Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How to build a small business website for less

Summary: This series is intended for small business owners who want to establish web presence on a limited budget.
Say, you are a small business owner operating a local bakery. Or maybe you are an accountant. Maybe you manage an auto shop. Or work as a general contractor. You would like to have a website, but think it will cost you too much. Or maybe you just don't know how to start. Worry not: you can build a website yourself (or with little help). And you can do it on the cheap. And it does not have to be bad. In fact, it can be better than an average small business site you find now on the web. In this series, I'll tell you how you can do it.

First, let me set the expectations. This series is not about building the next Amazon.com. A website I have in mind will not get you design awards. It is also not intended for businesses operating primarily online, such as online stores. The idea is to make a basic site with a handful of static pages, which will expose your business to the internet.

Before we start, let me answer a few questions that small business owners often ask:
  • Do I need a website?
    For majority of small business owners: yes, you do... unless you are one of the best or one of the worst. If you are very good, your reputation is spread by the word of mouth, and clients are chasing you instead of you chasing them, then the website will probably not make it better (although, it will not hurt, especially when business slows down). But if customers complain about you a lot, then visibility on the web will do you more harm then good (unless you take it as an opportunity to improve).
  • Will a website help me generate more business?
    Don't expect immediate inflow of customers right after publishing your website. It will take time for search engines and people to find you. There are ways to speed up the process a bit, but even under ideal conditions, you may not see obvious results, at least, not immediately. But in certain cases, it may help, especially, if you consider the competition. Do your competitors have websites? If they do, you can't afford to not have one. If they don't, a website will give you a competitive advantage. Also, web presence can bring you business opportunities that you may not even expect.
  • How much effort will building and maintaining a website take?
    Initial setup will take most of the time. If you already know what you want to put on the website, you can do it in a couple of days. Once your website is up and running, maintenance (if you follow my recommendations) will not take much effort.
  • Can I build a website myself?
    In theory, many people should be able to. In reality (at least, based on my experience), majority of small business owners seek help with initial setup. Hopefully, this series will help you chose the path that is right for you.
  • How much will a website cost?
    My goal is to get you up and running for less than $20 per year for a basic site (with a handful of pages). This assumes that you do everything yourself or get help for a more technically and aesthetically savvy friend or relative. If you need professional assistance for initial setup, it may cost you more, but it would be a one-time cost. Also, if you need some special bells and whistles, it may be more expensive (but not by a lot). I'll discuss costs in more detail later.
So, let's get started, shall we?

Here is the list of topics I will cover (I'll enable links when I make the topics available):
  • Part I: Pre-Exploration
    - Pros and cons of hiring a contractor
    - How to avoid common pitfalls when working with a web developer
    - Why do it yourself?
  • Part II: Exploration
    - Choosing a web host and platform
    - Picking a domain address and registrar
    - Cost allocation
  • Part III: Development
    - How to get started?
    - Basic website structure
    - Where to get graphics?
    - Where to store files?
    - Do's and dont's of web design
    - How to get better?
  • Part IV: Deployment
    - Steps to publish your website
    - Make if visible to search engines (Google, Bing, etc)
    - Website promotion
    - Getting social
  • Part V: Maintenance
    - Things to keep in mind when running your website
    - Examples of small business website
    - Resources
If you have a general question relevant to the subject, please leave a comment.

See also:
The Website as a Business Resume
How To Get Your Small Business Online Today


  1. I agree in 2 main things: for 99% of businesses, it is highly important to open a website. Some business owners don’t yet fully understand that the internet had become a kind of an additional dimension, that if you don’t exist there you are missing a lot.
    The second thing is that building a website don’t have to be expensive. For example, I used http://www.exai.com to build my website myself, and the final site looked professional. This website builder software even create your site almost ready to publish- you just need to add some information about your business and edit it a little if you like.

  2. Small businesses sometimes don't understand that a website is like a store. You need x number of people to walk through your store before you make a sale. The challenge is to get folks to walk through the store, whether you sell on-line or are a contractor.