Having a business website is like working out: something is better than nothing, even if it’s not perfect. Zero customers are finding you online if you don’t have a website.
However, many small business owners use their lack of budget or lack of tech knowledge as a reason to stick creating a website on the back burner. They think that a good business website is a) expensive because you need a web designer or b) difficult to create unless you ARE a web designer.
As with everything, there are different levels of “do it yourself”. We created a website builder tools guide to help you compare some of the popular DIY and pre-packaged solutions. This guide is certainly not a comprehensive list - our goal is to show the range of features available if you are considering the DIY route.
At the most inexpensive end of the range, both Google (Google Sites) and Microsoft (Office Live) offer free website creation tools. There are add-on services for an additional fee- mainly more storage and email accounts. These services are meant to integrate with the companies’ other software and applications, so if you are a heavy Google Apps user, for example, you might feel comfortable using Google Sites. However, they are both somewhat limited compared to the other website builders.
The next level is offered by companies like Register.com and Network Solutions, which offer both DIY and “build it for me” options. The custom-built options are a step beyond trying to do it yourself, more of a professional customization of predesigned templates. They also offer custom designs for a higher fee.
Some points to consider before creating your own site:
Does the domain host support a blog?
If you plan to use a blog as part of your marketing strategy, make sure that the provider you choose supports the kind of blog you want over the long term. For example, Register.com and GoDaddy will host Wordpress blogs, which is an open source application, but OfficeLive integrates with Windows Live Spaces, which is a Microsoft product.
Can you easily add code from another application?
For example, if you use (or plan to use) an email marketing provider like Constant Contact, you’ll want the ability to add a snippet of code to your site so that your mailing list signup box will display on the page. Can you add video? Post spreadsheets, PDFs or presentations? Audio files? Think about the kind of content you will put on your site beyond plain text.
Do you need an ecommerce solution? Will you sell anything on your site?
A simple PayPal button might be sufficient for some businesses, but if you sell a physical product you’ll probably need something more sophisticated that incorporates a shopping cart and even inventory management. This is an important area to think ahead - you might only have ten products now, but perhaps you plan to expand into several product lines, or start selling to wholesale buyers.
Check out the support policy
There’s nothing worse than having a critical problem - or even a simple, quick question - and not being able to get help quickly. Make sure you can get a live person on the phone or chat when you need support.
Find out what the common problems are, and don’t be afraid to consult an expert
Jennifer Shaheen, President of The Technology Therapy Group, suggests reading up on the support forums, blogs and articles about the service to see what problems, bugs, and questions other customers are having. She also recommends spending time researching the applications offered by each provider. “Business owners need to be clear about the fact that the design and function of pre-packaged hosted solutions belong to the company and that when they out-grow this system they will need to start from scratch. When it comes to SEO or adding social elements not all pre-packaged solutions will allow for these items. They should do the research ahead of time or take a test drive before they launch.”
Don’t hesitate to actually talk to a designer and find out what’s really involved in building the website you need. They might even steer you in the right direction for the DIY stage to save you headaches later when your business and your budget have grown to the point where you are ready for their services. Andrew Schulkind of Andigo New Media agrees on the importance of planning ahead. “One concern you should have is whether the time and effort you invest will be lost completely when you move to a more professional site. If you work with a good developer and explain what you need now and what you think you'll need later, he or she should be able to build a site that allows for the expansion, or advise you the best option for now based on your budget.”
When you’re choosing ANY tech tool for your business, most of the work goes into the upfront business planning you must do before the shopping can even begin. Always do your research or get a test drive, and try to talk with the support departments to see what their response and customer service is like.
Regardless of HOW you create your business website, make sure you check out Ramon Ray’s 10 Web Site Musts for Building Business Class Web Sites