Why should every small business have a website? Because, as many marketers will tell you, if you’re not online you don’t exist. Creating a website claims your online real estate, and lets people find out about your business, your services and your values as they determine if they want to do business with you.

I was recently organising a dinner for a friend’s birthday. As it was going to be a group of people, I wanted to find a great new restaurant that would welcome a fairly large group, and whose menu would cater for the range of people attending.

As always happens when I search for restaurants online, I was shocked by how many restaurants have no website, relying solely on third party sites to share their information with their target audience.

And like so many people, I chose a restaurant whose website gave me the information I needed, particularly the menu and booking details.

If you don’t have a website, or if your website is outdated or lacking important information, how many of your potential customers are choosing your competitor simply because of their stronger online presence?

WHY DO SMALL BUSINESSES NEED A WEBSITE?

Your website lets people find out more information about you and your business.

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If people come across your business by researching the products and services you sell, or if they are referred to you by a friend, your website is the best way to communicate who you are and what you’re all about.

It’s online real estate that you own – and there are few restrictions on how you use it. A well-developed website has detailed information that answers your potential customers’ questions and demonstrates clearly how you can solve their challenges.

It can also showcase your personality and the way you like to do business – giving you a greater chance of attracting customers that are in line with your values.

Your website can start a relationship with your customer

Your small business website can help you build a relationship with your customer.

An effective website is just the start of your relationship with your site’s visitors. By offering something of value to your customers (be that information, education or a special offer) you can attract them into your database and gain their permission to stay in touch.

Your website can differentiate you from your competitors

Your small business website can differentiate you from your competitors.

As I mentioned above, it’s amazing how many businesses don’t have a website. There are even more who have outdated websites. And even more whose websites aren’t mobile responsive. (And with smartphones now recognised as the most popular way to browse the internet, that’s a huge mistake).

So if you make the investment to develop a mobile-responsive website with high quality information, eye catching images and a professional appearance, you’ll be ahead of the curve.

Your website can act as a sales person for your business, 24/7

Your small business website acts like a salesperson

To understand the benefit of having a website that can answer questions on your behalf, no matter the time, picture how your own day unfolds.

Even with the best intentions, people don’t always get to do all of their research and enquiries in business hours. Depending on your target audience and the service or product you provide for them, they might phone during the day. But they also might sit down after the kids are in bed or after a long day at work to browse online to find information about their particular challenge.

Your website is available to them all day and night. And if you know your target audience well enough, you know the questions that most of them ask. You know the issues they face and the fears they might have about investing in your product or service.

A well developed website can address these for you while you sleep. And a decent contact form can let them make an enquiry that you can answer as soon as you get to work.

People don’t have to wait for business hours – they can get what they need, at the time they are ready to find out more.

Your website can make it easy for your fans to spread the word about your business

Your website makes it easier to spread the word about your business

“Oh I don’t need a website – all of my business is through word of mouth”.

Imagine how much easier it would be for your raving fans to refer your business to their friends if they could just say “go to www.thisawesomebusiness.com”. Having a strong hub to send people makes it easy and seamless to refer your business. Plus, the people receiving the referral can check you out before they get in touch, which again is a huge advantage if they’ve received more than one recommendation.

With the strength of social media, people are often turning to their Facebook friends and Twitter following to get recommendations for products and services. It’s the time poor-person’s research strategy – to jump onto social media and quickly type “can anyone recommend a great xxxxx”.

Graphic: 72% of opinion-seekers aged 25-34 look to social media contacts for recommendations when purchasing goods and services. (American Lifestyles 2015).

If your fans can quickly post a link, it gets your information in front of the person asking, plus everyone else who sees the post.

Your website gives you a greater chance of being found by new audiences via search.

Your website can give you a greater chance of being found via search.

There are 2.3 million search queries typed into Google each second. Chances are someone is typing in a question about the products or services you offer. Without a strong (seo-optimised) website, you’re missing out on these potential customers. And these are customers who are often ready to buy.

Your website helps you maximise your other marketing activities

Your website is the main hub of your marketing activities.

I often talk about your website being the main cog in your marketing machine – the hub of your wheel, the mothership in your starfleet. You get the idea.

Having a strong hub means your marketing activities can be maximised. They can all be working together towards the same goal – whether it’s getting people on your database, selling tickets to an event or selling your product or service.

And what do your customers think?

I asked my Facebook friends and followers the question “What do you think if a business you’re thinking of buying from/working with doesn’t have a website?” and here were their responses:

“I’d love to say I was less hardline, but truthfully if a business doesn’t have a website I’ll almost certainly move on.” Nicole M.

“No website and I question their credibility and look around for someone who at least has a Facebook page.” Kerry H.

“Not only do I want it to have a website, I want to see a photo of who I will be doing business with. People do business with people. And if it’s a restaurant, it needs a menu.” Mel K.

“A couple of weeks ago we were approached by a company with a JV in mind. They had originally wanted someone else but ditched them after their website was “under construction.” Jane M.

“I’d be wondering why they didn’t have one and any conclusion I came to wouldn’t be favourable.” Dawn L.

“No website. No work” Kelly M.

“I like to read someone’s website as a bit of research. I get a feel for a business by their website.” Jeni O’B.

“I like to research beforehand so I get disappointed it they don’t at least have a Facebook page.” Bec G.

“If a business doesn’t have a website I immediately won’t go there.” Kelly E.

