You’re looking to hire a plumber — what’s the first thing you do? Google “plumbers in [insert location name].” More than likely, you’ll choose to hire a plumber from one of the first five websites you see.
If you have a small business, one of the most important customer-acquisition tools you can have is your website. When potential customers are looking to hire, the first place they turn is Google. Your small business needs a website with great design and high-quality copywriting and SEO to ensure that your business is findable by customers.
Before starting a website for your small business, there are a number of do’s and don’ts to consider.
Do #1: Choose the Right Website Builder for Your Needs
Before you can build a website, you need a domain name, website host and website building platform that fits your needs. With dozens of choices of website builders, such as Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, Xoopah and WordPress, it’s important to evaluate your needs before choosing which one is right for you.
“There is a big difference between a website that functions simply as a landing page, one that has a blog and contact us form and one that can handle ecommerce transactions,” says Bruce Hogan, CEO of SoftwarePundit. Knowing how you plan to use your website and what your customer acquisition goals are makes choosing the right website builder a little bit easier.
If you need a simple one-page website, any site builder will work. If you want to sell products and services on your website, you’ll want to thoroughly research website integrations with ecommerce platforms and processing fees for online payments. Some site builders may offer a lower annual fee but make up the difference with high payment processing fees. Choosing the right website builder will help you achieve your goals.
Justin Smith from OuterBox agrees that "choosing one ultimately comes down to understanding your business goals. Having worked with several small business owners, more often than not, an out-of-the-box solution like WordPress will meet your needs, but you'll also want to consider what additional integrations your site will require that may increase your overall development costs."
Don’t forget about your website domain either when building your website. Kelly Main, the Senior Marketing Analyst at FitSmallBusiness, says, “It’s often a good idea to search for available domain names when choosing a business name — especially if you’re building an online business.”
If you can’t get the business domain name you want, you’ll have to get creative or re-register your business under a different name. If you haven’t yet registered your business name, check that your desired business name is available as a domain name first. Having your domain name match your business name is important for consistency and to avoid confusion for your customers.
Do #2: Keep Copy Simple
Your website is the first impression your customer gets about your business. To give a good first impression, it’s important that your website content is clear and readable.
Jessica Freeman, Owner of Jess Creatives, says, “It's easy to think that everyone coming to your website knows exactly what you do and who you are, but it's simply not true. Drop the jargon, and make everything explicitly clear. You're much more likely to see an ROI from your site when you do those two things!”
The clearer and more skimmable your website copy, the quicker potential customers can evaluate your business and the more likely they are to choose to work with you.
Do #3: Remember You Aren’t Your User
A common trap that small business owners fall into when building their website and writing copy is assuming they know best. While you might be an expert at what you do, you’re (likely) not an expert in user experience. The user of your website is your customer, not you.
“Always remember that you are not your user,” says Aric Zion, CEO at Zion & Zion. “Even if you are in the same demo as your user and have the same needs, you are personally too close to your product or service to put yourself in the same frame of mind as your user.”
Once you’ve written the copy for your website, it’s important to get feedback from real people who are part of your customer demographic.
Don’ts of Creating a Small Business Website
Just as important as what you should do when building a small business website are the don’ts. We all make mistakes, but you don’t have to. Here are some small business website don’ts from business owners who’ve been there.
Don’t #1: Don’t Hire a Website Designer Right Away
As a small business owner, it’s common to weigh the value of your time against paying someone to complete a task for you. You might be intimidated by the prospect of creating a small business website for yourself, but you might be surprised by just how easy it is.
“A few years ago, it was far more complex to build a nice looking, functional website,” says Hogan of SoftwarePundit. “Today, it is far easier and cheaper. And unfortunately, many agencies and consultants still charge way too much for a new website. It's worth trying to build the website yourself before signing a five-figure contract with an expert.”
That being said, “As much as we all want to be able to do everything, the reality is that it’s not always wise,” says Main at FitSmallBusiness. “Know your limitations with web design and development and outsource to the experts when necessary.”
You don’t want to end up with a website that looks homemade, but be sure to make use of website design advice before hiring an expensive expert.
Don’t #2: Don’t Use the Free Plan
If you’re just starting your small business, cash flow may be a significant concern. You may hesitate to invest money in your business. While it’s good to keep an eye on the bottom line, don’t hamstring yourself by building a website with a free plan.
“As tempting as it may be to opt for the site builder’s free plan, don’t,” says Main. “If you’re building a business website, then you should only use the free version to gain access to the platform to build your site. But once it’s built, do not launch it with the free plan.”
The free plan can save you money upfront, but visitors to your website will perceive it as cheap. The free plan generally comes with third-party ads and requires you to use a subdomain, such as example.squarespace.com. That can look unprofessional to potential customers. As you’re evaluating website builder tools, you can use the free plan. But as soon as you know which site you’ll be using, it’s time to invest.
Don’t #3: Don’t Assume You Need Shopify
From Q3 2019 to Q3 2020, ecommerce jumped from 11.2 percent to 14.3 percent of total retail sales. While the pandemic affected how people shopped, experts think ecommerce is here to stay. If your small business will sell products and services online, you’ll need an online store.
Most people immediately jump to Shopify, one of the most well-known ecommerce platforms for small businesses. But, you might not need Shopify, according to Main. “Shopify is far from the most user-friendly way to build an online store, and despite this, it’s far from being the cheapest option. Consider other website builders such as Wix, Squarespace and GoDaddy for more intuitive and cost-effective site builders for ecommerce.”
Creating a website for your small business is one of the most important steps you can take to attract customers. It will stand as the virtual front door to your company, offering information to your customers, selling products and services, helping you be found online and even creating a cohesive brand for your business. These do’s and don’ts can help get your small business website up and running quickly and easily.
Page is a freelance content marketing writer with experience writing about small business, the future of the workplace and health. She also operates a weekly email newsletter where she shares advice on living an authentic, intentional life. When not writing, you can find Page traveling, fostering older cats and working as a sexual assault advocate.