As someone who has spent the last 5 years making websites professionally, I wrote this for new business owners because I’ve seen how difficult it is to get an affordable small business website that helps grow your business.
By the end of this post, you’ll understand why having your own website is imperative in the 21st century and how to get one that helps you grow your business without breaking the bank.
I’m also writing as a deeply frustrated consumer. I love supporting local businesses but most of the time, using their websites (if they have one) makes me want to pull out what little hair I have left. An effective website is one that serves your customers, not just an art project to show off your business.
Websites Are Hard
So you have a new business. Awesome! You probably know you need a website for your business, but maybe you didn't know that 81% of people research a business online before making a purchase.(1) If you don't have a website, your business may as well not exist for a large percentage of the population.
But if technology isn’t your thing, the thought of building a website or hiring someone to do it for you may be overwhelming and scary. It also takes a lot of time and you’re already busy doing everything else involved in running a business:
- Finding new customers
- Delivering your product or service
- Managing a space if you’re a brick and mortar business
- Hiring and managing employees
- Dealing with accounting and bookkeeping
- Putting out fires
In an informal poll on Twitter, I asked small business owners what keeps them from using their website to more effectively bring in more customers. The top answers were:
- Lack of time
- Not knowing where to start
Experienced entrepreneurs know that doing everything yourself isn’t always the best option. Time is money and if you’re trying to do something that is outside your expertise, you’re likely to take 3–10 times as long as if you had just paid a competent professional, and you’ll probably do a poor job of it.
Not only do you lose the time you could have spent doing something you are good at, you also lose the time you could have been enjoying an effective website and the better results you would most likely get by hiring an expert.
It can be perilous hiring someone for an expertise you know nothing about. The best chance to hire a trustworthy professional is to get recommendations from people you know and hire someone who’s been around the block a few times, but their prices tend to be in line with their experience, i.e. not cheap.
Bootstrapping business owners on a budget have a tendency to be concerned with price above all else. This is a dangerous combination. There’s a long list of ways you can end up in Sadville when you hire cheap designers and developers:
- Not getting what you want (if this is the worst that happens, consider yourself lucky).
- Having your developer disappear midway through a project
- Getting a badly coded site. This may not matter to you until your business grows and you want to start doing more serious marketing and find out your beautiful website is actually useless as a marketing tool.
- Not being able to update your own site.
- Getting a nice looking site that gets no traffic, no leads and no sales.
- Getting hacked if the site isn’t kept up to date.
- Spending too much.
It may seem counterintuitive, but being cheap with your website is a great way to end up spending way more than you intended. The most cost effective way to create a website is to get it done right the first time. This is true of any large scale project, especially if it’s not something you can do yourself. Although the need to respect your budget is real, you should be most concerned with the return you can get on your investment.
Your website deserves to be treated like the always-on, 24/7 sales and marketing tool that it is. You can’t afford to put up a brochure site and expect to stay ahead of your competitors.
If you think I’m being dramatic, let me share a few examples:
Tracy isn't the first person I've met who wasted over $25,000 dollars trying to get it right:
Exhibit B: A photo of my backyard:
It was supposed to be a beautiful garden by now, but after spending a lot of money hiring a landscape designer, we hired a 'cheaper' contractor who was inexperienced and completely unable to follow the plan, even as we pointed out our concerns at every stage of the project. He (wait for it) walked off the job in the middle and now we have to find an experienced, competent professional to fix it, at probably twice the price.
I have rescued too many people from Website Sadville–or worse, been unable to rescue them because they were out of money by the time they came to me.
I hope these stories have primed you to take the rest of my advice seriously so you can avoid the same fate.
The first part of any successful web project is to understand your goals. When someone comes to me with a new project, the first step is to have them fill out the Website Inquiry Form, to determine what a successful project will mean for them.
Among the top questions I ask are:
- Why are we doing this? An e-commerce site has very different needs than a neighborhood coffeeshop.
- Who are we doing this for? Knowing your target audience is key to being able to address their needs.
- What are the reasons your customer will visit your website? To find your hours and menu? Make a purchase?
- Who's going to manage it and what is their level of technical capability? Having a website is great, but if you have to pay someone $50 / hour just to make simple changes, it's going to add up quickly.
- What does success look like? I ask people to imagine 12 months from now, what a successful website will mean to their business. Not having to answer the same questions over and over? 50% more sales? Being able to make changes without calling your developer?
Creating Your Content
This can be one of the most challenging phases for a business owner and the one that is neglected the most. It’s easy to rattle off a list of pages that need to be included, but more challenging to know what to put on those pages to make your website shine. But please believe me when I tell you that this is the most valuable place you can spend your time or money.