“I don’t like dealing with businesses with no website, or at a minimum a Facebook page – I like to o research.” Alison L.

“I came across someone recently without a website…it made me think they weren’t very forward thinking.” Lynda P

“Great opportunity for growth! If a small business is surviving without a website today then the only way is up.” John S.

BUSTING THE ‘MY BUSINESS DOESN’T NEED A WEBSITE’ MYTHS

Myth # 1: My customers don’t search the web to find products or services.

In 2014, RetailToday reported that 81% of shoppers research online before making big purchases. In the same year the State of B2B Procurement Study said that 94% of business buyers do some form of online research before purchasing.  The stronger your online presence, the more chance you have of attracting these researchers.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 85% of people 15 years and over are internet users. Even the majority of older people (65 years and over) were internet users (51%).

So do you know for sure that your audience isn’t using the internet to research your business, or the products and service you offer? Have you asked them when you speak to them or deal with them? Are you missing opportunities by ignoring their web usage. I’m not saying you definitely are, these are just questions worth asking.

Myth #2: I don’t have time to manage a website.

This is a worthy objection. Websites are an investment of time and resources to set up, and the best websites are updated regularly, sharing fresh content and value for their customers. But an informational website is still of value to your customers, and content management systems such as WordPress make it easy and cost-effective for you to keep it up to date.

Myth #3: Websites are too expensive

There are many cost-effective website options available that mean you don’t have to spend a fortune to create your online presence. Once you have determined the purpose of your website, and the resources and budget you have to invest, you can then work through the options and identify those that best suit your needs

Myth #4: I don’t need a website, I have a Facebook Page.

A Facebook page can go some of the way to creating your online presence. Your customers can direct people to your Facebook page when they refer your business. You can raise awareness with your Facebook posts and start building relationships with your customers. But always remember that Facebook is not your property, and at any time it can (and does) change the rules of how you can access and engage with your followers. At best your reach can decline and your posts be seen by fewer people, at worst your page can be shut down for breaching Facebook’s rules and regulations.

Your website is your real estate. You can build your database, communicate in the way you choose and engage with your customers.

Myth #5: I don’t need a website, my business is all via word-of-mouth.

As I’ve mentioned above, what better way to make it easy and seamless to refer your business than having a base where people can direct their friends and family.

HOW TO GET YOUR SMALL BUSINESS WEBSITE UP AND RUNNING

Not that long ago the cost of getting a website live and working for your business was prohibitive for many small businesses. It meant engaging the services of a (usually expensive) web designer, and going back to that designer every time you wanted to change any aspect of your website.

Now there are many options that can suit your goals, wants and budgets.

Do-It-Yourself Options

Do-It-Yourself website options like Wix, Weebly and Shopify make it easy and cost-effective to get your business online. While they have their limitations and restrictions, they remove many of the barriers to having a website.

If you start off with one of these options, remember that it’s not always easy to transfer the content you create from one platform to another so if you think that your business will outgrow these options quickly, start planning a strategy so you won’t waste time and money.

Cost-Effective Done For You Options

Open-source content management systems like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal provide the platforms for you to have a professional website built for you, that you can manage on an ongoing basis.

I recommend and work with WordPress as it’s a flexible option that can grow with your business. By starting out on WordPress, as your needs change you can usually adapt the website without having to start from scratch. It works for SEO and there are many designers and developers who can work with you if/when you get to the stage where you want the site to develop further.

There are plenty of online resources to help you build your own WordPress website, and thousands of themes that make it easy to create a professional, well-designed site. And if you’d rather concentrate on your core business and outsource to a professional, costs range from a very reasonable price for a customised theme-based website, increasing as the complexity of your needs increase.

Creating Your Website’s Content

No matter which option you choose, it is vital to offer quality, relevant content that speaks to your target audience. Many business owners get stuck in figuring out what to put on their website  and how much information to include.

To get started on creating your content, consider these key points:

  • Who is your target audience (be as specific as possible)?
  • What are their challenges, problems and fears?
  • How can you help solve these problems or allay these fears?
  • What questions are you asked regularly by your clients? How can you answer these questions on the website?
  • Can you explain how they can work with you so they understand and trust the process?
  • How can you make it easy for potential customers to contact you?
  • How can you provide ongoing value so they keep coming back to your website and building trust with your business?

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS

Keep your website up-to-date

An outdated website can do more damage than good for your business. Keep the information up-to-date and relevant. Schedule time each month to review your website, add any new relevant information or products and ensure you’re giving your customers correct and relevant information

Update and Backup Regularly

If you are using a system like WordPress, it is important to update the software as often as possible. Developers are constantly improving the platforms to increase security and remove bugs, and not keeping your website updated can make your website vulnerable to attack.

It’s also important to make sure you have regular backups of your website. Check if your web host performs regular backups, or install a quality Backup plugin to make sure you always have a backup on hand if your website crashes or is hacked.

Budget for up front and ongoing costs

There are certain up front and ongoing costs for your website. Ongoing costs include the domain registration, website hosting and theme/plugin licensing (if applicable). These are usually on an annual or biennial schedule so it’s important to budget for them each year.

The upfront costs include the website development, stock photography and copywriting (if outsourced).

In summary

Your website is often the first impression your potential customers have of your business – and it might be the impression that leads to them to choose one business over the other. A strong, professional and attractive website can be vital to your marketing success.