If you have a small business, or are thinking of starting one, you need a website. There’s a lot to consider though — and many small businesses fail because they’ve overlooked one or more of the essentials. So here’s how to start a small business website.
Ready? Let’s begin!
What Every Small Business Needs
First, there are a few things every business needs. Hopefully you’ve considered these already, but let’s cover them briefly, just in case.
A Good Offer And A Realistic Target Market
The key words here are “good”, “realistic” and “target”.
Startups often hope to sell something they like to “everyone”. That rarely works — especially if no-one else sells anything similar. If there’s no competition, the market may not exist, or may not be sustainable. It’s easier to sell an improvement on competitor’s offers than something entirely new.
Either way, don’t just “follow your dreams” — it’s far less painful to do your research, make a plan, and follow that. Online survey software can help with this, and you can find more advice on planning your first business here.
Another common mistake is assuming that “cheaper” is an improvement, or necessarily easier to sell. It almost always reduces quality as well as profit margins. Also, others can always undercut you by reducing quality further — and handling complaints cuts into profits even further. So competing on price alone is rarely sustainable.
So good offers meet a real need at a price some people will pay. Those people are your target market. It’s essential to focus on serving them, as trying to serve everyone is costly and ineffective. You also need to be sure that there are enough of them to sustain sales levels that will keep you in business.
A Marketing Plan
Identifying your market is the first step in your marketing plan. Now you need to plan how to reach enough of that market to survive and grow. That means figuring out where to find them, and how to draw them into and through your marketing funnel.
So you need to plan for “AIDA”. You’ll need ways to get Attention, then develop Interest into the Desire that leads to Action. That’s marketing in a nutshell. It’s called a funnel because more people enter the upper levels than reach the lower ones. It becomes sales at the ‘Action’ step — and that may also use a funnel process to increase average order values through upsells and cross-sells.
So your funnel may involve multiple offers and retargeting across several channels. Or it may be a system for gaining referrals consistently. Whatever it looks like, you will need to plan your route to success. You’ll also need ways to check that you’re still on that route — and the flexibility to change it if needed, too.
A Realistic Marketing Budget
The more you invest in marketing, the more it can do to boost your ROI. So you need to invest in the best marketing you can afford, and your website is likely to be your main marketing vehicle.
In contrast, underinvestment undermines success. So marketing isn’t just an extra expense — it normally costs less than not marketing.
Remember — you’re going into competition, and that competition is marketing. That takes a lot of time, effort, and skill. So the less you invest in marketing, the more you will struggle to make sales, and the easier it will be for others to beat you to them.
Still, it is an ongoing process that needs to be sustainable. So it’s common to invest around 10% of projected turnover in marketing to grow, or around 5% to just avoid decline.
What Do You Need To Start A Small Business Website?
Your website is the heart of your sales funnel. It’s your shop front. So what will you need for that?
Humans like images, so it’s easy to imagine your site just needs to be pretty. However, that’s not enough.
People will come to your site for solutions. Yet images alone won’t answer many questions, and search engines can’t interpret them. So broadly, the more text (aka “copy”) you have on your site, the better.
That text content needs to be well-written and persuasive. Ideally, it will also be structured and search-engine optimized. Here’s the key, though — good content is written to help your target audience. Not for search engines. Not for you. For your target audience.
So think about who you’re writing for. It can help to imagine an ideal customer as a real person rather than a faceless demographic. Marketers and writers call these “Personas” or “Avatars”.
What questions would they ask? Answer those. What concerns might they have? Address those. Whatever you want to tell them, imagine them asking, “So what? Why should I care?” — then address that, too. Focus on benefits, not features.
Why? Because sales are built on trust and emotion, not dry data.
Still, we aren’t all keen, confident writers. Even if you are, writing website copy for online audiences is not like the formal writing many of us were taught in school. Writing good sales copy is another skill again, as is optimizing that for search. So don’t be afraid to ask for help.
A Traffic Plan
Your conversion rates are the percentages of traffic (i.e. website visitors) that perform key actions. On e‑commerce sites, the key action is a sale. On others, it’s usually contacting you. Either way, you need traffic — and a plan for getting it consistently.
“Build it and they will come” stopped working in the late ‘90s. So trying to avoid marketing by relying on casual word of mouth (aka “hope marketing”) doesn’t work. It just hands sales to your competitors.
Google doesn’t rank sites based on looks, either. So no matter how pretty your site is, you’ll need a traffic plan. Broadly, that means one or more of these sources:
- Search engines — for which you’ll need search engine optimization
- Word of mouth — networking and social media marketing
- Content marketing — both on your own site and elsewhere, to boost your search and social media results
- Paid ads — either highly controllable and cost-effective online ads, or the uncertain, scattergun approach of traditional media
- Offline assets — signage that directs people to your site
- Manual Outreach — phone and email marketing
Different approaches suit different circumstances. For instance, signage can work well for building trades. Social media can be effective but time-consuming, as can phone and email marketing, which are more tightly regulated. Paid ads can work if you get the numbers right, but are costly to maintain. Search engine marketing and content marketing take time, but then continue to attract free traffic, making them more cost effective.
Still, most sales only convert after several contacts. So many firms use a mix of these approaches.
Budgeting To Start A Small Business Website
If this sounds like a lot of work — it is. Only amateurs and cowboys will tell you any different. Professionals can make it easier, and give you a far higher chance of seeing a good return on your investment (“ROI”) — but that does require investment.
So how much of your marketing budget will it take to start a small business website?
Website performance also relies on details that amateur and even inexperienced designers often overlook. So quality costs, but it’s worth investing in.
Still, custom work takes time, and often a lot of discussion. So expect to pay for weeks or months of work, not hours.
Whilst precise rates vary, cheap web designers tend to disappear. Most go back to regular jobs, where they can easily earn over £750 a week, with no business expenses.
You don’t want that. You will need ongoing support, because websites are ongoing services. So don’t ask them to work for less than they could earn elswhere.
In any case, as key marketing assets, decent websites more than pay for themselves — and better websites can boost your ROI.
For instance, few investments offer more than 10x ROI. So paying £3k to make £30k would be a good deal. Half that investment would be likely to take much longer to get the same result.
That’s why successful businesses spend thousands on their websites. That, and to leave those who underinvest in the dust.
So what are your goals? How much you want your website to make? Work those out, and invest accordingly.
Need Some Help To Start Your Small Business Website?
Because there’s so much to consider, it can be hard to keep track and keep moving on your own. If it’s your first business, finding balanced advice can be tricky, too. Friends and family rarely understand what’s involved, so tend to be either too dismissive, or over-supportive.
Starting a business requires facing and managing risk and uncertainty. It’s all too easy to keep putting off tough decisions until other distractions arise, or to launch without addressing critical questions. Both of those paths are how dreams die. So it helps to have informed business support from the outset.
Since 2005, I’ve specialised in helping small firms grow online. So if you’d like to learn more about how I could help you, tell me your goals and we’ll go from there.