Building websites has never been a dream of mine, but as a new entrepreneur, I’ve found that you can’t avoid learning and doing a little bit of everything. In a world that’s where e-commerce domination is inevitable, people powering start-ups and small business owners that can gain a lot from becoming a little techie.
If you’re serious about starting almost any kind of business, your eyes should light up when you talk about software, technology, and websites. It will take some time, research, and lots of patience but the skills you’ll earn will be priceless. Here are three basics you’ll want to research and understand well to step up your online game.
1. Domain Hosting Options
If you start a business without a website, you’ll find a lot of people won’t take you seriously. Almost everyone in the free world should be able to afford to purchase a domain, i.e., website address. Many domain hosting companies allow you to select a custom domain name, (e.g. yoursmallbiz.com) and include Website Builder programs that are simple enough for anyone with intermediate skills in the Microsoft Office suite to learn on their own. Or, if your website will be more than just an ad for your business and you plan to operate through it, domain purchases typically also come with WordPress (WP), which is more in depth.
You’ll receive e-mail service with your domain, which is a must if you don’t want to be confused for a scammer or a spammer. No offense to anyone, but e-mail addresses like “firstname.lastname@example.org” just don’t cut it and can scare away your best and most discerning prospects; potential customers, partners, or recruits alike.
Before I’d planned on creating a website, the e-mail feature was what prompted me to looking to in buying a custom domain. As an independent recruiter I quickly learned that a credible e-mail address is not something that’s typically available for free, however, it’s essential. When choosing a domain host, there’s a lot to take into consideration including what country your host server will be located in, up-time compared to down-time, speed, and more.
2. Website Builder vs. Word Press?
Once you get your domain, you’ve got to build and publish a website on it. You can compare this to buying a piece of land, then constructing a building on it that’s suitable for all of your visitors to come and meet you at.
Unless you choose to hire someone to design and build your site, you’ll need to learn the differences between Website Builder and WordPress (WP) and which is best for your business needs. If you decide not to hire someone you’ll save a minimum of a few hundred, but more like a few thousand dollars. If you have some capital and not much time, I recommend hiring a professional. Should you build your own site, the amount of time you’ll spend learning to do so will vary depending upon the complexity of your site.
If you need a very simple site to introduce your company and show off some of your work, you can use a Web Builder program. Web Builder has drag, drop, and easy-insert functionality. Any code you’ll add will just be cut and paste to add simple widgets to your site. A good example of a simple widget would be a site visitor counter. With Web Builder programs,you’ll have a wide variety of templates to choose from that come with beautiful color schemes and layouts. You can even add a web shop for small monthly fees in most cases. This is the simplest route to go without too much effort. My only suggestion here is that you don’t deviate from the template.
WordPress (WP), the second kind of site I’m discussing, is widely used by bloggers but it does so much more. The best way I can describe WP vs Web Builder is to compare it, again, to construction. With Web Builder you can choose from cookie-cutter models but that are meant to be painted and customized without too much deviation. WP lets you customize the foundation a lot more heavily through an enormous selection of themes instead of templates. For WP there are thousands of available plugins that have been created by developers which contain neatly packaged code to add almost any kind of feature and utility to your site you can think of without becoming a developer yourself.
Some things you can do on a WP site versus a Web Builder site are allow visitors to set up accounts, sign up for memberships, bid on items in your shop and much more. Not all themes and plugins are free, and some are definitely worth paying for in terms of quality and technical support that you’ll receive from the developers. Using WP in the traditional way doesn’t allow you to preview your work as easily as Web Builder does. You have to leave the work space in order to view your finished product as well as test drive it, kind of like an mechanic does when making repairs to a car.
There are drag and drop themes that work similar to Web Builder, some free and some paid, which if you’re in a rush while building your own website can be well worth it.
3. Security & Maintenance
Have you ever visited a website where some of the links don’t work, parts of the site won’t display properly, or its pages load so slow that you lose confidence and patience way before you think about buying something through it?
My last construction reference of the day; have you ever visited a building that was built 20 years ago but has never been repainted, no one’s updated the plumbing or electrical, or maintained the landscaping?
The principle here is the same, except a website can deteriorate even faster than a physical structure. With hazards from spam-bots to hackers to malicious code, or failing to stay on top of updates to your theme, plugins, template, etc., a website can become “dilapidated” quickly. Automate as many of the updates that you can through settings on your domain or the site itself, ensuring first that automated updates won’t cause you to lose any customization, which usually only applies if you’ve added code to your theme.
Install security features such as an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate to encrypt/protect data exchanged between you and your customers. Install CAPTCHAs to avoid anyone but humans sending you messages through your site. Spend an extra $10-$20 per month to have your domain host monitor your site for hacking. Even with these measures, you will likely find that your site will need enough regular upkeep to make the thing you admire most about large companies their ability to staff IT resources.
What other questions do you have about building your first small biz website? Join the conversation by asking in the comments, or if you’ve already experienced building your own small business website, provide others with some tips and suggestions!