If you’re starting out, there are plenty of ways to get a nice looking design but if you add low quality camera phone photos, your site is still going to look amateur. If you’re choosing where to spend your money, some high quality professional photos and a good copywriter will give you the most return on your investment.
The purpose of your website is to give your potential customers the information they need to buy from you.
Choosing a Platform
What platform should you use to build your website? Well that depends.
If you’re running a hobby business and your website really just needs to be a brochure that proves you exist, and you don’t need to integrate with any other services, then one of the easy web builder platforms like Squarespace might work for you.
If you’re serious about building a long-term business, then you should use WordPress. When I make this recommendation to non-technical business owners, I get responses like:
- Squarespace / Wix / Weebly is easier for me to manage
- WordPress is too hard
- I had a bad experience with WordPress
Not once has anyone ever told me that they use those platforms because they’re getting a ton of great results, lots of new leads and customers, have a great mobile experience, or they’re ranking really high in search engines.
I bet you can guess why. Because it’s very difficult to do those things on Wix, Squarespace, or Weebly. If you’ve been successful at anything and you’re serious about succeeding with your business, then I don’t have to tell you that ‘easy’ and ‘success’ don’t make good bedfellows.
There’s a reason that 28% of all sites on the internet run on WordPress. If you choose the wrong platform, you may quickly find yourself running up against their limitations and having to start over.
Drag and drop functionality
Take payments with Stripe
Choose from more than a few dozen templates
Take payments with Paypal
Easily export your content
Create a membership site
Translate your site to another language
Make a copy of the live site to test changes
Advanced control of Search Engine Optimization
Easily find a developer
Add custom functionality with thousands of available plugins
Connect to thousands of 3rd-party services
WordPress is Future Proof
A well built WordPress site can grow with your business for as long as you own it. “Begin as you mean to go on,” is a phrase that I have lived by since before I started my business, but it serves especially well as a mantra for business owners. In your heart, you know that just slapping something together now is going to make future you a sad panda indeed, so just do things right the first time.
WordPress is Flexible
With literally hundreds of thousands of themes and plugins, your baby WordPress site can be made to fill just about any need you can think of. Sure, maybe you don’t need e-commerce on your website NOW, but if you wait until that amazing expansion opportunity comes along and then find out your Squarespace site won’t cut it and you have to start over, you’re going to be sad and frustrated.
Be ready before you need to be. Begin as you mean to go on.
WordPress is Yours
The trend for people to build their entire online platform in digital spaces they do not own and have no control over, is one of the most frustrating and shortsighted trends in the online business world.
If you’re building a content empire on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or hosted website platforms, you’re doing it for someone else. Social media is a great addition to your online strategy, but if you don’t have a hub that is yours, you may as well be building a castle on rented land.
The recent flap over Patreon’s proposed new fee system is a great example of the hazards of building your income on platforms that you don’t own.
When you use WordPress, even the hosted version of wordpress.com, your content is owned by you. You can easily export it, change the design, or do whatever you like.
WordPress Plays Well With Others
Because it is so ubiquitous, just about every major service you may want to use with your business will integrate with WordPress. Payment processors, inventory management, customer relationship managers, and so much more.
WordPress Helps You Get Found Online
WordPress is SEO friendly out of the box, which makes it easier for you to get your content found. You have fine-grained control over how your content shows up in search results or social media posts, that you don't get with other website builder platforms.
WordPress Will Grow With Your Business
You can start out with a very basic site, but if the times comes, you can create advanced functionality. And you don’t have to do it alone. Finding a skilled developer to help you will be vastly easier with WordPress. Codeable is a great site for finding vetted development help. If you want a more personal recommendation, contact our client services business, Karvel Digital. If we can’t help, I’ve got over 700 WordPress professionals on speed dial and can most likely connect you with the right person.
WordPress is Secure
Yeah, I know what you heard. But your house is only secure if you don’t leave for days on end with all the doors and windows wide open. We live in a dangerous world and we adjust in a million different ways to mitigate those dangers:
- Locking doors
- Using crosswalks
- Wearing seat belts
Keeping your website safe is as simple as using a reputable web host and keeping your WordPress site up-to-date.
Now that we’ve settled that score, let’s talk about…
How do you manage your passwords right now? All in your head? Sticky notes? A spreadsheet? At this point I’ve seen it all, including people who still have ‘password’ as part of their actual password.
