If you’re reading this, your small business is in one of two stages.
For some, you’re just getting started. You’ve had a passion for years and you’re ready to bring it to life. For others, the early days are gone. You’re behind the wheel of a successful company and poised to grow it bigger.
As different as those stages may be, what you both have in common is a deceptively simple line somewhere on your to-do list, “Make a website.”
A host of questions surround it:
- How much will it cost?
- What’s the best platform to use?
- Should you hire a designer and developer?
- Where can you go to attract visitors and customers?
- How will you take payments, maintain security, and collect data?
- Are there any online legal requirements for your particular profession?
- Is this purely a brochure website, or are you selling products and services online?
- Which tools and strategies — like online advertising, email marketing, blogging, loyalty and rewards, etc. — are best suited for your business and your goals?
The good news is you’re exactly who this article is for.
However, before you make plans or jump into the creative process, there are three fundamental questions you have to answer first …
1. “Do I really need a website for my small business?”
Taking your small business online can feel like a necessity, but the truth is: It’s not.
With all the things you could be doing to grow your business, getting online might be far from the most important. Time spent at tradeshows, networking with local organizations, or investing in mailers and advertising may more beneficial.
How do you decide?
Start with the simple act of Googling your trade or industry. Why? Because (1) Google and other search engines are the number one source of traffic and visitors and (2) because Google prioritizes local results when searchers look for services. In many cases, search engines will suggest you add “near me” to words like roofers, flowers, or bakeries.
Pay special attention to the first two pages of results noting whether they’re dominated by review sites and associations or businesses like yours. If you see Angie’s List, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and local organizations throughout the top positions, it would be wise to focus your energy on them instead of creating a stand-alone website.
Next, get a feel for how competitive your market is online. To do this quickly, you can use a free plugin like the MozBar Chome Extension. Moz is what’s known as a search engine optimization (SEO) tool. Knowing all its ins and outs isn’t important. Neither is worrying about SEO as a whole; at least, not yet.
What matters is the page authority (PA) and domain authority (DA) of the prominent search results. PA and DA — scored between 0 and 100 — will give you an immediate feel for how easy or difficult it will be for your site to rank.
If page one of Google is full of sites with 50 and above, beating them will be a tough road to travel.
But, if you see 30 and below, the field is wide open:
After surveying the online landscape, spend some time talking to your existing customers or exploring conversations on social media to find out where your audience turns when they’re looking for services like yours. If websites come up often, that’s a good sign making the online move will pay off. If not, there are better places to invest.
2. “How much can I afford to spend on a website?”
Prior to digging into the details, the critical thing is to set a budget for yourself at the outset that includes both monetary costs and time costs.
In general—if you launch your own site—complete set up should be between $500 and $1,000. If you need to hire someone to help, that number can easily triple.
The real consideration is time. Not just the time it will take you to get up and running, but also ongoing time to …
- Create content: images, videos, and blog posts
- Run online marketing campaigns: email, search, and social
- Monitor review and rating sites: Google Business, Yelp, Angie’s List, etc.
Launching your business online isn’t an all or nothing endeavor. Naturally, you can pick and choose among all the various options.
Above all, give yourself a realistic budget that outlines what you can afford to pay in (1) the monetary cost of launching, (2) the time commitments of launching, and (3) the ongoing time of upkeep and maintenance. For example, that might look as simple as:
- $1,500 to launch my site
- 2 hours every workday for the first month
- 3 hours every Thursday for the first year after launch
The next post in this series will focus on picking the right platform. In it, we’ll cover the pros and cons of popular website builders and providers. We’ll also present a run-down of how much they cost along with tools like email marketing.
3. “What are my business’ online goals?”
Once you’ve counted the cost, the last fundamental question becomes, “What do you want your site to accomplish?”
Resist the temptation to skip this consideration. Knowing what you want out of your online presence is orders of magnitude more important than all the functional questions.
You may already have a preferred goal setting method. If not, I highly recommend what’s known as “objectives and key results” (OKRs): a system used across the board from Fortune 500 companies to nonprofits.
Objectives are broad descriptions of your most pressing and important goals. They should be qualitative statements: short, memorable, and motivational. Key results, in contrast, are quantitative metrics you’ll use to measure and monitor those objectives.
In Measure What Matters, John Doerr — the father of OKRs at Google — explains: “Objectives and key results are the yin and yang of goal setting—principle and practice, vision and execution. Objectives are the stuff of inspiration and far horizons. Key results are more earthbound and metric-driven. They typically include hard numbers for one or more gauges: revenue, growth, active users, quality, safety, market share, customer engagement. In other words: Key results are the levers you pull, the marks you hit to achieve the goal.”
Better than a mere definition, Doerr also offers plenty of practical examples, like this “OKR Quality Continuum” on winning the Indy 500:
Here’s what OKRs might look like for three different small businesses:
|Baker: Make my online business a showcase of my very best work to “wow” prospective customers and get them to call||Create a folder with 100 of my best pictures and apply a single filter to them so they look amazing and consistent in one week
Launch a homepage with all those images sorted by type within 30 days
Post one picture per day to social media with a link to the image onsite (start on day 31)
|Florist: Develop strong loyalty by making my online business a collection point for new and existing customers||Input existing customers into my email service provider — MailChimp or Sumo —within 30 days of launching
Create a homepage pop-up with a 20%-off discount for online orders
Add 100 new subscribers in 60 days
|Roofer: Use my site to become the go-to source for roofing emergencies.||Make a homepage with at least three of my best reviews from customers in 7 days
Send emails to 30 other customers to ask for Yelp and Angie’s List ratings
Create a simple blog, make a list of the 10 most frequently asked questions in a roofing emergency, and post one new article each week answering a single question
Are you ready?
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring all the practical how questions. (In fact, you can get a jump on that process by using our interactive How to Create a Website builder.)
In everything, these articles will be focused on helping nontechnical professionals make the most of their online business without getting bogged down. Be sure to bookmark this page or sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss out.