Category: Website tips

‘Help, I need a website!’ What you need to do to get your small business online

This post is for: solopreneurs, freelancers, consultants, owners of start-ups, and anyone else who needs a website and isn’t sure exactly what’s involved or where to start

We received a question recently from a small business owner asking us to “describe at a high-level the steps needed to create a personal website, by breaking them down into ‘must do’, ‘can do’ and ‘might do’ from the customer’s perspective.”  Here’s what we normally tell clients who say they need a new website:

Steps needed to create a new small business website

Must do, at the planning stage:

  • Decide what you want your website to do for you. What purpose do you want it to serve? What do you want it to tell, or to show, or to do for your visitors? The clearer you are about this, the higher the likelihood that you’ll get the website you want.
  • Determine your main menu. This will help you immensely in figuring out what information you want to offer on your site, and what the most important topics and sub-topics are.
  • Decide on the domain name you want. When people look up your website, what “www” address do you want them to type in? This will usually be based on your company name.
Planning is crucial ... but it  doesn't have to be pretty!

Planning is crucial … but it doesn’t have to be pretty!

Must do, at the building stage:

  • Register your domain name. This is done by visiting the website of a domain name registrar like Hover or Gandi (two that I prefer, though there are many others also). There, you can check if your desired domain name is available, and register (i.e., purchase) it if it is. The cost is about $15-20 per year, usually with discounts if you register it for more than one year (which is a good idea, both for convenience and for SEO purposes).
  • Find a hosting company to host your website. All websites need a host, which is (usually) a company with a server where you can upload all of the files that make up your website, and where people will find your site when they type in your new domain name in their web browser. Finding a good hosting company can be a bit daunting because there are so many to choose from, so it’s often a good idea to ask friends or business partners for a recommendation. For most new small business websites, “Shared Hosting” is all you’ll need for starters, and you can expect to pay somewhere around $10/month.
  • Prepare all of the content (words and images) for your site. Now that you know your menu structure (see above), you need to write all of the content for each page that you plan to have on your site. You also need to collect all of your photos and graphics and other content (e.g., PDF versions of your brochures, videos).  You’ll get your site up more quickly, and keep web design costs down, by preparing as much of your site’s content yourself as possible.
  • Determine your business’ branding elements. Do you have a logo? Company colours? A preferred font? All of these branding elements need to be decided beforehand, because your website should look like it belongs to the same company as your brochures, ads, business cards and stationery.
  • Decide on the “look” that you want for your site. Have you seen any websites that you like, and want yours to look like? Not exactly of course, but with the same feel or style? Make a note of the URLs and pass them on to your web designer, who will benefit greatly from knowing that you’re going for a look that’s either friendly, modern, retro, corporate, artistic, minimal, or something else altogether!
  • Find a tool or a company to design your website. How you get your website built will depend on your time, your budget and your comfort level with the technologies required. If you’re inclinded towards geekiness and you have the time, you can use tools like WordPress or ExpressionEngine or Wix or Webydo or SquareSpace, to name just a few, to build it all yourself. All of these tools promise an almost effortless path to getting a website, but in fact, going this route will almost certainly take longer, and be more frustrating, and require more compromises in what you can achieve, than you’d expect from reading their marketing material.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re great tools for some scenarios, but we’ve had more than one client tell us that they gave up trying to figure out how to get the website results they wanted using one of these DIY tools. The better alternative, especially if you’re pressed for time, is to hire a web design company to create your site.  And here, I won’t even pretend to be unbiased because if you have a small business and you want a clean, professional new website, you should definitely hire Best Light to build it for you!

Should do, pre-launch:

  • Check the progress of the being-built site regularly. Hopefully your designer will post a non-public work-in-progress that you can visit as it’s being built. This is a good way to catch errors or misdirected efforts early, before they become too ensconced.
  • Determine and include your desired SEO keywords. Search engine optimization can be a whole big project on its own, but you can lay great “findability” foundations for your new site by knowing what main keywords you’d like people to be able to find you with, when they type those search terms into Google. Pick one main keyword or phrase per web page, and get your web designer to ensure that it appears on all of the important parts of the page’s content and code (e.g., article heading, page title, URL, main content area, etc.).
  • Test everything before you launch. Have a look, and invite others as well, to make sure nothing’s missing or broken or incorrect on the site before it goes live. Are there spelling mistakes? Is everything lined up correctly? Do the menu links all work? Is there a favicon for the site? Does the contact form work? Basically, look at the proposed site with a critical eye to try to find any mistakes before your visitors do!

Might do, to further improve the site:

  • Consider adding enhancements to the site. Adding things like embedded videos that you’ve filmed, a newsletter sign-up, a blog area, or a photo slideshow can really improve your visitors’ experience of your site. These can be added after you launch – a website should be flexible, not static.
  • Add social media links. Social media marketing is another whole area, but for starters, pick the one medium that fits best with your style of communicating – whether that’s Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or Pinterest or Tumblr – and start using it to send updates out to your audience.  And then make sure the link to that feed appears on your website.
  • Have a plan for updating your site regularly. Don’t just build it and leave it – use your new website as an ongoing report of what’s new with your company. Keep adding new products, services and news as you create it. To do so, you should have an arrangement (either informal or formal) with a web designer that’s always available and can make changes to your site quickly. Of course, once again I’m biased towards recommending our own web maintenance services. We’re very accommodating, quick to respond, and we purposefully clock our maintenance time in 15-minute increments to reassure our clients that they don’t have to wait until they need major changes on their site before they contact us. We want to make it easy and affordable for them to email or call us anytime with a quick “Hey, can you change this on my site?”

Getting your new venture’s website online is a big topic with lots of details to attend to, and no checklist could ever be comprehensive. Nevertheless, I hope the above steps give you a good idea of the main points that need to be addressed when you want a new business, blog or personal website. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask, using either the Comments area below, or the contact form on our home page.

This post was written by: Frank Herr

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