One of the first things I say to freelancers and small business owners is to get a website. At the very minimum, I advise them to secure their URL. Yes, social media profiles will help you get your message across, and there is a lot you can do with a Facebook page. However, if you’re serious about your business, having a site for it is a must.
The question I immediately get is how much they should pay for a website. Well, how long is a piece of string? Websites can cost anything, from a few to thousands and thousands of dollars. I should know. I’ve worked on sites costing nothing more than the domain name and the hosting, on international, multi-language website projects with the budget to match, and everything in-between.
The good news is that in this day and age you can and should get started on your website with very little, both in terms of budget and specialised knowledge. Here’s why:
1) Websites are easier to build than ever before
Tools such as WordPress and SquareSpace make it a doodle to have a beautiful online presence in a few hours – or even minutes. Unlike a few years ago, you won’t need to know HTML, and in some cases (I’m looking at you, SquareSpace) just dragging and dropping is enough to get the look you want.
Your site needn’t look like your neighbour’s either: there are many themes and templates available. You are sure to find one that suits your needs and aesthetic preferences. (Remember to ask clients for their thoughts on what you think that works. It’s their opinion that matters, not yours!)
Nothing beats engaging a professional website designer to get your website off the ground. Their help can be invaluable, especially if it’s your first site. However, don’t just delegate the task. Give some serious thought to what you need on your site. It should reflect your business, but also your personality. People buy from people, remember? However, here’s the second good piece of news:
2) You don’t need as much content as you think you do
Back in the day, merely writing the list of the pages you had to create when building a website was exhausting. The user experience wasn’t much better either. Landing on a new site often involved wasting precious time finding your way around it. These days, there is a strong trend for light sites with very few pages and even single-page sites. User-friendliness is a must, so long chunks of repetitive text are out. The key is to make sure it’s optimised for SEO purposes. (Here’s a great guide from Moz on how to get started with SEO that can get you up to speed).
Websites are also visually richer and often carry lots of images (use your own or download from sites with copyright-free images, such as Pixabay). Regardless of the kind of look you go for, make sure the design is responsive, so that your site can be viewed in its full glory from a variety of devices and screen sizes.
Of course, great designs always start with the customer in mind. Understanding what people are looking for when they land on your site, and making their lives as easy as possible once they get there are essential to having an effective website. Your website designer will be able to help and guide you through the process, especially if it’s your first site, or you can get a head start by reading about website usability basics.
Once your new, image-rich site is ready, the hard work begins. You see, the last thing you want is to end up with a site that’s like a painting in an art gallery: beautiful to look at, but untouchable. Which brings me nicely to the third point:
3) Websites need constant change
Your website is much more than a static notice: it should be a dynamic representation of your business, something that changes constantly. There are several reasons why the concept of a changing site is more important than ever.
First of all, as a business owner, you will probably have to update your website from time to time. For example, your contact details might change. Or you may need to update your fees or inform potential customers of a new product or service. If you have to ask your designer every time you want to tweak a comma on your site, it will cost you a fortune – and worse even, it will slow you down.
Secondly, and more importantly, search engines don’t like sites that aren’t regularly updated. Sites that are built, then abandoned, send the wrong kind of signals. That’s why so many websites include a blog (if you’re thinking of starting one, check out this How to start a blog (step-by-step guide)). Even if you update your blog once a month, every post is a chance to target certain keywords your potential customers are using (see SEO basics above). Above all, your posts will let Google & Co. know that your site is well and truly active.
Own your website not just in name, but also in reality
Take action today. If you’ve been telling yourself you didn’t have to bother with your website because it was already up, learn to update it. Ask the designer who built your site to show you how the backend of the website works. You may find it daunting to begin with, but after a while, you may well find that it works similarly to other tools you’ve used in the past.
If you don’t have a website yet, start researching potential suppliers now. Ask your colleagues for recommendations. If you are reasonably confident with your tech skills, don’t rule out building your own site. There are hundreds of tutorials on YouTube or check out this introduction to WordPress (and do read this quick guide on design basics please!). At the very least, buy the domain name for the personal or business name you use professionally. Most are as cheap as chips but can be a very wise investment further down the line.
So reconsider your expectations. Embrace getting your hands dirty and learning new skills. Technology is always changing, and what used to be specialist knowledge will be considered fairly basic in a few years. As your own boss, you can’t afford to miss the boat.
Best of luck with your site and happy marketing!