Do I need a website for my business?

Your question

I’m finally taking the plunge and am setting up my own business. There’s so much I need to get done in a short space of time, and have been wondering if I need to go to the expense and effort of creating a company website. I don’t have the skills to build one myself and I can’t afford to pay someone to do it for me. Is a website really necessary?

Our answer

It’s not absolutely necessary to have a company website, but it is critical that your customers can find information about your business online. A professional website gives your business authenticity, but more importantly, an online presence puts your business in front of people who are searching for your product or service.

Your online presence can take a variety of forms, and you will need to determine which approach suits you best. There are a few ways to create a low cost low effort website, or you could create an online presence using social media sites and search directories.

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Be found online

First and foremost you need to make sure that your company is listed online. The most popular place to search is Google, so make sure your business features across Google’s sites. Google My Business lets you manage your business listings across Google+, Google Maps and Search.

People also use online directories like Yell.com to find local businesses, so set up your listings including opening hours, contact details and of course a description of your services. Directory sites like this invest a huge amount of time and money into search engine optimisation, so your will gain from their investment by featuring in search results.

Don’t ever pay to be listed in an online directory – unless you truly believe it is targeted at your niche market and will repay a return on the investment.

I’ve compiled a check list of the top 25 directories and other free listing sites available here.

**A word of caution – you will find that sales teams use free listing sites to obtain your contact details, so be ready for some sales calls! Also, you don’t need to upgrade to any enhanced listing with the directories to get the benefits mentioned above.

Website wizards

If you’ve bought a domain name for a website online then check what your provider offers. Domain registrants like 1and1 or 123-Reg offer free or low cost website wizards that are designed to get you up and running quickly with little or no technical skills needed. You select from templates, add copy and images, and your website is published!

This approach is great for many people but can be quite restrictive as you are working with set templates where you can only change certain aspects of the design. If you are keen to use a particular font, for example then this approach might not work for you. You’ll need to pay for hosting (but that might be included in the price) and remember to renew your domain name or you’ll find your site is there one day and gone the next.

Social and retail profiles

It’s quick and easy to set up a social media profile, so you could use your Facebook page (for instance) as your main company presence online. (Read 10 Facebook page features you may be missing out on.)

Likewise, if your business is going to be selling online you might want to make your Ebay/Amazon/etc seller profile the key source of information about your business on the Internet. You will be able to get your business online quickly, but you will be relying on people finding you amongst the many other companies on those platforms.

The main downside of this approach is that your online presence is completely in the hands of the third-party sites. If Facebook changes the way it handles business pages, or Amazon Marketplace blacklists your profile you have no control over it, and this could mean disaster for your business.

Blogging platforms

WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, Wix and Weebly all offer free blogging sites. It’s all hosted for you, so there are no extras to pay for. You select from templates to create your site and adapt it to suit your business needs. You don’t have to blog regularly – you can use these platforms to create static website content without a blog.

The issue with this approach is that unless you buy a domain name and link it to your site, your website address will include the blogging platform name, for instance www.mybusiness.wordpress.com – so you will need to invest in your own domain name. Like the Website Wizard approach above, you have limited design options based on the templates available, but you may find that is enough to start with.

(Read how you can build a website and brand in a morning for less than £80 using sites like Weebly and Wix.)

Setting up your own professional website

If you’ve concluded that none of the above options are right for you, then your only option now is to invest in your own website.

The benefit of owning your business website is that you have complete control over it. You select which website builder it is created with, who it is hosted with, the domain name, and have complete control over the design of the site. You may want a professional to build it for you, and the good news is that there are plenty of self-employed freelancers out there to help you at a reasonable price.

Taking a long term view

Where do you see yourself in a few years’ time? If you’re unsure whether self-employment is right for you, then there’s little sense in investing in a professional website just yet. The priority is to get your business online and start promoting your services, and as your business matures your online presence can become more sophisticated too.

It is fine to start trading without a website, so long as your business details can be easily found online. Whatever you do, make sure your online profile conveys the right impression of your business. Double check for typos, use professional images, and make sure your contact details are correct.

For that check list of the top 25 free business listings just follow this link.

Answered by our marketing agony aunt Roisin Kirby from Refresh Marketing. If you have a question you’d like Roisin to answer, please email her or call her on 07553 012367. You can sign up for free monthly email tips or follow Refresh Marketing on Twitter and Facebook.