According to a recent study, 63 percent of small businesses don’t have a website. If yours is one of them, you’re missing out on one of the easiest, cheapest and most effective ways to expand your business and increase your income.
I built my first business website in 1997. Over the next 10 years, it went from generating a few hundred dollars a month to hundreds of thousands a year. I also built a website to sell a database of venture capital sources—a companion site to a book I co-authored on the topic. That site produced $40,000 a year in sales with no action required on my part except to answer an occasional e-mail.
It’s not as difficult or as expensive as you may think
You may be more familiar with traditional Yellow Pages or newspaper marketing, and consider an online presence a huge unknown. Or perhaps you recognize the value of a website but worry it will be too expensive or too hard to maintain?
Twenty years after the Internet opened for business, what works and what doesn’t is no longer a mystery. And the skills and technology required to develop a site are widely available and cost less than you might think.
What does it take to get online?
One-stop shops, such as Bordes Design, can quickly set you up to do business online. Or you can do it yourself if you have the time and skill. Either way, you need a few basics.
1. A Web address or URL
Just as every company has a name, every website has a domain name—a Web address or URL. Usually your URL will be the same as your company name, or a variation, but you might decide to use something descriptive for your online presence. Or you might discover your name is already in use by someone else and have to find another.
Wile E. Coyote’s favorite mail order supplier, Acme Corporation, might want to use something more descriptive such as jetpoweredrollerskates.com. On the other hand, Acme is so famous anyone looking for dehydrated boulders or earthquake pills would think first of acme.com, so they might do best to stick with that. Or they could have both and make one forward to the other.
Whatever you do, use a name that ends with .com. If you use something like wizbang.biz, people will assume you’re wizbang.com and end up at your competitor’s site most of the time. You can check on the availability of a URL at places like Network Solutions.
2. A Web host or ISP
The collection of programs, files and pictures that are used to create your website have to “live” in a computer someplace. That means once you have a URL you need an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Such companies have rooms full of computers, called server farms, where they host websites.
These days ISPs are eager to find anything that will differentiate themselves from their competition. So most offer a Web address registration service along with Web hosting, and a surprising array of free software to help you make your site a success.
While all that’s convenient, what you want in a Web host is reliability and good customer support. It can be hugely in expensive If your server goes down, say, right in the middle of holiday buying rush and you can’t reach anyone to fix it.
3. A website
If you know something about computers and enjoy tinkering, you can build a website on your own. WordPress, for example, can be installed by your ISP for free and then you simply configure the site using the built in templates. Or you could develop a site from scratch with a program such as DreamWeaver from Adobe.
If you don’t have the computer knowledge, the inclination or the time to build a site yourself, you can hire a developer to do it for you. We did this when we recently renovated our websites. But buyer beware. Website development is a combination of art and science. There are good artists and there are bad ones. There are good computer scientists and there are bad ones. And there are outright scammers who are neither artists or scientists, just thieves.
One way to find someone to develop a site for you is to use a freelancer from elance.com, odesk.com, vworker.com or similar sites. You describe what you want, people bid on the job, and you select the provider you feel will do the best job for you at the right price.
The best part of using one of the freelance job boards is you can see how other people have graded the work of the providers, so you aren’t hiring the proverbial pig in a poke. Plus the job boards help you properly document the contractor relationship and ensure that you get what you pay for.
A website can be made up of static pages with fixed content that you rarely change. It can be blog that continually offers new content. Or it can be both.
If you have a good website structure to begin with, keeping your website fresh and making minor changes is easy. So, unlike Yellow Pages ads or brochures, you can change product offerings, phone numbers, special offers and other content as frequently as you like.
Obviously, a website developer won’t know anything about your business, your brand, your message or your personal preferences, so you’ll have to provide that. However, you can use print ads, brochures, speeches and even personal photographs to give them what they need.
OK already, how much and how long?
We recently had two sites built for us by HivistaSoft through Elance.com: Undress4Success.com and TeleworkResearchNetwork.com. The work cost us $600 for each site, they were up and running in a couple of weeks, and we can easily maintain them ourselves. To host them, we pay $7.95 a month to DreamHost (for as many sites as we care to put online), plus $9.95 a year for each web address.
If you’re computer savvy and decide to got it on your own, sign up for a Web address and hosting, install WordPress, pick a template and start adding pages, pictures and blog posts. You can probably be online in a couple hours and fully functioning in a week of spare time. Another of our websites, FindingMoneyAdvice.com, is an example of a home-built WordPress site. It doesn’t have the glitz of our new sites, but it does have solid content and a built in shopping cart. It took me two days to do it, mostly editing all the text.
But keep in mind that having a website is just the first step in creating an online business. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come—there are millions of websites. So marketing your site is important.