I’ve heard many business owners say they think they “should” get a website.  They’re not quite sure how to get one or what they will do with it, but they’ve been told that they should have one.

Only you can determine if your company needs a website.  While making that decision, you need to consider that a website is a communication tool and not an advertisement.

I could say that if all your clientele is local, and you have more customers than your business can handle, and you have no desire to grow larger or to pack and ship your gifts, then there is no point in marketing on the web.

But I won’t say that because it just isn’t true.

Even if your business is local only, people will look for you on the web.

When you attend that next networking event and hand out your business card, people that are interested in your products and services will check you out on the Internet before calling you.  They’ll want to see the types of designs that you create, your prices, and even any testimonials.  They’ll read your About Me page to learn more about who they will be working with.

It all boils down to:  If you want more customers, you should be online.

It can be as simple as a one-page site that tells people how to find you in your local community or as complex as an e-commerce site where people can order from you day and night.  A Facebook page could be a beginning but it just isn’t professional enough for a business.  It shouts loudly, “this is my hobby!”

If you are going to have a website however, it should look professional.  Your website is the same as the sign that hangs outside a retail store.  The customer sees that sign and front windows and decides whether to go in or to pass on by.

Benefits of Having a Website

There are a number of benefits to having a website.  The first one is obvious.  You can expand your marketing to a national or even an international audience.  The fastest growing sector of the American population becoming computer literate is between the ages of 50 and 75.  This sector also includes those with the highest percentage of disposable income.  A website helps you target that group.

One benefit, not often discussed, is that a website can make your order taking more efficient.  Your order information is usually more accurate than when taken by phone where it is so easy to misunderstand a word, or number.  Your customer has an immediate receipt showing him the total cost including shipping and sales taxes.

By being available 24/7, potential customers in China, Australia, and other parts of the world, who sleep during your normal business hours, can order from you.   You may be thinking, “But, I don’t ship outside the U.S.”

Neither do I.  But I welcome those orders from the international community for shipping/delivery  to their family and friends who live in the U.S.

Even if you only deliver locally, people from other parts of the country or world may have friends and relatives who live in your delivery area. For example, I receive orders from everywhere for delivery to college students attending Northern Arizona University located in my town.

Even if you currently or plan to sell on one of the marketplaces such as Facebook, Etsy, Amazon, E-bay, etc, you don’t own that store.  The platform owns it and controls how you use it.  They can even shut you down without warning and if that is your only web platform, poof you’re gone.

A website is an effective way to brand your business and help you compete more effectively.  The wonderful thing about the Internet is that it produces a level playing field.  In your local community, you may have trouble competing with some of the companies that are larger and have bigger advertising budgets than you do.  But on the Internet, you have the opportunity to compete effectively with the big boys and oftentimes win the order.

A website can generate leads.  By adding a newsletter, contest, giveaway, or other feature to a site, you can accumulate names of potential customers that will be an invaluable part of your marketing plan.

Are your printing and postage costs getting out of hand?

You can reduce both with a website.  Instead of an expensive brochure (or an inexpensive one that looks like it), you can have your products displayed beautifully and keep all the information up to date.   If your phone changes or you’re suddenly out of stock of a particular basket, with a click of a button, you can let your customers know.

The costs for creating and maintaining a website are nominal when compared with the cost of print ads and effective brochures.

The Costs of Having a Website

A website can be very cheap or very expensive.  Once again, it is up to you.  Taking time to learn how to do some or all of the work yourself can be a trade-off if money is an issue.  But remember that time spent learning a new skill is time that will not be available for marketing or working on other phases of your business.  Sometimes it is more cost effective to pay someone to do the technical work for you.

However, even if you pay someone, it is wise to understand as much as possible about the procedure to insure that you are getting value for your dollar.

Having a website involves three basic costs:  Getting the website built is the most expensive.  Hosting costs vary and can run anywhere from $4 to $50 or more per month.  Domain names can be registered inexpensively.

Let’s start with choosing a domain name, the web address where potential customers find your site on the internet.  They are unique and cannot be duplicated.  The cost for registering a domain name ranges from around $8 to $35 per year.

Personally, I use NameCheap.com  for registering my domain names.  I used godaddy for years but their prices continue to increase.  I transferred all my sites to NameCheap which costs less and has excellent service.  Use this link when you are ready to register your domain and you can get it for only $5.98 for the first year.

