Just like the compact disc and the videotape before it, the business directory is fast becoming history. Those hefty books of listings that we referred to twenty years ago when we needed to find a business have been rendered all but obsolete by the internet. In this age of information immediacy the business directory listing has been superceded by the company website. Put simply, if you’re a small business and you don’t possess a website you’re potentially losing a vast amount of custom to your nearest competitors. A website allows a small business to promote and differentiate itself from competing businesses, to connect with customers old and new and to provide the information that is sought after most, such as company history, contact details, testimonials, pricing etc.
As a small business the design of your website doesn’t need to be flashy or elaborate or run to dozens of pages. As long as it looks professional and gives visitors sufficient incentives to become customers your website has achieved its aim.
Okay, so we’re agreed that a website is a must for a small business. That’s the simple part. The trickier part is actually designing a small business website and getting it hosted on the World Wide Web for all to see. How do you go about it? Let us take a look at the options available to you.
Do it yourself
Professional web design is a complex business. You might be computer-savvy and able to use the internet in a relatively sophisticated manner, but how familiar are you with Hyper Text Mark-up Language (HTML)? Metatags? Anchor text? Deep linking? Search engine optimisation? Graphic design? File Transfer Protocol (FTP)? Learning to use all of this stuff effectively (and much more) to design your small business website is nothing short of masochism, and best left to the experts.
Of course there are platforms such as the free and hugely configurable “WordPress” that allow you to design a website without getting too involved in the messy back-end programming, but there’s still a fair learning curve to contend with in order to produce an effective, good looking and professional website and the chances are that you would rather be running your day-to-day business than swotting up on best practices for small business web design.
Hire a professional small business website designer
As suggested above, web design is a complex discipline and publicising your business online with a website that is unprofessional, frustrating to use or error-strewn is worse than not having a website at all. Hiring a professional website designer to create your site should eliminate these problems. However, professional web design – even for a relatively straightforward small business website – can be expensive and time consuming. You need to be able to provide a crystal clear specification regarding what your business is all about and the information, images and functionality that you’d like your website to contain. Even then there is likely to be a fair bit of to-ing and fro-ing between you and your website designer until you reach a final design that you’re happy with.
Use an online website design tool
Yes, there are websites that let you design websites out there and for a small business with limited time and web design knowledge, online website creation tools are almost certainly the best option for quickly and easily designing a small business website. Choose carefully as there are many different online design packages on offer. Ideally you’re looking for one that will let you create a professional-looking website with the minimum of effort; a “drag-and-drop” interface is usually the most user-friendly. If you’re looking for a head start with your small business website design, choose an online builder that offers a selection of ready-made templates; there’s no point in re-inventing the wheel if someone has already created a website design that is perfect for your small business.
Easy search engine optimisation (SEO), the ability to add your own logos and photographs and the potential to integrate your website with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are all important aspects of modern web design so it’s worth ensuring that these are offered if you’re going to use an online web design tool. Finally, you’re going to need a host for your small business website when you have designed it; the good news is that most online web design sites can take care of this for you too.
As a small business you need a website. Website design can be difficult to take on yourself from scratch and can be expensive if entrusted to professional website designers. But the careful choice of an easy-to-use, powerful and inexpensive online website design and creation tool could be your best bet for creating an effective and professional small business website that confounds your competitors and brings in new business.
John writes about design and small business for Just Displays – a design and printing company in London.