Does Your Business Need a Website?

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.

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 to their family and friends who live in the U.S.

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 can 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.   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.

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 means 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.  If you try to purchase an SSL Certificate, which is essential for your customer’s security if you use anything other than paypal for payment, the SSL issuing company checks Whois to make sure that it matches your application.

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 ways to create a beautiful and efficient website.  There are free sitebuilders such as WIX and Weebly.  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.  For one fee per month, you can have a complete site.

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 your site is built, you need a hosting company to host your site on their servers.  Once again, there are many options and many prices to choose from.   Some companies allow you to host multiple sites for one low price.  Some include site-building programs, shopping carts, and templates for you to use.   Some are actually resellers for larger hosting companies.

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.

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