A website is your digital footprint, your business’s front-facing virtual facade. Whether you’ve got a physical real-world presence or you operate exclusively among the bits and bytes of the internet, a website for your small business or solopreneur career will contribute to your success and growth.
But how do you start a website without knowing how to code or forking over a ton of cash to a web designer to set one up for you?
It’s not as expensive as you think to set up an effective and easy-to-manage website for your small business or freelance services. Continue reading and I’ll guide you through how to start a website for your small business without breaking the bank or spending time learning to code.
If you’ve followed my blog for awhile or you’ve ever hired me to write for you, you know I love stats. Let’s start with some data to lay the foundation for why your small business needs a website.
According to a study of small business owners by Capital One:
Only 56 percent of respondents cited having a company website, and only 53 percent of those with a website have optimized it for mobile.
The Small Business Administration reports [pdf] that there are 29.6 million small businesses in the US, yet it can be extrapolated that only 56% of them have a company website. A report by CISCO surmises that:
Global Internet traffic in 2021 will be equivalent to 127 times the volume of the entire global Internet in 2005.
That’s a staggering increase and a whole heap of potential customers you’re missing out on by not having a website. Research performed by GoDaddy [pdf] reports that 35% of the study’s small business respondents don’t have a website because they feel their business is too small, 21% lack the technical expertise, and 20% think it’s too costly to start a website.
Small business owners don’t have a website because they don’t understand the benefit of having one, or overestimate the cost in setting one up, both in terms of money as well as time.
According to the same GoDaddy report:
48% of very small businesses who plan to create a website expect their business to grow 25% or more within the next 3-5 years.
Of those respondents who already have a website, 59% say their business grew once they had built their website.
So according to these studies and statistics, it’s an overall benefit for a business to maintain a website. Not having a website for your small business or consulting firm is likely costing you customers and clients. You’re missing out on growth.
And hey – your website doesn’t have to be anything high-tech or super-interactive if your business doesn’t lend itself to requiring such.
Just because you’re not selling anything online doesn’t mean a website can’t help, either. A website can serve as an information portal to drive additional foot traffic to your physical store, advertise services you offer, or aid customers in making a purchase decision.
An Example of a Local Business that Utilizes their Website Well
Let’s take a look at my favorite local pizza place, This Guy’s Pizza. At first glance, TGP’s website isn’t anything spectacular, but they don’t need a spectacular website. They need a functional website that serves as their online presence. It’s a pizza place, so their website doesn’t need to resemble the cockpit of an X-wing fighter.
If I was ordering pizza using a traditional menu I had stuffed into my kitchen drawer, chances are it wouldn’t have TGP’s most recent news or menu. Unless the person on the other end of the phone explicitly tells me the restaurant’s latest updates, I’d have no idea.
Yet there it is, emblazoned right there on their home page for me to see as soon as I load up the site. Even as a returning customer, I’d see the news that they’ve added a new dining room and some upcoming events, prompting my interest in actually visiting instead of always ordering take-out.
To touch upon the point of those old menus we’ve all got shoved somewhere in our homes and offices, let’s take a look at This Guy’s Pizza’s menu. If they’re maintaining their website well, the menu they include online should be the most accurate and recent, especially compared to that stained and wrinkled menu I’ve got stuffed away somewhere.
By having a website, This Guy’s Pizza can easily communicate with existing and recurring customers (me) by keeping me informed about restaurant updates and recent changes to the menu. Their website also allows new customers to find them online by searching for local pizza places.
If I lost the physical paper menu, I could easily load up the restaurant’s website and figure out what I felt like eating, instead of the hassle of guessing, asking on the phone, or ordering from a different establishment.
Sure, This Guy’s Pizza is listed in local directories of pizza places in my area, but have you ever searched for a restaurant online and then visited without checking the website? There’s only so much a site like Yelp or Google can tell you. A business’s website goes a long way towards you forming an initial (ideally positive) opinion before you ever leave your house.
What benefits would a website bring to your business? How could a website help you more effectively communicate to your customers?
Social Media Isn’t Always the Way
It’s important to maintain social media profiles for your business, of course. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…these all contribute to marketing your business and communicating with your target audience.
But each of these services has limitations and you’re not in control of the platform. You need to abide by the rules and guidelines of each service and some of the services aren’t the best venue for listing things like a menu or services you offer.
A website is something you do control and that can help tie all your business’s various social media accounts together. Think of social media as something akin to a digital flyer and your business website as the digital location you eventually want your audience to end up at. The flyers, or social media, generate buzz about your business and disseminate information and updates to your target audience, while the website is the main repository for what your business does and what it offers.
A web host is a service that provides the server, storage, and bandwidth for your website. Think of it as the digitization of a physical space, the internet equivalent of the office or store your business is based out of. Hosts charge you a fee – like digital rent – for providing the resources to keep your website online. Most provide email services as well, so you can look ultra-professional with an @yourbusiness.com email address, opposed to a free service that’s a little harder to take seriously.
