Every single business, whether large or small, requires a professional website these days. Your website is your 24/7 shop window, available to all who may want your product or service.
A good website helps bring trust amongst your clients, customers and prospects. You do not want your website, or lack of one, to be the all important element that means you lose a sale.
Getting a small business website can be one of the biggest challenges small business owners face. There is so much out there!
The options appear unlimited and the costs so varied, it can feel really overwhelming.
In this Guide we cover:
- How do I choose the right website platform
- How much does a website cost?
- What other things do you need to budget for?
- Smart questions to ask your potential website design company
How do I choose the right website platform?
There is a whole gamut of website platforms to choose from for small businesses.
Considering what you will need it to do for your business is a good place to start.
Here is just quick overview of 4 of the most popular platforms:
A classic ‘drag ‘n drop’ template website builder, over 150 million people worldwide choose Wix to create a website and manage their business online.
There are over 500 industry specific templates available that use its drag and drop editor.
It is worth noting that much of the decision making is taken out of your hands when it comes to building your site; it uses artificial-intelligence powered design like GoDaddy and Site123.
In addition, if you are running a retailing business and want to sell more than 50 product lines there are specialist e-commerce platforms for this.
As is suggested by the word, the themes are just that, you cannot make any material changes to the structure of the site, the shape of it is pre-determined by the template.
You can however, change colours and use its 280 apps (some free and some paid for) to customise much of the site.
Your Wix website will also look good on smartphones as they are all optimised for mobile.
Easy to use and well designed, its AI-powered design help means you can build a great looking site without knowing how to code.
With celebrity endorsers such as Keanu Reeves, Idris Elba and John Malkovich Squarespace offers clean, minimalist web design for those who like a stylish edge to their sites. It also helps if you have a little website building knowledge and understanding. Not quite as easy or beginner friendly as Wix.
Squarespace is a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editor. With some platforms, such as WordPress, you make changes and edits in the backend, and only see what it will look like live when you preview it.
Squarespace’s editor interface however is more polished and flexible compared to Wix and Weebly. You can also have other users help you manage your website, there is an option to provide different access levels to different users which is helpful – especially if you are selling goods online.
E-commerce can be provided by an online store basic plan which starts from £20 per month. This is the cheapest option for selling through the internet. Transaction fees are removed from the lower level plans and extra e-commerce features such as inventory management and label printing can be added.
As if you had spent thousands getting a professional designer to code you a website, the themes for Squarespace’s 60 templates are all beautifully designed.
Templates include online stores, restaurants and the generic “business” one. All templates are mobile responsive, so your website looks strong on any smartphone.
The templates themselves are malleable. Once you have chosen a template, you layer in images and content using their design. Or you can create your own website from scratch.
Unique to Squarespace, you can customise your own URL. And the live preview function allows you to see what your unpublished website is going to look like.
A great feature is that you can even switch templates after you have gone live.
If you are happy to put a little time into building your website pages and you have an eye for design, Squarespace is the best website builder if you want a unique and visually impressive website.
However, spending time in understanding how this product works is recommended before onboarding. If you want a website live within a couple of hours, then Squarespace isn’t for you.
The most popular website builder in the world, WordPress powers more than 33% of all websites on the internet, that’s millions of websites all over the world.
Starting back in 2003 as a simple blogging platform it has since evolved to become a content management system and an application development framework. In simple words, you can easily build any type of website using WordPress.
An extremely flexible platform, you can use WordPress to build pretty much any kind of website.
Are you wanting to start a blog, make a website for your small business, create a membership, sell online courses or even have an online shop? These are just some things you can do with WordPress.
There are thousands of pre-made WordPress themes available in the market, each one is free and comes with a stylesheet and basic template files to display different sections of a typical WordPress site.
Some themes have more customisable features than others, and depending on which one you choose, the settings will be individual to that theme.
The beautiful part about WordPress is that it adapts to your needs. It can be as easy and simple as you want, or as complex and sophisticated as you need it to be.
Since you are completely in charge and in full ownership, you can make things simple, control the cost, and efficiently run your website.
According to Shopify, the platform has over one million users running 800,000 online stores which have generated over $100bn in sales.
What makes it stand apart from competitors is that Shopify has its own physical point-of-sale hardware you buy with barcode readers, tills and receipt printers.
It’s an all-in-one system for anyone with a physical shop.
Any website built in Shopify benefits from its easy-to-understand dashboard overview.
If you have been used to a WordPress style CMS then uploading your products to a Shopify website will feel pretty easy and intuitive.
You can also add new plugins for your site, including a range of 1,200 apps which sync with your site, offering shipping, accounting, social media and advanced reporting.
This can seem a little overwhelming however, and a downside is there is no ‘basic plan’ offering like other website builders.
There are 70 themes to choose from with Shopify – 10 are free. Like Squarespace, the themes are beautifully designed and offer whizzy features like parallax scrolling and video backgrounds.
One issue you may face is that Shopify does not automatically resize uploaded photographs, so if you have product shots in different aspect ratios, you must edit in Photoshop before uploading to your website.
Shopify is the best website builder for businesses that have a physical shop but also want to sell online.
