In today’s world, we expect businesses and organizations to have a website - even small businesses. Small business owners may feel overwhelmed and not know where to begin this process, especially early on when they’re focused on building the business from the ground up and trying to keep costs low.
The following is a bird’s eye view of what it takes to start a website for the non-technical business owner. Questions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cost: Free to start
What should actually be on your website? Content can include text, links, images, videos, etc… Social media can also be integrated if you have active accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
What information will visitors be looking for? What questions will they have? What can you tell them about your business so they understand how awesome you are?
What actions, if any, should visitors be able to take from your site? Will they need to complete a contact form, sign up for services, make a purchase, or request information?
If you’re stuck for ideas, check out competitor’s sites for inspiration. In fact, check them out either way. You’ll get some good ideas and maybe learn a little more about what you want to include or avoid.
A lot of your content can probably be written on your own for free, but you may need to hire a graphic designer to create a professional logo. You may also need to hire a photographer or purchase a license for images you want to use.
2. Domain Name
Cost: Under $20 per year in most cases
This will be your address on the web: www.myawesomebusiness.com. Give it some thought. Short and memorable are good. You can visit Name.com to see if your choice is available, explore different possibilities, and ultimately register your domain.
Registering your domain name gives you the exclusive right to use it. Like phone numbers, domain names must be unique and must be assigned to one and only one person. There are a lot of domain name registrars out there, but I personally like using Name.com. Their prices are competitive, they have great customer service, and they provide straight-forward tools for managing domains without stacking extra fees on top.
Cost: Depends on site type and traffic
A hosting service provides a home for your website’s code and serves it up whenever someone requests your domain from their browser. Whether they type www.myawesomebusiness.com into their address bar or hit a link in the search results, the browser will send a request out to the hosting service, and the hosting service will send back your website.
There are many hosting services out there. The best one for your business will depend on a number of factors, including the type of site you’ll have, the amount of traffic you expect to receive, and the amount of technical support you need the hosting service to provide.
In general, you can expect monthly hosting costs to be in this ballpark:
- $5 and up for basic sites
- $20 and up for most web applications, including WordPress
Cost: Depends on site type
Development is the process of turning that wonderful content into code. There are do-it-yourself options that are worth exploring. There’s also a great deal of benefit in working with a professional web developer.
Do It Yourself
If you want to DIY a basic website, Wix is a popular option that lets you get started for free. Google Sites is another possibility, with costs starting at $5/month and including an email address linked to your domain name. Both of these services also provide hosting for your site, so you don’t have to set up a separate hosting account.
If you’re looking for a DIY platform that includes a blog, Wordpress.com has long been a popular choice. Hosting here with a custom domain name runs about $99 per year. For eCommerce sites (web sites that sell products online), Shopify and Squarespace are popular choices. Weebly also offers options for basic sites, blog sites, and eCommerce.
All of these DIY options provide templates you can use to build your site, and no coding is required. They also host your site, so you don’t have to set up hosting separately or figure out how to upload your site to a hosting server. Most have free tiers or provide a free trial and provide additional services and options for fees that start around $8 per month and go up from there.
Work with a Pro
With so many advantages to DIY, why would you ever want to hire a professional?!?
Well…it depends on what you’re looking for. All templates and DIY services are going to be more limited in the level of customization they can offer. It’s often easy to spot a website that was developed using a template because things just don’t quite flow naturally. Custom websites tend to look more polished and professional. Some platforms also offer advanced customization options for people who know how to code, so a professional could help you make your WordPress or Squarespace site a little more uniquely you.
Building and hosting a site on the same platform is an advantage at the beginning, but it also makes it harder to make changes and grow over time. You might find a great tool later that you want to integrate, but the platform doesn’t support it. This happened recently to a friend building a web site for a real estate brokerage on WordPress.com. The platform couldn’t support a critical plugin he needed, so he had to start again with a custom WordPress installation on another hosting service.
A good professional will listen to your needs, learn about your business, and help you determine the best approach for you. They can recommend tools and services to accomplish your goals while keeping costs as low as possible. They’ll also be familiar with best practices for optimizing your site so it runs fast and looks great on all devices. And they can do all of this while you focus on what you do best - your business. Hiring a developer isn’t cheap, but it can save a lot of time, money, and headaches in the long run.
5. Deployment and Maintenance
“Deployment” is the process of getting your website up and running on your domain name. Your code and any other assets such as images and logos will need to be uploaded to the hosting service (unless you’re using a platform like Wix or WordPress.com). Depending on the type of site, you might need a database set up on the hosting service and connected to your website. You’ll also need to “point” your domain name to your site’s location on the hosting service.
This is another time when working with a professional can make things much faster and simpler, but you can also do it yourself if you’re pretty computer-savvy. Good domain name registrars and hosting services will provide good documentation online that explains the steps.
“Maintenance” can include making updates and changes to both the content and the tools used in your website. WordPress sites need frequent updates, though many of these can be automated. A basic website will probably have low maintenance needs except when you want to change the content.
If you’re building your own site, keep an eye out for documentation that will explain how to perform these tasks. If you’re working with a professional, be sure that deployment is included in your contract, and visit with them about options for handling maintenance.
Setting up a professional online presence is a crucial step for businesses today. Start by brainstorming what you’d like to have on your website and writing down ideas for content. Have fun exploring domain names and finding a great one for your business. When you’re ready, take a little time to explore DIY options or reach out to a professional in your area for a consultation. The process might be daunting, but you will feel fantastic when that site is up and running, and you can point friends, family, and potential customers to your corner of the web.