If you have a small business or plan to start one, there are many reasons to have a website for it. Perhaps the most important: a professional-looking website lends credibility to your work. So it can help you find and keep clients, customers and even partners. People are more likely to develop a relationship with companies whose websites are easy to navigate and find information.
Here are six steps to building a successful website for your small business
1. Make an outline of what you want from your site. Your website’s structure and design will depend largely on the type of company you run. An e-commerce business needs different tools than a restaurant owner or another type of service provider. Your website should also clearly state your mission — what you do — so visitors know exactly what to expect when they land on it.
Think about your own internet browsing experiences and the kinds of websites that tend to hold your attention.
2. Buy your domain name. This is your URL that users type into Google’s address bar. In most cases, you’ll want to register a URL that matches your business’s name, but sometimes this won’t be available.
If that’s the case, you have a couple of options. You can choose a domain name that’s descriptive of your business or you can explore a .net or .biz alternative.
From a customer perspective, it’s helpful to have a URL that’s easy to remember and not too long. It can also help to include in the URL words or phrases potential customers might be searching for, such as the name of your town or a keyword from your industry.
You can purchase a domain name through a hosting platform (more on hosting momentarily) like Squarespace if you’re also using the company to design your site. Or you can go through a service like Namecheap, GoDaddy or Google Domains if you’re not quite ready to commit to a host. Even if you register a domain through one service, you can still connect it to another web hosting and design platform.
Domain registration is included with Squarespace hosting plans or you can pay $20 to $50 to purchase your domain by itself. Namecheap charges from under $1 to nearly $70. GoDaddy and Google Domains also have a varied price structure based on which top-level domain you choose — anything from .com to .biz to .football.
3. Find a hosting platform. First, a brief explanation of website hosting: A hosting company provides the server space that stores your content and streams it to internet users. Your site has to live somewhere, and that’s where web hosting services come in.
There are many user-friendly, non-techy tools for hosting and building websites. Most are template-based, so all you have to do is plug in your information and hit publish.
If you’re just starting out and need a website simply to provide information to prospective clients, platforms like Squarespace offer a good mix of structure and flexibility. If you run or plan to run an e-commerce site with an online store, Shopify is a beginner-friendly platform.
“In terms of ease in selecting a starting template and customizing it with the help of their platform and knowledge base, Squarespace and Shopify are easily the best two options when it comes to DIY small business websites,” says Jordan Gilman, founder and creative director of UNFRAMEDCreative, a branding and strategy agency.
If you’re a tech-savvy business owner who wants a little bit more control over the design and functionality of your site, or if you expect to build out a lot of content that will get a ton of traffic, another option is to go with a self-hosted platform like WordPress. In this case, you’ll need a separate, and more powerful, web hosting plan with a company that specializes in small business sites.
You generally pay for hosting month-to-month or annually; the latter is a lump sum upfront but costs less overall. Most platforms offer several plan levels with increasingly robust features, particularly around e-commerce functionality, so you can pick exactly what you need.
Squarespace, for example, charges $12 a month (billed annually) for a simple, personal website and $18 monthly (billed annually) for a business site with additional features like e-commerce and dedicated email addresses. If you prefer month-to-month billing, you’ll pay $16 and $26, respectively. Shopify’s plans range from $29 per month to $299 per month, with a 10% discount for annual plans. Self-hosted WordPress.org is free, but you’ll have to pay for hosting through a third party.
4. Get creative with your design. Once you have the foundation for your site, you can start working on the fun stuff: design. Most beginner-friendly hosting platforms have templates that let you enter your information, upload images and hit publish. Squarespace, for example, has templates for everything from artist portfolios to e-commerce stores. You can also use this opportunity to refine your branding with a new logo, fresh photography or an updated mission statement.
5. Include important information. Your website should make it as easy as possible for visitors to find the information they’re looking for — and to turn them into customers. Gilman recommends including a few key categories:
- Your brand or business name and logo
- What services or products you offer
- An “About Us” page or section, especially if your business is family-owned. “People love to have that intimate touch and feel like they know the people they are going to go to for services or products,” Gilman says.
- Contact information, including your company’s phone number, email address and physical location
- Social media links
Depending on your business, you might also post prices, menus,and user reviews or testimonials.
6. Market and maintain it. Although web hosting platforms make it easy to set it and forget it, you should stay actively involved in your website’s development. Update your operating hours and prices, add new services as they come up and continue to tell your business’s story through a blog or social media posts.
While it may be helpful to look at existing sites for inspiration, know that yours will be unique. Start small, and stay focused on the specific needs of your business.
“There are a lot of options out there, and the right choice very much depends on the situation and objectives,” says Marcus Miller, head of digital marketing at Bowler Hat, a U.K.-based agency. “The most important thing that any small business can do is educate themselves so they can make an informed decision.”
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