Creating a website for your business
Everyone will tell you that you need to have a website for your business – and this is absolutely correct. In today’s internet-savvy world, the first place anyone will go to find out more about your business is the Internet. And if you don’t have a website – however simple – then people are just not going to take you seriously. The perception might be that your business is anything from unprofessional or disorganised, to downright dodgy!
So, having agreed that a website is a must-have, what happens next? There are a number of options open to you, from using a template package such as MrSite or @UKPLC if you want an Ecommerce package website to getting it programmed professionally by a freelancer or an agency. The ‘do it yourself’ end of the scale is cheap but can be very time consuming – and even the best ones require a certain level of know-how. And if you decide to get someone else to do it, then costs can vary dramatically from the manageable to the ridiculous!
A good recommendation would be to find a freelancer who specialises in this area and, depending on your own skill set, you might even be able to agree a ‘barter’ arrangement for some of your own services, if relevant! But before you start talking to a programmer, there are a number of things to consider first:
A Domain Name
You may have already thought of a name for your business and registered it, but without thinking about the implications of ‘dot comming’ it. If so, you might need to be a little creative when it comes to finding a suitable domain name. If not, then you have the option to choose a company name based on what domain names are available. If you’re willing to consider a suffix other than .com or .co.uk then there will be more choices open to you – and with the recent advent of the new .co suffix this also provides more options.
Whether to stick to .com or .co.uk will really depend on the ‘seriousness’ of your business. Some industries (such as Law for example) tend to be quite ‘old school’ and will not take some of the funkier .biz or .me.uk suffixes seriously – whereas other types of business, in the creative sector for example, and much more willing to be ‘different’. Have a look at companies or sole traders which are similar to your business and see what they are doing. Also bear in mind that you will be saying either the web address, or your email address, over the phone many times - so you need to make sure it’s easily understood. For example, a name with lot of hyphens, or initial letters, can be very hard to say clearly.
Once you have decided on this, the next step is to start searching for available names. Sites like namesco.com and 123-reg.com are good, but there are many others as well. All you have to do is type your chosen name into the search field and it will give you a list of all suffix options, whether registered or available. Some will show as being immediately available and some might say that they are registered but could possibly be purchased. If you are keen to have one of these names then you can find the owner’s details whether on the domain name site, or by entering the web address into you address bar and seeing what comes up. For speed though, it’s best to choose one that is immediately available.
Once you have chosen your name, it is often easier to ask your programmer to purchase this for you as part of the service, through your chosen hosting company - as it’s much easier if your domain is registered with the same company. If not, you may have to transfer it and this can be time consuming.
One last thing to consider when choosing your name is that domain names are often written all as one word and, whilst you might know what it’s meant to say, it could read quite differently to someone who has never seen it before. One of the most well known examples of this is Experts Exchange – whose web address is www.expertsexchange.com. Think about it . . .
All website's have to ‘live’ somewhere and the two main options are to pay for you site to be hosted, or to host it yourself on your own servers. If you are using something like MrSite then it will automatically be hosted by them, so will not be an issue.
Most small businesses and sole traders choose to have their sites hosted externally as this is a lot more secure and reliable. It’s not expensive and it saves a whole load of other headaches. A recommendation would be to ask the company or freelancer who creates your website if they offer hosting services and if not whether they have a particular company that they work with and are familiar with – and then use this company also. Your programmer will be the person who is working with the hosting company to upload the site initially and then to make changes in the future – so it makes sense if they can work together easily. If you do prefer to choose your own – namesco.com offer a range of packages - then make sure your chosen programmer is happy with your choice.
There are many different hosting packages and it’s easy to be persuaded into getting one which is a lot more complex or expensive than you actually need. Again, your programmer can advise here. The main thing is to find out how much storage space you will get (for the actual site) and then how many different email addresses you can have. You might only need one or two for actual people, but it’s often useful to have things like sales@, information@, accounts@, support@ and so on – even if they end up in the same person’s Inbox.
Before you brief your programmer, or start creating your own site using a package, you first need to decide what structure you would like your website to have. This basically means how many pages, which ones will appear in the ‘top level’ navigation and which ones will be the next level down – and so on. As a general rule, any piece of information should never be more than three clicks from the Home page. Also, you should never have pages ‘buried’ in the site which can only be accessed from other pages and not from the main navigation.
The key thing is that the site should be as easy as possible for people to find their way around. It is a sales and marketing tool at the end of the day, so the last thing you want to do is make it difficult to find information on, or to frustrate your visitors. A typical website structure might look like this:
Home > About Us
Home > Services
Home > Services > Service 1
Home > Services > Service 2
Home > Services > Service 3
Home > Our Clients
Home > Our Clients > Case Studies
Home > Contact Us
It’s generally standard to include an ‘About us’ page and a ‘Contact us’ page – as people are familiar with seeing these and will be able to find vital company and contact information easily. Even if you are a sole trader and it’s just you, these phrases are accepted language. As you will see from the above structure example, a visitor will not have to click more than three times to find any piece of information.
