A website is one of the most powerful tools that small and midsize business (SMB) operators have in their arsenal. Acting as a 24/7 online home, a good small business website gives visitors information about the company, customers a place to order products, and a unique landing spot for links on social media.
All that functionality comes at a price, though. Since most small businesses come with limited budgets, it's crucial to develop a small business website site that's both effective as well as cost-efficient.
Planning a Small Business Website
As you begin planning your small business website's structure and format, keep this handful of issues top of mind. Many small business operators launch a website that serves the company's current needs without looking to the future. The site ends up underpowered as the business evolves.
"It's important to use a system that's extendable over time," says Brandon Howard, owner of Nashville-based Web design company All My Web Needs. Without an eye to future needs, you may find your small business website stuck with features, design architecture, templates and other tools that are less than ideal.
Marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), Facebook ads and integration with an ecommerce platform are just a few of the features you may want to add later. Making sure—during the site's initial development—that you can incorporate those features in the future plays a major role in keeping costs down as the site grows in functionality.
However, just because a feature exists doesn't mean that every small business needs it. "One major website issue that many SMBs run into is that they focus too much on tools and too little on their audience," says Zack Mentz, owner of Loci House, a Web development and application design firm based in Bensalem, Pennsylvania.
Adding a bell-and-whistle-laden ecommerce system to a website doesn't guarantee that orders will follow. The same holds true for other features, too. Case in point: a big SEO push to drive traffic to the site.
"After all the hard work—setting up SEO plugins, tagging all their content, tracking things through analytics—the company might find that it's getting a lot more hits to the website, however all those extra hits don’t necessarily convert into extra sales," says Mentz.
Rather than focusing on tools and technology, he encourages small business owners to first ask if there's really an audience for what they want to do. Once you've identified a need, a solution will likely be easy to find.
Make Website Maintenance Simple and Efficient
Once your small business website is up and running, you'll need to find support that isn't time intensive or costly. "Small business owners who are comfortable with maintaining their own website (or at least more comfortable than paying someone else to do it), open-source content management systems like Wordpress or Joomla make adding new features to a site a breeze," says Mentz.
One advantage of these open-source platforms is the ability to support a wide array of plugins, from ads to ecommerce systems. "There are literally thousands of plugins that you can add to your website without ever needing to know a line of code," Mentz explains.
Solutions such as WordPress can be surprisingly user friendly. Highlighting text and creating links is often as simple as editing an email. "It's nice, because small business owners can update their own sites; they don't have to pay a developer to do it. And it doesn't require them to learn any programming or code," says Howard.
Even adding connections to most of the popular ecommerce platforms is simple enough to do in-house and for very little cost. "I always jump back to WordPress because it includes a ton of free options," he adds.
Tips to keep Website Costs Low
An advantage of WordPress and similar platforms is that you can customize much of the look and functionality. "You're limited only by who's building your site," says Howard. But you can keep expenditures down by doing much of the work yourself, all without giving up the unique look and feel of your site.
"[You] can install a WordPress theme that has been built for you—or themes built for the general public, which are typically free. Or you can choose premium themes that cost $30 to $60," Howard explains. With the right tools, you don’t need to trade affordability for a pleasing design.
In some cases, you might decide that you need outside help. Fortunately, Mentz says you can still find ways to make the process budget-friendly. "If you're just interested in creating or maintaining a website and don’t need any related marketing or collateral materials (brochures, business cards, etc.), then hiring a freelancer or small Web development company would be significantly cheaper than hiring an agency."
Most agencies offer a variety of services—some of which are likely outside what many small business owners need—but they may also have higher costs. "Unless you're taking advantage of additional services, save money with a freelancer," Mentz suggests.
Before you make the final decision, be sure you've evaluated your business's needs and have a good idea of how you'd like the site (and its plugins and features) to evolve. This will help you to choose the right level of support.
Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from foodservice to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.
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