Here are some tips for choosing a domain name:

  1. Choose a domain name that is short and easy to remember with a dot com extension at the end.  Most people automatically type in dot com rather than net, info, us, or the number of other extensions you could use.
  2. Many domain name registrars allow you to register your name privately, for an additional fee,  to prevent others from seeing your contact information.  There are pros and cons for choosing this option and I have chosen to keep my information public.  People will look at the Whois data (domain registration) to see if you are who you say you are, and to validate your credibility.  Having a domain that is anonymous appears to some people to mean that you look like you are hiding something.  If there should be any problems with your website or domain (such as hacking, skimming, or other illegal uses), there is no way for someone to contact you about it. 

  3. It is highly recommended that you don’t buy your domain name and your website hosting from the same company.  Many companies offer a free domain name with your hosting but it you ever want to change to a different hosting company, you may have problems transferring the domain name.  If you find a deal for buying both from the same company that you can’t resist, get a confirmation from them that you can easily transfer both the site and the domain name to a different company at any time.

There are a number of options available to you when building your website.  A website is nothing more than a bunch of graphic and text files that are woven together so that they appear as a unit on the internet.  The basic site contains information about you and your company.  If you plan to sell your gifts through your site, you will need to have a shopping cart.

The least expensive means of building a site is to do it yourself.  There are a number of “sitebuilder” programs that allow you to fill in the blanks and create a basic site.  These are usually difficult to optimize for the search engines but can be an effective learning tool for you.  Just be aware that they can have severe limitations.

When I first wrote this article for publication in Rave Reviews, my advice to the do-it-yourselfer was that “if you decide to build a site yourself, my recommendation is to take a course at your local community college in how to use either Expression Web (which replaces Frontpage) or Dreamweaver.”

Times and technology have changed.  There are now a number of different, easier, and better ways to create a beautiful and efficient website.  There are free sitebuilders such as WIX and Weebly.  They do charge if you want to add a shopping cart so that your customers can order online from you. 

But the biggest change is the addition of several “all-in-one” shopping carts, hosting, blog, and website pages. The two biggest and best known ones are Big Commerce and Shopify.  Just recently the free WooCommerce for WordPress platform has added a paid version which is easier to use than the free version at Woo Express.  For one fee per month, you can have a complete site at these and other platforms.

Another option is SoloBuildIt  This costs more than just signing up for Shopify, BigCommerce, etc but it includes much more than just a shopping cart.  The Action Guide takes you through the process of choosing a niche, keywords,  and then setting up a website. There is a forum with experts who answer your questions along the way.  If you prefer to use WordPress instead of their platform, you can also see all the same help while you build your website on wordpress with whatever shopping cart you choose to use.  For using SoloBuildIt for WordPress, this is the link.  This isn’t for everyone but you might want to check it out and see if it is for you.  You can try it for up to 90 days and get a full refund if you decide that it is not for you.

I personally use wordpress for all my websites but I also belong to SoloBuildIt for WP in order to have access to all the other things they offer.  

But building the site is only one part of the equation.  In order for the site to be anything other than an internet dust-catcher, you will also need to learn how to optimize the site effectively for the search engines.  The most beautiful website in the world is useless if no one can find it.

Having someone build a site for you and then teach you how to maintain it is probably the most efficient use of your time and money unless you are like me and want to have full control of the whole thing.

When choosing a developer however, there are a number of things you should consider.  Not all website designers have adequate optimization skills.  Ask for a list of sites that they have designed and see where these sites rank in the search engines for their chosen keywords.  Contact the owners of the websites and ask how happy they are with the designer and how effectively their shopping carts are working.

Don’t talk to just one developer.  Talk to several and ask for quotes.  Compare what is included in these quotes and what is not.  Determine if you have to pay the developer to make any changes or if you can be taught to make the changes yourself.  Ask how long it will take to build the site and ask for a guarantee.  A written contract is always better protection than an oral one but make sure that you fully understand the contract before signing it.

When choosing a hosting company or a shopping cart, there are a number of review websites online that compare many of them.  This is a good starting place but ask people you know about their experiences as well.

Do you need a website?

If the answer is yes, you have a number of options.  Just as when you started your local business, do your research, ask lots of questions, create a financial plan, and go for it.  It’s a whole different world but the results can be greater than you ever dreamed.

So you want to create the website yourself — either for financial reasons or to have control?
The next article in this series will compare the various options you can choose from and the pros and cons of each.

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