marketingSmall Business

Does Your Small Business Need a Website?

If you want to maximize the growth of your company, the answer to this question is YES! We are now living in a new age and large numbers of consumers gravitate to the Internet for information about everything from building a log cabin or finding the best local salon to get their hair colored at, to looking up the menu of the restaurant down the street .

For years, consumers relied on the yellow pages to find local businesses. Today’s consumer goes to an Internet search engine, types in what they are looking for, and receives back a list of companies vying for their business. In today’s world, not having a website is like not being listed in the telephone book. A website provides added visibility and credibility among consumers.

Many business owners use the excuse that their business is “word-of-mouth,” and they they do not need a website. Do not be fooled by this myth! Sure, you may be able to get by with the customers who call from your “word-of-mouth” campaign, but without a website, you are not maximizing the efforts of the people out on the street trumpeting your name. A great way to reinforce the personal recommendations of other clients is through a professional looking website. Even word-of-mouth customers want to check you out before committing their money to your firm.

Another common excuse that business owners use is that the cost is prohibitive. If done properly, even a basic one page ‘business card” website may be the most cost effective advertising you will ever do. If you are ambitious, and your business model lends itself to Internet commerce, you should aim to not only cover the cost of your website, but develop it to be a source of revenue for your business.

A website can allow your company to:
Increase product awareness,
Provide customer service and/or support,
Keep your customer base informed,
Sell your products,
Generate and qualify leads,
Gather feedback,
Expand your distribution and customer base,
Compete with Big Business.

The basic elements you are going to need to get your website started are a domain name and a hosting company. There are many companies out there, and I have used several in the past. Choose a hosting service based not only on it’s price but on their customer service level. I have used several in the past and I am currently migrating all of my Internet activity to GoDaddy.com. I do not know if they are the best, but compared to the other companies I have dealt with, their customer service is phenomenal – and it is 24/7/365.

Your next decision is whether you want to design the site yourself through a site builder solution or to have it professionally designed. The fastest way to get up and running is a site builder solution. These are available through most hosting companies. You can usually have a basic site up and running within a day of signing up. The downside to these is that they are not very flexible, they do not look as professional, and they can be much costlier over the long term. Usually with these solutions, you pay a monthly fee that can range from $5 to $50 (or more) depending upon the complexity of your site to use the site builder solution.

The route that I prefer now is to have the website professionally designed and to have a Content Management System (CMS) installed on the hosting server. The CMS allows you to edit the content as you desire without the help of the designers and web professionals. In short, the CMS is very similar to the site builder solution above; except that it does require you to may a repetitive monthly fee.

The cost to have your site custom designed can range greatly. For your basic small business website, you can get a professional site designed from between $250 and $400 if you search out web designers on services such as oDesk.com or Elance.com. For this rate, you will likely get a professional design firm from India that will create the entire website and uploaded it onto your hosting server for you. The downside is that it will be more difficult to communicate due to time zone and cultural differences. You can expect to pay roughly $750 to $1,500 for someone in the United States to perform the same work as someone in India. The advantage is that you will be able to communicate much more easily which may be a big advantage if this is your first endeavor into the world of website design. For your basic small business website, you should be able to get all of this work completed within two to three weeks.

Once your site is designed, you are off and running. Unless you want to hire a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist, you will need to learn some basic information about how search engines work and how to get your website to the first page of the search results. Depending upon your business, this could be extremely easy to do, or it could be very difficult and time consuming.

Regardless of the method you choose to get your web site up and running, you will surely have an added since of visibility and credibility once you do. As I previously stated, if you want to maximize your growth potential, you need a web site. If you have a true desire to achieve more for your business, a web site must be a part of your marketing strategy.