Consider, for a moment, receiving an email from email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Neither seems as professional as email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most hosts offer similar packages and features, with the only major differences being price, uptime (how stable their servers are so your website doesn’t go offline unexpectedly – a huge faux pas), and customer service.
Personally, I’ve been using DreamHost (affiliate link) since 2006. Though DreamHost is a little more expensive than Bluehost or SiteGround, DreamHost’s customer service has never let me down and is why I’d never consider switching hosts (as long as they maintain their stellar customer service).
Whether you choose one of the three hosts I’ve mentioned or another of your choice, most hosting providers offer “Shared Hosting” as their most affordable plan or package.
What is Shared Hosting?
Shared hosting is when your hosting account shares the same server and available resources as a number of other customers. Since servers are especially powerful computers built specifically for web hosting, it’s not economical for you or a web host to dedicate an entire server for each customer. They’d end up with thousands and thousands of servers and the costs for everyone would be astronomical. The chances of your website requiring a server’s full resources are slim to none unless your website or service blows up to Facebook-like levels or you’re running server-side software that requires that amount of power.
If your website does explode in terms of popularity, resource usage, and traffic, most hosts offer dedicated server packages for a higher cost.
Even if you want to upgrade to a dedicated server some time in the future, shared hosting is perfectly fine for starting out and getting your website off the ground. And chances are that if your website does end up needing the beefier resources of a dedicated server, your web host will get in touch with you long before you even realize you need to upgrade.
DISCOUNT: Save $25 on an annual DreamHost Shared Hosting package by using this link (affiliate link).
Choosing a Domain Name
A domain name is the internet address to your website – mine is danmattia.com. Some hosts – such as DreamHost – offer a free domain for signing up to their service. You’re also free to purchase a domain from another provider, then transferring the domain to your host of choice. Domains are independent from web hosting in that they belong to you, even if they’re packaged with hosting.
You may sometimes have to buy a domain either from your hosting provider or another service. Most .com domains cost between $10 and $15 per year so the costs really aren’t prohibitive. Of course, if you want a fancypants .xyz or .dog, you might end up paying more for the novelty, both in terms of cost and how your target audience responds to it.
You can’t go wrong with a .com, .net, or .org though.
So how do you choose a domain name?
Your domain name is oftentimes your audience’s first interaction with your business’s digital identity so you want it to be reflective of what it is you do. For example, my online “brand” is my name, so my domain name is, well…my name. I want people to know it’s me they’re dealing with when they come to my website, see what services I offer, and know who’s writing the content they’re reading.
Let’s say I wanted to start a writing agency, though. Unless the name of my business remains “Dan Mattia,” I’d want my domain name to reflect the name of my business. An agency named ABC Consulting has nothing to do with danmattia.com, even if I’m the owner of the agency. I’d want something more along the lines of abcconsulting.com. If that domain’s already taken, maybe I’d go to abcconsultingservices.com or abcmedia.com.
When choosing a domain name, you want one that:
- Reflects your business name and what you do or provide
- Is easy to remember
- Makes sense
For a more in-depth guide to choosing a domain name, take a look at this blog post on Moz.
You might already be familiar with WordPress. You may even have a blog hosted there! But did you know WordPress powers more than 25% of websites worldwide?
That’s right. The same software that hosts blogs on WordPress.com can be downloaded from WordPress.org to power a website you control on hosting you pay for, commonly called a self-hosted WordPress installation.
While there’s plenty of other ways to get your website up and running, WordPress is a highly-customizable content management system, or CMS, that provides a simple and easy-to-learn interface. Some hosting providers, including DreamHost, even provide one-click installs of WordPress, making it incredibly quick to set up your small business website.
WordPress’s interface is simple and easy-to-use to set up your website based on your preferences and the needs of your business.
A very brief overview of the features of WordPress:
- Pages are used to provide information about your business. Example pages are “About Us,” “Services,” “Menu,” and “Contact,” along with anything else you want or need.
- Posts are a great way to communicate news to website visitors or as a blog.
- Comments let visitors interact with your business, leaving thoughts and opinions on pages or posts (if you allow them to).
- You can upload Media to show off portfolio pieces, a new product, or a recent event held by your business.
- Plugins and Appearances let you customize your installation of WordPress in hundreds of ways, according to your needs and preferences.
To give you an example you’re already familiar with, I have my website set up to have a static main page that – you guessed it – shows a Page I’ve written. Along the top menu you’ll see other pages I’ve published: About, Writing Services, Portfolio, etc. All of these pages are pages I wrote and published on my own, so your set up can vary and change. I also have a few sub-pages that aren’t in the menu, but are linked to from other content I’ve published, such as the “thank you” page you’re sent to after filling out my contact form.
