Two entrepreneurs examine the site architecture for a mobile web page.

Building a Small Business Website

If you don’t have a website, you should. As noted, 40% of small businesses don’t have a website and almost 75% don’t have e-commerce.

As we turn the corner in this pandemic, having a website strategy will help you recover more quickly and reach new markets.

The numbers don’t lie. Eighty percent of Americans do online research before they make a purchase. That translates into roughly 230.5 million potential customers who are shopping online, comparing prices and completing purchases. That’s just in the United States. Ninety-five percent of all customers and two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power lie overseas.

Building a website is a lot easier than it used to be. You don’t need to be a coding expert. You don’t have to build your online store from scratch. Much of the work is plug and play, and if you don’t have the time to do the work yourself, there’s a lot of help out there.

Here’s our step-by-step guide to creating a successful business website.

1. Designate a project manager

There are two ways to go about this. If you are a small business with just a few employees, you can manage this process yourself, working with an outside design firm to do the heavy lifting. If you are going to try to do it internally, or have more human resources available, select someone on your team who can manage the process from start to finish. Resist the temptation to give it to an IT support person. While they are very capable on the technology side, they lack the marketing, sales and communication know-how needed to create an effective website. Remember, a website is the front window of your business; it needs to be professional, easy to navigate and drive leads or sales to your company.

2. Identify the end goal

When your website is ready to launch, what role is it supposed to fulfill? Is it a marketing tool, lead generator, communication vehicle or sales powerhouse? Understanding what you want your site to do before the work begins will help you ensure that the site will be appropriately aligned on the backside and help guide you, your project manager and the design team in everything you do.

Common goals include:

  • Generating leads
  • Building relationships
  • Increasing awareness
  • Influencing public policy
  • Providing research and guidance
  • Booking appointments or reservations
  • Increasing sales
  • Communicating with stakeholders
  • Engaging in international trade

3. What you will need

Before we dive headlong into the process, let’s look at the various components of a website so that you can see how it all fits together.

  • Domain Name: This is the name of your website. Think microsoft.com, cnn.com, facebook.com, etc. Think of it as your online business address. It’s the address someone needs to enter or click on to visit your website.
  • Server Host: This is a company that rents space for storing all the files related to your website. Think of it as a warehouse for all your data.
  • Content Management System (CMS): This does all the heavy lifting when it comes to the design, functionality and presentation of your site.
  • Plug-ins. These add features to your website. They are CMS-dependent and allow you to add e-commerce and tech support or will enable you to accept appointments.
  • SSL: This helps secure your website. It is officially known as a Secure Sockets Layer. When you see https instead of http in the web address or a lock icon that is closed, it means the site is secure enough to handle customer data and credit card transactions.
  • Ecommerce: This plugin allows you to sell products or services and accept payments in a secure, real-time environment. We have an entire tutorial on adding or integrating e-commerce into your website.

4. Getting started

The first decision is who is going to do the work. If the terms above are unfamiliar to you, you’ll probably want to hire a freelancer or a local web design firm to help you build your site. If you’re going to do it yourself, there are sites that will give you a fairly nice site for an entry-level price. These include wix.com, weebly.com and squarespace.com. These sites guide you step-by-step through the process in a fill-in-the-blank style, but they are limited in features and designs.

Before you go the do-it-yourself route with all-inclusive solutions like this, know that if you ever want to offer a more customized or robust experience for your customers, you can’t take the site you have with one of these all-in-one companies with you if you want to change things up. You will have to start from scratch if you become dissatisfied with the service or terms.

You may want to hire an expert if you:

  • Want a unique look for your website that matches your branding and doesn’t look like your competitor.
  • Want to free up your time and energies to work on other aspects of your business. The learning curve can be time-consuming, especially if you’re trying to do e-commerce on your site since there is a lot of set up required for taxes, shipping, etc.
  • Want ongoing support for the site, including search engine optimization (SEO) and system updates.

If you hire a web design firm, a few quick tips:

  • Require any design firm to offer a fixed-cost bid. Never go with an hourly rate.
  • Have them break out the costs for maintenance, site upgrades, content (if you want them to provide the writing services), hosting fees, etc., separately.
  • If they will be registering your domain name, purchasing plugins, an SSL certificate or any other part of your website, make sure that you have access to the logins and are listed as the owner of these assets.
  • Ask for references and contact information for other clients of the company so you can ask them about their experiences and satisfaction.
  • Always get three quotes for design services. Prices, capabilities and services will vary widely. If you’re having trouble comparing apples to apples, ask for clarification.
  • If you feel comfortable working with a designer that is not local, consider putting your project up for bid on a site like upwork.com or guru.com.
  • If you want to do e-commerce, make sure the person or company you are hiring has done e-commerce in the past. Trust us; you don’t want to be their first customer.
  • Make sure the company assigns all copyrights and ownership of site assets to you, outside of anything that may be proprietary to them.

Pro Tip: If you’re going to have someone build you a site or plan to do it yourself, you will probably want to choose WordPress as your content management system. It runs roughly 30% of the Internet and has a large developer community that is always working on new features and capabilities. WordPress offers up its famous 5 Minute Install and doesn’t require a lot of technical skill. Updating content is fill in the blank and very much like working with Word documents.