Not long ago we used to ask the question “why put your business online”? Today, the question is nothing short of a no-brainer – the web expands your business reach. It makes doing business with you easy and, thanks to blogging and online communities; the web quite literally puts a social and engaging face to your business.
That said, getting started is easier said than done. Choosing a web host, writing and maintaining actionable and relevant content, and running an online store is quite an undertaking for any small business.
Here are 5 steps to help you set up your company web site.
1) Choose a Domain Name
Ideally, you chose, or at least considered choosing, a domain name (your web site address) early on in the process of naming your business. This would afford a greater likelihood of you being able to secure the domain name you want when it comes time to set up a web site. If not, read these tips from Business.gov for choosing a domain name. Once you’ve chosen it you’ll need to register it with an organization called InterNIC. This guide also offers tips on how to register your domain name. Most domain name registration services let you “park” or reserve your name until you are ready to use it, so securing it as early as possible is a safe bet.
2) Select a Web Hosting Provider
There are literally hundreds of low-cost web hosting options each offering easy-to-build web site templates, the ability to host custom-designed pages, and merchant accounts. So where do you start?
CNet.com offers a useful tool for comparing web hosting options (look under Basic Hosting). If you are reasonably tech savvy, services such as WordPress.com offer a lot of advantages as a web host option – it’s free, can deal with huge traffic, is updated frequently and plugs you into a social network. (Here’s a quick tutorial from Serious Simplicity on Using WordPress to Build Small web sites).
When in doubt talk to other business owners about their experiences – and be sure to have a clear picture of your needs, now and in the future (i.e. does your web host offer an integrated blog, merchant account, etc.). Use online communities and social networks – there are lots of people out there willing to help, even Tweeting for recommendations can return great advice.
3) Determine what you Want your Site to Look Like
To help build a picture of what your web site will look like – start at the drawing board. Consider these points:
- On the Web, Content is King – Develop a plan to provide and maintain interesting and actionable content. Consider hiring a copy writer if you don’t have the expertise in-house (the investment might just pay off).
- Outline Your Site Structure – In the business of web design this process is called building a “strawman”. Many web host templates make it very easy for you to add and change the structure of your web site before it goes live – but it’s a useful exercise to map how your content will flow and what your linking strategy is in advance.
- Web Design and Navigation = Whether your use a web host-provided template, hire a designer, or do it yourself, focus on simplicity, readability, professionalism and consistency. Use images, icons, and graphics that “gel” with your brand and business-type and don’t take your links and pages so deep that readers have to click back through several pages to find where they started. Test out several design and navigation options and get feedback from friends or acquaintances who are less familiar with your business than you are.
4) Build an E-Commerce Web Site
If you want to sell your products and services online you will need a merchant account (which allows you to process credit card transactions from your site through a bank). Most web hosting companies provide these as add-on options to your regular hosting package. Pricing levels for online merchant services vary according to the number of products you sell online, and (on top of your regular monthly hosting fee) you should plan on spending a minimum of $17 per month, plus around 3% of your sales revenues.
PayPal is an alternative transaction option, but tends to be used by sellers who want to sell an occasional item online (through eBay, for example) so it’s probably best used only when your online store is in start-up mode – to help you test the market waters.
For more insight on making a successful move to e-commerce read: Getting Started with E-Commerce – An Entrepreneur’s Checklist and for more information on payment options read Determining the Best Customer Payment Options for your Small Business – and Managing the Bad Ones.
If you are engaging in any form of e-commerce in your online business venture, you should also be aware of these federally-mandated e-commerce rules and regulations.
5) Generating Traffic to your Web Site
To succeed in your online business venture, it’s critical that you generate traffic – and this is one of the biggest challenges of starting an online business.
Read these two articles for tips on promoting your web site through traditional offline channels as well as online channels such as social media, pay-per-click advertising, and blogs:
- Starting and Growing an Online Business: An Entrepreneur’s Checklist
- Thinking of Starting a Blog? Tips to Help You Start, Maintain & Grow a Small Business Blog!
- Small Business Marketing Guide – Tips, tools and lots of information from – Business.gov to help you market your start-up or small business.
- 10 Steps to Starting an Online Business
- Getting Started with Social Media Marketing
- Google AdWords Explained – Growing Your Small Business with this Cost Effective Marketing Tool
- How Small Businesses Can Protect and Secure Customer Information
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