Your programmer will find it much easier to create your site if you have thought about this already – and will also be able to advise you if they have any concerns with your suggested structure, before they begin.
In almost all cases, a web programmer is also a web designer and you should choose a freelancer or a company that can also design the site – based on your existing ‘corporate identity’. If you do not already have a logo, you can ask your web designer/programmer to create this also, as many offer a range of services including more general design work. If not, they will probably be able to recommend someone. Again, working with another freelancer will probably be cheaper than asking a design agency to crate your corporate identity. If you are using something like Mr Site then it’s a case of choosing a template that works best with your existing logo.
The programmer should create what is known as a ’static’ design of your website – e.g. just as a PDF, for you to approve before any programming begins. Generally this will involve a Home page and a 2nd level page design as these are often different, but all other pages will use the same template as the 2nd level page. It will help at this stage if you can give your programmer an idea of what content you would like on the Home page and on one 2nd level page, so that they can create something which looks as close to the ‘real thing’ as possible. See the next section for more information on content.
When designing a website, there are many different options in terms of style, colour scheme etc. - so it will help your programmer enormously if you can show them a few examples of other sites that you like. This will help to give them a feel for what you are looking for and save them from developing something that’s really not your required style! Once you have approved the static pages, they will then start programming the site to look the same.
One of the toughest elements of any website project is the content, and as the company owner or sole trader, this generally falls to you to create - as no one else will really know what you want to say about your business. Having said that, if you’re not Shakespeare, then what you actually want to say and what you might end up writing on paper could be two very different things. This again is where a good freelancer might be an ideal option, unless you happen to know someone who is really good at writing.
There are many freelance copywriters out there who can take your rough copy and turn it into something far more elegant, and it’s well worth spending a little on doing this. A website that’s full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, or one which simply does not make any sense to the visitor, is one of the worst mistakes you can make. Business owners often skip on this area because they think they know best about their own services, but this can be the worst thing to do – as when you are very ‘close’ to something, it’s really hard to write about it for an audience that could be totally new to the whole concept.
There are many other ‘rules’ about writing web copy which needs far more detailed explanation and there are many helpful website's out there to assist you with this, so this will not be covered here. But in a nutshell, you need to make sure that your web content is clear, easy to understand and relevant for the audience. There is also the whole issue of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) to consider, but again, that’s a subject for a more specialised discussion. This page offers a few hints and tips on SEO and keywords.
Putting it all together
Once you have Domain, Hosting, Structure, Design and Content agreed, the actual programming is quite straightforward. Your programmer should make the developing site available only to you in an ‘offline’ location on their own servers, and will send you a link at regular intervals when it’s ready for you to look at. This enables you to see it exactly as it will be when it’s live and makes the approval process far simpler. Once signed off they will then make it live using your chosen domain name.
Your web programmer/designer will ultimately bring everything together for you into a fully functioning website, but do not underestimate the amount of work you will have to put into it as well, to end up with the site you really want. Having said that, and without wanting it to sound daunting, a bit of good planning can make all the difference. Handle it right and you’ll have a fantastic website in no time.
What happens after its live?
Having a great new website is all every well, but not much use for it if people don’t know it exists. As soon as its live and you are happy with it – make sure that you email every one you know and send them a link. You never know where the next piece of business might come from. Also, add a link to the bottom of your email signature as well, so people can find your website easily – and of course remember to use it on every other piece of marketing you do!
But it doesn’t just stop once the site is live. The other thing to remember is that it should be updated regularly. This ensures that visitors know it’s ‘current’ and up to date, but it also helps with Search Engine placing's, as Google likes sites that have new content added all the time. One good way to always have something new to talk about is to include a News page, maybe also with a link to your top two stories on the Home page. Having said that, this only works if you DO keep it up to date. One story a month minimum. If you leave old stories on the site as the most ‘recent’, this can have a negative effect on people’s perception of your business.
How you update the site is also something to consider. Most smaller businesses will opt for a simple site and will ask their programmer to update it when required, and you can possibly agree a standard monthly fee for simple maintenance and so on. The alternative is to have a site which you can update yourself (one of the advantages of packages like Mr Site) but these ‘Content Management Systems’ can be prohibitively expensive for small businesses. Talk to your programmer about which is the best option for you.
We hope you find this page helpful. In line with the above advice we will be adding new guides, hints and tip weekly so be sure to check back regularly.
You may also find our other Free Business Guides useful:
- How to advertise your business
- How to market your company for (almost) free!
- Is freelancing for me?
- What will an accountant do for me?
- How to be number one on Google
- Benefits of an Accountant
- Do I need an accountant as a Freelancer?
- Top Tips to getting more Customers
- Choosing and Registering a company name
- Do I need a business plan?
- Choosing a small business accountant
If you'd like to chat with Easy Accountancy about your small business you can Ask us a question, call us on 0500 234 111 / 01442 275 767.