Websites are as essential to small businesses today as business cards. What are three features every website should have, regardless of the kind of business you operate?
- Your website content should be appropriate to your target market.
- Your website should be responsive. The visitor should be able to easily access it using a desktop, tablet, or smart phone.
- Have easy-to-find contact information. Phone, email, and link to contact form should be on each page of the website.
Many SCORE clients, such as Margaret Mary H. of Runnemede, N.J., and Laura P., of San Diego, Calif., are concerned about the cost of setting up and maintaining a website, especially for someone just starting out. Are there “free” or “low-cost” ways to quickly establish an online presence?
If your budget is non-existent, you can use free website services like Wix.com, Bravenet.com, Blogger.com, or Wordpress.com. If you can afford about $5 to $10 per month in hosting, you can also pay for your hosting account, and install a content management system (CMS) like Wordpress, or Joomla at no additional cost. My favorite is Wordpress because it’s easier for a “non-techie” to use, and offers the most flexibility.
Are there limitations or drawbacks to these types of “economy” approaches?
Yes, there’s the time it takes for you to figure it all out and make it look and work properly. Since your web site is the gateway to your business, I highly recommend hiring a professional to help you create the best image possible. The professional will also help you get your website noticed online so that prospective customers can find you easier.
If you do decide to hire a professional website developer, what are the key skills/capabilities to look for in evaluating candidates?
Review their portfolios and see if their design style is consistent with what you’re looking for. This will determine their experience as well. A developer with e-commerce experience, for instance, will create a beautiful, fully working shopping site much faster and better than someone with no experience in that area.
You can also choose a developer within a niche industry, or one that has experience with as many industries as possible. You determine who you’ll hire based on knowing what you’re trying to accomplish with your website. (e.g., sales, lead generation, online brochure, interaction, photo gallery, events calendar, blog, etc.)
Similarly, what kind of support services are desirable to have from a website developer?
The great thing about hiring a professional is that he or she will set up all the tools necessary for your online success. Your developer will recommend a good domain name and register it for you, and set you up with the proper hosting account, which should include your company email accounts, website statistics and analysis, ample space for content growth, and a good CMS among other things. In addition, a good developer will offer to maintain the website with< things such as such as content updates you don’t have time to get to, CMS security updates, non-working forms, or simply swapping out text, images, and videos.
Many factors will influence the cost of these services. Where can you find the “going rate” for website development, design, and support?
Google the term ‘web designer in [your town/region],” or “web developer in [your town/region],” and you should get websites in your area with pricing. Some developers do not publish pricing because the cost varies by project. But note, too, that cost varies wildly for web design and development. We get many clients who paid almost nothing for a web design, and received nothing in return. When they come to us, we have to start from the beginning. It sometimes breaks my heart that the business owner wasted time, money, and a lot of energy trying to save a few dollars. Then again, you will sometimes find someone who offers a low rate and provides great service, so it’s important to do your homework before making a decision. Don’t be shy about contacting previous clients of the developers under consideration. The clients will tell you about their experience building the website and on-going support.
What are some tips for securing a distinctive domain name for your small business website?
You can 1) use your company name, or 2) use the keywords of your product or service within the domain name. I prefer the second option because one of the factors search engines use to rank websites is based on keywords within the domain name. If your company name includes those keywords already, you get double the benefit. You can also register multiple domain names, and park them on the same hosting account. This makes it easier for you to choose which domain you advertise online and off. Just make sure you choose the best keyword or phrase people are using to find your product or service.
How often should a small business website undergo some “freshening up”—updating information, images, appearance, etc.?
Search engines love active websites that change frequently. A daily update is a good way to go, though that may be too often for most small business owners. An easy thing to do is to add a blog to your website, and make a daily, weekly, or monthly post. Restaurants can post the daily specials, accountants can post about the latest IRS changes, attorneys can post about changes or proposed in business law, and so forth.
When does it make sense for a small business to have a version of its website designed for mobile devices, and why?
Right now is the best time to ensure that your website is mobile-ready. Technology has made it simpler to re-create an existing website into a mobile-ready site. And, 51 percent of consumers are now accessing websites via their smart phones and tablets. This percentage will continue to grow as the mobile market grows. If your website is not mobile-friendly, your prospective customer will go to a site that is.
Are there ways to make a “conventional” website more “friendly” and useful to mobile users?
The best way is to recreate the website so that it is “responsive”—that is, the site will adjust to the screen size of the device your visitor is using. All text, images, and even video will adjust to preserve your website’s professional integrity. If you’re using Wordpress on your own hosting account, it is much easier to update the theme to one that is more responsive. This will save you a lot of time and money, depending on how your website was originally developed.
SCORE client Terry D. Cambridge, Md., asks, “Because the internet is so vast, how do you concentrate on your area of expertise?”
The first thing you must always do when creating or revamping your website is know who your target market is, and address that market within the text, images, and video. There are search engine optimization (SEO) strategies you should implement as well—use proper keywords and phrases, ensure that the message is concise and clear, and give search engines what they are looking for so that they’ll list your website ahead of your competitors. A good web developer will help you with all of this.
Say you have an idea for an app that may be helpful to your current and prospective customers? How do you get started on developing and promoting it?
If you have the time and patience, there are free do-it-yourself app services such as developer.apple.com for Apple devices and developer.android.com for Android devices. To make your life easier, there are also fee-based websites such as appmakr.com, apps-builder.com, appexpress.com, and more. Google the term “app development software” and see the results for more options. If your budget allows, hire an app programmer who will create exactly what you want. Be clear about your project; this will keep development costs down.
As a SCORE mentor, you’ve helped many people start and grow their small businesses. Because the process can sometimes seem daunting—especially when it comes to technology-related issues like websites—what advice or encouragement has proven most effective in helping your clients persevere?
“Overwhelm” is a common word I hear when it comes to all the technology that business owners need to be aware of. My advice is to watch the SCORE LIVE webinars & online workshops at SCORE.org to get educated on them as much as possible. Then, contact a SCORE counselor who can guide you in the direction you need to go.
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