If any of the methods above apply to you, it’s time to up your game. Having a website means even more login credentials in your life. Some you'll only use when you set up your accounts. For others, you may log in daily. You will also need to share your passwords with any tech professionals or virtual assistant you hire. In an ideal world, you will also change your password once you stop working with someone.
I’m sure it’s not news to you that you need strong, unique passwords for every account. These are your business assets. Think about what it would cost you to have them compromised because you couldn’t be bothered to stop using your pet’s name as your password.
A good password manager will solve all the problems mentioned above and make it easy for you to securely share your passwords with other people.
My favorite tool for this is 1Password, but many people use and love LastPass as well. The point is, get something in place now before you start creating even more accounts.
It’s finally time to create your website! If budget constraints require that you do this yourself, at least download my recommended tools and save yourself hours of internet searching and overwhelm about which themes and plugins to use.
If you’ve hired someone to create your site, make sure they’re doing it with your business goals in mind, and creating something that’s focused on giving your audience what they need to buy from you.
Ask up front about whether you’ll be able to manage the site yourself if that’s one of your goals. Many developers are code geeks who love using the latest complex frameworks, and don’t think about your needs as the owner and day to day manager of the site.
A flexible website is better than a custom-coded one that’s hard to change.
- Have you spell checked your content?
- Removed those placeholder images and given the real ones meaningful names?
- Had someone look through your site who haven't been obsessively staring at it for weeks?
- Checked those social media URLs?
- Setup your newsletter opt-in form?
- Setup Google Analytics?
Great! Time to flip the switch and launch your new baby to the world.
Promoting Your New Site
Oh you built and they didn’t come running? Yeah, that happens. It’s crowded out in these internet streets so you’ll need a plan to bring people to your new site. Most designers and developers are not marketers and so marketing gets tacked on at the last minute after launch.
This is a very common mistake, and a costly one. The solution is to understand that the purpose of your website is to be a marketing tool. You need to think of it that way from the beginning and make decisions that support how it will fit into your overall marketing plan.
Create a plan for marketing your new website before you build it.
That may mean hiring a marketer, getting a consulting session, or just making sure that your developer builds something that’s easy for you to manage so you can try different strategies over time.
Do you have a car or a bicycle? Do you maintain that vehicle so that it will keep carrying you where you want to go?
You must do the same with your website. The set it and forget it days went out with the last century.
There are two things you can do to get this off your plate so you don’t have to think about it:
- Choose a good web host. This is the foundation of your site so if you want it to be fast and secure, this is a must. I like Flywheel.
- Hire a maintenance company to manage updating and monitoring your site. I recommend GoWP. They’ll also do unlimited 30-minute small tasks. You send one email per task and it's generally completed within 1 business day. Their team has over 30 years combined WordPress experience. There's not much they haven't seen before and they can do a lot in 30 minutes.
Avoid These Common DIY WordPress Mistakes
Choosing the Wrong Theme for the Wrong Reasons
In general, avoid free themes and themes from marketplaces like Theme Forest. They may look pretty, but they're often badly coded, filled with too many features (theme bloat) and there's no way for you to tell the difference.
I have one exception to the free theme rule. The Astra theme from the team at Brainstorm Force is an excellent, light weight, fast, and flexible theme that is easy to configure and works with any page builder plugin. Combined with their Astra Sites plugin (also free), you can get a giant head start creating your site and have a workable site in days or weeks.
I don't recommend Divi from Elegant Themes. Although it's very popular, and you can create beautiful sites with it, the way it's coded makes it time consuming and costly to change to a new theme in the future.
Newbies tend to spend hours searching through theme sites, get overwhelmed, decide on one that looks nice and then try to shove their content into and wonder why it doesn't look right. There is more to choosing a theme than looks! It's far better to go with a good framework and page builder that will give you lots of control over the look and layout so you can customize it for your needs.
That $5 / month hosting sounds so good, until you realize your site is slow as molasses, customer service sucks and you end up hacked with the company saying you're on your own to fix it. Meanwhile every minute your site is down, you're losing leads and customers.
No Backup or Maintenance Plan
As I mentioned above, the easiest way to keep your site safe is to keep it updated and backed up regularly. A good web host will do both.
If you get nothing else from this post, I hope you’ve come to see the potential of your website as a tool to grow your business. It deserves to be treated as an employee that can promote your business 24/7, not just another item to be crossed off your already long to-do list.
Done well, your website can bring you more revenue AND more time. That’s something every busy entrepreneur can use.
Ready for a New Website?
Now that you understand the value and potential of a well-built website, you may be feeling overwhelmed by all the steps. But getting your new website live is easier than you think. Watch me create and launch a new site in under an hour.