By Jeff Smith
Yes, your local small business needs a website! Almost every business that hopes to gain new customers needs a website. Now, when there’s a smartphone in every pocket and computers and tablets in every home and office, a website is your digital storefront, or your proverbial shingle in the window. It’s your coupon booklet, your informational guide, your hold message, and your sales pitch. It’s everything that a customer or client would need to make a decision to come in and visit you, or to pick up the phone and call you.
Return on Investment
Here’s an interesting thought. Say a basic, small business, informational website costs $2500. That sounds like a large amount of money to a small business owner who is barely paying the bills and the payroll. But what does your business do? Are you in any sort of service industry? Law, marketing, counseling, medical, tutoring, mechanics, any number of others? If you are, how much is an average client or customer worth to you in say, a year?
In some of these cases, a single client who locates and chooses your business over a competitor due to your website will completely cover the cost of the website’s creation. A single client. In others, it will take only a few. Many local business owners will look around and say that their website, if they had one, would not get many visitors. That may be exactly the case! But if I own a coffee shop on the corner of Second and Elm Streets, and only twenty people a month Google for my business, or for coffee shops near them, and make a five dollar purchase when they come in, that’s $1200 in new business in the year. If only half of that business returns a time or two that year, you’re at your goal of repaying the website. If many of them become 5x weekly regulars, you could be exceeding that goal very shortly. Then any business it generates after that (and any continuing business) is in the green.
Impressions and the Public
Another solid point to consider is how your business looks, both in person and on the Internet. That matters. It may not matter to you, or to your regular clients or customers, but I promise you it does matter to the potential new ones. The passers-through. The new residents in your area. The new business that opened up down the street and might work with you. If they look up your business and see a site that appears decades old, or is non-functional, or that there simply is nothing but perhaps a Yelp Review or two… they may simply just move on to the next option. I have done this before, and I bet that most readers have to. If the site is confusing, hard to follow, wants me to sign up before I’m ready, or does not have the information I need, and I don’t have to use it? I don’t use it.
Now that smartphones and good Internet connections in homes are more of a norm than an exception, things have changed about the way people look for things. The phone book and a TV commercial just aren’t good enough. If you want your small business to be visible to the public, you’re going to need a website — and unfortunately, that is probably not even enough anymore. It needs to be mobile friendly, or better yet, responsive — especially now that mobile users can, in some places, account for half of Internet users. And Google is penalizing websites in search results for mobile that are not optimized for mobile devices. It needs to look sharp, and show all of the pertinent information to get the customers to you, and it needs to do so on any device they choose to look your business up from.
What to Do… and Not
The best, and most obvious solution, if you are a small business owner, manager, or even employee with any pull, is to hire a professional or a professional team to develop your new site, or renovate your existing one if it is outdated or inadequate. But this is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some contract companies or freelancers cost more than others. Don’t be afraid to get more than one quote. Find someone who is easy to work with, who speaks your language fluently, and who falls within your budget. If you have a strict budget, don’t be afraid to give them a ballpark up front. You can still price shop around, but this will save you from hour long conversations culminating in quotes that are well beyond your limits. If you give them a budget, and you receive a quote just at the budget, then just go talk to another to see if that’s reasonable or not. Check their resume. Education doesn’t much matter, but a well rounded portfolio does. If you’re a suspicious person by nature, call up a company that they claim to have worked with.
If you have someone at your business (or you yourself) who is interested in trying it, you can create a site yourself using a content management system like Wordpress. Unfortunately, the trick is knowing your limits, and often we aren’t good with that. If creating a well rounded business site is beyond you or your coworkers, partners, or employees, then don’t do it. Try a simpler tool like SquareSpace. If that’s still too much effort for you, or you want or need something more complex, then return to hiring someone.
Resist the urge to find the cheapest labor possible on bidding sites. On the other hand, know that you don’t have to accept the most expensive bids from large marketing or web agencies, either. Shop around and find someone in your budget and that you like — but remember to set a realistic budget — this is probably a project that will measure in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, so don’t expect to go pick up a professional small business site for the price of a nice meal out on the town with your family. You’re paying for a portal to your business that will, in time, generate leads and translate into increased revenue. Treat it as such and things will go much more smoothly!