine rankings for a particular set of keywords. Professional SEO services carry an initial cost of between $3,000 and $9,000 and a monthly maintenance fee of a few hundred dollars to provide ongoing updates.
  • If you plan to hire a professional writer to develop your online content, budget at least $500 for the initial service depending on your website’s scope. Ongoing updates are typically charged by the word or on a per-project basis. Multimedia content starts at about $500 to create a custom graphic and $3,000 for video production.
  • Social media marketing can be done in-house, but if you prefer to outsource this service, expect to pay rates starting at $250 per month.

If these costs sound overwhelming, keep in mind that it is possible to build a great website on a small budget. The National Federation of Independent Business identifies four cost categories for small business sites:

  • If you just need a microsite with a few pages about your company’s products and services and plan to have it developed entirely by existing staff members, you can get away with spending under $1,000.
  • Small sites with minimal customization and professional strategic input cost between $1,000 and $2,500.
  • The sweet spot for most small businesses is the $2,500 to $5,000 price range, which should afford you comprehensive consultation on the site’s design and functionality.
  • Sites in the $5,000-plus range typically have more than 75 separate pages and e-commerce capabilities.

Whatever your website development budget, consider applying for a flexible line of credit from an online small business lender. With an easy application process, you can access the capital you need to create an unforgettable website for your small business. Whether you take the budget route or go all out for a complete online marketplace, you’ll be impressed by the way this critical marketing tool bolsters your business.

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