Taking your business online for the first time can be a daunting experience, particularly if you don’t know where to start. However, there’s good news. Your business can begin to build digital traction if you know where to start looking. In this article, we look at the best and cheapest options for small businesses ready to move online and build their own digital presence.
Effective Business Website Options for Small Businesses
First things first: to earn profits from your online business you have to have an online presence and be visible to your target market. You also need to show you are a professional and reputable business and assume a trust with consumers.
Ordinarily, building an online presence implies building a website. But websites need maintaining and for some small businesses that can be expensive.
So do you even need a website?
Ahh, now that’s got your attention! Here are your options!
A lot of small businesses can create an online presence without spending a penny. There are reputable directories you can include your business details in such as Yelp, chamber of commerce and merchant circle. To get you started, here’s a list of 50 free online directories you can register with.
Customer review sites
Another free source are the online review sites. You are probably already familiar with some of these such as TripAdvisor, FourSquare, and Toptable. Although these are most suitable for restaurants, hotel and the like there are loads more that are useful for any type of business, such as Google My Business, Amazon Customer Review and Which? Some customer review sites you will need a website for, but not all of them. Check out this list and determine what the best customer review sites are for your business.
Social media networks
Social media networks are an extension of free directories only they rank better in search engines. They can be useful for small businesses, especially in terms of raising awareness and offering immediate and direct customer service. They offer a personal touch.
However, the organic reach on social media is limited so it will take time to build a following of paying customers. Even still, if you have a small business and want an online presence, networks like Facebook, Linkedin, Google+, Instagram and Pinterest can showcase your business and enable you to build a reputation.
A social media presence is ideal for sole traders such as plumbers, personal trainers etc, but small businesses such as electrician companies, taxi firms, gyms etc can take advantage of them as well without needing a website.
However, you will attract more attention if you create content for your social media accounts. Unless you can do this yourself, you will incur a cost paying professional content creators.
Having said that, you will still benefit more by building a website as it will make you look professional, give you a platform to tell customers about your products and services, and more importantly, establish trust with your audience.
The good news about websites is that you can build a website for free if you are technically gifted. Otherwise you will need a web designer to help you. There are some very reputable website builders available however that make building a website pretty simple.
Disclaimer: before we go any further, we just have to point out that we are not affiliated with any of the companies listed below and links to websites are authentic.
Some website builders offer free packages, although you are very limited as to what you can do. For example, you can’t choose your own domain name, and for a professional business you want your own domain name that ends in .com, .co.uk, .org or .net.
Free web builder packages use the company name as an extension such as .wix or .wordpress. This looks cheap and untrustworthy so don’t do it. Buy your own domain name, they are not expensive – about £10 a year.
We’re not going to say which is the best web builder for you, but firms that have an excellent reputation are Wix, Yola, Doodlekit, Weebly and WordPress. You can build a site that functions and looks okay, but if you want to be extra professional, you will need to upgrade to a premium account – but you can do this for as little as £2 to £10 a month.
A quick note on WordPress: This is arguably the most powerful web builder although is primarily a blogging format so the free accounts don’t give you a store front. And just to confuse people, there is are two – WordPress.com and WordPres.org.
WordPress.com offer free websites and you get to choose a theme. Although they look pretty good, functionality is limited. You have the option to upgrade your account and build a custom website, but then things start to get expensive.
WordPress.org is more geared towards business from the outset. They do offer a free service, but the domain is self-hosted which means you will need to pay a web hosting service provider. They typically offer a free domain name which you should take advantage of together with a host of other benefits. More about that later.
WordPress.org is more expensive than WordPress.com in the initial stages, but does offer more for your business because you can customize the themes without having to upgrade the package.
This option is ideal in terms of professionalism and building trust with customers – which is important to your online presence – but will require you to hire a web developer as building your own site can be tricky unless you are familiar with code. Other web builder have built in code.
Although most business websites can be built for free or relatively cheaply, eCommerce sites require upfront payments on yearly subscriptions – though they are reasonably priced. All the website builders we mentioned above offer eCommerce sites from around £15.
In addition to previously mentioned web builders there are companies that offer dedicated services to eCommerce sites and in some cases are arguably better options. Shopify, Magento and Squarespace are the most popular. We recommend you take a look at this overview offered by a web building expert and determine which is the best option for you.
If you really want your website to look the part, decide which of the above options is the best for you and hand it over to a professional web developer to put the pieces together. This could be an expensive initial outlay, but will be worth the investment in the long run.
A professionally equipped website requires a webhost and there are tons to choose from. Again they are reasonably priced and it depends what you need from your website that may be the deciding factor.
We use Siteground for hosting low traffic sites (up to 10,000 visitors a month) and Nimbus for larger sites – but that is not necessarily the best fit for you so shop around. Check out this comprehensive best and worst web hosts from a reliable source before making a decision.
Web hosting services may be the most expensive option but they offer businesses much more than the web builder hosts alone. Ideally look for service providers that offer a free domain name, sufficient storage space, secure servers, business emails, a reasonable amount of traffic, and free 24/7 support service on the basic packages.
Costs vary but not by much. Expect to pay something in the region of £50-£90 a year for a basic or Pro package which for the majority of small businesses gives you everything you need. You can always upgrade as you grow or even switch to another service provider at a later date.
How you build an online presence first and foremost depends on your budget, but you also need to think about how prospects will perceive your company. If you have a web presence that is low quality and unprofessional, don’t expect any customers. It will be a waste of investment.
Sole traders can get away without building a website, but really, small businesses need one. The good news is they are affordable to set up.
There are however, maintenance costs to consider such as blog content and design upgrades, but again this may not be necessary if you can attract an audience through free platforms such as social media and customer review sites. It depends on what type of business you have and what digital marketing efforts your competitors are putting in.