How Important is a Website?

How important is a website for my new small business?

Some of you may find yourself asking, “How important is a website for my new small business?” If you’ve just launched your business, or if you’re planning to, you may have friends and advisors telling you that you “must” have a website. But why? And how do you go about doing it? What should it look like? Let me give you a roadmap that may help.

Start Here: Take a long, hard look at your business goals

Having a website just because “everyone has one” or because “a friend told me so” is not the best idea. Websites can be costly, especially when most of your budget should be going to building and developing your offering and other necessary business costs in the early days of your businesses. Understanding your business goals is a key to answering whether you’ll need a website right away, or if it can wait.

Ask these questions:

  • What is the purpose of my business? Are you selling a product, offering a service, providing content, or something else? Some types of businesses absolutely require a website, for example if you plan on selling a product but only through e-commerce. Or if you want to start an online magazine. On the other hand, some businesses could get going without a website. Usually these rely heavily on word of mouth, like being a music teacher, or handyman (though even these businesses could benefit from digital media marketing of other sorts).
  • How big of a market can I handle at this point? Some business owners I’ve spoken to can’t handle more than 1 or 2 customers at any given moment. They’re not looking for mass reach, but just for enough customers to sustain a business that they are doing on the side of their regular job. These kinds of businesses may not need a website right away.
  • How will people be finding out about me? If one of your marketing tactics is to advertise, then a website would be an important place to drive people once they see a billboard or click through an online ad. This ties into the next question.
  • Will my customers need to easily access more information about my business? If your business requires explanation about your services, opening hours, ways to locate you, etc., then a website would be a good place to host all that information for your customers to find, instead of having to always contact you directly to ask for that information. Which leads us to Step 2.

Step 2: Think about what you want to present your customers on your website

Many businesses make the mistake of wanting a website that is cool, trendy, or flashy, before they even think about the needs of the customer, why they’re visiting the website, and what information needs to be readily available for them. Understanding the content you should offer and being able to prioritize it in order of importance is the foundation to determining the magnitude and breadth of the website you’ll need. Some may even find that they only really need one simple homepage to get all the key points across.

Ask these questions:

  • Why would customers come to my site? There’s a great Oatmeal comic that satirizes many restaurant websites. Make sure you’re not making it difficult for customers to quickly and easily access the information that would be most pertinent to them. For restaurants, for example, this often is as simple as location, opening hours, menu, and a way to make a reservation.
  • What do I want them to know and do? Hand in hand with the question above, it’s helpful to write down the main goals you have for your site. Is it to get customers to contact you? Or to read a certain article about why your service is superior to others? Then those things ought to be prominent and clear on the site.

Step 3: Determine what is possible in terms of website scope and budget

Nowadays, there are many ways to get a website for your business. You could build it all yourself for “free” with really cool and simple web-building tools like Wix and Squarespace. These tend not to offer much customization but they are easy to use for people who don’t know much about web design. On the other end of the spectrum in both scope and budget, you could hire a web design and development agency to do a full website, coding it from the ground up. Or you could hire someone like me, where I can combine the WordPress content management system, a paid WordPress theme and then additional coding and customization to give you somewhere in the middle of the spectrum in scope and budget.

Ask these questions:

  • Do I have the time and do I feel comfortable creating my own website for free? If you are up for it, I think it’s great to create your own website. If you’re already equipped with some design or web skills, this may be an easy task for you. And of course, it is the least costly. As I mentioned above, there are tools that offer hosting and a site template for almost no cost. (But be careful to read the fine print because many of the sites that advertise as being “free” will serve ads on your website unless you sign up for their premium plans that come at a monthly fee). You’ll also need to take time to do it. This could be as little as a day up to weeks, depending on the speed at which you work.
  • Is my concept for the website complex? Would it require a custom database? If your product is going to be the website itself, for example, if you’re starting an online magazine or your idea is to create a social media network, you will likely need a 100% customized web experience. Working with a web design & development company would probably be your best bet because they can build you a custom database as well as design a fully tailored front end user experience. Agency costs can range widely, but they do come at a premium.
  • What is necessary and what is “nice to have”? List out the content and features you’d like on the website that are necessary at launch and the ones that would be nice to have but not necessary. For example, a way to contact you is necessary, but a blog may be something you could add later. Knowing what you can save to work on later will help you keep you on a tight budget and scope. The great thing about websites is that if you’ve built a good foundation, you can always add to it or change it later.

Step 4: Do your research

Look at your competitors’ sites. Look at the portfolios of people or companies you may want to use to build your site. Ask them for proposals. It never hurts to type a few related keywords into Google and see what turns up. Talk to other friends who have started small businesses and see what they’ve done and who they’ve worked with.

Ask these questions:

  • What do I like about my competitors’ sites? What don’t I like? Knowing this will help you communicate the type of website you’re looking for, and see if you’re missing any key information or features.
  • What am I looking for if I work with a web designer or web design company? After looking at portfolios and finding people who seem to be professional, chat with them and see if their work ethic and personality would match yours. You’ll be working with them on a big project and potentially using them continuously in the future to maintain and update. Do they seem responsive and keen? Are they asking about your goals for your business, and the way you want your website to look & feel? They should take your business and input seriously.

Step 5: Find what works for you

After going through Steps 1-4, you should be ready to move forward with a decision. The great thing about being a small, nimble business is that you usually have a definitive budget and you can move quickly.

The most important thing through all this is to communicate. Make sure that the person or company you work with is clear in their scope of what they are doing for you.

Questions to ask them:

  • What is their process? How many rounds of drafts and feedbacks will they provide you?
  • Will they be coding the site from the ground up or will they be using other tools (like WordPress, a theme, etc.)?
  • What is their timeline?
  • Will they help you find images if you don’t have any?
  • Is web hosting, domain purchase, stock photo purchase included in the cost? Are there other costs they foresee would be added onto their price they quote you?
  • How much is their rate if you need additional work done?
  • Will you be able to update your own content or will you have to reach out to them every time you need something changed?
  • How much do they charge for maintenance?
  • Will they be creating a site that is responsive (mobile-ready)?

At First Days Digital, we feel that every small business should be able to have a website that works for their business goals and  needs. So don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions. We’d be happy to chat!

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