You can also choose to have a dynamic main page that, for example, would show the latest blog post you’ve published. You could also utilize WordPress’s Plugins and Widgets to further customize the main page to embed your business’s Twitter feed, most recent testimonial or review, an order form, or even a slideshow. It’s totally up to you how you structure your pages for your business website.
Posts, on the other hand, are great for fresh content. Many news websites use WordPress to report news through Posts. I use Posts for blog content, providing frequent articles, guides, how-tos, and updates about my business or tips and tricks for my clients and friends.
You could use Posts on your business website to announce a new product launch, create a blog that benefits your target audience, or tell customers about an upcoming event. Again, the possibilities are endless and totally up to you.
Though I enjoy when visitors to my website leave comments on the content I write, that’s not always practical for every business. Luckily, that’s an option you can choose to turn off if you so prefer. You can also choose to allow comments, but only after you (or one of your employees) have a chance to moderate the comment queue prior to any comments being published. Again, customization is the name of the game when using WordPress.
WordPress doesn’t take long to figure out, either. Once it’s installed, you can basically start publishing pages and posts right away and change settings as often as needed to tweak your website to your needs and preferences. Really, the most important part of the process is simply populating at least Pages with the content you want your website visitors to see. That’s it.
How to Customize WordPress
I mentioned that WordPress is highly customizable through plugins, widgets, and themes, so let’s go over what each does and how you can use them to improve and further personalize your business website.
Every WordPress installation comes with a few included plugins to get you going, but you’re given access to a vast repository of free, freemium, and paid plugins to customize your business website to your liking.
These plugins can range from portfolio galleries, SEO enhancements, contact forms, and everything in-between. My site has about a dozen plugins running that add functionality and create the presentation I want my visitors to see and have access to. There’s plugins that can create an e-commerce storefront for you, give visitors the ability to upload photos to a gallery, or require visitors to fill out a form or questionnaire.
Widgets are oftentimes part of a plugin, but not necessarily. They’re little drag-and-drop bits and bobs you can add to areas of your business website. Widgets enhance functionality, break up the layout, and help point out things you want to draw attention to.
If you take a look at my screenshot above, you’ll see I have a number of widgets in the “sidebar area” and “footer area” of my site. If you’re reading a blog post (like this one), I prefer for my sidebar to be on the right. My sidebar gives you an easy way to subscribe to my email list (a big plus for most, if not all, businesses), read other recent posts, or find me on social media. These are all different widgets I’ve chosen to put in my “sidebar area.”
Referring to the above screenshot once more, you’ll see a few of the widgets I don’t currently use. Depending on your preferences and installed plugins, your list would look different. For instance, you could have a calendar widget on your site that informs visitors of monthly events or sales you’re holding, a map widget to help people find your office, or a Flickr widget to connect to your Flickr account to show soon-to-be brides why they need to hire you as their wedding photographer.
As it does with plugins and widgets, WordPress includes a number of “themes” when first installed. Themes control the layout and aesthetic look of your business website and offer plenty of different options for customization.
There’s hundreds of free themes available, all of which you can edit or hire a professional web designer to change or tweak to your liking. You can also purchase a professional, premium theme or have a web designer build one for you from scratch.
Themes dictate the layout of your business website. If you’re publishing an online magazine, you might choose to mimic the look of a newspaper, with a feature story block front-and-center and then three columns below. A freelance writer like myself may want to have a clean, professional-looking website, whereas a kids’ clothing company might have bright colors and an area for showing the newest clothing additions.
- Buy a hosting package from a reputable hosting provider
- Register a relevant domain name that is reflective of your business
- Install WordPress through a one-click install, manually, or with assistance from your host/a web designer
- Customize WordPress to your liking and preference
- Add content to your business website by adding pages and posts
So what’s it all cost to purchase hosting and your domain name and set your business website up with a WordPress installation?
I haven’t purchased any premium plugins or themes, so these are my costs:
- Yearly registration cost for my danmattia.com domain name: $13.95
- + Monthly hosting fee with DreamHost: $10.95 x 12 = $131.40
- = $145.35
So for an annual cost of $145.35, I’ve got my digital footprint all carved out and claimed.
bangs chest and grunts like a caveman
Now for the exciting part:
My website has drawn in clients who hired me to write for them. These contracts may never have happened otherwise and the money I earned more than covered the entire cost of my business website.
Not only were my expenses covered in full, but I made a profit.
A website for your business can do the same for you. It’s an investment you need to make for the sake of yourself and your business. In time, it will more than pay for itself.
Though my expertise lies in content writing, I’m available to help you through the process of setting up your small business or freelance writing website for a low fee. Use the form below to get in touch with me and I’ll help you get your small business website up and running!
Have more tips or advice for starting up a small business website or want to share how your website works for you? Leave a comment down below or on Twitter!