Building the first website for your small business: a step-by-step guide
A professional website can help you turn your business idea into a reality or take your enterprise to the next level. To truly compete in South Africa today, you need a strong presence on the internet, where your customers spend much of their day reading, watching, researching, socialising and buying.
Sure, it’s fine to start with a Facebook business page as you test the waters of taking your small business online. But as you get serious about competing online (and off), you’ll want to expand your digital footprint to include a ‘real’ website with a custom domain.
Without a proper website, you’re missing a huge opportunity to:
Be more accessible
You can’t be available 24/7, but your website is always open to showcase your products and services, contact information, store hours and more.
Build your brand
No matter how small you are, you can afford to use a website, social media profiles and other web-based efforts to raise brand awareness, establish credibility, and develop a loyal – and growing – customer base.
These days, a business needs a web presence to look legit.
Connect with customers
The internet offers endless possibilities for engaging with your target audience, in real-time, in the comfort of your pyjamas.
Generate sales leads
You can boost your customer base with a website, social media profiles, contact forms, and e-mail marketing campaigns.
Play to win
Playing to win means taking a strategic approach to building a web presence, including:
- Getting a domain name that represents who you are and what you do.
- Taking a strategic approach to planning your website.
- Launching a website dedicated to telling your story.
- Creating valuable content.
This guide will show you how to take your small business online, step by step.
1. Get a domain
Your domain is the part of your website address that comes after the www. Your domain is your business’s nameplate on the web, so take care to choose a domain name that represents your business and is easy to remember.
For example: www.coolexample.co.za
For a business, a domain name can also anchor a professional email address. Like this: firstname.lastname@example.org
What’s a domain extension?
A top-level domain (TLD) is the domain’s extension – the part of the domain name following the “dot,” like the bold part in these examples:
How to choose a domain name
- Keep it short. Would you remember a domain name if you saw it on the side of a bus?
- Make it easy to type. Avoid hyphens and unusual spellings.
- Include keywords. Try to use words that people might enter when searching for your type of business.
- Target your area. Use your city or province in your domain name to appeal to local customers.
- Pick the right extension. Industry- or geo-specific domain endings might be a better fit for your business than a more generic .com. Try it on for size.
Make sure the name you love isn’t trademarked, copyrighted or in use by another company. That could result in a hassle that’s easily avoided.
Register your domain(s)
It’s time to visit your preferred domain registrar – an accredited organisation that sells domain names to the public – to start your search. If the domain you want is available, you’ll register it for a specific amount of time. As long as it’s registered to you, no one else can claim it.
Want some privacy? The WHOIS database lists every single domain currently registered in the world, along with the name and contact information for whoever registered the domain as its administrator. Get domain privacy if you’re not into that kind of visibility.
How much will your domain cost? It depends on factors like the name’s projected popularity and its extension. You can easily register a domain for as little as R12 a year or pay thousands for that must-have name.
Pro tip: If you register more than one domain, attach your website to your primary domain and point any secondary domains to that address. It’s really easy.
2. Plan your website approach
Like most things in business and life, a little planning goes a long way toward ensuring that your site will do all the things you want it to do for your business. Do you want your website to inform? To inspire? To generate sales leads?
Is it enough for your website to showcase your products and services, or do you want visitors to be able to buy directly from the site? If so, you’ll want an eCommerce website. When you figure out what you want your site to do for your business, you can begin building the type of site that will achieve those objectives.
Prepare to sell online
As mentioned before, if you plan to sell products or services on your website, you’ll need an e-commerce website, also known as an online store. Here’s what you’ll need to plan for:
- A shopping cart. This tool will let you display product images and descriptions. Look for a cart option that includes important features like shipping options and inventory tracking.
- Payment processing. While you can use a third-party service to collect payments, establishing your own merchant account to accept credit card payments will give your business more credibility. Merchant accounts let you accept payments from major credit, debit and gift cards on your site – so your customers don’t have to leave your online store to pay for their goods.
- GoDaddy’s Online Store includes built-in payment processing.
- SSL. Secure your e-commerce website with an SSL certificate so that customers feel safe making purchases on your site. SSL certificates are digital certificates that encrypt the information your customers send when they purchase products or complete forms on your website. Visual indicators of an SSL can include a padlock icon in the browser, https:// before the website address, and a green address bar.
3. Pick your designer
If you are not well-versed in the art of website building, you’ve got options. You can do it yourself with a template-based site builder or content management system like WordPress. Too busy for that? Hire a professional.
Let’s take a closer look at your choices:
Site builders like GoDaddy’s Website Builder are great if you’re a DIY-type who wants an affordable, attractive, basic website in a short amount of time. Simply choose a pre-designed template and then replace the text and images to meet your needs. Swipe-to-style. Easy to create and update. Plus, most popular site builder plans include website hosting.
Do you like the idea of building and updating your own website without learning HTML, but want more flexibility than a site builder? If you’ve got a little skill and some extra time, WordPress might be for you. You can choose from free or paid WordPress themes (designs for the overall style of your website). A range of plugins can also boost your site’s functionality.
Some WordPress offerings, like GoDaddy Managed WordPress, bundle hosting, security and support into one plan to make it easier to set up and maintain a WordPress website.
Hiring a professional designer is a great option if you have an idea for your website, but don’t want to build it yourself. A pro can collaborate with you to turn your vision into a functional, customised website that meets your online goals. It can be expensive, but the results are often worth it.
4. Create remarkable content
So, what’s your story? Every business has one. A compelling story drives an effective small business website. How did you get started? What do you tell customers about your business, or how do you explain to friends how you make a living? What problem can you solve for your customers, as only you can?
Think about your mission, your passion and what makes you stand apart from competitors. Then, start writing.
Five core pages
You’re going to tell that story throughout a handful of pages on your website. Five core pages – Home, About Us, Products/Services, Testimonials, and Contact Us – makes for a solid small business website, but you really can do it in as few as three pages.
Developing the content for these pages requires telling your story with words that count (text) and images (photos, videos, your logo, etc.), presented in an appealing way (that’s the design factor).
It’s important to make your website easy for visitors to travel through, or navigate. A click here, a link there, and they’ll get a clear idea of who you are and what you can offer to them.
Not sure how to start telling your business’s unique story on your website? Here are a few places you might find inspiration:
- talk to friends
- customer referrals
- existing brochures and other marketing materials
- company newsletters or cards
- other websites
Here are a few design fundamentals you’ll want to consider:
- Think about how you want to incorporate your company logo into your website’s design.
- For brand harmony, it’s important to choose the right colour palette for your website. Think about the feelings that colours evoke for you and match them with how you want your customers to feel when they visit your website.
- The type on your website will impact readers subtly, but because text is everywhere on your site, it adds up to a substantial impression. Think about the fonts that might best represent your particular business – from bold, linear styles to more delicate, feminine fonts.
- Layouts and more. Consider the amount of “whitespace” (space between elements) in your design. A lot of whitespace can denote clarity or simplicity, while having very little of it can make your site look active or intense. Other elements, like background colours, gradients, and the “texture” of your overall design, can contribute to your online impression.
- Show instead of tell. If it takes a thousand words to explain something, showing it is better. Use video and images to create an impact.
We live in a mobile-first world, so many (if not most) of your visitors will view your website from a mobile device. More than just a site you can see on a phone, a mobile website is optimised for use on mobile devices.
It’s designed for a positive user experience on mobile. Whether you design your own website or hire a designer to do it for you, make sure your small business website is mobile-ready.
This article has been adapted from an original piece by Andrea Rowland.