Shopify integrates with Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest for easy sales through social media.
One downside with Shopify is that, unlike Wix and Squarespace, Shopify does charge 2.2pc on each credit card transaction plus an additional 20p.
In conclusion you need to choose a platform that you can scale as your business grows, the last thing you need is to be stuck with a website that doesn’t work for you and you have to start all over again.
Depending on what your requirements are and your future goals for your business, your website designer will be able to advise an help you decide upon the most suitable platform for you.
How much does a website cost?
There are so many factors that affect the cost of a website:
- Is it a bespoke design, or an existing template?
- What is the platform the website is built on? Some platforms include more ‘out of the box’ features and others require more development time.
- What functionality does your small business need? Do you need a booking system? Login area?
With so many drag and drop website builders being advertised on social media and even TV, it is understandable that you may have the impression that you are being charged for something that you can do yourself.
Before making a start yourself, it may be worth considering, have you an eye for design?
- Do you know what looks good?
- Do you know how to optimise the website content for best results in search engines?
- Do you know how to index your website in popular search engines?
These are just a couple of elements that are fundamentally important to a successful website.
There is expertise behind every professionally built website, your designer has invested in expensive software, equipment and paid for courses to ensure they are consistently up to date with the latest technology to ensure they can build you the perfect hard working site for your business.
It is confusing when the cost of a website can range from £100 to £10,000+.
Beware of cheap website design offers. You really do only get what you pay for.
What other things do you need to budget for?
Website hosting or subscription fees
The basics like website hosting fees or a monthly subscription fee can quite easily be forgotten in all the excitement of building your site, but it is important to remember that you need your site to be hosted and maintained.
Your website build is just the start for your small business, the visitors and enquiries unfortunately do not just come rolling in at a click.
You will need to make sure you set aside some budget for ongoing marketing such as SEO, Google AdWords or Paid social advertising.
Depending on your small business, and what it provides, the best method will differ; it may be that SEO is great for you as a local plumber, but that as a Financial Advisor wanting to reach people nationwide you will want some paid for advertising too.
Smart questions to ask your potential website design company
1 Ask what platform they would recommend and why
Your agency needs to offer the best advice for you and your business, not for their needs.
You do not want to end up with the wrong platform at the outset as this could prove costly further down the line.
2 Ask if your website can be scaled in the future
It’s critical that your website is built with room to grow, especially if your company may add new products or services in the future.
Inquire about the scalability of the design and whether new navigation buttons can be added without having to pay for an entire site redesign.
3 Ask if they use pre-made template or whether it includes a bespoke design
Often times, web design companies offer both options to meet the needs of their clients.
Some businesses want to establish a strong brand, so they want the unique look and functionality a website designed from scratch provides.
Other businesses are not that reliant on an online presence and opt to save money with a template that can be customised.
Discuss your website needs and ask for a price comparison of the two before making your decision.
4 Ask how easy it will be to update the website going forward
If you’re someone who really wants to have ownership over their site, and wants to update/edit things as soon as you decide to, go for a web design platform that’s easy to update and maintain over time yourself, as well as a studio that has an educational component as part of their web design package.
If you’d rather shoot off an email with edits/updates and wait a few days to have them polished up by someone else (and you have the budget to pay for that every time you need a site edit), then go for a studio that offers long-term maintenance packages.
5 Ask how many revisions or edits are included?
What happens if the first draft version of your site comes back and you’re not completely in love? You can request edits/revisions.
The normal number of revision rounds is 2, sometimes 3.
After that if you still want more, you’ll generally pay hourly for the additional edits you’d like, until they’re complete.
So be sure to also ask what your designers hourly rate is too. These rates can vary from £20 – £120 per hour.
6 Ask to see a contract which clearly sets out what is included
Contracts protect both you and your designer, so they are important for both parties.
A contract between you and your designer or agency should make it clear what you’ll be paying, when you’ll be paying it, who owns what licenses, what the deliverables are, etc.
As you can imagine, this can help you out equally as much as it does your designer. If you were promised 2 rounds of revisions, and only got 1, you can have your contract to refer back to.
Pro tip: Sometimes for smaller bits of work for say a couple tweaks for a few hundred, designers won’t have you sign a contract just because it’s not worth the effort.
If you’re putting down quite a bit; a thousand or more to work with them however, a contract should absolutely be expected.
7 Ask about security
You’ll want to make sure that your website includes a basic SSL certificate so that your website displays as secure.
If your website is transactional, you need a more powerful SSL certificate. The cost generally starts from £50 per year. Your website agency will be able to advise on the best solution for your business.
8 Will the website be optimised for Search Engines?
Important for any website, many people do not realise that SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) needs to be built into the website design process.
You need your website to be optimised from the very start so that you are at least in the race to the first page of Google.
What you do not want is a beautifully presented website that looks fabulous but that cannot even be found.
Ensuring a search engine can easily crawl and understand your content is the first step to ensuring your visibility in the search engine result pages.
9 Ask if they will set up any kind of analytics tracking?
Analytics tracking is essential to making sure you have success with your new website.
Data can provide invaluable marketing insight meaning that you can make data-led decisions that result in your marketing having an impact.