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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.

Legal Stuff

You’ll obvi­ously need to comply with reg­u­la­tions applying to your business, online sales, privacy, and pos­sibly tele­phone or email mar­keting. In the UK, the ICO and GOV.UK sites are great places to start your research. Some of that involves adding stuff to your website, including Terms and Conditions, Cookie con­trols and a Privacy Policy. These aren’t easy to write, so iubenda can help a lot.

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?

Great Content

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?

Well, whilst affordable website packages may cover small, simple sites, the flex­ib­ility and power of truly bespoke pro­fes­sional web design requires a lot more work.

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.

Need some help to start your small business website?

Get in touch!