Having a website is no longer a choice for a business. Regardless of the size, industry, or location – a company not having a website online is like not having a name.

Gosia Radkiewicz, co-founder at BB E-commerce and Bike Belle, takes a look at the possibilities open to start-ups who are in need of an online presence but are on a shoestring budget.

With ever more people leaving the comfort of the 9-5 job and starting their own businesses or side projects, getting exposure and reaching a wider audience is imperative. Imagine going to a business meeting without business cards: new clients and opportunities would simply bypass you, heading directly to your competitor. Sometimes the first thing we need is to test a market or get a web presence and determine what kind of customer base we will have once we get off the ground. Either way, in today’s day and age most entrepreneurs operate on a tight budget.

Do it now

We are all busy people and sometimes it feels impossible to spare this extra time for another task. But remember: this is an important one. Without a website, you are losing potential customers every hour. If you cannot commit to a bigger project, start small and get a small and simple one-page website with your business name, contact details and essential information on the products or services you offer.

This first website should serve two purposes:

  • let people know that you exist and how to reach you; and
  • let people know what you have to offer.

Focus on the essentials and make it easy for a person who finds this temporary website to get in touch with you.

So what can you do on a tight budget? A lot more than you might think.

Do it for free

But what about the website domain? What about the design? What about the hosting services?

Good news: you really can start with zero experience and a very small budget.

First, you need a domain name, which needs to reflect your business name or idea. It helps if you pick a catchy name – but it’s best to not get too clever with unusual spellings or extremely uncommon words. Remember that the idea is to be memorable, which means that people need to be able to easily spell it. Don’t use hyphens or underscores.

Once you come up with a list of potential names, check sites like godaddy.com to see if the corresponding domain names are available. Consider whether your business will be local or international and the type of industry you will be in. There are many extensions (“TLDs”) that one can use to suit a need or purpose i.e. .com, .org, .net, .biz, etc.  However, keep in mind that many TLDs are meant to be used for a specific purpose.  For example:

  • .gov is restricted for use only by government entities;
  • .org is generally intended for non-profit organizations; and
  • .net is intended for organizations involved in networking technologies, such as Internet Service Providers and other infrastructure companies.
Related reading: Build a Fashion Website – Legal Steps Part 1

For most, .com is the best choice for TLD, simply because it’s the most-recognizable by the average consumer.  However, there are new TLDs available that can greatly expand your options, such as .design, .agency, .art, and many others.  Just be aware that since these new TLDs are not yet widely used, consumers could get confused, and try tacking .com on the end of the domain name when looking you up.

After you have your domain, you have to host your site somewhere. The choice will be seemingly overwhelming, but despair not. Most webhosts more or less offer the same services – but vary in details and pricing. Find something that fits your budget and requirements. Search on the web for user feedback and reviews, ask your peers for recommendations, and do some research before you make your final choice. Things to be careful about and look into are:

  • consider what your website requirements may be and see if they cater to them;
  • check server reliability;
  • pricing structures – what do each of their packages include; and
  • fast and reliable customer and technical support.

If you have an existing website that you would like to move (known as “migrating your site”) to a new host, again, do your research. Many hosting companies now offer site migration as one of their services.

For the actual website creation – a number of free-to-use, beginner-friendly web building services are now available online.

Platforms like Wix, Mozello, Squarespace, or Weebly allow you to compose your own site using pre-designed blocks and elements and host it on their servers, too. The free plan usually means that you will not be able to get your own domain name and there will be a service provider’s logo somewhere on your site, but you can always upgrade your plan later, and add new sections to your site, buy a dedicated domain, add content, link the page with other media of yours.

Keep in mind though, that proprietary platforms like Wix etc. are very restrictive in terms of what you can actually create. Some platforms do have optional add-ons, but they come at a price. If all you need is a very simple no-frills website, and you don’t mind paying what could end up being a fairly high monthly expense, then a proprietary platform might be all you need. You may find after a while, however, that you need something that isn’t possible or would require hiring a developer (at high cost) in order to accomplish.

Do it on a tight budget

If you are looking for a more professional-looking and user-friendly website, try using a specialised agency that will be able to provide you with a tailored solution.

There is a number of ways how you can get professional service at a fraction of what a corporation would pay.

Save on web design by trying a ready-made website template instead of a dedicated project – a number of companies such as Themeforest or WPMU Dev offer themes at competitive prices. You then only need to get the agency to install and code the site for you, optimise it for search and you are ready to roll.

Sometimes when we have clients come to us with a tight budget, we discuss their requirements and help guide them to a theme or template we have used in the past and will not take much time to cosmetically change and tailor to the client’s needs. This will save developer time on our side and therefore reduce costs for the client. Being aware of what you want and what is possible and at what cost, is the secret here. Be open to new ideas and think long-term. There is nothing to say that what you launch with will not change. Start small and build on it.

Another way to keep costs down is photography. Images are important. Many spend most of their budget on professional photography before they even know if their idea is viable. But instead of paying for a professional photoshoot or buying expensive photos from image banks, maybe try royalty-free services such as Pexels or similar, who offer free imagery under various licenses.

Expand your online reach

While launching your own website online is an accomplishment in itself, it’s not enough. Spreading the word out there that you exist and reaching your target customers is the name of the game.

A number of free tools can help you reach out to more people who are in search of businesses like yours.

The easiest and most popular ones come from Google. Google My Business is an app that allows you to list your company on Google Maps and have a more prominent place in Google search and it only takes a few minutes to set up.  Keep in mind that if you’re a home-based business and you don’t intend to have clients come to you, you may not want to have Google pointing a red arrow straight at your house.

Listing your business on Google+ also improves your position in Google search.

Do not forget to set up your social media profiles, and include those links on your website.

Final Tip

Whatever you decide to do, make sure your website is mobile-ready.  Statistics show that a large portion of consumers use their mobile phones to surf the web, so your website needs to look good and function well when it’s scaled down to fit that small screen.

With more and more people accessing online services using their phones instead of on a desktop computer, be it social media, shopping or professional services – you don’t want to miss out on business or disappoint your visitors. Remember that first impressions count and have a lasting impact.

 

For more info and help, you can reach Gosia on LinkedIn.

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