Sooner or later, any small business or entrepreneur faces the challenge of building a website. Some will procrastinate and become “late adopters,” but pressure from the competition will become pretty intense and catching up all the more difficult.
As a web designer with almost 20 years of experience working with business people, I understand the thought process business people must go through even before they decide to call someone like me. They ask themselves:
- Should I try to build the site myself or work with a professional?
- What development software is best for my needs?
- What are my budget constraints?
Do it yourself or work with a professional
At first glance, the do-it-yourself solution seems the best choice. The only real investment is your time, right?
Not really. As a busy professional, you already wear several hats and don’t need to take on another task. And without a basic knowledge of how to select and implement the right development solution, you risk making a bad choice and going down the wrong path. Worse yet, the process can be overwhelming and prevent you from giving your business the powerful online presence it deserves.
So how does a small business level the playing field and compete with competitors that might have more human and technical resources?
Begin by writing down a list of simple, basic requirements for your site.
- A logo and web design that is memorable. Branding your business effectively is key and the logo is a critical part of how your business is perceived.
- A content management system (CMS) that’s easy to use.
- A navigation system that at the very least has pages that describe your mission/history, products and/or services, and a contact form for feedback.
- Features/functions like a blog, shopping cart, forum, etc. to achieve specific marketing goals.
- Social media strategies to drive followers to the website. Think of the new site as a “sales funnel” to capture leads and sales, a store with a shopping cart, or an online disseminator of information.
At this point, it’s a good idea to talk to a web professional about your goals and options. Don’t be convinced that the best solution necessarily has a large price tag.
What development software is the best choice?
Armed with your list of requirements, you’re ready for the next step: choosing how the site should be built; i.e., the development solution that works best for your needs.
The options can be broken into three categories:
- Website Builders – Online programs for creating websites without any knowledge of coding. Although not as well-known as the other options, using an online site builder like Weebly.com, Wix.com or Web.com offers a fast, easy, and cost-effective way to publish a simple website with five or fewer pages. All of these choices offer an upgrade to premium features such as more pages, templates, a shopping cart, and more.
- WordPress – open-source blogging tool and CMS. For those more technically minded, configuring a WordPress template is a viable choice. There are more than 10,000 themes available—some free, some at nominal cost.
- Professional Developer – A professional website developer with technical skills. Working with a developer may be necessary if there’s code tweaking required. The other two options are somewhat “generic” because each offers pre-defined templates (or themes) to simplify site design. But if you need to add a lot of custom code, then working with a programmer is necessary. It all depends upon what’s needed as well as how much you trust that person.
For “beginner” small business websites with simple needs, the obvious choice is to explore a Website Builder.
What are my budget options?
Before Website Builder software, the cost of building a website from scratch was a serious obstacle for small business and entrepreneurs. Fortunately, that situation has changed for the better.
Following is a rough idea of how costs break out in November 2014 for the three options described above:
- Website Builders – Weebly.com and Wix.com have a free option for all websites. Weebly.com offers up to five pages free with an anytime money-back guarantee; adding pages costs only about $3 a month. Additional plug-ins—including a shopping cart—are available. Costs range between $48-$360 a year. (If you need help getting started, be assured that working with a Website Builder consultant will cost a fraction of the value of the other options.)
- WordPress –A WordPress site averages at least $100 per year, plus any additional special programming needed at a cost of $75/$125 per hour. In addition, because WordPress site code frequently “breaks” when updating the software and plug-ins, a maintenance contract with a php programmer is probably a good idea.
- Professional Developer – Programming/Design costs range between $2,000-$30,000. Corporate sites easily spend towards the high end and frequently attempt to attract that special talent to write custom code and handle maintenance/technical support.
If you’re still uncertain about how to proceed, review your list of requirements. Then contact a reputable web designer with experience in working with small businesses. Discuss your needs. Tip: Don’t even consider handing the job over to your teenaged son or uncle who says he’s a “web expert.” You can get a professional-looking website at an affordable price without having to entrust your online business presence to an amateur.
If you decide to consult a professional to help implement a Website Builder solution, remember that the simpler the solution, the lower your cost. You may not have the knowledge or time to do everything yourself, but be assured that the extra (minimal) cost for asking for a little outside help will outweigh your level of frustration and lost time.
It pays to be informed about your site development options. That way, you don’t pay for a more expensive development package you didn’t need in the first place.