Business management

SME Tools: a beginner’s guide to building a website

It’s your calling card on the web and could be crucial to the success of your business. But where do you start?

To get the digital ball rolling, he set up a simple landing page for his customers which showed them his product selection.

“Initially, it was meant to be more of an online brochure for corporate clients,” he says. “But it was quickly evident, even back then, that it was a truly valuable and cost-effective way to present our products to our target market.”

Today, Maxwell-Scott operates seven international websites and sells worldwide, and the founder credits his decision to take the business online as the driving factor behind this success. “As a small business, funds are usually tight, so that often limits you to a very local reach,” he says. “An online presence will give your business the chance to be discovered by an audience you might not have even considered.”

So how do you get started with building a website for your business?

Learn your tools: the rise of the website builder

It’s never been easier to build a website. Numerous online tools known as website builders enable you to create one for free – although these free versions all come with certain restrictions, the most significant being a lack of a personalised URL (such as yourbusinessname.com).

However, adding extra functionality and a personalised web address isn’t expensive – website builders such as Wix, Squarespace and Weebly all have packages aimed at small businesses which typically cost around £50 – £150 a year.

Alongside these are content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress and Joomla!, with which you can also make a website, though these are generally considered to be a little trickier to master.

Caroline Nolder, founder of bed-and-breakfast consultancy B&B Doctor, chose Wix for her website. “I wanted a company that had visual aids to help me, and Wix was the easiest,” she says.

An online presence will give your business the chance to be discovered by an audience you might not have even considered

William Forshaw
Founder, Maxwell-Scott

After a few attempts, she decided on a package named Ascend by Wix, which comes with a suite of tools specifically designed for small businesses.

“I sent the finished results to a couple of mentors who tweaked them a little and, finally, I was very happy with the results,” says Nolder, who says her enquires have accelerated considerably since the site launched.

Brand identity: choosing a URL

Finding a good URL for your website these days (take a look at names.co.uk or 123 Reg) can seem an impossible challenge.

However, Phil Upton, MD of digital agency Purple Creative Studio, points out that it’s actually not as important as it once was to have a domain name that describes exactly what you do, because search engines have become adept at reading and scanning the content of your website in order to understand your business.

Whatever you settle on, however, he recommends that you secure both the .com and .co.uk versions to protect your brand.

The solo route: total control of your website

When setting up her B2B communications business McBryde & Co, founder Rachel McBryde (currently based in NatWest’s Entrepreneur Accelerator hub in Newcastle) opted for Squarespace.

What McBryde likes about her website – which is something true of all sites created with a website builder – is that she can go into it whenever she wants and make changes to pictures, blogs, headlines and so on.

“I've heard so many horror stories of people who had a website but were completely beholden to a designer who then went bust,” says McBryde. The website builders have changed the landscape – not least because users don’t need any coding skills; elements are simply dragged and dropped into place. In fact, many digital design agencies aren’t averse to using them as a kind of halfway house for clients who can’t afford a more bespoke service.

Upton says they’ve used Squarespace templates for several clients, and agrees that this can be a good option for smaller SMEs. “It’s a pretty powerful toolkit,” he says.

The agency route: upping your game with expert help

Using an agency to design a website can cost from around £1,000 or so, and by hiring a pro you should expect to increase the likelihood of your website looking and functioning better than if you tried the solo route. On top of this, Upton points out that working with a specialist means you can grow and develop the site with them.

“I also think there’s an understanding these days of what a professional digital presence is,” he says. “While some of the website builders and CMS options are adequate, they might not give you the credible web presence you’re looking for.”

It’s all down to personal choice, confidence in your design skills and, of course, budget.

Getting started: top tips for building a website

New to website creation? Simon Paine, co-founder of PopUp Business School, explains how to get started.

  1. Look around. Starting a new website can be daunting, but, whatever your market, someone will have been there before you. “Without blatantly stealing,” says Paine, “take inspiration from some of the websites you like the look of.”
  2. Try before you buy. There are at least a dozen website builders and CMS to try out, and Paine recommends that you play around with a few before settling on one, as they all have different templates – and some are easier to use than others. If your budget is seriously limited and you’re baffled by all things digital, a company named UENI has developed its own tech which lets you create a business website with minimal involvement, free of charge.
  3. Check your phone. Always consider how your customers are likely to be accessing your site; all businesses should now be adopting a mobile-first mentality when designing their website. To give your customers the best user experience, your site should be attractive and easy to use in both a mobile and a desktop view.
  4. Publish and be damned! “You can drive business with even a one-page website,” says Paine. “Press publish, because hardly anyone will find you online just yet, but you’ll now have a sense of urgency to move the business forward.”
  5. Get feedback. One way to improve your fledgling website is to ask people to visit and make suggestions for improvements. “In reality, your website’s never finished,” says Paine.

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